The Prince is set against the backdrop of the Italian Renaissance, a period of intense activity in art, science, and literature. Rich, sophisticated, and cultured, Italy was the center of intellectual achievement in the Western world, and scholars and artists from all over Europe flocked into the country to absorb its heady atmosphere. Even today, the achievements of Italian artists and thinkers are prized for their beauty and originality. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were Machiavelli’s contemporaries, and Florence itself, with its famous cathedral, was one of the capitals of Renaissance art.
Machiavelli draws so many of his examples in The Prince from contemporary Italian politics, a brief introduction to the tangled history of foreign involvement in Italy is helpful in gaining an understanding of the book. Italy’s increasing humiliation in the face of repeated invasions and duplicity from within was a cause of intense resentment to many Italian thinkers.
The book contains certain salient features like:
First, when trouble is sensed well in advance, it can easily be remedied; if you wait for it to show itself, any medicine may be too late because the disease will have eaten deep and become incurable. This means prevention is better than cure.
Men willingly change their ruler expecting to fare better. That’s why we have political parties.
When states are acquired in a province differing in language, customs, institutions, then difficulties arise; and to hold them together one must be very fortunate and very assiduous. One of the best, most effective expedients would be for the conqueror to go live there in person.
Whoever is responsible for another becoming powerful ruins himself, because this power is brought into being either by ingenuity or by force, and both of these are suspect to the one who has become powerful.
Governments set up overnight, like everything in nature whose growth is forced, lack strong roots and ramifications. So they are destroyed in the first bad spell.
A man who becomes a prince with the help of the nobles finds it more difficult to maintain his position than one who does so with the help of the people. As prince, he finds himself surrounded by many who believe they are his equals, and because of that he cannot command or manage them the way he wants
Prosperity is ephemeral; if a man behaves with patience and circumspection, and the time and circumstances are right, he will prosper, however, if circumstances change and he doesn’t adapt his policy to reflect the change, he will be ruined.