The Prince Seminar Essay Sample

The Prince Seminar Pages
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Part 1-Machiavelli’s views on the nature of man and rulers:

1. Are humans fundamentally good or evil? Consider what constitutes ‘good’ or ‘evil’ in this context during the time period.

Machiavelli sees humans as fundamentally evil. Even though he does point out some good attributes of humans, he gives more reason to believe that they are evil. In Chapter 15: Of Those for Which Men And Especially Princes Are Praised or Blamed, he states qualities that make somebody good or evil. “Someone is considered a giver, someone rapacious; someone cruel, someone merciful; the one a breaker of faith, the other faithful; the one effeminate and pusillanimous, the other fierce and spirited; the one humane, the other proud; the one lascivious, the other chaste; the one honest, the other astute; the one hard, the other agreeable; the one grave, the other light; the one religious, the other unbelieving, and the like” (Machiavelli, Page 61-62). Because of the qualities he listed above, I feel as though Machiavelli has a pretty good sense of what makes up a good and bad person. During this time period, people mainly saw evil in those who did not follow the Church, such as the Jews who were blamed for the Black Plague. Machiavelli touches on some of these qualities when he says “the one a breaker of faith, the other faithful…the one religious, the one unbelieving.”

If you were a follower of God and followed the Church, then you were considered morally good. However, Machiavelli understands that a person can not possess all of the traits that make up a good person. He says, “I know that everyone will confess that it would be a very praiseworthy thing to find in a prince all of the above mentioned qualities that are held good. But because he cannot have them, nor wholly observe them, since human conditions do not permit it…”(Machiavelli, Page 62). In this quotation, Machiavelli is outright saying that humans can not be good because they can not posses all of these traits.

When he says that “human conditions do not permit it”, he is saying that it is just human nature to not be good. People strive to be good, but because people can not fully have these good traits, they are not good. Another quotation that shows Machiavelli’s views on human nature is when he says “For one can say this generally of men: that they are ungrateful, fickle, pretenders and dissemblers, evaders of danger, eager for gain” (Machiavelli, Page 66). The attributes listed are not good qualities to have, which shows that he sees humans in a negative light. Now he does say “generally”, which shows that he understands that some humans are good, but he is saying that this is how he sees most of society. These quotations show that Machiavelli, for the most part, believes humans are fundamentally evil.

2. How should a prince rule? What personal qualities make a prince an effective ruler? What is the best type of state and why?

In Chapter three of The Prince, Machiavelli says that there are two ways to rule. He says, “For this has to be noted: that men should either be caressed or eliminated, because they avenge themselves for slight offenses but cannot do so for grave ones; so the offense on does to a man should be such that one does not have to fear revenge of it” (Machiavelli, Pages 10-11). He is saying that a Prince should either spoil their citizens, or destroy his citizens. In the second half of the quotation, Machiavelli explains how the prince must be careful of the extent of which he goes to destroy his citizens for the fear of revenge. It is good for a prince to eliminate his citizens far enough as he can without having the fear of revenge, and this is how he should rule. A quality that makes for an effective ruler is prowess. Prowess is defined as skill or expertise, and is what Machiavelli is implying when he talks about virtue on page 22. He says, “the result of becoming prince from private individual presupposes either virtue or fortune, it appears that one or the other of these two things relieves in part many difficulties; nonetheless, he who has relied less on fortune has maintained himself more” (Machiavelli, Page 22).

What Machiavelli means when he says becoming prince through fortune is that they are inheriting the throne instead of gaining the power through other means. He says that although it is harder to become a prince by other means, or prowess, it is easier to maintain the throne. This is a reason why it is important for a prince to have prowess. Another important quality that a prince should have is that they should not be afraid to be cruel. Machiavelli says “The response is that one would want to be both the one and the other; but because it is difficult to put them together it is much safer to be feared than loved” (Machiavelli, Page 66). If a prince is afraid to be cruel, then they would be too scared to make themselves feared.

