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Notes on Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli- The qualities of the Prince
I. Background
  1. 1. Niccolo Machiavelli was an aristocrat whose fortunes wavered according to the shifts in power in Florence.
  2. 2. When Florence's famed Medici princes were returned to power in 1512 after eighteen years of banishment, Machiavelli did not far well. He was suspected of crimes against the state and imprisoned. Even though he was not guilty, he had to learn to support himself as a writer instead of continuing his career in civil services.
  3. 3. His work often contrasts two forces: luck (one's fortune) and character (one's virtues).
  4. 4. The Prince (1513), his most celebrated work, was a general treatise on the qualities the prince (or ruler) must have to maintain his power. In a more particular way, it was directed at the Medicis to encourage them to save Italy from the attacks of France and Spain.
  5. 5. The chapters represented here contain the core philosophy for which Machiavelli became famous. His instructions to the prince are curiously devoid of any high-sounding moralizing or any encouragement to be good as a matter of principle. Instead, Machiavelli recommends a very practical course of action for the prince: secure power by direct and effective means.
  6. 6. Through the years Machiavelli's view of human nature has come under criticism for its cynicism. For instance, he suggests that a morally good person would not remain long in any high office because that person would have to compete with the mass of people, who, he says, are basically bad. Machiavelli constantly tells us that he is describing the world as it really is, not as it should be.
II. Machiavelli's Rhetoric
  1. 1. His tone is that of a how-to book, relevant to a particular time and a particplace.
  2. 2. He is brief and to the point. Each segment of the discussion is terse and economical. Nothing is wasted.
  3. 3. Rhetorical Methods
  4. 1. They are pithy: they seem to say a great deal in a few words.
  5. 2. They appear to contain a great deal of wisdom, in part because they are delivered with such certainty, and in part because they have the ring of other aphorisms that we accept as true.
  1. 1. A princes duties towards military matters
  2. 2. On those things for which men, and particularly princes, are praised or blamed.
  3. 3. On generosity and miserliness
  4. 4. On cruelty and mercy and whether it is better to be loved than to be feared or the contrary.
  5. 5. How a prince should keep his word.
  6. 6. On avoiding being despised and hated.