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Episode
253

Niccolò Machiavelli & The Prince

Apr 12, 2022
Politics
-
26
minutes

He was the Florentine diplomat and political theorist who proposed that a statesman should do whatever was necessary to obtain and hold on to power.

In this episode, we'll explore the life and theories of the man who famously wrote "the ends justify the means", and look at his most influential work, The Prince.

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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Niccolò Machiavelli, and his most famous work, The Prince.

[00:00:31] He is a man whose very name has become synonymous with a certain immoral behaviour - if someone is Machiavellian it means they are unscrupulous, scheming, or cunning, and they will let nothing get between them and power.

[00:00:48] To explain how the name of an Italian diplomat, philosopher and author has become synonymous with treachery and deception, we’re going to travel back in time to Florence in the Early Renaissance. 

[00:01:03] It was an intense period divided by social upheaval, wars and political intrigue, yet unified by art, culture and literature. 

[00:01:14] There’s plenty to discover, and there is a lot more to Machiavelli than many people think, so let’s dive right into it. 

[00:01:23] Ok then, The Prince by Machiavelli.

[00:01:27] Let’s get started by taking a closer look at Machiavelli himself.

[00:01:32] Who actually was Niccolò Machiavelli? 

[00:01:35] What do we know about his life? 

[00:01:37] And how did the tumultuous, or agitated, turbulent times in which Machiavelli lived shape his beliefs and inspire his writings? 

[00:01:49] Niccolò Machiavelli was born in 1469 in Florence, Italy, to a family descended from Florentine nobility. At the time, Florence was the very epicentre of European art and culture as the birthplace of the Renaissance.

[00:02:08] The Renaissance, as I am sure you will know, was the transitional period between the 14-17th centuries that revived and attempted to surpass achievements and ideas from classical antiquity. 

[00:02:25] In contrast to the so-called Dark Ages or Middle Ages, following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Renaissance was a fervent, an intense period of rediscovery, as well as cultural, scientific, philosophical and artistic progress. 

[00:02:45] And, as you may well be aware, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Italy was fragmented, it was split up into numerous self-ruling city-states and districts. There was no united Italian nation until 1861.

[00:03:03] While Florence was a republic, power was mainly concentrated in the hands of wealthy families, especially the influential Medici family who dominated the Florentine representative government for several centuries.

[00:03:20] If you’d like to learn more about the Medici, we have an episode on that too, it’s episode number 90.

[00:03:29] Well, back to Machiavelli and Florence. 

[00:03:32] Machiavelli lived in turbulent times, popes would wage wars against city-states, while the Holy Roman Empire, France and Spain battled for greater regional influence and control. 

[00:03:47] Governments were often short-lived and political alliances changed frequently, as did the mercenary, the paid soldiers who were prone to changing sides without warning, depending on which way the wind blew and who paid the most money.

[00:04:05] It’s undoubtedly thanks to this backdrop of instability and upheaval, of social manoeuvring and intense power struggles that Machiavelli got the inspiration for his most famous work The Prince. 

[00:04:22] In terms of Machiavelli's life, biographers tend to split it into three distinct parts, each of which also relates to a distinct period of Florentine history.

[00:04:36] The first period of Machiavelli’s life runs from his birth in 1469 up to the year 1494, the first 25 years of his life. 

[00:04:48] Although for most people this is where much of your character is formed, it’s crystalised, we have little documentation of Machiavelli’s youth, although we do know he was taught rhetoric, grammar and Latin by a well-known teacher.

[00:05:06] During this period, Florence was indirectly ruled by Lorenzo de’ Medici, also known as Il Magnifico, the Magnificent. Lorenzo de’ Medici was the most powerful and ardent, enthusiastic, patron of Renaissance culture.

[00:05:25] However, in 1494, just two years after Lorenzo’s death, the Medici lost power. Lorenzo’s son and heir, Piero de’ Medici, was formally exiled and the Medici were not to rule Florence again until 1512. 

[00:05:45] The period of 1494-1512, when Florence was free from the rule of the Medici, forms the second part of Machiavelli’s life, during which he served the free Republic of Florence, and it’s during this period that it seems that most of his political thought and ideology was shaped

[00:06:07] Machiavelli was first appointed to an office responsible for reproducing official government documents, before rising to an important diplomatic role.

[00:06:18] In this role Machiavelli conducted numerous important diplomatic missions meeting with Louis XII of France, Emperor Maximilian, the Spanish court and the papacy. 

[00:06:31] A lot of Machiavelli’s time spent as a diplomat was occupied with Pope Alexander VI and his illegitimate but incredibly powerful son, Cesare Borgia. The father and son had huge ambitions to carve out a central Italian state for their own benefit. 

[00:06:53] Cesare Borgia’s ruthless quest to expand his lands, his immense capabilities as a statesman, general and ruler, alongside his ultimate failure to retain power are all discussed at length in The Prince. 

[00:07:10] So, now for the third period of Machiavelli’s life. 

[00:07:14] France, Germany and Spain allied with a new pope, Pope Julius II, to form the League of Cambrai with the main intent of crushing the powerful Venetian Republic. 

[00:07:28] However, despite the league’s initial success, friction began to grow between the pope and France.

[00:07:36] Ultimately, this led to the pope hiring an army of mercenaries, of paid soldiers, to drive the French out of Italy. This left the Republic of Florence in a delicate situation, having been a long-term ally of France. 

[00:07:54] Florence had no choice but to comply with the pope’s demands, one of which was to restore the Medici family to power. 

[00:08:04] Thus in 1512 the Medici returned to rule Florence and Machiavelli was sacked.

[00:08:11] Worse still, he was imprisoned and tortured, under suspicion of having conspired or plotted to overthrow the Medici family, which there is no evidence of him having done, by the way. 

[00:08:26] After the death of Pope Julius II, his successor, Pope Leo X secured Machiavelli’s release from prison, and Machiavelli plotted his return to political life.

[00:08:39] This third and final part of Machiavelli’s life saw him retreat to his small rural property just outside of Florence. 

[00:08:49] It is during this time that he penned, he wrote, The Prince and his first Discourse on the First Decade of Titus Livius.

[00:09:00] While neither of these two works, his two most famous writings, were published during his lifetime, Machiavelli did write a number of successful plays that were popular and widely enjoyed by his contemporaries

[00:09:14] But he struggled to accept his fate as removed from political life and his correspondence from this time shows that he attempted to stay involved in the political sphere through his friends with connections.

