the prince

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the prince

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Dedication, Chapters 1-2

Summary


The Prince is a gift from Machiavelli to the Magnificent Lorenzo, son of Piero de' Medici, offered as "proof of [the author's] devotion." Machiavelli writes that it is the most precious thing he has to offer. The book consists of "the knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired by long experience of modern affairs, and a continued study of ancient history," which Machiavelli indicates he has studied for a long period of time. Although the book is "unworthy" of the Magnificent Lorenzo, the author hopes he will accept it. After all, the book offers its reader, in a concise form, learning which has taken its author many years of study and much personal danger. Machiavelli emphasizes that the book is short and direct, and written without without resort to "pompous phrases" or "embellishment." Its strengths are that it goes to "the truth of the matter" and addresses an important subject. He does not wish to seem presumptuous by daring to discuss the affairs of a prince, but, he suggests, just as only a prince, from his vantage point above the people, can understand them, only one of the people can truly understand the prince. He hopes that his Magnificence will see in the work his hope for the prince's future greatness, which has been promised by "fortune" and his "great qualities." And if his Magnificence will lower his gaze, he will discover how undeservedly Machiavelli has had to suffer misfortune.

Chapter 1: "How Many Kinds of Principalities There Are and the Way They Are Acquired"


There are two kinds of states or governments: republics and principalities. There are also two kinds of principalities: "hereditary" and "new." Further, "new" principalities are either "entirely new" or a territory annexed to "the hereditary state of the prince who acquires them." Annexed principalities can be put under the rule of a prince, or set up as "free states." New principalities can be won by using another state's military, by the conqueror's own military, by luck, or by personal courage and ability.

Chapter 2: "On Hereditary Principalities"


Machiavelli indicates that this book will not be about republics, which he has discussed in a previous work. Hereditary states are easier to hold onto than new states, since, barring the appearance of an extraordinary force, if the prince is not stupid, he will hold onto power by doing what his predecessor did. Even if an extraordinary force does take a principality away from its hereditary prince, he will get it back when the newcomer totters. Such was the case of the duke of Ferrara around the turn of the sixteenth century. A hereditary prince "will naturally have the affection of his people."

Commentary


The brief Dedication and first two chapters set the tone and subject matter for the entire book, and they are summarized and discussed in more detail than later sections of the work.

In the Dedication, Machiavelli speaks in the obsequious language usually used to address nobles. In the main body of the book, the author drops this sort of language, but maintains his deferential attitude toward his "prince." He never questions the desirability of the prince--whom we today would call a dictator--controlling the state.

In the Dedication and these chapters, Machiavelli further establishes the form of the book. It is a handbook for princes rather than a straight treatise, and is written both in the first person and with frequent use of maxims--statements of fundamental truths or principles of conduct. Further, Machiavelli intends it to be both "realistic" and concise. Machiavelli also makes frequent use of taxonomies--orderly classifications--and references to historical events.

In the Dedication, Machiavelli addresses the new prince Lorenzo de' Medici, who might be called an "oligarchic despot"--he is a non-elected ruler whose power is based on his massive wealth rather than on his ancestry. Machiavelli humbles himself on the page, begging that his prince will accept the gift he has to offer. Indeed, at the end of the Dedication, Machiavelli asks Lorenzo to take notice of his undeserved plight--Machiavelli's exclusion