Coordinated by Filip STANCIU

The Prince or How to MakeaPrince”



Lumina –The University of South-East Europe



Abstract: The Prince (1513) is, in the opinion of Niccolò Machiavelli’s (1469-1527) exegetes, the “point of convergence of his historical and diplomatic work, covering his reflections from three complementary books: The Art of War (1518),Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy (1517) and Florentine Stories (1525). In his major work, Machiavelli was opposing his contemporaries’ education and the education of the ancients. Moreover, beyond the late considerations about immorality in Machiavelli, it is obvious the meaning the Florentine author confers to an elaborate political behaviour. Morality has its place there where political order is already established, not when the prerequisites that ensure it are missing: that is security and stability. Justice is necessary to the completion of a city, not to its founding: given the human nature and the hostility of fate, the establishment of a political order cannot be done without violence. The Great Prince knows to use this violence in the most “economical” way, i.e. effective enough not to be compelled to have constantly recourse to it.


Keywords: Machiavelli, The Prince, Christianity, morality, justice.

One of the most famous essaysts of our world was saying one of these days that “I once lived in the modern period in which the foundations were as solid as rocks. We trusted these fundamentals and we have built empires on them. But they have eroded. There is no “the best way”, there is no “the best answer”, “the correct answer” and these observations are confusing, because if these findings are valid, they are but simple consequences of the erosion of the foundations of the modern world: there is no Truth, but truths, there is no Reality, but realities, there is no History, but histories”.[1] The postmodern world is “one of restless, has no depth, it has only surface and the surface is fragmented, it is made up of broken pieces; a piece is not more valuable than another and a world made of broken pieces cannot be categorized or ranked”.[2]

Which would be the connection between the bedside book of the former secretary of the Signoria and this paradigmatic conflict between modernism and postmodernism? Starting from this interrogation, I have tried to underline through the careful reading of The Prince the unity, coherence and formative and educational challenge that the Italian author dissipates in its content, i.e. a shard in the multitude of interpretations of the Machiavellian work. On the other hand, if the majority of the Romanian specialists who have approached Machiavelli have focused on the political and philosophical axis of his work which, in our opinion, cannot be mechanically classified in the perimeter of current sciences, for it is a whole, a coherent and challenging whole.

The Prince remains by its effects in time and space maybe the most discussed book of the modern world.The motives for this state of affairs can be seen todaymore than ever, 500 years after it was written, for multiple reasons, whether visible or invisible. It is reviled by hypocrisy because it is too lucid and true. It is cited by necessity, as a text of a perennial value, in the theory of power. It is read out of interest by princes, kings, emperors,heads of state and ministers aspolitical alphabet” so as to know how to maintain their dominance, depending on circumstances and personal qualities.[3]In fact, the tiny opus decrypts the mechanisms for the exercise of power, mechanisms validated by the passage of time as universal and functional in manifold interpretations forming a fascinating puzzle.

It is not at all paradoxical that The Prince is also the book read by nearly all cultivated people,regardless of their concerns,passionate about the eternal truths in the history of this world.In this context, the Romanian effort in the direction of the comments of the former Florentine secretary’s work was and has remained modest. Even the libraries in Romania possess few copies of Machiavelli’s work, the first Romanian translation being made after a French version of 1927 (G. Handoca) to which are added the two versions of N.C. Façon (1943; 1960) or the edition supervised by V. Ruvo and N. Bagdasar, of 1944. This book has been the object of study of only a few Romanian scholars, among whom we shall cite C. Antoniade and N.C. Façon. In antithesis with this state of things, Valdo Spini, the chairman of the Florentine organizing committee for the commemoration of 500 years since the writing of the Prince, stated at the opening of the exhibition at the Library of Florence that “alongside Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, The Prince is the most translated Italian book worldwide, with its 90 editions published in all the languages ​​of the earth”.[4]

From this point of view, in Machiavelli’s work all social actors find worthy models to be followed. And it is only normal to be so, given that the Florentine secretary can be encountered in various hypostases, according to the reason and personal perspective to tackle the reading of his work. Usually, he is considered the founder of political science, the theorist of the concept of nation, the analyst of human nature (from the psycho-sociological standpoint), the author of the concept of war as social value and of the subsequent axiological referential, the promoter of the concept of security, the mentor of the political leader, etc.