[00:09:30] Ultimately, it was not to be and Machiavelli did not manage to take up his old diplomatic post. 

[00:09:37] He did, however, manage to achieve a re-entry of sorts into society - literary society in particular.

[00:09:45] In 1520, Giulio de Medici commissioned Machiavelli to write a history of Florence. Machiavelli accepted in the hope of getting back into the good books of the Medici family, and wrote an eight-part work that portrays the Medici in a favourable light.

[00:10:05] Having Giulio de Medici as a friend and ally would turn out to be a positive thing for Machiavelli, because three years later Giulio de Medici would become Pope Clement VII. 

[00:10:18] But there are limits to even the pope’s power, as Clement VII found out in 1526 when Rome was sacked by the Holy Roman Emperor, the pope was kept prisoner and eventually the Medici were kicked out of Florence.

[00:10:35] Machiavelli, ever hopeful of a full return to political life, quickly returned to Florence, but shortly after his arrival he took ill and died in June 1527, at the age of 58.

[00:10:50] Now, I know that there were a lot of names and dates there, and you are certainly not expected to remember all of them. 

[00:10:58] We've really rushed through it, but I share this with you to give you an idea of the society in which Machiavelli lived. 

[00:11:07] It’s very clear that the political upheaval, numerous wars and constantly changing alliances were the norm rather than the exception. 

[00:11:18] So, where does Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince fit into all of this? 

[00:11:25] What is The Prince actually about? And why are we still reading it today? 

[00:11:30] The Prince, in Machiavelli’s own words, is a discussion of the conduct of great men and the principles of princely government. 

[00:11:40] The text is loosely based on the mirror-of-princes genre - a type of literary work that advises princes on how to best rule, almost like a handbook of government. 

[00:11:55] This genre originated in Ancient Greece and went on to lay the foundations for Renaissance political theories, which in turn paved the way for modern political science. 

[00:12:08] However, The Prince varies from other works in this genre in its content and style.

[00:12:15] Firstly, Machiavelli focuses on ‘new’ princes in The Prince rather than the more traditional audience of a hereditary prince, a prince who becomes a prince because he is born a prince. 

[00:12:29] He states that hereditary princes come to power more easily and retain, they keep hold of power, by not upsetting the established scheme of things.

[00:12:40] On the other hand, new princes, Machiavelli notes, find it more difficult to rule. 

[00:12:48] They must first of all cement their power with secure and stable foundations. The rise to power may be challenging and the previously existing order difficult to topple or bring down

[00:13:04] However, Machiavelli also believed that once a new prince had fully secured power, he would find it easier to retain it, to keep hold of it.

[00:13:15] This is an important concept in The Prince, with Machiavelli writing that for a new prince to rise to the top and secure power, he needs to do it through his own virtues, using cunning and force. 

[00:13:31] Once he has forcefully crushed his opponents, the new prince will earn respect, being stronger and more self-sufficient

[00:13:41] This highlights another main difference between Machiavelli’s The Prince and previous texts in the mirror-of-princes genre. 

[00:13:50] Machiavelli is not setting out an idealised, moral vision of how a ruler should rule. 

[00:13:57] There is no right or wrong, no morality, no justice.

[00:14:02] Instead, The Prince focuses upon which character traits and acts can be beneficial to a ruler looking to consolidate their power. 

[00:14:13] In this respect, Machiavelli is actually showing us the world from a perspective completely devoid of, completely separate from moral judgement. 

[00:14:24] This was particularly revolutionary because previously, at least in terms of written guidance, it was believed that good moral behaviour would ultimately lead to positive results - doing the right thing would result in a successful rule.

[00:14:43] In The Prince, Machiavelli said this was not the case.

[00:14:48] Throughout The Prince, Machiavelli makes his case that princes must be willing to rule unscrupulously at times, with private and public morality being almost two separate things.

[00:15:02] Essentially, what he is saying is that: a prince should do whatever needs to be done to obtain and hold on to power. 

[00:15:10] Immoral actions, fraud, deceit and violence may all be necessary to ensure social stability and security. 

[00:15:19] In other words, a leader has to be ruthless to stay in power. 

[00:15:25] Throughout its 26 chapters, The Prince draws upon many of Machiavelli's first-hand experiences during his diplomatic employment on behalf of the Florentine Republic, and indeed Machiavelli is remembered during his diplomatic time in Florence as a ruthless but incredibly efficient political operator. 

[00:15:47] We see this in the book. Machiavelli sets himself as an authoritative figure providing sound governmental and military advice through his analysis of historical and contemporary commanders. 

[00:16:01] Louis XII of France, for example, is notably referenced in The Prince. Remember, it was King Louis who tried to expand into northern Italy, but ended up being driven out after a series of expensive wars.

[00:16:18] In Chapter III, Machiavelli lists the five main errors of statecraft that Louis committed, causing him to lose power in Lombardy and be driven out of Italy. 

[00:16:31] According to Machiavelli, Louis’ errors were as follows: failure to settle into the country, making a greater power even stronger, destroying minor powers, bringing in a foreign power and not bringing in colonies.

[00:16:47] Machiavelli wrote detailed assessments of power struggles, singling out individuals and pinpointing the elements that resulted in their downfall, as well as signalling how these downfalls could have been avoided. 

[00:17:02] One person from Machiavelli’s first-hand observations who features extensively throughout The Prince is Cesare Borgia. 

[00:17:12] As we heard earlier on, Cesare Borgia, with his father as pope, attempted to create a large central Italian state under his direct control. Borgia was a highly capable general and statesman, well equipped with a ruthless, cunning nature, and he provided a major inspiration for Machiavelli’s The Prince.

[00:17:37] While Cesare Borgia is portrayed as an excellent example of a new prince carving out a new state and holding on to power in line with Machiavelli’s principles, Borgia struggled to maintain power once his powerful father died.

[00:17:55] This, actually, is a fundamental part of the theory presented in The Prince.

[00:18:01] For Machiavelli, Borgia’s downfall ultimately came down to the hostility of fate or fortune. 

[00:18:10] While Machiavelli strongly encourages rulers to plan for all eventualities, Borgia, despite his scheming, planning and intentions, was still brought down by the one event he did not plan for - being incapacitated, or ill, at the same time as his father’s death.

[00:18:32] Sometimes you can plan for everything, but a curveball comes your way and there’s very little you can do to stop it. 

[00:18:41] All Machiavelli tries to do here is explain what an aspiring leader can do to control their own fate as much as possible.

