The Prince And The Discourses: A Study In Sovereign Power

1601 words - 6 pages

When Machiavelli originally wrote The Prince at the end of 1513 and perhaps early 1514, it had been written quickly by an author who was, among other things, seeking to regain his status in the Florentine government. Since many of his colleagues in the republican government had been quickly rehabilitated and returned to service under the Medici’s, Machiavelli felt that he needed a fair advantage in order to regain his previous post. It was originally written for presentation to Giuliano de'Medici, who might have actually appreciated it. But the dedication was changed when Giulianos died and it was then rededicated to Lorenzo de'Medici who probably did not read it when it came into his hands in 1516. Then in 1515-16, when he wrote the Discourses (a much longer process) it was probably the result of many discussions he might previously have had with scholars knowledgeable in political theory. In any event, when looking at these two books it becomes evident that the Prince was meant for an audience who wouldn’t take it completely seriously but would look to it as a satirical reminder of what could be; and then with the Discourses, of how it should be done.
Machiavelli's political treatise, The Prince, has previously been seen as a departure from traditional thinking of the time. Machiavelli wanted a new theory that was free of stagnate ideals and ethical codes. The way he described government was as if it were a practical, efficient machine that made its own rules to fit the situation at hand instead of abiding by laws, morals, or culturally created traditions. Every political thinker before Machiavelli treated the use of power as a means to an end; their only differences lying in what they considered that end to be and how far they were willing to go to obtain it. But how did Machiavelli view the purpose of government?
Machiavelli considered the use of power to be an end in itself. The traditional government bound itself to some form of moral code that had been sanctioned by the people. The only such code followed by a Machiavellian prince was the acquisition, retention, and expansion of power, and there were no limits placed on any activity done in the pursuit of this goal as long as they didn’t exceed the limits of the people. A prince feared was acceptable; a prince loathed was a bad sovereign. Machiavelli suggested that the prince do whatever it takes to conquer and maintain the state while still upholding the society above the state of nature.
Yet in contrast, the best way to avoid this state of nature and uphold society according to Machiavelli is a republic, since a true monarchy cannot be obtained. A true monarchy would be the most effective government but the faults of man hinder this governmental option. Machiavelli's arguments in favor of republican governments are directly connected to his skeptical stance on the acquisition of virtue by any single individual since he feels that a truly stable principality can never be...

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