Notes on Niccolo Machiavelli
Niccolo Machiavelli- The qualities of the Prince
II. Machiavelli's Rhetoric
- 1. Niccolo Machiavelli was an aristocrat whose fortunes wavered according to the shifts in power in Florence.
- 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. His work often contrasts two forces: luck (one's fortune) and character (one's virtues).
- 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. 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. 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.
- 1. His tone is that of a how-to book, relevant to a particular time and a particplace.
- 2. He is brief and to the point. Each segment of the discussion is terse and economical. Nothing is wasted.
- 3. Rhetorical Methods
- A. Directness
- - Machiavelli announces his primary point clearly, refers to his historical precedent (or several) to support his point, and then explains why his position is the best one by appealing to both common sense and historical experience. When he suspects the reader will not share his view wholeheartedly, he suggests an alternate argument and then explains why it is wrong. It gives the appearance of fairness and thoroughness. His method also gives his work fullness, a quality that makes us forget how brief it really is.
- B. Discussing opposites (including both sides of an issue)
- - This method may seem simple, but it is important because it employs two of the basic techniques of rhetoric- comparison and contrast (i.e. the art of war and the art of life, liberality and stinginess, cruelty and clemency, the fox and the lion).
- C. Aphorism (a saying or a sentence that sounds like a saying that has been accepted as true) i.e. "A penny saved id a penny earned" and "There is no fool like an old fool"
- - Machiavelli tells us: "It is much safer to be feared than to be loved" and "A man who wishes to make a vocation of being good at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good."
- - Such definite statements have several important qualities.
- 1. They are pithy: they seem to say a great deal in a few words.
- 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.
- · This may be why the speeches of contemporary politicians (modern versions of the prince) are often sprinkled with such expressions and illustrates why Machiavelli's rhetorical technique is still reliable, still effective, and still worth studying.
- · Here are six areas that a prince must have certain qualities to maintain his rule.
- 1. A princes duties towards military matters
- 2. On those things for which men, and particularly princes, are praised or blamed.
- 3. On generosity and miserliness
- 4. On cruelty and mercy and whether it is better to be loved than to be feared or the contrary.
- 5. How a prince should keep his word.
- 6. On avoiding being despised and hated.