Rhonda's Reviews > The Prince

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Feb 15, 09

bookshelves: politics

I have to admit that I did not have a good time reading this book, either the first time when I wanted to be impressive toothers in high school government class or several years ago when I was trying to impress myself. In truth, this book is a hard read and at various times you have to wonder whether he is being serious. Of course Machiavelli was being more than serious: he was creating a means by which a loose knit group of semi-unwilling people could be joined together effectively in strength and prosperity. Much of what he says makes no sense unless one knows something of the 15th century politics and society, especially in Italy and, of course, more especially in Florence.
Essentially the main theme of The Prince is that a ruler is not only entitled but obligated to create the most stable and prosperous state possible because that is the greatest good to be achieved. Unfortunately, Machiavelli reasoned, it was sometimes necessary to perform cruel acts against various people in order to maintain this state.

Published after his death, perhaps the greatest lasting example of his influence on history has been that a familiar term for the devil, "Old Nick" was created because readers believed that Machiavelli must have surely been the devil in order to write this book. This book gets down to fundamentals between the individual's rights and the state's and there is no doubt on which he sided. This is a difficult book, but one necessary for anyone who wishes to understand modern political thought. the modern reader can not help but be impressed how many little elements seem familar today.
1 like · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Prince.
sign in »

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by William (last edited Jul 06, 2012 05:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

William The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
In response to Rhonda's review:
I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it. I find him very readable, even if I don't always agree with his values. His summary, that the Prince is responsible for military leadership above all, was the flavor of the millennium among the high and mighty of his day.

As long as nations, led primarily by princes, practiced theft-by-war, keeping the armed enemies out or too overawed to attack is at the top of the list, every morning. These princes were not Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Rooseveldt or Winston Churchill, trying a general, replacing him if it didn't work, promoting if it did. Machievelli's Princes *were* the general, largely.

The fact that a fair general usually made a bad political leader was interesting but didn't disqualify anyone from trying. When the USA got a central government, General Washington was the logical choice to be the first president. When Lincoln was killed, the next election made General Grant the president. 85 years later, the Brits threw out Churchill, seemingly before the wounds had stopped bleeding. Trumans didn't fire McArthurs in 16th century Italy.

Remember also that while Machiavelli's book was published for people like you and me after his death, it was given as a gift to the new prince of Machiavelli's own country. While he was alive and could benefit by currying favor. Machiavelli is mixing history with hard truth and the good advice a busy young prince would be able to use.

We are not young hereditary rulers, recently ascended to the throne or having recently seized it from usurpers, occupiers, siblings, parents or other relatives, We are not the audience he was writing for.

Rhonda William wrote: I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it. I find him very readable, even if I don't always agree with his values.
Thank you for a very considerate comment. I wish to note that I have rated this book with 4 stars to indicate the high esteem in which I hold it. It is only the values with which I have a difficult time. While I am aware that I am not from his historical period, it is difficult to imagine that Machiavelli would not think that his advice was going to cease being effective advice at a future time. Perhaps it is a matter of disagreement as to whether the means a prince might use are ever legitimate when they are based on artifice and treachery. Machiavelli no doubt drew his conclusions from history, as well as his present age, in the only way he felt would be effective. To me, this suggests the well worn axiom of ends and means. Perhaps the greatness of this work is that such behavior remains extremely effective for a period of time. However, it still begs the greater question of whether the exercise of his principles deserves to define its ethic through its effectiveness. Then again, perhaps the modern age has developed a greater optimization of his principles, albeit sub rosa, than we truly understand.

message 3: by William (last edited Jan 22, 2013 01:32PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

William Hi Rhonda, Nicely put. It does come down to ends and means, which is no less sharp for being well used. What we might do from relative safety, and given time to think, may also differ from what we'd do in a moment, or what we'd offer of ourselves, vs what we'd request from others. Old Nick (thanks for that) never advocated direct or representational democracy, though he acknowledged the difficulties of a prince who had no willing support from his people. I can't see how anyone would believe monarchy to be preferable, if democracy is possible. But that requires a rule of law, not persons, which Renaissance Italy was centuries away from when 'The Prince' was written.

What I value in "The Prince" is not the big stories, but the observation that underlies practical advice. For example, (and speaking as a parent, I agree), the Prince's largesse should not be contingent on windfalls, good fortune, bad fortune or mischance. If you want to lead, promise what you are sure you can give, no matter what, and give it gladly and without grudge. Corollaries about saving for a rainy day, not making extravagant promises, living within means, being true to your word, etc, are clear and obvious. Even if you will accept fear if you can't have love, these virtues are essential. Surely the same argument succeeds even more so if you're not willing to use ends to justify means. Machiavelli is meaningful because there are consequences, limits and obligations that even an absolute ruler must consider.

Where I agree with his prescriptions, the rest of the book is a reductio ad absurdum to show that even lesser fromages, like ourselves, benefit from what I approve of. Where I disagree, I can plausibly make the case that might = right and ends justify means might look sensible to a hereditary monarch, but are liabilities in a democracy. Or a family.

back to top