The Prince

by Niccolò Machiavelli, Rufus Goodwin (Translator), Benjamin Martinez (Illustrator) ...more

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: April 12, 2024
The Prince
The Prince

Explore the profound political insights of Machiavelli's "The Prince" with this comprehensive book summary. Uncover the realist and visionary elements, the themes of political redemption, and the strategic use of rhetoric. Gain practical takeaways to apply Machiavelli's timeless wisdom.

What are the big ideas?

Machiavelli's Duality: Realist and Visionary

Machiavelli breaks from traditional realism by combining the 'effectual truth of the matter' with a visionary political imagination, foreseeing a radically different political reality that could inspire profound transformations.

Contrasting Guicciardini’s realism, Machiavelli’s work transcends mere observational politics by advocating for exceptional leaders capable of reshaping societies.

Political Redemption as Core Theme

Machiavelli’s ultimate message in The Prince emphasizes the need for a redeemer to establish a new, virtuous political order in Italy, uniting the country and expelling foreign dominions.

This concept is notably illustrated in the 'Exhortation to Liberate Italy' which serves as the climax of The Prince.

The Prince’s Compatibility with Republican Ideals

Despite being seen as a guide for monarchs, The Prince also aligns with republican principles by discussing the formation of new states that could evolve into republics, reflecting a broader democratic potential.

Machiavelli's other works, particularly the Discourses on Livy, support this interpretation, showing his advocacy for civic virtue and popular involvement.

Founder Myths as Inspirational Tools

Machiavelli utilizes the stories of historical founders and prophets, dramatizing their roles to provide compelling examples of leadership that transcend their time and inspire future generations.

He cites figures like Moses and Romulus, emphasizing the necessity of armed force and divine inspiration to maintain order and achieve great deeds.

Strategic Use of Rhetoric in Political Writing

Machiavelli expertly employs classical rhetoric techniques in The Prince, shaping the political discourse to persuade and mobilize leaders towards ambitious political actions.

He incorporates methods like amplificatio for emphasis and conquestio to evoke emotional responses conducive to revolutionary action.

Reinterpretation of Machiavelli’s Works Across Centuries

The significance of Machiavelli’s ideas, particularly the myth of the political redeemer, has been reevaluated and embraced differently across various historical contexts, from indifference to enthusiastic endorsement.

From the 18th-century thinkers like Hegel to 20th-century interpretations by Mussolini and Gramsci, Machiavelli’s influence adapted to the prevailing political climates and needs.

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Machiavelli's Duality: Realist and Visionary

Machiavelli was a political visionary who combined keen realism with a bold imagination. Unlike traditional political realists who merely observed and described the status quo, Machiavelli envisioned a radically transformed future.

At the core of Machiavelli's thought was the belief that exceptional leaders could reshape societies and nations. He did not simply document "the effectual truth of the matter" - the cold, hard facts of political life. Rather, Machiavelli used his rhetorical prowess to inspire such transformative leaders, painting a vivid picture of what Italy could become under the right guidance.

This duality - realism grounded in historical analysis, combined with a visionary political imagination - set Machiavelli apart from contemporaries like Guicciardini. While they were content to chronicle the ebb and flow of power, Machiavelli sought to harness that power to achieve a bold new reality. His writings were not mere observations, but a clarion call for a redeemer who could liberate Italy and usher in a new era of strength and prosperity.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about Machiavelli's duality as both a realist and a visionary:

  • Guicciardini's Realism vs. Machiavelli's Visionary Approach: The context notes that while Guicciardini believed politics should focus on "recognizing" recurring patterns from history, Machiavelli had a "strong inclination to make use of political imagination" and "was keen and able to imagine political possibilities, like the redemption of Italy, that were very remote from reality (if not impossible)."

  • Imagining a Rebirth of Ancient Roman Wisdom: The context states that in his "Discourses on Livy", Machiavelli "conceived a rebirth of ancient Roman political wisdom" - a visionary idea not grounded in mere observation.

  • Fantasizing about Restoring Roman Military Orders: Similarly, in "The Art of War", Machiavelli "fantasized about the restoration of Roman military orders and virtue" - again demonstrating his ability to imagine radically different political realities.

