The Prince and the Discourses on Livy

Niccolo Machiavelli was at his time and continues to be now days one of the most influential and revolutionary authors known throughout the centuries. His writings, distinct from other renaissance authors of the epoch, make emphasis on his personal views and his opinions on the political matters taking place in Florence, Italy. Further discussed in the text are two of Machiavelli’s most renowned works, The Prince and the Discourses on Livy. Both books comprehend Machiavelli’s understandings of politics and explicit analysis on the various methods of governments with respect to principalities and republics.

Machiavelli had many intentions in mind when he was first writing The Prince, among which where to understand, instruct and influence the minds of rulers at the time. More precisely, Machiavelli meant to influence the mind of one ruler in particular, the ruler of Florence Lorenzo de’ Medici to whom the book is dedicated. Machiavelli’s purpose throughout the book intended to help Lorenzo de’ Medici achieve eminence as a prince and guide him on how to properly rule Florence.

The fist chapter of The Prince opens up by describing how many kinds of governments there are, in what manner they are given rise to and how they are later on acquired by states. Curiously, it is indeed, the first sentence of Chapter I which contains, what is perhaps, the most important discovery in Machiavelli’s entire writings from the Prince___ “ALL states and governments that have had, and have at present, dominion over men, have been and are either republics or principalities. Being introduced the topic on governments, Machiavelli proceeds to make an acquaintance on principalities and restrains himself to talk only about this one type of government___ “I Will not discuss here the subject of republics, having treated of them at length elsewhere, but will confine myself only to principalities. ” Machiavelli argues that principalities can be either hereditary, new or mixed. Hereditary principalities are the kinds of principalities “where the government has been for a long time in the family of the prince. The prince, in the line to succeed, is the natural heir to a perfect constitution on which to base his rule upon and for which people are accustomed. He explains that in order for the natural prince to continue with the good reign, is it merely enough that he accommodates himself to the order of things previously established by his predecessors and occasionally need to adapt institutions to the current events. Machiavelli argues that ereditary principalities are maintained with much less effort and difficulty than new or mixed principalities in reason that hereditary principalities, having made a fair beginning, have had the time to perfect its constitution and laws to assure security and bring content to all of those who live under its rule. Whereas in mixed and new principalities that rulers, having made a new start, may easily run out of time before having perfected its constitution and thus end up by destroying the state.

In addition, Machiavelli argues that the natural prince was also liable of inheriting the affection of the people who had at other periods in time become familiar with he’s family. Thus, to the disadvantage of new coming ruler’s, the natural prince had on his behalf a natural disposition of the subjects in the hereditary state to love the ruling family. Finally, Machiavelli concludes his chapter on hereditary principalities by saying that “for each change and alteration always prepares the way and facilitates the next. In simple english, that in hereditary states the rule from prince to prince is facilitated by bringing on a change at different times giving people an opportunity to come familiarize at their own pace, while new or mixed principalities are obliged to enforce change in a flash. Machiavelli has overtime become a common adjective to immorality for he deeply believes that the main objective to politics is by all means to remain in power. Machiavelli thinks of the virtue of the prince as the virtue of courage, strength and most importantly manhood.

He argues that it if the natural prince possesses such extreme sagacity, he will always maintain himself in the state unless deprived by a superior force. Nonetheless, if the natural prince has reasons enough to irritate his subjects and causes himself to be hated, people will willingly trade him for another ruler in the hopes that the new ruler will be better than the present one. Machiavelli says that once the prince is replaced, the state is no longer to be considered a hereditary principality but be classified as a mixed principality.

As Machiavelli had at first noted, new and mixed principalities are indeed much more difficult to maintain. For it is in new and mixed principalities that difficulties start to present themselves. Machiavelli states that mutations to form mixed principalities, in which men change their rulers gladly in the belief that they will better themselves by the change, arise from a natural difficulty. Unfortunately for the people, problems for Machiavelli do not stop here, for he argues that it is “an infinite number of other wrongs that follow in the train of new conquests. When the new prince takes over another prince’s domain, he finds himself in a delicate situation with regard to the people who put him in power and with those whom he injured by seizing that principality. He explains that the new prince has “for enemies all those whom he has injured by seizing that principality; and at the same time he cannot preserve as friends even those who have aided him in obtaining possession, because he cannot satisfy their expectations, nor can he employ strong measures against them, being under obligations to them. Concluded then that, no matter how strong the new prince may be for he will always need the goodwill of the inhabitants if he wishes to enter into firm possession of the country. So far seen in the Prince, Machiavelli confined himself to talk only about one type of government, principalities. Yet, in the Discourses on Livy, he moves on to put forth what he had set aside in The Prince, republics. It is then, that he’s writings take a new direction leading the way to six forms of government not mentioned before.

