A look on the relationship of philosophy and society through Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince
Understanding the mind of Niccolo Machiavelli
The Prince, in its entirety, deals with political power; politics which has been talked about, debated upon and has been a topic of discourses over the years, from the time the book was first published to the contemporary times. This book somewhat reflected Niccolo Machiavelli's character of being a good observer and with an acute skill in assessing political power, its strengths and weaknesses, how it is acquired and how it is lost.
A general consideration is taken that The Prince was written with the hands and mind of a man who lived centuries ago, hence we can presume that what were forwarded as ideas herein are not generally applicable in our concept of the states in contemporary times. It is said that Machiavelli was not a systematic thinker and makes his analysis of history during his time which was filled with conflicting events; hence no specific description can be attributed with that particular time in history.
Eventually, one can surmise that The Prince's contents are not general rules of politics that ought to be recognized and applied in our times. When we speak of The Prince, one would immediately be led to point out that the most recognizable concepts in Niccolo Machiavelli's book are the concepts of the principalities and one rule of grabbing power phrased as "the end justifies the means." The first deals with its acquisition and governance, while the latter encapsulates, with brevity, the modes of its acquisition, specifically through armed conflict and deception.
Machiavelli, in explaining the topic of the principalities, stated its kinds and the specific means as to how these states are to be acquired and governed. It is interesting to note that Machiavelli started to write this book with the topic of the principalities. It seems that he recognized the truth that majority of all conflicts of political power were initiated directly or indirectly with adverse claims between two conflicting parties on ownership or the rule of territorial lands or estates.
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In Machiavelli's own words, "principalities are either hereditary, in which case the family of the ruler has long been in power, or they are new. The new ones are either entirely new as Milan was to Francesco Sforza or they are, so to speak, members added to the hereditary possession of the prince who acquires them as the Kingdom of Naples is to the King of Spain." With this, he enumerated the kinds of principalities, though loosely defined indicating a lack of information cohesion, whereby he just stated these in their generalities; not with specifics.
Literally, within the historical context, an original copy of the first publication of the book was given as a gift to Lorenzo de Medici. But based on the question whether or not this book was intended for the general reader or not, an affirmative answer for both is proper. As the study of politics is within almost the entire university courses curriculum today, it's a must to have a general working knowledge of the different ideas and theories regarding the sources of political power and politics itself, hence, The Prince is a required reading. For scholars, it is there distinction to pursue and shed light over facts shrouded with obscurity. They need to discover the machinations of the power of politics to eventually understand the world populated with dictators and fascist rulers. Though not comprehensive in content, The Prince is again an indispensable source of information.
Although a reader would be led to think that this book is a scholarly material, the author's writings are replete with errors due, presumably, to the fact that he wrote the book according to his own understanding of things and historywithout mentioning whether he used other scholarly sources or materials which may have helped him in arriving to certain conclusions. The contents of the book tend to influence one to use aggression and force in seizing political power rather than with peaceful means; this acts being sanctioned by the Machiavellian philosophy that "the end justifies the means."
In a world where war and strife are common occurrences in every part thereof, certain philosophers over time advocated peace, yet in the mind of Niccolo Machiavelli, war is a natural common occurrence that, impliedly speaking, it can never be eradicated because it is a natural fixture of civilization. Hence, he advocated an alternative approach wherein one must emulate at the same time the methods of a wily fox and a fierce lion in order to survive. In instances where a ruler wants obedience from the inhabitants of a conquered principality using arms, he adopts the cruel method of a lion instilling fear into the people's hearts so as to command their obedience. With the character of a wily fox, a ruler can take advantage of war and control the results in his favor. However, Machiavelli failed to further elaborate the ramifications of using these machinations with the characters of a wily fox or a fierce lion. He neglected to further elaborate on the effect of these to the human personality for prolonged periods of time.
It is human nature that, if driven with fear, an individual easily obeys a master or a ruler. But the human personality doesn't have a limitless patience. By simple reasoning, the over-extension of a person's patience tends to push him to seek revenge and avenge himself for the faults and wrongdoings done to him. This often leads to assassination plots being carried out to unsuspecting rulers who weren't able to see or detect the signs that an individual or groups of people have had enough. This was exemplified by the assassinations of Antoninus, son of Servevus, and Maximinus who were killed because their own subjects eventually despised them because of their cruelty.
Basically, we can derive one conclusion that the contents of this book pertains to control. On the premise that if you can control each individual's heart and mind, you control their possessions, their lands and different properties. This is one of the bases of political powers. A person cannot exercise political power over his subjects without control over them.
The Prince can be said as an analysis of history within the context of politics but the contents are infused with narrations of individuals who held political powers. One can conclude that the intention of Niccolo Machiavelli in narrating some aspects of History's political figures was to exemplify these rules of politics as laid down in the book, as well as to address these rules' applicability.
The study of politics and political power has been in existence since the time rulers and leaders first exercised their dominion over their subjects. Some wanted to hold on to power for as long as they live and became dictators, while some did relinquish their power in favor to the collective consciousness of all citizens of a particular state. What were explained in The Prince shed light on the results that could happen when one holds on to power for a very long time without the consent of the governed. The book's concept of an ideal ruler would be one with a heart of stone and a brilliant, scheming mind. While The Prince is a big contribution to the literature of politics, its ideas, mostly, are considered impractical for application to the contemporary times in which people are trying to bridge the great divides between countries, ideals, cultures, and different government systems.