[00:18:52] Now, this text, The Prince, was written over 500 years ago, and scholars, politicians, and indeed anyone with an interest in power, have been studying it ever since. 

[00:19:06] It was trusted by Thomas Cromwell, referenced by Sir Francis Bacon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it’s thought to have influenced Descartes, Hobbes, and John Locke, Napoleon, Mussolini and Stalin were all huge fans, and in more recent times President Richard Nixon and the famed diplomat Henry Kissinger both referenced the book as being highly influential.

[00:19:30] The Prince has made the adjective Machiavellian a byword, an expression, for deception and scheming, especially in the context of political manipulation. 

[00:19:43] The book was banned by the Catholic church, and it has remained an extremely controversial text ever since its publication.

[00:19:53] But it seems unlikely that Machiavelli ever intended for it to have such an impact.

[00:20:00] Firstly, it was written in vernacular, or common, Italian rather than Latin, which, contrary to what you might think, would have meant that the potential audience was smaller, as far more Europeans would have been able to read Latin than Italian.

[00:20:18] Secondly, it was dedicated to the Medici family, and really it was written as an attempt to escape his life of boredom and regain active diplomatic service. 

[00:20:32] Essentially, it was a job application, it wasn’t intended to be a treatise on political theory, read and studied by a global audience.

[00:20:42] And all this is supported by the fact that he never actually tried to publish it - it was only published after his death.

[00:20:51] And as much as Machiavelli has been deviled for The Prince, he has also been named the father, or at least one of the fathers, of modern political philosophy and political science. 

[00:21:04] While a great many of the suggestions in the book are shockingly immoral, by explaining what tactics rulers use and completely ignoring any questions of ethics, Machiavelli has emancipated or detached politics from moral philosophy. 

[00:21:23] Reading The Prince today in a modern context, the book still strikes a chord in its call to action, with advice on how to succeed in life by being bold, taking risks and being ruthless.

[00:21:38] Machiavelli’s brazen, shameless, recommendations to eliminate, scheme and destroy to hold on to power still strike us today, and I’m sure that you can think of examples of politicians in your country that people know have done terrible, scheming things to their friends and allies just in order to gain power.

[00:22:02] Part of the fascination and what makes The Prince still relevant today is Machiavelli’s very matter of fact way of describing just how ruthless and devoid of morals humans can be to get what they want, whilst still hiding behind a mask of morality and decorum.

[00:22:23] By separating morality from politics and action, it brings us uncomfortably closer to a deeper consideration of human nature and whether or not we can claim to be inherently moral as individuals or even as a society. 

[00:22:39] Perhaps at the end of the day, the question we should be asking ourselves is, why does Machiavelli’s The Prince still have such a bad reputation?

[00:22:49] Maybe it isn’t just down to the underhand and often cruel tactics that are recommended, but rather, more worryingly, the fact that Machiavelli almost casually exposes a brutal dimension of human nature that we normally attempt to hide at all costs.

[00:23:08] While some people read The Prince and interpret Machiavelli as suggesting that this is what politicians should do, there are plenty who take an alternative view, that Machiavelli is simply documenting the behaviour that he saw and indeed engaged in during his time as a diplomat. 

[00:23:27] He isn’t writing some abstract theoretical novel, he is writing a detailed account, full of plenty of real-life contemporary examples showing the extent to which people will go to gain power.

[00:23:42] When faced with survival, and even in some cases when not, humans are capable of committing atrocities and those in power may resort to deceitfulness and scheming far more regularly than we are in fact aware of. 

[00:23:58] In other words, when push comes to shove, as Machiavelli so famously reminds us, morality is often one of the very first things to go out the window. 

[00:24:10] And whether we’re talking about Renaissance Florence, 18th century Paris, the 21st century British Houses of Parliament or indeed any seat of power and influence, it’s clear that so long as there is more power to be taken, men and women will go to extraordinary lengths to get it.

[00:24:32] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Niccolò Machiavelli and The Prince.

[00:24:39] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned something new and maybe had a chance to reflect a little more deeply upon society and morality in general.

[00:24:50] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:24:54] Have you read The Prince and what did you think of it? 

[00:24:57] Why do you think The Prince is such a popular read over 500 years after it was written?

[00:25:04] Can the theories and ideology of Machiavelli ever be a good thing? 

[00:25:10] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:25:14] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting to other curious minds

[00:25:23] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

Continue learning

Get immediate access to a more interesting way of improving your English
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[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Niccolò Machiavelli, and his most famous work, The Prince.

[00:00:31] He is a man whose very name has become synonymous with a certain immoral behaviour - if someone is Machiavellian it means they are unscrupulous, scheming, or cunning, and they will let nothing get between them and power.

[00:00:48] To explain how the name of an Italian diplomat, philosopher and author has become synonymous with treachery and deception, we’re going to travel back in time to Florence in the Early Renaissance. 

[00:01:03] It was an intense period divided by social upheaval, wars and political intrigue, yet unified by art, culture and literature. 

[00:01:14] There’s plenty to discover, and there is a lot more to Machiavelli than many people think, so let’s dive right into it. 

[00:01:23] Ok then, The Prince by Machiavelli.

[00:01:27] Let’s get started by taking a closer look at Machiavelli himself.

[00:01:32] Who actually was Niccolò Machiavelli? 

[00:01:35] What do we know about his life? 

[00:01:37] And how did the tumultuous, or agitated, turbulent times in which Machiavelli lived shape his beliefs and inspire his writings? 

[00:01:49] Niccolò Machiavelli was born in 1469 in Florence, Italy, to a family descended from Florentine nobility. At the time, Florence was the very epicentre of European art and culture as the birthplace of the Renaissance.

[00:02:08] The Renaissance, as I am sure you will know, was the transitional period between the 14-17th centuries that revived and attempted to surpass achievements and ideas from classical antiquity. 

[00:02:25] In contrast to the so-called Dark Ages or Middle Ages, following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Renaissance was a fervent, an intense period of rediscovery, as well as cultural, scientific, philosophical and artistic progress. 

[00:02:45] And, as you may well be aware, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Italy was fragmented, it was split up into numerous self-ruling city-states and districts. There was no united Italian nation until 1861.

[00:03:03] While Florence was a republic, power was mainly concentrated in the hands of wealthy families, especially the influential Medici family who dominated the Florentine representative government for several centuries.

[00:03:20] If you’d like to learn more about the Medici, we have an episode on that too, it’s episode number 90.

[00:03:29] Well, back to Machiavelli and Florence. 

