Counterarguments and Inconsistencies in The Prince
——A Reader-Friendly Review
The Prince is a political treatise written by Machiavelli in 1513 when Italy became the center of intense political conflict. Machiavelli composed the pamphlet as a practical guide for ruling and hoped to gain himself an advisory position in the government by dedicating the book to the ruler of Florence. The major theme addressed in the book can be concluded as ends justify means, which gives itself a controversial place in history. The merits of the book, including the separation of politics and ethics for the first time in history and offering a rational, utility-oriented perspective in analyzing politics has been well documented by critics. As far as I agree with the brilliance of the book, I would like to offer some counterarguments concerning how to rule a nation and identify some inconsistencies in the book.
Consisting of 26 chapters, the book can be divided into four parts. The first three chapters describe the book’s scope in which Machiavelli states that the book is only concerned with autocratic regimes and defines various types of principalities. The second part, beginning from Chapter IV to Chapter XIV, constitutes the heart of the book. Machiavelli discusses a variety of issues concerning the running of a state including the advantages and disadvantages of various paths to power, how to acquire and hold new states, how to deal with internal insurrection, how to make alliances and how to maintain strong military power. Moving on to the third part, Machiavelli discusses in detail about the qualities of a ruler from Chapter XV to Chapter XXIII. The underlying view guiding the discussion is that noble qualities result in bad government. For rulers, acting in accordance with virtue is detrimental to the state. He should embrace vicious acts for the good of the state, and be adjustable. For example, rulers should be mean concerning money, for it avoids poverty. They should be a mixture of lions and foxes, for lions have strengths and foxes know how to spot traps. Also, they need not to keep their words as situations change. The important thing for rulers is the appearance of virtue instead of true virtue. At the end of the book, Machiavelli puts the discussion in a specific historical context: Italy’s disunity. He analyzes the failure of past rulers and finishes the book with an impassioned belief that only Lorenzo de’Medici can restore Italy’s glory. The book is most celebrated for its groundbreaking separation of politics and ethics, opening the inquiry for a new field called political science. Nevertheless, the book is highly controversial and enjoys a mixed reputation in history.
Despite its contrasting reputation, the content of the book, with its innovative ideas, deserves a second look. Without doubt, Machiavelli is a realist who views politics with vision and argues with reason and rationality. However, one can still offer some counterarguments and spot a...