  • Designing a Redeemer to Create a New Political Order: The key insight is that in "The Prince", Machiavelli's purpose was to "design and invoke a redeemer of Italy capable of creating, with God's help, new and good political order" - a visionary goal beyond just describing political facts.

  • The "Exhortation" as Powerful Rhetoric to Motivate Action: The context highlights how the "Exhortation" at the end of "The Prince" is a "fine piece of political rhetoric" meant to "impel action" and "motivate a new prince to be a redeemer" - showing Machiavelli's skill in using language to shape political possibilities.

In summary, while Machiavelli was a skilled political realist, he combined this with a visionary imagination that allowed him to conceive of radically transformed political realities and exceptional leaders capable of bringing them about. This duality sets him apart from more purely observational political thinkers like Guicciardini.

Political Redemption as Core Theme

Machiavelli's central message in The Prince is the need for a political redeemer to liberate Italy from foreign domination and establish a new, virtuous political order. This redeemer figure is powerfully evoked in the climactic "Exhortation to Liberate Italy" at the end of the work.

Machiavelli believed that Italy's redemption required an extraordinary leader - a founder or redeemer - who could unite the country, expel foreign powers, and institute new, ethical political institutions. This leader would need to display exceptional virtue and authority, even if they had to resort to morally questionable means at times.

Machiavelli saw this redemptive political leadership as crucial not just for monarchies, but also for republics. He argued that while citizens play a vital role in maintaining a well-ordered republic, such states also require great founders and redeemers to establish them in the first place. The Prince, therefore, outlines Machiavelli's vision for this type of transformative political leadership.

By placing this redemptive message at the climax of The Prince, Machiavelli signals that it represents his core political philosophy. He believed that the possibility of political and national emancipation was essential to inspire real-world action and change. This is why The Prince has remained a seminal, "living" work for centuries - it speaks to the enduring human desire for political and social resurrection.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight that political redemption is a core theme in Machiavelli's The Prince:

  • Machiavelli openly expresses the Prince's message of emancipation in the "Exhortation to liberate Italy" at the end of the work, which he wrote between August 1513 and January 1514.

  • Machiavelli believed that Italy's miserable condition was due to the lack of true unity and a political and military leader capable of liberating Italy from foreign domination. As early as August 1513, he had clearly expressed this view.

  • In the Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli writes about the duty of a "good man" to teach others the good that could not be achieved due to the "malignity of the times and of fortune", so that someone "more loved by heaven" may be able to accomplish it.

  • In the Discourse on Remodeling the State of Florence, Machiavelli eloquently invokes a reformer capable of remodeling the political orders and establishing a "free government", comparing such figures to those who have been "gods".

  • In the Florentine Histories, Machiavelli expresses hope that a "wise, good and powerful citizen" will arise in Florence to establish "good laws and good orders" and maintain the city's freedom and stability.

  • Machiavelli believed in the power of poetry and myths to inspire political redeemers, as evidenced by his references to Petrarch's verses about a "cavalier" who will honor all of Italy.

These examples illustrate Machiavelli's consistent focus on the need for a political redeemer or founder capable of uniting and liberating Italy from foreign domination, which is a core theme running through his major works, including The Prince.

The Prince’s Compatibility with Republican Ideals

The Prince is not just a guide for monarchs, but also aligns with republican principles. Machiavelli discusses the formation of new states that could evolve into republics, reflecting a broader democratic potential.

Machiavelli's other works, particularly the Discourses on Livy, further support this interpretation. In these writings, he advocates for civic virtue and popular involvement in government. This suggests The Prince is not solely about empowering individual rulers, but also about empowering the people to shape their own political destiny.