[00:03:32] Machiavelli lived in turbulent times, popes would wage wars against city-states, while the Holy Roman Empire, France and Spain battled for greater regional influence and control. 

[00:03:47] Governments were often short-lived and political alliances changed frequently, as did the mercenary, the paid soldiers who were prone to changing sides without warning, depending on which way the wind blew and who paid the most money.

[00:04:05] It’s undoubtedly thanks to this backdrop of instability and upheaval, of social manoeuvring and intense power struggles that Machiavelli got the inspiration for his most famous work The Prince. 

[00:04:22] In terms of Machiavelli's life, biographers tend to split it into three distinct parts, each of which also relates to a distinct period of Florentine history.

[00:04:36] The first period of Machiavelli’s life runs from his birth in 1469 up to the year 1494, the first 25 years of his life. 

[00:04:48] Although for most people this is where much of your character is formed, it’s crystalised, we have little documentation of Machiavelli’s youth, although we do know he was taught rhetoric, grammar and Latin by a well-known teacher.

[00:05:06] During this period, Florence was indirectly ruled by Lorenzo de’ Medici, also known as Il Magnifico, the Magnificent. Lorenzo de’ Medici was the most powerful and ardent, enthusiastic, patron of Renaissance culture.

[00:05:25] However, in 1494, just two years after Lorenzo’s death, the Medici lost power. Lorenzo’s son and heir, Piero de’ Medici, was formally exiled and the Medici were not to rule Florence again until 1512. 

[00:05:45] The period of 1494-1512, when Florence was free from the rule of the Medici, forms the second part of Machiavelli’s life, during which he served the free Republic of Florence, and it’s during this period that it seems that most of his political thought and ideology was shaped

[00:06:07] Machiavelli was first appointed to an office responsible for reproducing official government documents, before rising to an important diplomatic role.

[00:06:18] In this role Machiavelli conducted numerous important diplomatic missions meeting with Louis XII of France, Emperor Maximilian, the Spanish court and the papacy. 

[00:06:31] A lot of Machiavelli’s time spent as a diplomat was occupied with Pope Alexander VI and his illegitimate but incredibly powerful son, Cesare Borgia. The father and son had huge ambitions to carve out a central Italian state for their own benefit. 

[00:06:53] Cesare Borgia’s ruthless quest to expand his lands, his immense capabilities as a statesman, general and ruler, alongside his ultimate failure to retain power are all discussed at length in The Prince. 

[00:07:10] So, now for the third period of Machiavelli’s life. 

[00:07:14] France, Germany and Spain allied with a new pope, Pope Julius II, to form the League of Cambrai with the main intent of crushing the powerful Venetian Republic. 

[00:07:28] However, despite the league’s initial success, friction began to grow between the pope and France.

[00:07:36] Ultimately, this led to the pope hiring an army of mercenaries, of paid soldiers, to drive the French out of Italy. This left the Republic of Florence in a delicate situation, having been a long-term ally of France. 

[00:07:54] Florence had no choice but to comply with the pope’s demands, one of which was to restore the Medici family to power. 

[00:08:04] Thus in 1512 the Medici returned to rule Florence and Machiavelli was sacked.

[00:08:11] Worse still, he was imprisoned and tortured, under suspicion of having conspired or plotted to overthrow the Medici family, which there is no evidence of him having done, by the way. 

[00:08:26] After the death of Pope Julius II, his successor, Pope Leo X secured Machiavelli’s release from prison, and Machiavelli plotted his return to political life.

[00:08:39] This third and final part of Machiavelli’s life saw him retreat to his small rural property just outside of Florence. 

[00:08:49] It is during this time that he penned, he wrote, The Prince and his first Discourse on the First Decade of Titus Livius.

[00:09:00] While neither of these two works, his two most famous writings, were published during his lifetime, Machiavelli did write a number of successful plays that were popular and widely enjoyed by his contemporaries

[00:09:14] But he struggled to accept his fate as removed from political life and his correspondence from this time shows that he attempted to stay involved in the political sphere through his friends with connections.

[00:09:30] Ultimately, it was not to be and Machiavelli did not manage to take up his old diplomatic post. 

[00:09:37] He did, however, manage to achieve a re-entry of sorts into society - literary society in particular.

[00:09:45] In 1520, Giulio de Medici commissioned Machiavelli to write a history of Florence. Machiavelli accepted in the hope of getting back into the good books of the Medici family, and wrote an eight-part work that portrays the Medici in a favourable light.

[00:10:05] Having Giulio de Medici as a friend and ally would turn out to be a positive thing for Machiavelli, because three years later Giulio de Medici would become Pope Clement VII. 

[00:10:18] But there are limits to even the pope’s power, as Clement VII found out in 1526 when Rome was sacked by the Holy Roman Emperor, the pope was kept prisoner and eventually the Medici were kicked out of Florence.

[00:10:35] Machiavelli, ever hopeful of a full return to political life, quickly returned to Florence, but shortly after his arrival he took ill and died in June 1527, at the age of 58.

[00:10:50] Now, I know that there were a lot of names and dates there, and you are certainly not expected to remember all of them. 

[00:10:58] We've really rushed through it, but I share this with you to give you an idea of the society in which Machiavelli lived. 

[00:11:07] It’s very clear that the political upheaval, numerous wars and constantly changing alliances were the norm rather than the exception. 

[00:11:18] So, where does Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince fit into all of this? 

[00:11:25] What is The Prince actually about? And why are we still reading it today? 

[00:11:30] The Prince, in Machiavelli’s own words, is a discussion of the conduct of great men and the principles of princely government. 

[00:11:40] The text is loosely based on the mirror-of-princes genre - a type of literary work that advises princes on how to best rule, almost like a handbook of government. 

[00:11:55] This genre originated in Ancient Greece and went on to lay the foundations for Renaissance political theories, which in turn paved the way for modern political science. 

[00:12:08] However, The Prince varies from other works in this genre in its content and style.

[00:12:15] Firstly, Machiavelli focuses on ‘new’ princes in The Prince rather than the more traditional audience of a hereditary prince, a prince who becomes a prince because he is born a prince. 

[00:12:29] He states that hereditary princes come to power more easily and retain, they keep hold of power, by not upsetting the established scheme of things.

[00:12:40] On the other hand, new princes, Machiavelli notes, find it more difficult to rule. 

[00:12:48] They must first of all cement their power with secure and stable foundations. The rise to power may be challenging and the previously existing order difficult to topple or bring down

[00:13:04] However, Machiavelli also believed that once a new prince had fully secured power, he would find it easier to retain it, to keep hold of it.

