It is important to understand that there are certain key factors to be kept in mind in any analysis of Niccolo Machiavelli’s most famous work, “The Prince. ” Perhaps the most notable of these is the relatively simple fact that Machiavelli was not presenting his story from a malicious viewpoint but from his beliefs regarding the true nature of effective and powerful leadership.
Regardless of the fact that even his name has come to be equated with cunning and political manipulation (”Machiavellian”) in modern times, Machiavelli himself was uniquely committed to the furtherance of the agenda of a true leader. Although it has often been criticized for what is generally thought to be the author’s advocacy of the admittedly harsh, unscrupulous methods of obtaining power and in ruling, Machiavelli portrays the successful actions that must be taken and that have made for numerous great accomplishments.
In “The Prince” he uses illustrations from the lives of great leaders such as Julius Caesar, Cesare Borgia, and even Pope Julius II. Historians have pointed out that it is likely Machiavelli exaggerated or distorted some details regarding various rulers, but it is clear that he is not merely spouting off his own philosophies, but had read, observed and disseminated the most effective tools of the great leaders into “The Prince. ”
For almost five hundred years, critics have praised Machiavelli for his explicitness, sophistication, authenticity, subtlety, and satire. Some have viewed his writing as supporting a republican form of government by exposing the faults of princedoms, and praise his ability to separate political from moral issues. Other critics condemn him for being naive, promoting fraud, force, and immorality in politics, using beneficial ends to justify evil means, and betraying republican ideals.