Ultimately, The Prince reveals Machiavelli's belief that effective political leadership, whether in a monarchy or republic, requires a balance of pragmatism and idealism. He saw the potential for redemption and founding in both monarchical and republican systems, making his most famous work relevant to a wide range of political thinkers and practitioners.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight that The Prince is compatible with republican ideals:

  • Machiavelli's essay "Discourse on Remodeling the State of Florence" exalts the figure of the political reformer, using language very similar to The Prince, and states that Florence must resume its republican institutions after the current rulers' power ends.
  • Machiavelli explicitly states in The Prince that "if princes are superior to peoples in ordering laws, forming civil lives, and ordering new statutes and orders, peoples are so much superior in maintaining things ordered that without doubt they attain the glory of those who order them." This suggests the importance of popular participation in maintaining political orders.
  • The "Exhortation" at the end of The Prince calls for a "redeemer" to liberate Italy, using language reminiscent of biblical figures like Moses who led a people to emancipation. This reflects a broader democratic potential in Machiavelli's thought.
  • Political thinkers like James Harrington in the 17th century saw Machiavelli as rediscovering the "ancient prudence" needed to establish republics based on the common interest and rule of law.
  • The Prince's discussion of "founders" and "redeemers" who can create new political orders aligns with the republican ideals of civic virtue and popular involvement emphasized in Machiavelli's other works like the Discourses on Livy.

Founder Myths as Inspirational Tools

Machiavelli leverages the mythic narratives of historical founders and prophets to craft inspirational examples of transformative leadership. He dramatically highlights figures like Moses and Romulus, emphasizing how armed force and divine inspiration were essential for them to establish new political orders and maintain control.

These founder myths serve as powerful tools to galvanize and guide future leaders. Machiavelli presents them as models to be emulated and surpassed, arguing that a successful redeemer must be an "armed prophet" - one who can not only persuade with words, but also compel obedience through the sword when necessary.

By dramatizing the deeds of these great men of the past, Machiavelli aims to inspire his readers in the present. He suggests that with the right combination of virtue, opportunity, and the willingness to use force, a new Moses or Romulus could arise to redeem and transform the political landscape, just as their legendary predecessors had done.

Here are specific examples from the context that support the key insight about Machiavelli's use of founder myths as inspirational tools:

  • Machiavelli cites the examples of Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus as "rare and marvelous men" who became princes through their own virtue and armies, not just by fortune. He emphasizes that three of them were exposed as infants and then rescued, which he sees as evidence of their divine origin and God's friendship.

  • Machiavelli argues that these founders were successful because they were "armed prophets" - they not only persuaded people with words, but could also use force to maintain order when people no longer believed in their vision. In contrast, "unarmed prophets" like Savonarola failed to achieve their goals.

  • Machiavelli directly encourages the reader to "imitate those who have been the most excellent" of these founder figures, even if one's own virtue does not match theirs, so that it will at least "have the smell of it."

  • In the dedicatory letter, Machiavelli tells the reader that he is offering "the knowledge of the deeds of great men" from his study of ancient and modern affairs, indicating that these founder stories are the core of his reflections.

  • Machiavelli's vivid descriptions of figures like Moses, Romulus, and Theseus are not meant as dry historical accounts, but as dramatic, inspirational examples to spur the reader to emulate their bold, forceful leadership in founding new political orders.

The context shows how Machiavelli deliberately uses these founder myths as powerful rhetorical tools to make his political advice more compelling and impactful for the reader, transcending the specific historical context.

Strategic Use of Rhetoric in Political Writing

Machiavelli was a master of rhetoric, the art of persuasive writing and speaking. In his seminal work, The Prince, he strategically employed classical rhetorical techniques to shape political discourse and mobilize leaders towards ambitious goals.

One key technique Machiavelli used was amplificatio, which involves exaggerating or emphasizing certain points to make them more impactful. For example, he would dramatically describe the misery and degradation of Italy to stir up strong emotions in his readers, priming them to be receptive to his call for a "redeemer" to liberate the nation.

Another rhetorical device Machiavelli employed was conquestio, a form of emotional appeal that evokes pity, indignation or other sentiments. By highlighting his own undeserved hardships and neglect, he positioned himself as a credible, sympathetic advisor whose advice should be heeded.

Through these and other sophisticated rhetorical maneuvers, Machiavelli crafted a persuasive political treatise that did not merely present dry facts, but rather sought to inspire and galvanize his audience towards bold, transformative action. His mastery of rhetoric was a key part of his political realism and desire to reshape the world.