[00:13:15] This is an important concept in The Prince, with Machiavelli writing that for a new prince to rise to the top and secure power, he needs to do it through his own virtues, using cunning and force. 

[00:13:31] Once he has forcefully crushed his opponents, the new prince will earn respect, being stronger and more self-sufficient

[00:13:41] This highlights another main difference between Machiavelli’s The Prince and previous texts in the mirror-of-princes genre. 

[00:13:50] Machiavelli is not setting out an idealised, moral vision of how a ruler should rule. 

[00:13:57] There is no right or wrong, no morality, no justice.

[00:14:02] Instead, The Prince focuses upon which character traits and acts can be beneficial to a ruler looking to consolidate their power. 

[00:14:13] In this respect, Machiavelli is actually showing us the world from a perspective completely devoid of, completely separate from moral judgement. 

[00:14:24] This was particularly revolutionary because previously, at least in terms of written guidance, it was believed that good moral behaviour would ultimately lead to positive results - doing the right thing would result in a successful rule.

[00:14:43] In The Prince, Machiavelli said this was not the case.

[00:14:48] Throughout The Prince, Machiavelli makes his case that princes must be willing to rule unscrupulously at times, with private and public morality being almost two separate things.

[00:15:02] Essentially, what he is saying is that: a prince should do whatever needs to be done to obtain and hold on to power. 

[00:15:10] Immoral actions, fraud, deceit and violence may all be necessary to ensure social stability and security. 

[00:15:19] In other words, a leader has to be ruthless to stay in power. 

[00:15:25] Throughout its 26 chapters, The Prince draws upon many of Machiavelli's first-hand experiences during his diplomatic employment on behalf of the Florentine Republic, and indeed Machiavelli is remembered during his diplomatic time in Florence as a ruthless but incredibly efficient political operator. 

[00:15:47] We see this in the book. Machiavelli sets himself as an authoritative figure providing sound governmental and military advice through his analysis of historical and contemporary commanders. 

[00:16:01] Louis XII of France, for example, is notably referenced in The Prince. Remember, it was King Louis who tried to expand into northern Italy, but ended up being driven out after a series of expensive wars.

[00:16:18] In Chapter III, Machiavelli lists the five main errors of statecraft that Louis committed, causing him to lose power in Lombardy and be driven out of Italy. 

[00:16:31] According to Machiavelli, Louis’ errors were as follows: failure to settle into the country, making a greater power even stronger, destroying minor powers, bringing in a foreign power and not bringing in colonies.

[00:16:47] Machiavelli wrote detailed assessments of power struggles, singling out individuals and pinpointing the elements that resulted in their downfall, as well as signalling how these downfalls could have been avoided. 

[00:17:02] One person from Machiavelli’s first-hand observations who features extensively throughout The Prince is Cesare Borgia. 

[00:17:12] As we heard earlier on, Cesare Borgia, with his father as pope, attempted to create a large central Italian state under his direct control. Borgia was a highly capable general and statesman, well equipped with a ruthless, cunning nature, and he provided a major inspiration for Machiavelli’s The Prince.

[00:17:37] While Cesare Borgia is portrayed as an excellent example of a new prince carving out a new state and holding on to power in line with Machiavelli’s principles, Borgia struggled to maintain power once his powerful father died.

[00:17:55] This, actually, is a fundamental part of the theory presented in The Prince.

[00:18:01] For Machiavelli, Borgia’s downfall ultimately came down to the hostility of fate or fortune. 

[00:18:10] While Machiavelli strongly encourages rulers to plan for all eventualities, Borgia, despite his scheming, planning and intentions, was still brought down by the one event he did not plan for - being incapacitated, or ill, at the same time as his father’s death.

[00:18:32] Sometimes you can plan for everything, but a curveball comes your way and there’s very little you can do to stop it. 

[00:18:41] All Machiavelli tries to do here is explain what an aspiring leader can do to control their own fate as much as possible.

[00:18:52] Now, this text, The Prince, was written over 500 years ago, and scholars, politicians, and indeed anyone with an interest in power, have been studying it ever since. 

[00:19:06] It was trusted by Thomas Cromwell, referenced by Sir Francis Bacon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it’s thought to have influenced Descartes, Hobbes, and John Locke, Napoleon, Mussolini and Stalin were all huge fans, and in more recent times President Richard Nixon and the famed diplomat Henry Kissinger both referenced the book as being highly influential.

[00:19:30] The Prince has made the adjective Machiavellian a byword, an expression, for deception and scheming, especially in the context of political manipulation. 

[00:19:43] The book was banned by the Catholic church, and it has remained an extremely controversial text ever since its publication.

[00:19:53] But it seems unlikely that Machiavelli ever intended for it to have such an impact.

[00:20:00] Firstly, it was written in vernacular, or common, Italian rather than Latin, which, contrary to what you might think, would have meant that the potential audience was smaller, as far more Europeans would have been able to read Latin than Italian.

[00:20:18] Secondly, it was dedicated to the Medici family, and really it was written as an attempt to escape his life of boredom and regain active diplomatic service. 

[00:20:32] Essentially, it was a job application, it wasn’t intended to be a treatise on political theory, read and studied by a global audience.

[00:20:42] And all this is supported by the fact that he never actually tried to publish it - it was only published after his death.

[00:20:51] And as much as Machiavelli has been deviled for The Prince, he has also been named the father, or at least one of the fathers, of modern political philosophy and political science. 

[00:21:04] While a great many of the suggestions in the book are shockingly immoral, by explaining what tactics rulers use and completely ignoring any questions of ethics, Machiavelli has emancipated or detached politics from moral philosophy. 

[00:21:23] Reading The Prince today in a modern context, the book still strikes a chord in its call to action, with advice on how to succeed in life by being bold, taking risks and being ruthless.

[00:21:38] Machiavelli’s brazen, shameless, recommendations to eliminate, scheme and destroy to hold on to power still strike us today, and I’m sure that you can think of examples of politicians in your country that people know have done terrible, scheming things to their friends and allies just in order to gain power.

[00:22:02] Part of the fascination and what makes The Prince still relevant today is Machiavelli’s very matter of fact way of describing just how ruthless and devoid of morals humans can be to get what they want, whilst still hiding behind a mask of morality and decorum.

[00:22:23] By separating morality from politics and action, it brings us uncomfortably closer to a deeper consideration of human nature and whether or not we can claim to be inherently moral as individuals or even as a society. 

