The Power of Machiavelli’s The Prince

The Power of Machiavelli’s The Prince

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The Power of Machiavelli’s The Prince  


Nowadays, it is politically impossible to commit to paper a “training guide” for leaders. There are innumerable detractors to any possible stance or strategy a leader might adopt. As a result of this, all “training” must take place behind closed doors, far from the prying eyes and ears of the news media or the public. But this has not always been the case.

Niccolò Machiavelli was brave enough to give the leaders of his day a how-to guide. In this work, The Qualities of a Prince, we are given a point-by-point description of what a leader should do to effectively lead his country. Machiavelli explains that, because leadership is (obviously) a position of command, “[war] is the only profession which benefits one who commands. ”  (p. 33) He goes on to say that, in order to ensure peace, a leader must always be ready for war. He cites a multitude of past, present and even fictitious examples of military leaders who lead peaceful countries. He was writing, however, for the leaders of a heavily taxed, war torn area. His Italy was under constant attack from both French and Spanish soldiers, and at the same time under attack from the inside (the Medici family, Italy's current ruling family) by high taxes that funded the wars. His Qualities is considered by some to be the best manual for pulling a country out of a bad situation much like the one Italy was in. This work was not necessarily meant for a country that is already at peace. The ruthlessness of the leader described in Qualities would almost surely cause dissent among the people of the peaceful country.
                    Machiavelli chose many important points to bring up in his discussion on the necessity of military prowess. A leader must “…learn the nature of the terrain” (p. 36) that he is meant to protect. Machiavelli probably discusses this because the Medicis were not aware of the advantage that the French and Spanish were gaining by conquering the northern, mountainous regions of Italy. Militarily, higher ground is a much sought after advantage. The leaders of the land could in no
way get to know land that was no longer their own, and so, could no longer see the advantages or disadvantages of the land. What they must now do, is gain all knowledge of the land left to them, so as not to loose it.

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                    This is wonderful, and I will not be the one to say that knowledge of terrain is unimportant. But, it stands to reason that the lay of the land will do a country little good if there is no need to defend it. Machiavelli's logic is perfect for the situation of the time. It would do little good to know defense if peace runs as rampant as war did. If we prepared peace, there would be no need to know defense.
                   There is also the statement that, to know peace, you must prepare war. Machiavelli states this, again, as he lives through a ravaged northern Italy and a failing economy. If the Medicis had, in some way, shape or form prepared just the slightest for these wars, there would be (certainly) less of a problem. Rather, the Medicis focused on a strong economy, (meaning they made more money) thinking nothing of war. When war came, they were forced to raise taxes for defense
purposes. Machiavelli addresses the Medici's faults in leadership by stating what should be done.
                    The Cold War is a prime example of preparation for war's failure. The United States and the USSR were running a huge arms race against each other. Rather than prosper, as Machiavelli's statement describes, the US fell into debt and the economy went into recession. The USSR has yet to get out of the economic strife that the preparation for war left it in. The Cold War had its beginnings at the end of World War II. There was no longer a war, the erring nations had been subdued (especially Japan) and the world was at peace. There were no hostile actions between the US and Russia, only threats, indirect threats, at that. Had war been looming over either country, the preparation would have caused prosperity DURING THE WARTIME. There was peace throughout the globe, and Machiavelli's statements are not valid for world leaders facing possible peace.
                    Written for a wartime setting, The Qualities of a Prince discusses ideals for leadership of a warring nation, how to get out of the war. Machiavelli is writing for a very specific audience, the unfit rulers, the Medicis. His work is more a piece that shows their ineptness by showing what should be done. The actions it describes are not meant for a country facing peace, though admittedly if war reared its ugly head again, it would be beneficial to be ready for it. To know peace during a war, you must be ready to fight the fight. To know peace during peacetime, you must prepare peace.

 Works Cited

 Jacobus, Lee  A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers, Fifth Edition, 1988
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