Here are specific examples from the context that illustrate Machiavelli's strategic use of rhetoric in his political writing:

  • Amplificatio: The context notes that in diplomatic missions, Machiavelli was instructed to use the rhetorical technique of amplificatio to "aggrandize our merits or the value of the cause that we are defending." For example, when addressing the King of France, Machiavelli was advised to "make a summary of all these matters, which will go to prove that we have been treated by them more like enemies than friends, amplifying or extenuating these matters as will best serve our cause."

  • Conquestio: The context describes how Machiavelli used the rhetorical device of conquestio, or lament, to point out that he has "suffered although innocent and that his merits have been overlooked" in the dedicatory letter of The Prince. This was intended to make the reader, Lorenzo de' Medici, more sympathetic and well-disposed towards Machiavelli's advice.

  • Inspiring Historical Examples: Machiavelli frequently invoked inspiring historical figures like Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus as "rhetorical" examples to "render more persuasive a piece of political advice and to stimulate the desire to emulate a specific way of acting." These examples were not meant to demonstrate scientific laws, but to mobilize political action.

  • Metaphors and Imagery: To explain the need for a prince to use both force and deceit, Machiavelli employed the metaphorical imagery of the fox and the lion, stating "the lion does not defend itself from snares and the fox does not defend itself from wolves. So one needs to be a fox to recognize snares and a lion to frighten the wolves."

  • Biblical Allusions: Machiavelli also drew on biblical figures and stories, such as the example of David refusing Saul's arms before facing Goliath, to derive political lessons about the "arms of others" not being suitable for a leader.

Through these strategic uses of classical rhetorical techniques, Machiavelli crafted his political writings, especially The Prince, to persuade and inspire leaders towards ambitious political action, even revolutionary change, in service of redeeming Italy.

Reinterpretation of Machiavelli’s Works Across Centuries

Machiavelli's ideas, especially his concept of the political redeemer, have been reinterpreted and embraced differently across centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries, his work was widely condemned as immoral and a guide for tyrants. However, this changed in the 18th and 19th centuries, when thinkers like Hegel saw Machiavelli's redeemer as a model for national emancipation and unity.

In the 20th century, Machiavelli's ideas were further reinterpreted to suit the prevailing political climates. Mussolini and Gramsci both drew on Machiavelli's myth of the redeemer, but adapted it to their own visions of political and social transformation. Gramsci, for instance, reimagined the redeemer as a collective leadership driving mass-based emancipation, rather than a single heroic figure.

These diverse reinterpretations highlight how Machiavelli's influential but controversial ideas have been continually reexamined and repurposed to address the political needs and challenges of different eras. His concept of the redeemer, in particular, has proven remarkably adaptable, serving as a potent symbol of national renewal and social change across the centuries.

Here are examples from the context that support the key insight about the reinterpretation of Machiavelli's works across centuries:

  • In the 18th century, Hegel powerfully vindicated and extolled Machiavelli's myth of the redeemer in his essay on The German Constitution. Hegel believed that just as Machiavelli's Italy needed a redeemer, so too did the politically fragmented Germany, and that Machiavelli's Prince could provide the model.

  • A few years later, in 1807, Johann Gottlieb Fichte published an essay on Machiavelli that indicated a new interpretation of Machiavelli as a theorist of national emancipation and unity, similar to Hegel's perspective.

  • In the early 20th century, Mussolini saw Machiavelli's ideas as justification for his own authoritarian and nationalist agenda, embracing the myth of the redeemer.

  • In his reflections on the communist movement in the 1920s-30s, Gramsci reinterpreted and rewrote the myth of the Machiavellian founder, adapting it to a theory of social emancipation led by a collective leadership.

  • Gramsci saw The Prince not as a systematic treatise, but as a "living work" that fused political ideology and science into a dramatic "myth" to excite the political passions of the people and inspire them to action.

The key point is that Machiavelli's influential ideas, particularly the powerful myth of the political redeemer, were repeatedly reinterpreted and embraced across different historical contexts to serve the prevailing political needs and agendas, from Hegel's Germany to Gramsci's communist vision.