[00:22:39] Perhaps at the end of the day, the question we should be asking ourselves is, why does Machiavelli’s The Prince still have such a bad reputation?

[00:22:49] Maybe it isn’t just down to the underhand and often cruel tactics that are recommended, but rather, more worryingly, the fact that Machiavelli almost casually exposes a brutal dimension of human nature that we normally attempt to hide at all costs.

[00:23:08] While some people read The Prince and interpret Machiavelli as suggesting that this is what politicians should do, there are plenty who take an alternative view, that Machiavelli is simply documenting the behaviour that he saw and indeed engaged in during his time as a diplomat. 

[00:23:27] He isn’t writing some abstract theoretical novel, he is writing a detailed account, full of plenty of real-life contemporary examples showing the extent to which people will go to gain power.

[00:23:42] When faced with survival, and even in some cases when not, humans are capable of committing atrocities and those in power may resort to deceitfulness and scheming far more regularly than we are in fact aware of. 

[00:23:58] In other words, when push comes to shove, as Machiavelli so famously reminds us, morality is often one of the very first things to go out the window. 

[00:24:10] And whether we’re talking about Renaissance Florence, 18th century Paris, the 21st century British Houses of Parliament or indeed any seat of power and influence, it’s clear that so long as there is more power to be taken, men and women will go to extraordinary lengths to get it.

[00:24:32] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Niccolò Machiavelli and The Prince.

[00:24:39] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned something new and maybe had a chance to reflect a little more deeply upon society and morality in general.

[00:24:50] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:24:54] Have you read The Prince and what did you think of it? 

[00:24:57] Why do you think The Prince is such a popular read over 500 years after it was written?

[00:25:04] Can the theories and ideology of Machiavelli ever be a good thing? 

[00:25:10] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:25:14] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting to other curious minds

[00:25:23] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]

[00:00:00] Hello, hello hello, and welcome to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English. 

[00:00:12] The show where you can listen to fascinating stories, and learn weird and wonderful things about the world at the same time as improving your English.

[00:00:22] I'm Alastair Budge, and today we are going to be talking about Niccolò Machiavelli, and his most famous work, The Prince.

[00:00:31] He is a man whose very name has become synonymous with a certain immoral behaviour - if someone is Machiavellian it means they are unscrupulous, scheming, or cunning, and they will let nothing get between them and power.

[00:00:48] To explain how the name of an Italian diplomat, philosopher and author has become synonymous with treachery and deception, we’re going to travel back in time to Florence in the Early Renaissance. 

[00:01:03] It was an intense period divided by social upheaval, wars and political intrigue, yet unified by art, culture and literature. 

[00:01:14] There’s plenty to discover, and there is a lot more to Machiavelli than many people think, so let’s dive right into it. 

[00:01:23] Ok then, The Prince by Machiavelli.

[00:01:27] Let’s get started by taking a closer look at Machiavelli himself.

[00:01:32] Who actually was Niccolò Machiavelli? 

[00:01:35] What do we know about his life? 

[00:01:37] And how did the tumultuous, or agitated, turbulent times in which Machiavelli lived shape his beliefs and inspire his writings? 

[00:01:49] Niccolò Machiavelli was born in 1469 in Florence, Italy, to a family descended from Florentine nobility. At the time, Florence was the very epicentre of European art and culture as the birthplace of the Renaissance.

[00:02:08] The Renaissance, as I am sure you will know, was the transitional period between the 14-17th centuries that revived and attempted to surpass achievements and ideas from classical antiquity. 

[00:02:25] In contrast to the so-called Dark Ages or Middle Ages, following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Renaissance was a fervent, an intense period of rediscovery, as well as cultural, scientific, philosophical and artistic progress. 

[00:02:45] And, as you may well be aware, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Italy was fragmented, it was split up into numerous self-ruling city-states and districts. There was no united Italian nation until 1861.

[00:03:03] While Florence was a republic, power was mainly concentrated in the hands of wealthy families, especially the influential Medici family who dominated the Florentine representative government for several centuries.

[00:03:20] If you’d like to learn more about the Medici, we have an episode on that too, it’s episode number 90.

[00:03:29] Well, back to Machiavelli and Florence. 

[00:03:32] Machiavelli lived in turbulent times, popes would wage wars against city-states, while the Holy Roman Empire, France and Spain battled for greater regional influence and control. 

[00:03:47] Governments were often short-lived and political alliances changed frequently, as did the mercenary, the paid soldiers who were prone to changing sides without warning, depending on which way the wind blew and who paid the most money.

[00:04:05] It’s undoubtedly thanks to this backdrop of instability and upheaval, of social manoeuvring and intense power struggles that Machiavelli got the inspiration for his most famous work The Prince. 

[00:04:22] In terms of Machiavelli's life, biographers tend to split it into three distinct parts, each of which also relates to a distinct period of Florentine history.

[00:04:36] The first period of Machiavelli’s life runs from his birth in 1469 up to the year 1494, the first 25 years of his life. 

[00:04:48] Although for most people this is where much of your character is formed, it’s crystalised, we have little documentation of Machiavelli’s youth, although we do know he was taught rhetoric, grammar and Latin by a well-known teacher.

[00:05:06] During this period, Florence was indirectly ruled by Lorenzo de’ Medici, also known as Il Magnifico, the Magnificent. Lorenzo de’ Medici was the most powerful and ardent, enthusiastic, patron of Renaissance culture.

[00:05:25] However, in 1494, just two years after Lorenzo’s death, the Medici lost power. Lorenzo’s son and heir, Piero de’ Medici, was formally exiled and the Medici were not to rule Florence again until 1512. 

[00:05:45] The period of 1494-1512, when Florence was free from the rule of the Medici, forms the second part of Machiavelli’s life, during which he served the free Republic of Florence, and it’s during this period that it seems that most of his political thought and ideology was shaped

[00:06:07] Machiavelli was first appointed to an office responsible for reproducing official government documents, before rising to an important diplomatic role.

[00:06:18] In this role Machiavelli conducted numerous important diplomatic missions meeting with Louis XII of France, Emperor Maximilian, the Spanish court and the papacy. 

[00:06:31] A lot of Machiavelli’s time spent as a diplomat was occupied with Pope Alexander VI and his illegitimate but incredibly powerful son, Cesare Borgia. The father and son had huge ambitions to carve out a central Italian state for their own benefit. 