 The Prince (1513) is, in the opinion of Niccolò Machiavelli’s (1469-1527) exegetes, the “point of convergence of his historical and diplomatic work[5], covering his reflections from three complementary books: The Art of War (1518),Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy (1517) and Florentine Stories (1525). From this perspective – of the hypostases in which The Prince presents itself to posterity –, we have selected some key ideas that can be found in the content of the tiny opus based on which Machiavelli builds – in our opinionhis essentially formative discourse that justifies the title of the present study.

It has become an axiomthat Machiavelli’s reflections, expressing the spirit of Florentine Renaissance, place their author in the position of founder of political science.Basically they can be summarised into six postulates, as follows:

1.     Formulation of effective political solutions in a troubled Italian and European historical context at the beginning of the sixteenth century – creating a new state, unitary and strong, as sole way of saving the territories of the Italian peninsula. “We also see it committed and ready to follow a flag provided the one to lift it might appear […]”.[6]

2.     Conceiving this new state within the parameters of a living organism with a life of its own and with specific stages of evolution.

3.     Breaking the “Gordian knot” in the eternal battle for supremacy between secular and religious power through a final separation conferring the state the possibility of organising the political community in a viable manner, by dint of laws and army.

4.     Ensuring the health of the state by founding institutions with the role of maintaining social stability by means of two essential methods: reforming the laws for the benefit of the people, respect for the law and the legislator’s right to repress discontent with caution.

5.     Raising war to the rank of social value.The pretext of his analysis is a reference to the old saying: “the war makes values and peace makes them disappear”.According to Machiavelli,the security of a state is ensured by its own arms.

6.     The understanding of politics as a freestanding science through the assertions of the former Florentine Secretary regarding statesmanship, preservation and welfare of the state.

These key ideas are constantly followed throughout the book by Machiavelli with the stated purpose of personalising the state through the prince’s virtues as exponent of the power, virtues,skills and attitudes which are acquired by observing a set of coherently elaborated principles. In this respect, the former Florentine secretary tried to make of his contemporary Lorenzo II de Medici, by a classic building/ training exercise,an ideal leader, which is in essence the main object of interest of his work.

Through its form, it is a traditional “mirror of princes”, treaties written with a view to completing the education of a current or future sovereign, through a number of counsels illustrated with examples from the ruling family’s ancestors or from some more general examples taken from history, in our case, examples rooted in the Greek and Roman Antiquity. Dedicating his opus to Lorenzo de Medici, Machiavelli (at that time outside the political game) hopes to ingratiate himself with the powerful of the day. But Machiavelli’s goal is even more ambitious: to persuade the sovereign both to establish order in the city he had just conquered, and to bring peace and unity (through conquest) to all Italy, dismantled at that time by foreign invasions and domestic disputes. The Prince appears to us today as a treatise on political theory; it is also both a pamphlet and a combative text”.[7]

There are a few key syntagms that Machiavelli uses in all the three books which have been mentioned from the very start: “The only science that he ought to have; to investigate the causes of victories and defeats, to be able to avoid risks; a prince dominated by wisdom and discernment; to be very skilled” are just some of them. Model of the ideal or desirable type of leader, the Prince imagined by Niccolò Machiavelli exhibits a more realistic understanding of the way in which political power is correlated to the decision-making process. Therefore, the ability to make the right decision at the right time, readiness to react and no less the courage to choose a particular direction are the main elements that define the personality and action of the leader. The leader is the bearer of qualities that are distinguishing and exalting him. Discernment, the ability to anticipate, managerial power are essential to identify the optimal solution, but, especially, to do what is legal and necessary for it to be carried out successfully.

