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Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)

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Page 1: Niccolò Machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli(1469-1527)

Page 2: Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli: The end justifies the means

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In 1498, Niccolò Machiavelli began his career as an active politician in the independent city-state of Florence, engaging in

diplomatic missions through France and Germany as well as Italy.

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• In the sixteenth century, when Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince, Italy was not a unified country. 

• Instead, it was a collection of city-states, each with its own court and ruler, each attempting to gain power over the others.  In addition to being a place of domestic intrigue, Italy was also a battleground for the power-hungry French, the Spanish, the Germans, and the forces of the Catholic Church under the Popes (who were, in essence, as powerful as secular kings at this time)

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One of the major Italian city-states, the republic of Florence, had long maintained an alliance with the French, and when Pope Julius II defeated the French in 1512,  Florence was defeated too.  Pope Julius declared that he would not agree make peace unless Florence ceased to be a republic and accepted the Medici family as their rulers.

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Not so holy family: Lucrezia Borgia with father Rodrigo (Pope Alexander VI) and brother Caesare. The figure in the

foreground may be a depiction of the messenger Perotto. All three men were rumored to be the father of Lucretia's first


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After more than a decade of public service, he was driven from his post when the republic collapsed. Repeated efforts to win the confidence and approval of the new regime were unsuccessful, and Machiavelli was forced into retirement and a life of detached scholarship about the political process instead of direct participation in it.

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Machiavelli originally wrote Principe (The Prince) (1513) in hopes of securing the favor of the ruling Medici family, and he deliberately made its claims provocative.

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The Prince is an intensely practical guide to the exercise of raw political power over a Renaissance principality.

First to divorce politics from morality

Amoral, scientific handbook for rulers

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A focus on practical success by any means, even at the expense of traditional moral values, earned Machiavelli's scheme a reputation for ruthlessness, deception, and cruelty.

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Chapter Seven: Reputation of a prince

• Concerning the behavior of a prince toward his subjects, Machiavelli writes:

• "Men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good."

• Appearance of goodness

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Chapter SevenTo bring law and order to the renegade province of Romagna, Borgia sent out his strong man, Remirro de Orco, "a cruel and ready man, to whom he gave the fullest power. ... If any cruelty had been committed, this had not come from him but from the harsh nature of his minister."

Borgia showed his duplicitous nature when the people complained of de Orco's brutality.

Later Borgia had Remirro cut into pieces to quell the fickle crowd.

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Chapter 16: Generosity vs. parsimony

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• Avoid over generosity

• Additionally, being overly generous is not economical, because eventually all resources will be exhausted. This results in higher taxes and will bring grief upon the prince.

• Then, if he decides to discontinue or limit his generosity, he will be labeled as a miser.

• Guarding against the people’s hatred is more important than building up a reputation for generosity. A wise prince should be willing to be more reputed a miser than be hated for trying to be too generous.

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Chapter 17: Cruelty vs. mercy

• In answering the question of whether it is better to be loved than feared, Machiavelli writes,

• “It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved.”

• For a prince who leads his own army, it is imperative for him to observe cruelty because that is the only way he can command his soldiers' absolute respect.

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Chapter 18: In what way princes should keep their word

• Machiavelli notes that a prince is praised for keeping his word. However, he also notes that a prince is also praised for the illusion of being reliable in keeping his word.

• A prince, therefore, should only keep his word when it suits his purposes, but do his utmost to maintain the illusion that he does keep his word and that he is reliable in that regard.

• Therefore, a prince should not break his word unnecessarily.

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Chapter 25:Fortune is a woman• Fortune a river; free will dictates build dykes and

dams• Better to be rash than over cautious• “Fortune is a woman and, if you wish to keep her

down, you must beat her and pound her.”

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San Croce, In Florence; Machiavelli’s Tomb