[00:06:53] Cesare Borgia’s ruthless quest to expand his lands, his immense capabilities as a statesman, general and ruler, alongside his ultimate failure to retain power are all discussed at length in The Prince. 

[00:07:10] So, now for the third period of Machiavelli’s life. 

[00:07:14] France, Germany and Spain allied with a new pope, Pope Julius II, to form the League of Cambrai with the main intent of crushing the powerful Venetian Republic. 

[00:07:28] However, despite the league’s initial success, friction began to grow between the pope and France.

[00:07:36] Ultimately, this led to the pope hiring an army of mercenaries, of paid soldiers, to drive the French out of Italy. This left the Republic of Florence in a delicate situation, having been a long-term ally of France. 

[00:07:54] Florence had no choice but to comply with the pope’s demands, one of which was to restore the Medici family to power. 

[00:08:04] Thus in 1512 the Medici returned to rule Florence and Machiavelli was sacked.

[00:08:11] Worse still, he was imprisoned and tortured, under suspicion of having conspired or plotted to overthrow the Medici family, which there is no evidence of him having done, by the way. 

[00:08:26] After the death of Pope Julius II, his successor, Pope Leo X secured Machiavelli’s release from prison, and Machiavelli plotted his return to political life.

[00:08:39] This third and final part of Machiavelli’s life saw him retreat to his small rural property just outside of Florence. 

[00:08:49] It is during this time that he penned, he wrote, The Prince and his first Discourse on the First Decade of Titus Livius.

[00:09:00] While neither of these two works, his two most famous writings, were published during his lifetime, Machiavelli did write a number of successful plays that were popular and widely enjoyed by his contemporaries

[00:09:14] But he struggled to accept his fate as removed from political life and his correspondence from this time shows that he attempted to stay involved in the political sphere through his friends with connections.

[00:09:30] Ultimately, it was not to be and Machiavelli did not manage to take up his old diplomatic post. 

[00:09:37] He did, however, manage to achieve a re-entry of sorts into society - literary society in particular.

[00:09:45] In 1520, Giulio de Medici commissioned Machiavelli to write a history of Florence. Machiavelli accepted in the hope of getting back into the good books of the Medici family, and wrote an eight-part work that portrays the Medici in a favourable light.

[00:10:05] Having Giulio de Medici as a friend and ally would turn out to be a positive thing for Machiavelli, because three years later Giulio de Medici would become Pope Clement VII. 

[00:10:18] But there are limits to even the pope’s power, as Clement VII found out in 1526 when Rome was sacked by the Holy Roman Emperor, the pope was kept prisoner and eventually the Medici were kicked out of Florence.

[00:10:35] Machiavelli, ever hopeful of a full return to political life, quickly returned to Florence, but shortly after his arrival he took ill and died in June 1527, at the age of 58.

[00:10:50] Now, I know that there were a lot of names and dates there, and you are certainly not expected to remember all of them. 

[00:10:58] We've really rushed through it, but I share this with you to give you an idea of the society in which Machiavelli lived. 

[00:11:07] It’s very clear that the political upheaval, numerous wars and constantly changing alliances were the norm rather than the exception. 

[00:11:18] So, where does Machiavelli’s most famous work, The Prince fit into all of this? 

[00:11:25] What is The Prince actually about? And why are we still reading it today? 

[00:11:30] The Prince, in Machiavelli’s own words, is a discussion of the conduct of great men and the principles of princely government. 

[00:11:40] The text is loosely based on the mirror-of-princes genre - a type of literary work that advises princes on how to best rule, almost like a handbook of government. 

[00:11:55] This genre originated in Ancient Greece and went on to lay the foundations for Renaissance political theories, which in turn paved the way for modern political science. 

[00:12:08] However, The Prince varies from other works in this genre in its content and style.

[00:12:15] Firstly, Machiavelli focuses on ‘new’ princes in The Prince rather than the more traditional audience of a hereditary prince, a prince who becomes a prince because he is born a prince. 

[00:12:29] He states that hereditary princes come to power more easily and retain, they keep hold of power, by not upsetting the established scheme of things.

[00:12:40] On the other hand, new princes, Machiavelli notes, find it more difficult to rule. 

[00:12:48] They must first of all cement their power with secure and stable foundations. The rise to power may be challenging and the previously existing order difficult to topple or bring down

[00:13:04] However, Machiavelli also believed that once a new prince had fully secured power, he would find it easier to retain it, to keep hold of it.

[00:13:15] This is an important concept in The Prince, with Machiavelli writing that for a new prince to rise to the top and secure power, he needs to do it through his own virtues, using cunning and force. 

[00:13:31] Once he has forcefully crushed his opponents, the new prince will earn respect, being stronger and more self-sufficient

[00:13:41] This highlights another main difference between Machiavelli’s The Prince and previous texts in the mirror-of-princes genre. 

[00:13:50] Machiavelli is not setting out an idealised, moral vision of how a ruler should rule. 

[00:13:57] There is no right or wrong, no morality, no justice.

[00:14:02] Instead, The Prince focuses upon which character traits and acts can be beneficial to a ruler looking to consolidate their power. 

[00:14:13] In this respect, Machiavelli is actually showing us the world from a perspective completely devoid of, completely separate from moral judgement. 

[00:14:24] This was particularly revolutionary because previously, at least in terms of written guidance, it was believed that good moral behaviour would ultimately lead to positive results - doing the right thing would result in a successful rule.

[00:14:43] In The Prince, Machiavelli said this was not the case.

[00:14:48] Throughout The Prince, Machiavelli makes his case that princes must be willing to rule unscrupulously at times, with private and public morality being almost two separate things.

[00:15:02] Essentially, what he is saying is that: a prince should do whatever needs to be done to obtain and hold on to power. 

[00:15:10] Immoral actions, fraud, deceit and violence may all be necessary to ensure social stability and security. 

[00:15:19] In other words, a leader has to be ruthless to stay in power. 

[00:15:25] Throughout its 26 chapters, The Prince draws upon many of Machiavelli's first-hand experiences during his diplomatic employment on behalf of the Florentine Republic, and indeed Machiavelli is remembered during his diplomatic time in Florence as a ruthless but incredibly efficient political operator. 

[00:15:47] We see this in the book. Machiavelli sets himself as an authoritative figure providing sound governmental and military advice through his analysis of historical and contemporary commanders. 

[00:16:01] Louis XII of France, for example, is notably referenced in The Prince. Remember, it was King Louis who tried to expand into northern Italy, but ended up being driven out after a series of expensive wars.

