Do you want to learn how to manipulate people? Or ascend to power and then hold onto that power? Or maybe you just want to learn about the evolution of Western political thought and how it became so realist and brutal up until quite recently. If any of those apply to you, then you need to read The Prince.
I have read The Prince before. Back in 8th grade history, I was doing a report on Machiavelli and read the book so that I could deliver a better presentation. However, I was too young to fully understand it and missed some of the larger points of the book.
So, when I saw that it was on the reading list for my political philosophy class this summer, I was quite excited to read it again and develop a more complete understanding of it.
Because of that new knowledge and understanding, I decided to write a review of a book I read for class, which I normally don’t do. The only other exceptions are Politics is a Joke and What the Anti-Federalists were For, both of which I thought were interesting enough to write about. So while I normally only review books that I read by choice so that other young conservatives have a reading list of books that I honestly think they should read, in this case, I will be making an exception because I do think that the lessons in The Prince are ones that conservatives should learn.
In any case, and without further ado, here is my summary and review of The Prince. Enjoy!
Summary of The Prince by Machiavelli
Written as a letter to Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duke of Urbino, shortly after his accession to that position, The Prince is a book about how to hold onto power.
In it, much as Rosenthal covered every aspect of lobbying in The Third House, Machiavelli covers every aspect of how a Prince should rule and how he should go about making decisions.
Machiavelli’s Advice for a Prince
Most of Machiavelli’s advice in The Prince still applies today, especially to the ruthless world of D.C. politics and the American culture war. Here are the main pieces of advice he gives:
Raise troops from your own populace rather than relying on mercenaries or auxiliaries (what we now call private military contractors) to fight your wars, as they will be more loyal and braver in combat.
Be ruthless when you need to be, but try to get it over with quickly, rather than carrying out a long string of abuses against your citizens.
Keep quiet when formulating a decision, as you can’t ever trust those around you.
People fear at your convenience and love at theirs, so fear is more reliable and better.
Plan ahead, trying to stay multiple steps ahead of your enemy, but know that there are no guarantees in life.
Be like a cross between a lion and a fox- sneaky and able to avoid the traps set for you, but still powerful and majestic, able to commit acts of incredible violence and then sleep soundly at night.
Fake virtue to gain the trust of others, but, when making decisions, never let morals or principles get in the way of effective action.
Fortune benefits the young and audacious more than the old, so act boldly when you are young and have the energy and temperament to do so.
Attaining greatness means being thought of positively after you die, and greatness should be the goal of every prince.
The Point of The Prince
And that final point, that all princes should strive to be great, is the main point of The Prince. Machiavelli doesn’t care about the citizens of the nation (or city-state, I suppose) or their well-being. Creating better and more prosperous lives should not be the focus of a prince, unless it would ensure their loyalty and make him great. Living a morally upright life should also not be the goal of the prince, as doing so would constrain him from acting brutally when necessary.
Similarly to how Gibbon blames Christianity for the death of the Roman Empire in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Machiavelli critiques the Christian virtues of honesty, mercy, etc. for making a prince unable to do what is necessary to be great.
And again, because this is key to understanding The Prince, Machiavelli’s main point is that a prince should aspire to be great and do whatever is necessary to reach that point. No form of violence, no cruelty, no ignoring of a virtue, and nothing else is beyond the pale, as long as those violent or brutal actions are necessary to hold onto power and become great.
Launching a war to seize territory, killing off one’s rivals, etc. are all okay as long as they lead to greatness. To Machiavelli, people are just fodder for the prince’s greatness; they can be expended as necessary.
However, there is one key word in that sentence- necessary. For Machiavelli, violence is acceptable, but should only be used when necessary to hold onto power or attain greatness. He condemns gratuitous violence and instead praises historical leaders who used an economy of violence. So while Machiavelli’s perfect prince would be a tyrant, he would not be a bloodthirsty murderer like Stalin.
The Prince is about how to attain greatness, mainly in the political realm. Read it and take notes on the advice Machiavelli gives if that’s what you want. But know that his advice is not for the faint of heart.
Analysis of The Prince
While some aspects of it were disturbing and distressing, much like 48 Laws of Power, I did enjoy reading The Prince. I found Machiavelli’s viewpoints interesting, his historical examples compelling and convincing, and his single-minded fixation on attaining greatness intriguing in that it said the “silent part” of politics out loud; many politicians likely think of their subjects or citizens as cannon fodder for their greatness, but few would ever dare to say that. So The Prince is interesting in that, while it counsels being discreet about one’s actions and opinions, it also exposes the mind of the type of person it was written for.
Additionally, as I hinted in the introduction, I think The Prince is a book that every young conservative needs to read. Yes, most will likely have trouble following his advice to the letter. Most of us are committed Christians and would have trouble being as ruthless as Machiavelli recommends.
However, on one hand, some will. There are always those that are willing to do whatever is necessary to win. Now that the stakes are so high and the culture war so intense, as Andrew Breitbart wrote about in Righteous Indignation, we need people like that on our side. Especially because the left definitely has them. So, the more young conservatives we expose to The Prince, the more conservatives who are willing to do whatever it takes to win we will have on our side.
And on the other hand, even if most don’t wholeheartedly embrace the lessons in The Prince, it is good for everyone on our side to have that background knowledge. For example, knowing to “rip off the band-aid” and do what is necessary all at once, rather than commit a long string of abuses is quite useful knowledge. Fire all the Deep State bureaucrats at once rather than steadily fire small amounts of them. The temporary pain might be bad, but it’s better than having an open wound that you are constantly aggravating.
So, in summary, I think The Prince is a book we conservatives should read and encourage other conservatives to read because it will give us a step up, or at least put us on the same level, as the left. The more people we have willing to to anything necessary to win, and knowing what is actually necessary to attain power and hold onto it, the more electoral victories we will have and the more opportunities to put our vision of governance into practice we will have.
Finally, while reading it, I thought that The Prince was a very enjoyable book to read. Despite the appeals to brutality and violence, it was interesting and fun to read. Machiavelli’s historical references, logic, and deviousness made it a surprisingly fun read. Even though I’m not the sociopathic and glory-focused type of person he’d want in power, it was fun to get into the mindset of someone who is.
I think that The Prince is a book that is mainly applicable to politics. While it does have some lessons related to business, especially cutthroat fields like finance, they are mainly focused on attaining and holding political power. So, if that’s something that interests you, or you want an advantage while fighting the culture war, read it. You’ll enjoy it.
By: Gen Z Conservative