The Prince

By Niccolò Machiavelli; Peter Bondanella et al. | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

The Prince has generated polemical discussion ever since its appearance in the early sixteenth century. This slim volume has become a classic of modern social thought and a mainstay of courses on the great books, political theory, and Renaissance culture — and in all of these areas it continues to stimulate heated debate and controversy. While Machiavelli no doubt expected the critical tone of his treatise to provoke a sharp response among his readers, he might well have been surprised by the wide variety of different interpretations which have been suggested in the course of the last four centuries. The immediate practical purpose of The Prince was superseded within a decade of its composition, but its radically original treatment of crucial philosophical and political issues continues to attract new readers, many of whom are often unaware of any practical political goal Machiavelli might have intended in his argument.

While the work does contain a number of the key concepts of Machiavelli's mature political philosophy, it was never intended to represent a completely systematic exposition of all his views on the nature of politics. Machiavelli's theoretical speculations on the nature of the principality and its ruler in this book were limited, to some extent, by his more immediate goal — that of persuading the Medici family to conduct a crusade against the 'barbarian' invaders who had disrupted Italian life ever since the French invasion of 1494, an event which had turned Italy into the battleground of Europe, and to unify the many different principalities, duchies, and republics within the peninsula. Therefore, in a feverish state of enthusiasm and poetic inspiration, between July and December of 1513, Machiavelli interrupted his more lengthy commentary on Livy's history of republican Rome, which would eventually present his analysis of republican forms of government, to complete his more famous treatment of princely rule.

The year 1513 seemed to present the Medici with an excellent historical opportunity for fulfilling the role Machiavelli

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