Machiavelli was opposing in his book, his contemporaries’ education and the education of the ancients. For instance, somewhere in his book he wrote: “After having revealed to us the truth and the right path, our religion made ​​us pay less consideration to honoring the world. The pagans cherished it greatly, placing in it the supreme good, and were more steadfast in their actions” (II, chapter 2). And he does not do it at random. In Book I, chapter 11 of the Discourses on Livy’s First Decade, Machiavelli was addressing Roman religion from the point of view of the beginnings of Rome. “Romulus, the first founder of Rome, would not have been enough for the founding mission, if the Senate would not have appointed Numa Pompilius as his successor; to accustom the people with obedience to the law, to get them used to the arts of peace, he resorted to religion as the most necessary and the safest support to civil society”.[8]It is the way in which the Florentine Renaissance thinker introduces into the equation, “the saving fear” that facilitates all the actions of leaders. In other words, you cannot found a healthy society - that must include obedience to the law, but which should also stimulate the fidelity to the given word - with no fear of religion. In this regard, after all, Machiavelli was substantiating Christianity, the official religion of his world, by giving it a clear direction as state religion. That is why, Princes and republics are the ones who have to maintain religion, its ceremonies and the respect owed “because there is no other more obvious sign of the ruin of a state than contempt for divine worship”.[9] This radical change proposed by Machiavelli to a political leader was based on the belief that all the qualities of a prince can be overshadowed by the centuries-old conflict between religious power represented by the Papal Curia and the secular power. Starting from a verse from the Book of Parables, Machiavelli argues that glory deserves to be sought for itself, because “the humbleness” preached by the Roman Curia resulted in the “state of weakness to which the current religion led the world”. “[…] vain laziness towards the policies of religious power”, spread of the idea by the representatives of the Christian religion that the imitation of ancient virtue is impossible “as if the sky, the sun, the elements, people have changed their motion, order and the power in comparison with what was formerly” are Machiavelli’s grounds to refuse the state of affairs introduced by Christianity in the political field and considered by him as dangerous. Obviously, the whole approach is underpinned by the condition of Italian states in his age. His conclusion is a sharp one: the bad example given by this Court (papal) destroyed any sense of piety in Italy. Secondly, the Church has always maintained and keeps on maintaining Italy divided.

“But if you wait for it to come closer, the cure will not come in due time, because the disease will not be cured at that moment”[10], said Machiavelli rigorously, defining the first imperative in the formation of a political leader, namely the ability to anticipate”.Moreover, the example of the ancestors is defining for the further evolution of the prince and enhances this capacity.That thing will not be so difficult if you have always present in your mind the deeds and lives of those aforementioned”.[11] Contrariwise, its absence,and the lack of training in this spirit can transform his interventions in erroneous decisions and, even worse, in dramatic consequences independent of his will.

A prince should consider that the most appropriate science for him is that of war, organisation and discipline which it demands, “because it is the only science which ought to be possessed by someone who commands”.[12] It is the reason for the loss of power or the means of acquiring it.The art of war requires the major quality that should be possessed by a leader of armies: order and discipline.As for the training of the mind for waging a war, the prince should read much history, and in his reading he should dwell on great people’s exploits to see how they acted in wars, to investigate the causes of their victories and defeatsso as to be able to avoid the latter and imitate the former.[13] 

In the decision making process – in Machiavelli’s viewcommitting an injustice, for well calculated reasons, will necessarily lead to avoiding other injustices which would cause an even greater damage. The classical example used in substantiating the above assertion is war. Armed conflict can only be unfair and will consequently generate a further reaction, therefore another injustice, justified this time. Machiavelli believes that an impending war cannot be avoided,maybe only postponed, to the very detriment of the person who initiated the aggression.Derived from the historical circumstances the Italian states were in at that time,the issue of the installation of a power in a conquered territory had (for Machiavelli) three clear solutions: the state to be destroyed; the leader to establish himself in the territory in question; the leader to allow the state to be further governed under its own laws, at the head of a reliable team” (“Government”).[14]

