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The Prince begins with the author's dedication to Lorenzo de' Medici, grandson of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Machiavelli appeals to Lorenzo with poetic images and flattery, calling him "your Magnificence" and asking that he look favorably on the book. He tells Lorenzo that, in this book, he is giving him his most valuable possession: the knowledge of government that he has gained from years of experience and study.


Dedications were customary when Machiavelli wrote. Leading artists frequently chose a powerful nobleman or government official to honor in this manner. Some readers, however, consider Machiavelli's praise of Lorenzo as unwarranted, and a thinly veiled attempt to be restored to public office or to have his banishment lifted. (Remember that Machiavelli's removal from office wasn't due to any fault of his own, but occurred because he was a high-ranking official of the government that the Medici overthrew.) You should examine the dedication closely and decide for yourself about Machiavelli's intent. If you believe he's making a calculated appeal to Lorenzo's pride, the chapters that follow may ring false. But if you think he's asking Lorenzo for an appointment to public office or for pardon, the chapters may take on new meaning for you, as Machiavelli spells out the specifics of his argument. Once you've finished the entire book, go back and reread the dedication, and see if your opinion's changed.


The first two chapters of The Prince introduce types of rule common when Machiavelli wrote: republics and principalities. He points out that he has already discussed the role of republics-democratic states in which power rests with the citizens and their elected representatives-in an earlier work and asks you to consider now the subject of principalities.


To fully understand Machiavelli's motives in writing The Prince, you need to be able to separate the man from the book. That this is not an easy task is evidenced by the poor public reputation Machiavelli has had through the centuries. To call someone Machiavellian is to call that person sinister, diabolical, without regard for human morality.

You must remember that The Prince was written as a specific solution to a specific problem. In it, Machiavelli describes monarchy, yet that fact does not mean Machiavelli favored monarchy above all other forms of government. Florence had tried a republican form of government and had failed. The Medici were now in control, and Machiavelli was writing about current political realities. Actually, Machiavelli considered the Roman Republic a more admirable form of government than any monarchy. He wrote about republican regimes at length in Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy (1518?).

Principalities are either hereditary or new. Hereditary principalities are those whose government has been in the family of a ruler, or prince, for a long time. New principalities are those that are entirely new, like Milan, or those that have been annexed to a state by the prince who acquires them-as the kingdom of Naples was to Spain during Machiavelli's time.

Hereditary states, accustomed to their princes, are maintained with much less difficulty than new states. An example of a hereditary prince ruling his state is the Duke of Ferrara, who could not have resisted the assaults of the Venetians in 1484, nor those of Pope Julius II in 1510, had he not held the reins of power by hereditary right. A well-established prince, like the Duke of Ferrara, thus has less cause and less necessity for irritating his subjects; and it is reasonable to assume that he should be more popular than other princes. And unless extraordinary vices should cause him to be hated, he will naturally have the affection of his people.


Machiavelli takes many of his historical examples from contemporary rulers, politicians, and religious figures. Some commentators suggest that Machiavelli's use of well-known names and events is evidence that he's appealing to Lorenzo de' Medici's sense of national pride in order to win his favor. Consider this explanation as you interpret The Prince, but also be aware that Machiavelli's considerable political experience and travel abroad on diplomatic missions provided him with many examples of leadership that could have served as role models for the intended reader of the book. In reviewing the types of principalities outlined in Chapters 1 and 2, how would you describe the systems of government in the United States or Great Britain in terms of Machiavelli's political scheme? Would each fit easily into one of these types of principality? Consider this question carefully before reading further; it will help you strengthen your understanding of the distinctions critical to each of Machiavelli's categories.

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