Let's take a look at some key quotes from "The Prince" that resonated with readers.

Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.

This quote means that people often base their opinions on surface appearances, judging others by their actions or public image. However, they rarely get to see the true character and motivations of those individuals, which often remain hidden or unknown. Therefore, it's crucial not to judge a book by its cover and take time to understand someone's real nature before forming an opinion.

If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.

The quote suggests that if someone must harm another person, the injury should be so significant that the victim won't have the power to retaliate. It implies that a leader should deal with conflicts decisively and ensure their opponents are thoroughly defeated, preventing future retaliation.

The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.

The quote means that a leader's intelligence can be gauged by examining the qualities and capabilities of their advisors and associates. If a ruler has competent, wise, and experienced individuals in their inner circle, it suggests that the leader values knowledge, skill, and good judgment. Conversely, if a leader surrounds themselves with unqualified, biased, or inept people, it may indicate poor decision-making abilities or a lack of intelligence on the part of the leader.

Comprehension Questions

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How well do you understand the key insights in "The Prince"? Find out by answering the questions below. Try to answer the question yourself before revealing the answer! Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. What differentiates a political thinker who is both a realist and a visionary from one who is merely a realist?
2. How can rhetorical skill influence political change according to the discussed thinker's approach?
3. What role do exceptional leaders play in transforming political realities according to the discussed concept?
4. What is the significance of combining historical analysis with political imagination in political thought?
5. What is the role of a redeemer according to the text?
6. Why does the text emphasize the need for virtue and authority in leadership?
7. What significance does the redeemer figure hold in both monarchies and republics?
8. How does the text suggest the enduring relevance of its political themes?
9. What is the significance of the relationship between rulers and the people in maintaining political orders, according to Machiavelli?
10. How do Machiavelli's writings suggest a broader application beyond empowering individual rulers?
11. What does Machiavelli believe is necessary for effective leadership in both monarchies and republics?
12. In what way does Machiavelli's concept of 'redeemers' and 'founders' suggest republican ideals?
13. How does Machiavelli's advocacy for civic virtue and popular involvement relate to republican governance?
14. What role do mythic narratives of historical figures play in inspirational leadership according to Machiavelli?
15. Why does Machiavelli emphasize the importance of being an 'armed prophet' in leadership?
16. How does Machiavelli suggest that current leaders use the examples of past legendary leaders?
17. What is the purpose of using amplificatio in persuasive writing?
18. How does the rhetorical technique of conquestio function in persuasive contexts?
19. Why might a writer use historical examples in persuasive arguments?
20. What is the significance of employing metaphors and imagery in political writings?
21. How can biblical allusions contribute to persuasiveness in political writing?
22. What did thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries use the concept of the political redeemer for?
23. How was the myth of the political redeemer adapted in the 20th century?
24. What does the continual reexamination and repurposing of Machiavelli's redeemer concept across different eras reveal about its nature?

Action Questions

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"Knowledge without application is useless," Bruce Lee said. Answer the questions below to practice applying the key insights from "The Prince". Mark the questions as done once you've answered them.

1. How can you integrate visionary thinking into your daily decision-making processes, especially in situations that traditionally demand realism?
2. How can you embody the characteristics of a transformative leader in your own community or organization to initiate meaningful change?
3. How can you incorporate principles of civic virtue and popular involvement in your community or organization?
4. What strategies can you adopt to balance pragmatism and idealism in your leadership approach, promoting effective political or organizational governance?
5. How can you use the concept of "armed prophets" as a metaphor to enhance your own leadership or influence strategy in your community or organization?
6. What lessons can be drawn from the successes and failures of legendary leaders to navigate challenges and achieve personal goals?
7. How can you use rhetorical techniques to enhance the impact of your communications in your professional or personal life?
8. How can you use historical political theories to address modern societal challenges?
9. In what ways can the concept of a 'redeemer' be reimagined today to inspire community or organizational change?

Chapter Notes


  • The Prince is not about the "autonomy of politics from morals": The passages cited by supporters of this view are about how all humans, not just princes, must sometimes act in immoral ways for political necessity. Machiavelli did not advocate a principle of the autonomy of politics.