Decisions in times of war have an exceptional importance. In this respect, the armies must be animated by a sense of trust and loyalty. A prince dominated by wisdom and discernment will always act by resorting to his own armies, preferring to lose a war with his men rather than win a battle with someone else’s soldiers.[15]

The decision to wage war is based either on law or on force. The conquest of territories exhibiting specific features of language, customs and order raises major problems which must be overcome by the prince. “You must be very skilledto be able to keep what you have conquered, and one of the primary and effective means in succeeding this would be that the one who captures a territory should go to live there. When you stay in a given place, you know when disorders occur and you can intervene on the spot; but if you are not there, you end up by learning them only when they have spread so much that there is nothing more to be done to curb them.”[16]

Any measure implies the use of power levers involving firm decisional behaviours in relation to the assumed purpose: the good of the community over which the leader rules.Niccolò Machiavelli is the artisan of the ideea that using cruelty but once out of the strict necessity of preserving the power, without continuing in the same malevolent direction, is not at all blameworthy”[17], decrypts his words for us one of the best experts in the work of the Florentine Renaissance.

Access to power is another chapter of the formative approach that Machiavelli pursues in The Prince. One cannot come to power except by the decision of one camp or another, generically called the great”.In this respect, Machiavelli says that “the people do not want to be ruled nor oppressed by the great ones, while the great want to rule and oppress the people”.[18]  This endless conflict generates three radically different effects: “the principality, liberty or abuse of all kinds”. The prince who succeeds to secure the popular support is sure of his seat and does not have anyone around him, or too few, who are not ready to listen to him”.[19] On the other hand, maintaining a substantial popular support by refusing what harms the people is the sine-qua non condition to preserve the power. Any decision that underpins the behavior of a leader cannot contradict the will or the word of the people. The best fortress that can exist is that of not being hated by the people, for even if he has fortresses, being hated by the people, he will not be saved”.[20] When the people get the weapons there will always be at least one foreigner who will help those who are dissatisfied.A natural prince has fewer reasons to displease his subjects and less need to do it, which means that he will have to be loved more than a new prince; if he has no God knows what unusual vices worthwhile for people to hate him, it is certain that, as it is only natural, he will enjoy the love of his subjects.

The prince’s decisions should be made in a manner that eliminates the label of philanthropist, considered by Machiavelli as “prejudicial”. Prudence and temperance are necessary to eliminate the possibility of their use by the entourage of the leader in its own interest. In the same register is included the urge not to make of a promise “the end of the world” in case of failure to keep it, if the reasons why he promised one thing have ceased to be real, the prince keeping his posture, at least the appearence of a honest and honourable man.

People who join a leader are the accurate indicators of wisdom and prudence that should define him. The prince will be always judged positively if he chooses to surround himself with people who are able and loyal, whose traits he shall cultivate, whose skills he shall develop and he shall keep them on his side.

One of the cardinal qualities is the choice of an entourage composed of faithful and intelligent people. Principalities were governed in two different ways: either by a prince with only obedient servants at his side, who possess this rank not through the goodness of their masters, but due to the antiquity of the race they descend from. A prince should be afraid of two things: of the domestic situation because of his subjects and of the situation from outside because of the great foreign powers. Well organised States and wise princes have always tried not to push to despondency the mighty, and also to satisfy his people by making them always be happy, because this is one of the main concerns that a prince should have. No prince will succeed to gain more appreciation than the one who will commit great acts and who will give exceptional examples of his qualities. The prince must also show that he loves the virtues and that he honours those who shine in a particular art. He has to stimulate his citizens, helping them to peacefully exert their occupations, both in trade, and agriculture and in any other human occupation. A prudent prince must choose in the state wise counselors, giving solely to them the right to tell him the truth and only about the things that he asks them, and not regarding other matters. He should ask them about all the issues and listen to their opinions, and then decide alone, as he sees fit.