They need to be strong and forceful so the citizens know where they stand. Machiavelli goes on to explain that it is better to be feared because citizens would be too scared to go against the prince’s law in fear of punishment. Machiavelli says the best type of state to rule is a hereditary state. “For the natural prince has less cause and less necessity to offend, hence it is fitting that he be more loved” (Machiavelli, Page 7). What I think Machiavelli is saying here is that princes that inherit their title are born into a family that has been ruling for a while. Because the family has been already been in charge, their way of governing is more stable because they have found what works and what doesn’t, and the citizens are used to it. Because the citizens are already used to the rulers and their laws, this is why the prince has “less cause and less necessity to offend.”

Part 2-What are Machiavelli’s views on:

3. “Virtue” (both real and perceived). How does he define it?

Machiavelli defines virtue as displaying high moral standards. Traits that he believes are virtuous are having prowess and accomplishments, kindness, compassion, as well as being merciful. Machiavelli’s opinion on virtue is that a prince should be as virtuous as he can, or at least pretend to be. It is good thing for a prince to be perceived as virtuous, even if he is not entirely. However, it is more important to do what is best for the country than trying to be virtuous. Although being cruel is a vice, it is better to be cruel and do what benefits the country. Machiavelli believes that “the ends justify the means” and this is shown through his views on virtue. “Too much mercy allow disorders to continue, from which come killings or robberies; for these customarily hurt a whole community” (Machiavelli, Page 66). Being merciful is a good thing and being cruel is not, but it benefits the whole community to be cruel in situations such as this. Although a prince should be perceived as being merciful and generous, in reality it is better for him to be cruel.

Machiavelli also defines virtue as one’s accomplishments and prowess. “For since men almost always walk on paths beaten by others and proceed in their actions by imitation, unable either to stay on the paths of others altogether or to attain the virtue of those whom you imitate….imitate those who have been most excellent, so that if his own virtue does not reach that far, it is at least in the odor of it” (Machiavelli, Page 22). In both cases where Machiavelli uses the word virtue in this quotation, he is referring to it as their accomplishments and goals. He is saying that one should follow paths of the excellent so that they can accomplish more, or attain more virtue. If their skills and accomplishments, or their virtue, “does not reach that far” then at least they will be somewhat close to the accomplishments made by other great leaders before them. In this last quotation, he is referring to virtue as more of being skilled and accomplished than only having high moral standards, but he uses it in both ways.

4. The importance of adaptability and willingness to place realistic goals over and above idealistic values.

Machiavelli understands that although it is wished for everything to be ideal, it is highly unrealistic and that fact should be accepted. He states “Since my intent is to write something useful to whoever understands it, it has appeared to me more fitting to go directly to the effectual truth of the thing than to the imagination of it” (Machiavelli, Page 61). This quotation shows that Machiavelli isn’t wasting his time on something that he wishes would happen; he goes straight to what would be likely to happen. The world is not perfect, and because of this, Machiavelli says that princes need to get down to the reality of the world and not this utopian concept of everything. Machiavelli also talks about how although it is ideal to be merciful and loved, a prince needs to learn that reality is he will be a better prince if he is not afraid to be cruel. In chapter 17 when Machiavelli talks about cruelty and mercy, he says “each prince should desire to be held merciful and not cruel…

A prince, therefore, so as to keep his subjects united and faithful, should not care about the infamy of cruelty…for the sake of too much mercy allow disorders to continue” (Machiavelli, Page 65). This quotation shows that although it is ideal to be a kind and merciful leader, in reality that would only lead to chaos. Machiavelli says that it is important to be realistic and understand that it is in best interests to not be afraid to be cruel. This is yet another example of how Machiavelli shows that it is important to be realistic rather than idealistic.

5. The importance of learning from history. What are two examples (of each) he gives of both good and bad rulers?

In Chapter 6, Machiavelli talks about how princes should try to act like other great rulers that came before them. “For since men almost always walk on paths beaten by others and proceed in their actions by imitation, unable either to stay on the paths of others altogether or to attain the virtue of those whom you imitate, a prudent man should always enter upon the paths beaten by great men, and imitate those who have been most excellent” (Machiavelli, Page 22). Following in others footsteps will often lead to a similar result. In the quotation above, Machiavelli talks about how men tend to follow the same paths as others before them; history repeats itself. If you set yourself up to be like an unsuccessful leader, you are most likely to make the same mistakes they did. If you follow the ways of great leaders, then you will be more likely to do great things yourself. An example of a good ruler that Machiavelli mentions is Cesare Borgia. “Cesare Borgia was held to be cruel; nonetheless his cruelty restored the Romagna, united, and reduced it to peace and to faith” (Machiavelli, Page 65).