  • The Prince is not solely about political realism: Machiavelli was a "realist sui generis" who imagined political realities very different from the existing one, as seen in his other works like the Discourses on Livy.

  • The "Exhortation" is the key to understanding The Prince: The final chapter, with its call for a redeemer of Italy, is the "natural conclusion of the book" and the key to understanding Machiavelli's true message.

  • The Prince is about political redemption and founding: Machiavelli wrote The Prince to design and invoke a redeemer of Italy capable of creating a new and good political order, thereby attaining perennial glory.

  • The Prince is compatible with Machiavelli's republican thought: The prince in The Prince is not the founder of a reigning dynasty, but the founder of an independent state that may evolve into a republic, as seen in Machiavelli's other works.

  • Machiavelli's personal circumstances influenced The Prince: Machiavelli's own desire for political resurrection and redemption is reflected in the text, making The Prince a work on political redemption composed by a man trying to redeem himself.

Chapter One: The Prince as a Redeemer

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • The Redeemer and the Armed Prophet: Machiavelli presents the figure of the "redeemer" and the "armed prophet" as the core of his reflections in The Prince. These are the great men who have founded new political orders through their virtue and armed forces, such as Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus.

  • Difficulty of Founding New Political Orders: Machiavelli argues that it is extremely difficult to introduce new political orders, as the innovator has as enemies all those who profit from the old order and only lukewarm defenders in those who might profit from the new order.

  • Necessity of Armed Prophecy: Machiavelli claims that all armed prophets were victorious, while the unarmed came to ruin, because people are fickle by nature and need to be made to believe by force when they no longer believe through persuasion alone.

  • Examples of Great Deeds: Machiavelli sets the examples of the great deeds accomplished by the founders and redeemers of the past as the models to be followed, such as Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus.

  • Greatness and Nobility of Spirit: Machiavelli contrasts friendships acquired through money, which are unreliable, with friendships acquired through "greatness and nobility of spirit," which are the foundation for the accomplishment of great political deeds.

  • The "Exhortation" and the Composition of The Prince: Machiavelli likely composed the "Exhortation" at the same time as the rest of The Prince, as it is conceptually connected with chapter VI and refers to events that were very recent in 1513.

  • Machiavelli's Passion for his Fatherland: Machiavelli's overwhelming passion for his fatherland, Italy, and his hope for its redemption from foreign domination, are central to understanding the meaning and purpose of The Prince.

Chapter Two: A Realist with Imagination

  • Machiavelli as a "Realist with Imagination": Machiavelli combined strict adherence to the "effectual truth of the matter" (la realtà effettuale della cosa) with a powerful political imagination. He was able to conceive of a radically different political and moral reality, reflecting deep historical aspirations, and had the power to move people to action.

  • Machiavelli's Realism vs. Guicciardini's Realism: Guicciardini, the true example of political realism, criticized Machiavelli for his inclination to generalize and interpret political events through abstract models and examples from antiquity. Machiavelli, in contrast, believed that "rare and marvellous men" could appear and accomplish grand things like unifying scattered peoples and resurrecting political liberty.

  • Machiavelli's Mythmaking: Machiavelli was skilled at creating political myths from his observations of political events, such as his treatment of Caterina Sforza and Cesare Borgia. These myths were intended to offer vivid examples of true princely virtue and inspire action.

  • The Importance of Armies and Religion for the Redeemer: Machiavelli believed that the redeemer he invoked in the "Exhortation" must have soldiers and captains totally loyal to him, and that these soldiers must fear God in order to take a serious oath and be effective. Eloquence and the ability to move soldiers' passions were also essential for the redeemer.

  • Machiavelli's Awareness of the Difficulty of Grasping Political Reality: Machiavelli's realism was based on the knowledge of history and the analysis of human passions, rather than a scientific study of politics. He recognized the limits of one's capacity to understand the significance of political events, as princes often deceive and cover their real plans.

  • Judging by the Eyes vs. Judging by the Hands: Machiavelli distinguished between "judging by the eyes" (typical of the masses) and "judging by the hands" (characteristic of wise men). The latter involves understanding the passions and humors that orient particular princes' and rulers' conduct, rather than being deceived by appearances.

