There are few political theorists as influential as Niccolo Machiavelli. The pioneer of what we now call realpolitik, Machiavelli’s life is full of great irony in the sense that the man created a widely influential and famous treatise on political power and machinations, only to find himself expelled from his own home city following a political crisis. This sample essay provides an example of the features available from Ultius professional writing and editing services.
Irony of Machiavelli’s renown
While some may have considered Machiavelli a great thinker in republican government, and while he may have served well in the Florentine Republic as a successful Chancellor and Secretary of War, it was nevertheless his unsuccessful gambit in writing The Prince, a book on how a dictator should get and keep power, a markedly unrepublican concept, to coax the Medicis into letting him back into Florence from exile that ironically made him famous for the ages.
Similarities and connections to Sun Tzu and The Art of War
Sun Tzu, a great general of Ancient China, is said to have provided an expert discourse inThe Art of War, likely for the leader of the Kingdom of Wu, for whom Sun Tzu is said to have won many battles. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is today considered the greatest discussion of military strategy ever written, a “how to” for winning battles without losing wars, based on the most practical observations about human nature and predicting human behavior in response to certain strategies.
For this, Sun-Tzu is renowned, his theories studied even today in military circles and institutions around the globe. Ironically, Machiavelli’s favorite work was his own Art of War, but it is not what Machiavelli is most famous for.
In around 1500, Italy was a collection of city-states generally warring against each other, and foreign states. Florence was one such city-state, and Machiavelli was a citizen of Florence where he had been born and lived his entire life, until his exile. It was here, even as a young man he had learned political savvy in the halls (and perhaps back rooms) of Florentine government.
It is during his exile that Machiavelli wrote his most famous work, The Prince, and later his own version of The Art of War. While Machiavelli’s Art of War received acclaim after his death and was used in the West, once Sun Tzu’s work had been widely translated, mention of The Art of War generally brought to mind the work of Sun Tzu. Although Machiavelli preferred The Art of War of all his works, he was instead destined to be remembered (in some circles reviled) more for The Prince.
Differences between The Prince and The Art of War
Sun Tzu’s Art of War used psychology to motivate and educate the King on the most important military strategies of the time, and Machiavelli’s The Prince was intended to assist the ruler of Florence in understanding how to prolong his rule, a “how to” book on princedom. In the case of Machiavelli, the book was written as a kind of entreaty to the prince to allow him to return from exile.
Sadly, and ironically, this was never to be. And far from Sun Tzu’s almost scientific discussion of war, Machiavelli’s approach to the politics of dictatorship was an argument, and in particular, one that he did not necessarily agree with, a possible disingenuousness that might have condemned him to eternal exile, yet fixed him in renown or infamy, depending on how The Prince is perceived.
In The Prince, Machiavelli makes it clear that the aim of power is to preserve power. He also proposed that often those who actually serve in office and may be good and honest people nevertheless may have to make choices they might detest to fulfill their office. Ironically, this could well describe the choice of writing the The Prince, a big departure from Machiavelli’s own long-held and cherished Republican point of view, possibly detestable to him, undertaken to serve his own interests in gaining an end to his exile from Florence so that he could return and inject himself into its political life once again.
The political and diplomatic landscape in Europe at the time of Machiavelli’s professional service as a chancellor in the Republic of Florence around 1500 was one of broken alliances, intrigue, power grabs, land grabs, and even the Pope was involved in military adventures, just the stuff which made the landscape of The Prince. Italy was a collection of warring states, including Machiavelli’s Florence.
For much of the 15th Century, Florence was essentially a monarchy ruled by the Medici family, possibly the most famous and successful of them Lorenzo di Medici, patron of Michelangelo, who created the infamous David statue. After Lorenzo’s son took the throne and capitulated to King Charles of France two years later, and after an unpopular reign by Girolamo Savonarola, a priest, Florence became a democracy, led by Piero Soderini, though his term as leader was to be for life, a concept not exactly republican.
Machiavelli’s influence on Republican governments
What followed was nearly 20 years of republican government, and it was at the beginning of this time that Machiavelli became Chancellor of Florence, a post he likely received as a result of his father’s close relationship with Bartolomeo Scala, the first Chancellor. Machiavelli later became Secretary of War and is credited with having raised the first standing army of Florence, instead of the traditional army of mercenaries, something which may in face have contributed to some success in conflicts with other states. Machiavelli, however, is far less recognized for his success against Pisa than for penning The Prince.
The Medicis came back into power in 1512, and Machiavelli was arrested in 1513 for conspiracy, and tortured and then exiled. Sometime shortly thereafter, he wrote The Prince. The content might be argued to be quite different than Machiavelli’s love for republican ideals. In it he was giving advice to the Medicis, on whose behalf he had been tortured, though it is not known if the manuscript ever reached any of the Medicis. Some might say he betrayed his ideals to do so. A few years later, Machiavelli wrote his canon on republican concepts. Around five years later, he wrote The Art of War.
The Prince, curiously, was the ultimate attempt to manipulate a Prince into granting a request. Taking positions arguably antithetical to his long-held beliefs created this great irony, that Machiavelli would be remembered for his piece on his notions for keeping absolute power, not his piece on his long-held and practiced notions of good republican government.