Machiavelli Essay, Research Paper
The first great political philosopher of the Renaissance was Nicolo Machiavelli
(1469-1527). His famous treatise, The Prince, stands apart from all other political
writings of the period insofar as it focus on the practical problems a monarch
faces in staying in power, rather than more speculative issues explaining the
foundation of political authority. As such, it is an expression of realpolitik, that is,
governmental policy based on retaining power rather than pursuing ideals.
Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy at a time when the country was in
political upheaval. Italy was divided between four dominant city-states, and each
of these was continually at the mercy of the stronger foreign governments of
Europe. Since 1434 Florence was ruled by the wealthy Medici family. Their rule
was temporarily interrupted by a reform movement, begun in 1494, in which the
young Machiavelli became an important diplomat. When the Medici family
regained power in 1512 with the help of Spanish troops, Machiavelli was tortured
and removed from public life. For the next 10 years he devoted himself to writing
history, political philosophy, and even plays. He ultimately gained favor with the
Medici family and was called back to public duty for the last two years of his life.
Machiavelli’s greatest work is The Prince, written in 1513 and published after his
death in 1532. The work immediately provoked controversy and was soon
condemned by Pope Clement VIII. Its main theme is that princes should retain
absolute control of their territories, and they should use any means of expediency
to accomplish this end, including deceit. Scholars struggle over interpreting
Machiavelli’s precise point. In several section Machiavelli praises Caesar Borgia, a
Spanish aristocrat who became a notorious and much despised tyrant of the
Romagna region of northern Italy. During Machiavelli’s early years as a diplomat,
he was in contact with Borgia and witnessed Borgia’s rule first hand. Some believe
that Machiaveli saw Borgia as the model prince. Some readers initially saw The
Prince as a satire on absolute rulers such as Borgia, which showed the
repugnance of arbitrary power (thereby implying the importance of liberty).
However, this theory fell apart when, in 1810, a letter by Machiavelli was
discovered in which he reveals that he wrote The Prince to endear himself to the
ruling Medici family in Florence. To liberate Italy from the influence of foreign
governments, Machiavelli explains that strong indigenous governments are
important, even if they are absolutist.
Machiavelli played an important role in the political aspect of the
Renaissance in northern Italy. His novel, The Prince, became the most famous
political writing of this period. His ideas comparing a monarchy to a republic
made him the first and probably best known political philosopher of the
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