The Prince

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The Prince

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli provides an analysis on how to govern and maintain power in a principality. In the first five chapters, he defines the three ways a monarch can acquire his dominion: either he inherits it, whether he creates a new one, or annexes territories, and further discusses how to govern them. Machiavelli states that hereditary principalities are less problematic than the mixed ones since newly acquired dominion tend to be more rebellious. The ruler must therefore colonize them and allow citizen to keep their laws or annihilate the governmental structure. In order to illustrate his point, he analyses the success of Alexander the Great conquest in Iran.

He then considers five possible ways to acquire power and become a prince (Ch. VI-XI). First, a private citizen can become a ruler due to his own qualities or virtues, like Cyrus or Romulus. A second way to become a ruler is through other’s power or favor. Hence a man like Cesare Borgia gained power due to his father support, but lost it when the latter died. For Machiavelli, getting power so quickly can be dangerous since the new monarch might lack knowledge on how to govern. In the third case, he uses the example of Agathocles of Sicily to illustrate power gained through murders. In his opinion, the conqueror must decide if his crimes will help him establish power and then commit them all at once so that he can later reestablish the confidence of his subjects. The fourth method is called civil principality, people basically choose the ruler, and this enables him to maintain power. The last possibility is to be elected pope and Machiavelli provides a brief overview of the religious order.

Next, he explores (Ch. XII- XIV) which arms are best to defend a principality and states that a ruler can chose to use “his own, or mercenaries, or auxiliaries or a mixture of all three.”

From Chapter XV throughout Chapter XIX, Machiavelli proposes to describe how a prince should behave and tells the truth about surviving as a monarch, rather than recommending moral ideals. He describes the virtues commonly assimilated with a prince and concludes that some "virtues" will lead to a prince's destruction, whereas some "vices" will enable him to survive. He describes the advantages of being generous or greedy, merciful or severe, deceitful or honest. Machiavelli...

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...d not suffer from bad consequences on the long run. On the other hand, the Exxon-Valdez oil-spill case is an example of deceptive PR. Indeed, not much was done for the Alaskan community and the corporation ended up being perceived in a very negative way by the general public. These two crisis communication cases show that people and mechanisms of power have things in common with Machiavelli’s times, but society has become less tolerant of evil strategies. Rulers or corporations still have the means to deceive, but people are no longer subject to an authority considered divine. Therefore, the ones who govern are exposed to feedback and can hardly avoid the consequences of their acts.

A counter example, of course, would be the one of President Clinton as he voluntarily lied in court about his relation with Monica Lewinsky. He put on the face of virtue to deceive his citizens and in so doing manipulated the perception they had of him. In fact, Clinton’s communication specialists probably advised him to use this strategy, which follow the Machiavellian precepts. Although power might not exactly be the same anymore, principles on human natures are constant throughout time.

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