Whence, giving a whole new purpose to his second book which is to further explain and describe each type of government there are and particularly which will have the more benefits for any republic. It is important to note, beforehand, that the Discourses on Livy are considered to be Machiavelli’s concise commentaries on the history from the Foundation of Rome by Titus Livy. Hence, most of the discussions on governments in the Discourses on Livy will pertain to some extend the form of government in the Roman Republic.

Reason for this is that Machiavelli thought of Rome as more than just the capital of the republic but rather pondered it as a source of inspiration and forth more his role model to a perfect government___ “Having proposed to myself to treat of the kind of government established at Rome, and of the events that led to its perfection. ” At first, Machiavelli distinguishes three kinds of governments, the monarchical, the aristocratic, and the democratic. Nevertheless, after having read other authors, he makes account for six kinds of governments, three of which he classified as very bad, and the other three of which he classified as good.

From Machiavelli’s conception that the three bad ones result from the degradation of the first three is the emergence of Machiavelli’s cycle of governments in which the monarchy becomes a tyranny, the aristocracy degenerates into oligarchy and finally the popular government or democracy lapses into licentiousness. Machiavelli argues that “chance has given birth to these different kinds of governments amongst men” for at the beginning of times there were no states nor governments but just free men and women wandering around.

As the human race increased, the necessity for uniting themselves made itself felt. This necessity of which Machiavelli speaks is nothing more and nothing less than fear, fear for survival and desire for protection and self-defense. Thence, putting themselves into accordance, men agreed to choose the wisest and most just from amongst themselves and place him at their head with the promise to obey___monarchy. Sovereignty was to be hereditary and non-elective. Yet, short after, children began to naturally degenerate from their fathers giving up to extraordinary vices, libertinage, and violence.

Consequently, the prince soon drew upon himself the general hatred of his people. It is then, that Machiavelli alleges that the prince as “An object of hatred, he naturally felt fear; fear in turn dictated to him precautions and wrongs, and thus tyranny quickly developed itself. ” Growing discontent from the prince’s outrages and excesses caused armed masses of powerful leaders to oblige the prince to surrender the throne and further constituted by themselves the new government___aristocracy.

The aristocratic rulers indisposed to remain content with the civil equality of fortune surrendered to cupidity and ambition. Once again, experienced the same fate as with the first tyrant, people resolved to place themselves at command___oligarchy. Short after, the generation of people that had at first established it passed on and the government ran again into that kind of license which inflicts injury upon the common public.

Having overthrown the oligarchy a popular government was therefore resolved___democracy. Machiavelli concludes that these six types of governments are defective for the good are too short lived and no precautions can prevent either one from degenerating into its opposite kind. Because each individual in power consulted his own passions and thousands of acts of injustice were daily committed, the republic found itself in a position of constant disorders, conspiracies, and plots against its sovereigns.

Fortunately, sagacious legislators, knowing the vices of each of these systems of government, decided to captivate something from them all and gave emergence to a type of government in which power was equally dispersed in three categories. The three categories where composed of the king, the nobles, and the people and each one had it’s correspondingly portion of authority and duties. Machiavelli argues that the republic depends solely on these three powers to maintain itself strong, stable and solid.

For it is within this system that authority can be successively passed from the kings to the nobles and from nobles to the people. For a fact, he never got to provide a theory that justifies a form of government as the best form of government. However, we can induce from his writings that he thought of this type form as the most appropriate___ “organized the government of Sparta in such manner that, in giving to the king, the nobles, and the people each their portion of authority and duties, he created a government which maintained itself for over eight hundred years in the most perfect tranquility. Machiavelli reasoned that it is only when these three powers are combined under the same constitution that they are able to watch and keep each other in check. Consequently, with only one of the three elements of which we have spoken been omitted from it charges, the republic will most likely find itself vulnerable to disaster. Nonetheless, if the republic finds itself able to compensate for which ever element is missing, it will attain a perfect combination of powers and thus render the creation of the perfect constitution.

Machiavelli was born during the times of Italy’s renaissance, during which Florence was at the scene of its most intense political conflicts. Conversely to other scholars at the time, Machiavelli did not obtain his knowledge through any particular education but through many years of experience. As testimony of the repeated rise and fall of various governments, Machiavelli was able to understand the dynamics of politics and power.

He sought to describe political life as it really was, in order that politics should be regarded in the views on politics alone. Though Machiavelli wrote 500 years ago, his political world has much in common with the modern political world. Machiavelli was, indeed, far ahead of his time when he said that sharing power is absolutely necessary to the maintenance of the state and thus, governments should strive for the division of authority.

In spite of its antiquity, Machiavelli’s first organization of the state is possibly today’s point of departure to many forms of government. In his analysis of the Roman republic, Machiavelli distinguishes three powers, the king, the nobles, and the people. Similarly, our government is also separated into the executive, the legislative, and the judicial power. Machiavelli’s insights on power, control and leadership are steeped in the realism of historical events thus, provide valuable guidance to the present leaders in the field of politics.


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