Essay on "The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli Machiavelli's "The Prince" in essence notes that anyone who hopes to gain the favor of a prince must present him with a gift. The book is his gift to Lorenzo de Medici, a Florentine ruler during the Renaissance period. Machiavelli lessens the value of the book, as was the custom, saying it is unworthy of acceptance. Nevertheless, it may prove useful to the prince to become powerful.
The author has been close to the seats of power and has learned how princes gain and lose control of situations and people. Machiavelli implies an offer of alliance to Lorenzo who has the position that can make him powerful, but lacks the information that Machiavelli can give him. Machiavelli thinks of "the people" as masses. Machiavelli does not trust the masses; they are as fickle as nobles or rulers.
He makes distinctions between the actions and motivations of nobles and the people. However both on occasion can and must be used for the Prince's benefit. He writes the Prince must be careful to select those nobles to whom he gives trust and favors, and they be made to realize that their fortunes are tied to those of the Prince. Thus, the people must also be made to feel that the destruction of the Prince is their own destruction.
Machiavelli warns the Prince about auxiliary troops, they present dangers to the Prince who uses them. If they lose, the Prince is defeated; if they win, he becomes their prisoner. Machiavelli states that it is better to lose with your own men than to win with troops belonging to someone else. Machiavelli turns to the example of Cesare Borgia, his hero, to illustrate this point. Cesare conquered Romagna with auxiliaries, but he did not trust these troops, and after ridding himself of them, he relied upon his own men. Machiavelli notes that Cesare's reputation reached its height when he had victories with his own men.
Machiavelli writes, all princes are blamed or praised for imaginary qualities. One may be considered miserly, while another is thought of as liberal; this Prince has the reputation of being merciful, while that one is spoken of as cruel. It is considered good to have fine, noble qualities, even though no ruler can really be as fine as his more ardent followers think him to be. Yet, the Prince should try to have the reputation of excellence in all he is and does, even if this is not true. He should take care that his subjects think him kind, trustworthy, frank, chaste, and honest. The Prince should not hesitate to take whatever actions necessary, however dishonorable, in order to further his interests.
The Prince should not mind being thought of as miserly. Only in this way can he retain power. It is true that Caesar and others gained power through liberality and large grants. Machiavelli replies that such actions are acceptable only when power is desired, never when power is actually possessed. Machiavelli adds that if money has to be spent, the Prince is faced with the choice of using his own funds, those of his subjects, or those of others. He should never spend his own money, but may spend as much of other people's money as is necessary to gain power.
Machiavelli served in several special diplomatic assignments. In these years, his vision and scope expanded from Florence to all of Western Europe. His missions took him to the courts of Emperor Maximilian of the Holy Roman Empire and King Louis XII of France. Most important, he visited many of the other Italian city-states and learned of their internal politics and court intrigues.