So Machiavelli’s Prince should have the capacity to anticipate, to have a real knowledge about the history of his country and of his ancestors, customs, way of life of the community he is leading; high power to react in well defined circumstances, to possess the art of war and the ability to motivate people under arms around a common goal, to have capital attributes, such as order and discipline, but also the wisdom of the decision, he should be skilled in preserving the things acquired, he should also have the capacity of making the right decision in relation to the public will, he has not to be a filantrop, but he should be prudent and thrifty, to possess the science of the needed compromise, to be charismatic, a good communicator, a good psychologist of the masses, a good selector in forming a capable and loyal team of which he should take care.

Obviously, the formative approach imagined by Machiavelli is based on a conception of life resulting from the author’s direct experience and his excellent knowledge of history. It is a radically pessimistic view on history, Machiavelli failing to recognise in the succession of empires and their birth and fall the hand of a benevolent God. It is, in his view, rather the inevitable failure of any human enterprise and the difficulty of accede to what people naturally aspire, namely peace and security. History is not the work of Providence but of a blind and implacable fate, indifferent to people.

The reference domain towards which the Florentine Renaissance thinker directs his formative approach - politics - also offers him a framework for motivating the Prince: building and maintaining a secure social order, especially as the Prince has the duty to govern concrete and not ideal citizens, led by their passions and ambitions, sensitive rather to fear than gentleness, to coercion more than to reason.

Machiavelli’s Prince seemed less concerned about the legality of the way of acquisition of the principality. What interests Machiavelli particularly is the art of maintaining to power, while preserving the social order: but this art is not really highlighted but in conquered principalities, where the order must be fully instated and where the Prince must prove exceptional talents to succeed there where others have failed. In legitimate political regimes order is obtained primarily by consensus and the sovereign needs talent to preserve it.

There are three kinds of thinking: those who understand themselves, those who appreciate what others think and those who do not understand either alone or with the help of others; the first is the most useful, the second is good, the third is useless” said Machiavelli somewhere in his book, which makes us believe that the Prince, in itself, is not “a simple breviary of technical advice or disillusioned observations” [21], but rather a guide for creating a princelly model worthy of this name.

The Prince’s virtue has, as it was only natural, a sense typical of politics: it presupposes the existence of the ability to maintain, in a cerebral manner, a stable social order. Human nature, duplicity, violence and cruelty are necessary behaviours to acquire it. Thus, Machiavelli condemns iniquity due to its political inefficiency. He still has at his disposal the option of winning the trust of the people. Hence the need/art of simulating justice, generosity, kindness and benevolence. Statemanship consists in blending avarice with magnanimity, honesty with duplicity, cruelty with kindness. The Prince becomes thus according to Machiavelli’s formula a lion (by using force) and a fox (through the ability to keep his “good” reputation).

Moreover, beyond the late considerations about immorality in Machiavelli, it is obvious the meaning the Florentine author confers to an elaborate political behaviour. Morality has its place there where political order is already established, not when the prerequisites that ensure it are missing: that is security and stability (in sixteenth century Italy, for instance). Justice is necessary to the completion of a city, not to its founding: given the human nature and the hostility of fate, the establishment of a political order cannot be done without violence. The Great Prince knows to use this violence in the most “economical” way, i.e. effective enough not to be compelled to have constantly recourse to it.[22]

Machiavelli has no illusions about the intentions of any person who comes to power because what any Prince seeks in his government is the preservation of power for himself, even if his personal ambitions are not compatible with the common interest. “External wars, internal fights, divisions into factions are harmful to both public order and, therefore, dangerous to the Prince. A great “Prince is the one who knows through his qualities to use fate to his advantage and do so that his personal interest correspond to the common interest”.[23] These key ideas are followed with perseverence by Machiavelli throughout his book with the stated purpose of personalising the state through the virtues of the Prince as exponent of the power, virtues, skills and attitudes that are obtained by observing a coherently developed set of principles. In this respect, the former Florentine secretary tried to make of his contemporary Lorenzo II de Medici, by a classic building/ training exercise, an ideal leader, which is essentially the main concern of his work. Paradoxically, his formative speech was related to the regret that Lorenzo was not the man “looked for” by Machiavelli. In a letter the former Florentine secretary was writing: “It seems that everyone begins to recognise in him the happy memory of his grandfather (Lorenzo the Magnificent). He makes himself loved and respected in everything, rather than feared. For His Highness is active in working, generous and kind when listening to someone, equable and critical in his responses. Hence he has not all the qualities of the Prince”.[24]