Learning about this leader and his accomplishments, Machiavelli says that in order to keep the country united and faithful, one should not be afraid to be cruel. We see that cruelty was one of the key tools Cesare Borgia used, and he accomplished so much, so following after his footsteps would hopefully lead to good outcomes. Another example of a good ruler is Ferdinand of Aragon. In chapter 21, Machiavelli describes all of his accomplishments. What we can learn from examining how Ferdinand ruled is how he was able to keep everybody busy with war, enterprise, religion, etc., so that there was never “an interval between them for men to be able to work quietly against him” (Machiavelli, Page 88). An example of how not to rule is Antiochus with the Romans and the Achaeans (story on page 89). What we have learned from that is that “it will always happen that the one who is not friendly will seek your neutrality, and he who is friendly to you will ask that you declare yourself with arms” (Machiavelli, Page 90).

Using this knowledge, princes know how to avoid wars in situations such as this. Examining what had happened helps provide information on how to do things differently, and to also somewhat expect the outcome of a situation before it happens. Maximilian is also an example of a bad ruler. Machiavelli describes him as indecisive and very sneaky. He does not share his plans with anybody, and refuses to take counsel. Because of this, “no one ever understands what he wants or plans to do, and that one cannot found oneself on his decisions” (Machiavelli, Page 95). Because of Maximilian’s actions, Machiavelli says that a prince should always have a counsel. After looking at other leaders and seeing there flaws, it helps a prince find what works and what doesn’t work in terms of the best way to rule a country.

Part 3- Machiavelli on religion and Italy:

6. The relationship of religion to politics. Can and should rulers use religion or religious values in governing and decision-making?
In Chapter 11, Machiavelli explains ecclesiastical principalities, which are principalities under the control of the Catholic Church. These states “are sustained by orders that have grown old with religion” (Machiavelli, Page 45). This quotation means that these ecclesiastical principalities are held together by these religious ideas. These states are ungoverned and undefended, but Machiavelli still describes them as “secure and happy.” These states are governed by God and religion and are described as very peaceful. Although governing under religion works for these principalities, Machiavelli believes that it is best to not use religious values in decision-making. You can see this by the fact that he says to be realistic about things, and not think of them in an ideal way. Religion is more of an ideal concept; you can not know things for certain.

In The Prince, Machiavelli talks about how a prince needs to rule with a realistic mind. “Since my intent is to write something useful to whoever understands it, it has appeared to me more fitting to go directly to the effectual truth of the thing than to the imagination of it” (Machiavelli, Page 61). Machiavelli relates what he said in the quotation above to how you should rule a country; he says that you should be realistic when ruling rather than leaving it to the imagination. Religion can be seen as the “imagination of it” because nothing can be for certain. That is why Machiavelli says to “go directly to the effectual truth” than to rule by what is not certain. Because Machiavelli also supports being cruel, which goes against being virtuous, you can also tell that he thinks its best to not rule with religion.

7. What does Machiavelli want to happen in Italy?

Machiavelli says that it is important for Italy to create its own, strong army. He says “It is necessary before all other things, as the true foundation of every undertaking, to provide itself with its own arms”(Machiavelli, Page 104). This quotation shows that Machiavelli wants a powerful army because it is the base of any strong country. He says this because it is important to be able to defend Italy from invaders. Machiavelli states the weakness of the Swiss and the Spanish armies. He says that the Spanish army “cannot withstand horse”, and that the Swiss army has “to be afraid of infantry.” With this knowledge, Machiavelli tells Lorenzo de Medici to build up his army to be able to defeat these weaknesses. “Having thus learned the defects of both of these infantry, one can order a new one that would resist horse and not be afraid of infantry; this will be done by a regeneration of arms and a change in orders. And these are among those things which when newly ordered, give reputation and greatness to a prince” (Machiavelli, Page 105). Here, Machiavelli is basically telling Medici that if he wants to be great, that he should build up his army. With doing so, he would be able to defend Italy against these foreign countries. Not only would it bring strength and power to Italy, it would help Lorenzo de’ Medici be a more loved leader.

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