[00:16:18] In Chapter III, Machiavelli lists the five main errors of statecraft that Louis committed, causing him to lose power in Lombardy and be driven out of Italy. 

[00:16:31] According to Machiavelli, Louis’ errors were as follows: failure to settle into the country, making a greater power even stronger, destroying minor powers, bringing in a foreign power and not bringing in colonies.

[00:16:47] Machiavelli wrote detailed assessments of power struggles, singling out individuals and pinpointing the elements that resulted in their downfall, as well as signalling how these downfalls could have been avoided. 

[00:17:02] One person from Machiavelli’s first-hand observations who features extensively throughout The Prince is Cesare Borgia. 

[00:17:12] As we heard earlier on, Cesare Borgia, with his father as pope, attempted to create a large central Italian state under his direct control. Borgia was a highly capable general and statesman, well equipped with a ruthless, cunning nature, and he provided a major inspiration for Machiavelli’s The Prince.

[00:17:37] While Cesare Borgia is portrayed as an excellent example of a new prince carving out a new state and holding on to power in line with Machiavelli’s principles, Borgia struggled to maintain power once his powerful father died.

[00:17:55] This, actually, is a fundamental part of the theory presented in The Prince.

[00:18:01] For Machiavelli, Borgia’s downfall ultimately came down to the hostility of fate or fortune. 

[00:18:10] While Machiavelli strongly encourages rulers to plan for all eventualities, Borgia, despite his scheming, planning and intentions, was still brought down by the one event he did not plan for - being incapacitated, or ill, at the same time as his father’s death.

[00:18:32] Sometimes you can plan for everything, but a curveball comes your way and there’s very little you can do to stop it. 

[00:18:41] All Machiavelli tries to do here is explain what an aspiring leader can do to control their own fate as much as possible.

[00:18:52] Now, this text, The Prince, was written over 500 years ago, and scholars, politicians, and indeed anyone with an interest in power, have been studying it ever since. 

[00:19:06] It was trusted by Thomas Cromwell, referenced by Sir Francis Bacon and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it’s thought to have influenced Descartes, Hobbes, and John Locke, Napoleon, Mussolini and Stalin were all huge fans, and in more recent times President Richard Nixon and the famed diplomat Henry Kissinger both referenced the book as being highly influential.

[00:19:30] The Prince has made the adjective Machiavellian a byword, an expression, for deception and scheming, especially in the context of political manipulation. 

[00:19:43] The book was banned by the Catholic church, and it has remained an extremely controversial text ever since its publication.

[00:19:53] But it seems unlikely that Machiavelli ever intended for it to have such an impact.

[00:20:00] Firstly, it was written in vernacular, or common, Italian rather than Latin, which, contrary to what you might think, would have meant that the potential audience was smaller, as far more Europeans would have been able to read Latin than Italian.

[00:20:18] Secondly, it was dedicated to the Medici family, and really it was written as an attempt to escape his life of boredom and regain active diplomatic service. 

[00:20:32] Essentially, it was a job application, it wasn’t intended to be a treatise on political theory, read and studied by a global audience.

[00:20:42] And all this is supported by the fact that he never actually tried to publish it - it was only published after his death.

[00:20:51] And as much as Machiavelli has been deviled for The Prince, he has also been named the father, or at least one of the fathers, of modern political philosophy and political science. 

[00:21:04] While a great many of the suggestions in the book are shockingly immoral, by explaining what tactics rulers use and completely ignoring any questions of ethics, Machiavelli has emancipated or detached politics from moral philosophy. 

[00:21:23] Reading The Prince today in a modern context, the book still strikes a chord in its call to action, with advice on how to succeed in life by being bold, taking risks and being ruthless.

[00:21:38] Machiavelli’s brazen, shameless, recommendations to eliminate, scheme and destroy to hold on to power still strike us today, and I’m sure that you can think of examples of politicians in your country that people know have done terrible, scheming things to their friends and allies just in order to gain power.

[00:22:02] Part of the fascination and what makes The Prince still relevant today is Machiavelli’s very matter of fact way of describing just how ruthless and devoid of morals humans can be to get what they want, whilst still hiding behind a mask of morality and decorum.

[00:22:23] By separating morality from politics and action, it brings us uncomfortably closer to a deeper consideration of human nature and whether or not we can claim to be inherently moral as individuals or even as a society. 

[00:22:39] Perhaps at the end of the day, the question we should be asking ourselves is, why does Machiavelli’s The Prince still have such a bad reputation?

[00:22:49] Maybe it isn’t just down to the underhand and often cruel tactics that are recommended, but rather, more worryingly, the fact that Machiavelli almost casually exposes a brutal dimension of human nature that we normally attempt to hide at all costs.

[00:23:08] While some people read The Prince and interpret Machiavelli as suggesting that this is what politicians should do, there are plenty who take an alternative view, that Machiavelli is simply documenting the behaviour that he saw and indeed engaged in during his time as a diplomat. 

[00:23:27] He isn’t writing some abstract theoretical novel, he is writing a detailed account, full of plenty of real-life contemporary examples showing the extent to which people will go to gain power.

[00:23:42] When faced with survival, and even in some cases when not, humans are capable of committing atrocities and those in power may resort to deceitfulness and scheming far more regularly than we are in fact aware of. 

[00:23:58] In other words, when push comes to shove, as Machiavelli so famously reminds us, morality is often one of the very first things to go out the window. 

[00:24:10] And whether we’re talking about Renaissance Florence, 18th century Paris, the 21st century British Houses of Parliament or indeed any seat of power and influence, it’s clear that so long as there is more power to be taken, men and women will go to extraordinary lengths to get it.

[00:24:32] OK then, that is it for today's episode on Niccolò Machiavelli and The Prince.

[00:24:39] I hope it’s been an interesting one, and you’ve learned something new and maybe had a chance to reflect a little more deeply upon society and morality in general.

[00:24:50] As always, I would love to know what you thought about this episode. 

[00:24:54] Have you read The Prince and what did you think of it? 

[00:24:57] Why do you think The Prince is such a popular read over 500 years after it was written?

[00:25:04] Can the theories and ideology of Machiavelli ever be a good thing? 

[00:25:10] I would love to know, so let’s get this discussion started. 

[00:25:14] You can head right in to our community forum, which is at community.leonardoenglish.com and get chatting to other curious minds

[00:25:23] You've been listening to English Learning for Curious Minds, by Leonardo English.

[00:25:28] I'm Alastair Budge, you stay safe, and I'll catch you in the next episode.

[END OF EPISODE]