As a mater of fact, maybe that is why, in our opinion, Machiavelli seems to have “guided himself” after Diogenes of Sinope, who used to say that he was following the parable of choir instructors: because they used to give a note somewhat higher for others to take the correct note. Whatever one may say, intellectuals – “these unrecognised legislators of the world, the seekers of the new in the old” – try today, regardless of their concerns, to decipher the truths left to them by the Florentine thinker and are endeavouring, in pace with the dynamics of current things, to understand him and to grasp the mechanisms for the exercise of power in whatever form it might exist.



GONTHIER, Thierry, Marile opere ale filosofiei moderne, Institutul European, Iaşi, 1998.

MACHIAVELLI, Niccolò, Măștile puterii, trans. N. Façon, L. Petrescu, seria Civitas, Institutul European, Iași, 1997.

MACHIAVELLI, Niccolò, Principele, ed. supervised by Vincenzo de Ruvo and N. Bagdasar, translated by S. Ionescu, Editura Institutului European de Filosofie și Societatea Română de Filosofie, Bucureşti, 1944.

MACHIAVELLI, Niccolò, The Discourses of Niccolo Machiavelli (Translated from Italian with an introduction and notes by Leslie J. WALKER), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1950 (coll. Rare Masterpieces of Philosophy and Science).

MACHIAVELLI, Niccolò, Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livy, Robert Laffont, Paris, 1996.

STAN, Emil, Pedagogie postmodernă, Institutul European, Iași, 2004.

TURCHETTI, Mario, Tirania și tiranicidul. Forme ale opresiunii și dreptul la rezistență din Antichitate până în zilele noastre, trans. E. Galaicu-Paun, Colecția „Cartier istoric“, Cartier, Chișinau, 2003.

[1]Emil STAN, Pedagogie postmodernă, Institutul European, Iași, 2004, p. 2.

[2] Ibidem, p. 3.

[3]Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, Măștile puterii, seria Civitas, trans. N. Façon & L. Petrescu, pref. Elvira Sorohan, Institutul European, Iași, 1997, p. 3.

[4] Valdo SPINI, La via al Principe: Niccolo Machiavelli de la Florenta la San Casciano, Firenze, 2013.

[5] MACHIAVELLI, Măștile puteriicit., p.131

[6]Idem, Principele, ed. supervised by V. de Ruvo and N. Bagdasar, translated by S. Ionescu, Editura Institutului European de Filosofie și Societatea Română de Filosofie, Bucureşti, 1944, p. 112.

[7]Horia Dumitru OPREA, Machiavelli: Principele – mari opere ale filosofiei moderne [].

[8]Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, Principelecit., p. 110.

[9] Idem, Măştile puteriicit , p. 140 (Discursuri asupra primei decade a lui Titus Livius”).

[10] Idem, Principele…cit., p. 112.

[11]Ibidem, p. 110.

[12]Ibidem, p. 111.


[14] Ibidem, p. 112.



[17]Ibidem, p.113.




[21]Mario TURCHETTI, Tirania și tiranicidul. Forme ale opresiunii și dreptul la rezistență din Antichitate până în zilele noastre, trans. E. Galaicu-Paun, Colecția „Cartier istoric“, Cartier, Chișinau, 2003.


[23]Thierry GONTHIER, Marile opere ale filosofiei moderne, Institutul European, Iaşi, 1998, p. 27

[24]  Niccolò MACHIAVELLI, Principele…cit., p. 2.