Before 1513 conventional thought defined a ruler as a man who used generosity, truth and justice to govern his kingdom. Machiavelli saw the conventional thought of the time as a fantasy and only applicable in a utopian society. His work The Prince shatters all previous political thought by stating that a ruler must not only use the traditionally accepted means of maintaining power but also be able to use brute force, deceit and even cruelty as the situation requires. In the tumultuous political climate of renaissance Europe his theories were proven valid repeatedly.
Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469 into an old Florentine family with a history of political involvement. His father Bernardo was highly respected for his intelligence and spared no expense to expose his son to the history of Greece and Rome and the writings of Cicero, Aristotle, and Livy (Viroli, 35). Machiavelli was able to study in detail the political and military achievements of ancient Rome and Greece. He was tremendously influenced by these historic writings and later used his vast knowledge on the subject as a basis for his own theories.
Machiavelli lived in Italy at a time when the country was in political upheaval. During the Renaissance, Italy was a scene of intense political conflict involving the dominant city-states at the time. Since 1434 the wealthy Medici family ruled Florence. In 1494 this dominance by the Medici family was interrupted by a reform movement, in which the young Machiavelli became an important diplomat (Mattingly, 12). Unfortunately for Machiavelli the Medici family regained power in 1512, this resulted in the torture and shaming of Machiavelli...
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... afraid to be cruel, deceitful or to use extreme force to achieve their goals.
Coleman, Janet The History of Political Thought From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 2000
Hale, Joan The Civilization of Europe in the Renaissance New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994
Machiavelli, Niccolo The Prince New York: Oxford University Press, 1952
Mattingly, Garrett Renaissance Profiles New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965
Viroli, Maurizio Niccolo's Smile A Biography of Machiavelli New York: Gius. Laterza & Figli, 1998
Schevil, Ferdinand Medieval and Renaissance Florence Volume I: Medieval Florence New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963
Schevil, Ferdinand Medieval and Renaissance Florence Volume II: The Coming of Humanism and the Age of the Medici York: Harper Torchbooks, 1963
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