  • Interpretation and Uncertainty in Politics: For Machiavelli, political facts are subject to contrasting interpretations and assessments, as there is no conclusive tribunal to settle them. Interpreting princes' intentions and actions involves a work of guessing and narrative construction, rather than the identification of rational or empirical laws.

Chapter Three: A Great Oration

  • Machiavelli's Mastery of Rhetoric: Machiavelli was a skilled practitioner of classical rhetoric, which he employed in his political and historical works to shape the "spirits" of his readers and persuade them to emulate the virtues of antiquity. He studied rhetoric from an early age and refined his skills while serving as Segretario, writing official letters and composing political orations.

  • Rhetorical Techniques in The Prince: In The Prince, Machiavelli displayed his mastery of deliberative rhetoric, following the classical rules of the genre. He used techniques such as amplificatio and extenuatio, historical examples, similes, images, and metaphors to make his political advice more persuasive. He also structured the work according to the rhetorical conventions of the exordium, partition, and peroratio.

  • Utility vs. Honesty: Machiavelli's central argument in The Prince was that in certain circumstances, a prince must prioritize utility (security and power) over honesty (virtue and morality). This view contrasted with the Ciceronian doctrine that the useful and the honest are always aligned. Machiavelli justified this position using the argument of necessity.

  • The Prophecy of the Prince: The final chapters of The Prince are designed to inspire a potential redeemer to take action and redeem Italy from its current state of "every extreme misery, infamy, and reproach." Machiavelli employed rhetorical techniques of indignatio and conquestio to arouse the passions of the reader and move them to action, drawing on the myth of resurrection and rebirth that permeates his political works.

  • Machiavelli's Vision of Redemption: Machiavelli's ultimate goal in his political writings, including The Prince, was to shape the "spirits" of his contemporaries and posterity, encouraging them to eschew the vices of their own times and emulate the virtues of antiquity. He believed that the redemption of Italy was possible through the actions of a single virtuous and determined individual, inspired by Machiavelli's own vision of political and moral renewal.

Chapter Four: A Prophet of Emancipation

Here are the key takeaways from the chapter:

  • Machiavelli's "Exhortation to Liberate Italy" had little impact during his lifetime and for centuries after: Political theorists, theologians, and philosophers in the 16th and 17th centuries largely ignored or attacked Machiavelli's ideas on founders and redeemers, focusing instead on his views on statecraft and ethics. Even republican thinkers like Albericus Gentili and James Harrington paid little attention to Machiavelli's myth of the founder.

  • Seventeenth-century freethinkers and atheists fiercely censured Machiavelli's myth of the divinely inspired founder: They saw the founder's claim of divine inspiration as a shameful lie and deception used to gain power, in contrast to Machiavelli's praise of such figures.

  • In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, thinkers like Alfieri, Hegel, and Fichte retrieved and extolled Machiavelli's myth of the redeemer: They saw it as a powerful vision of political emancipation and national unification, relevant to the emerging movements for national liberation in Europe.

  • Nineteenth-century historians and political theorists, like Macaulay, Quinet, and Mazzini, interpreted Machiavelli's "Exhortation" as a manifesto of political emancipation and the "Marseillaise of the sixteenth century": They praised Machiavelli as a prophet of Italian unity and liberty, even if some, like Mazzini, were critical of his moral views.

  • Post-Risorgimento Italian scholars like De Sanctis, Villari, and Tommasini recognized the centrality of Machiavelli's myth of the founder and redeemer, even as they criticized aspects of his political thought: They saw the "Exhortation" as the true heart of The Prince and Machiavelli's vision for Italy's moral and political reformation.

  • Fascist thinkers like Mussolini and Norsa interpreted Machiavelli as a theorist of pure political force, while antifascist scholars like Gobetti, Chabod, and Gramsci reinterpreted him as a prophet of liberty and social emancipation: Gramsci in particular saw The Prince as a "political manifesto" that used the myth of the redeemer to inspire a collective "intellectual and moral revolution."


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