Political Instability in the Prince

Topics: Florence, House of Medici, Political philosophy Pages: 7 (2536 words) Published: June 23, 2013
Political Instability in The Prince
10 December 2010

Political Instability in The Prince

Niccolo Machiavelli lived during the later 15th and early 16th centuries during a time when Italy suffered from much political instability. In early sixteenth century, after the fall of the Florentine Republic and the return of the Medici in 1512, instability was the norm, filled with external threats and internal dissension.  Machiavelli's book The Prince was written as an impassioned plea to Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino, for bold action to restore order and unity during a time of political instability. The Prince, written partly in an attempt to gain goodwill from the Medici, is a guide of behaviors and virtues required of a prince for effective rule. This paper will discuss how Machiavelli recommends dealing with the political instability of the time. Although Machiavelli's recommendations for addressing political instability were extreme, they were well- calculated for a time that called for extreme measures. 

During the Renaissance period, Italy was continuously invaded and conquered by many states but most often by France. Those conquered principalities were very unstable and required much political experience and foresight in order to be governed effectively and for any ruler to retain control. Many states and rival families were allied during this period blurring lines of allegiance. Foreign states continued to conquer and re-conquer major towns in Italy for decades. In 1512, the Medici family dynasty was restored to power in Florence, Italy. As the Secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence at that time, Niccolo Machiavelli was arrested, tortured and eventually banished from the city by the Medici regime. Machiavelli was well educated and studied history and philosophy. Machiavelli desired to gain a prominent position within the Medici regime and attempted to do so by creating a manifesto of insightful and useful edicts based on contemporary and historical examples of successful actions that ought to be done or not done in order to retain power over a state. The manifesto was to be an offering to help Lorenzo de Medici govern effectively and would place Machiavelli within the good graces of the Medici family and a possible position within the government. The manifesto would become known as The Prince.

Machiavelli spells out a number of insights in The Prince. One such insight is the need to study and understand history. Machiavelli believes that since human nature remains constant, history will repeat itself; so, only those who study history are truly able understood and learn from the experiences of others. He goes on to say that history is full of both good and bad examples and provides precious sources of wisdom to those that study it. He further writes that studying history allows man to learn more than would be possible from personal experience alone. Machiavelli uses many historical references to support his theory of the ideal qualities needed to be an effective prince. Although he uses many historical examples, he is quite original in his theories, and even disagrees with Aristotle, a popular political philosopher, on the necessity for moral virtues required in a prince. His actual or “real life” requirements for an effective prince become the tenets of his theory in The Prince. One such tenet of Machiavelli theory is the presence of cruelty within the political system.

The Prince was written in 1513 concerning the nature of leaders and the past actions of great men based on the combination of great theory and reality. The Prince’s major theme was the usefulness of knowledge and foresight based on political realism. Machiavelli was the first philosopher to divorce politics from ethics and religion during a time when politics were expected to be grounded in the virtues or great leaders and morale laws. Machiavelli recognized the limitations of the current...

References: Lukes, T. (2001). Lionizing Machiavelli. The American Political Science Review, 95 (3), 573.
Machiavelli, N. (2003). The Prince (Penguin Classics). London: Penguin Classics.
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