What makes a Machiavellian leader effective

Summary of The Prince

Politics in Renaissance Italy

In the 15th century, Florence was in fact ruled by a family who were able to expand their power through clever allocation of offices: the Medici. The Medici had made a name for themselves as bankers in the city since the 13th century. Their skill as traders had made them the richest family in Italy.

Fifteenth-century Italy was not a unified nation-state, but a very fragile association of city-states. After the end of the imperial rule, Northern Italy split into a multitude of independent political units that fought against each other. Cosimo de Medici, who was also called "Cosimo the Old", took over the rule of Florence in 1434. Under his grandson Lorenzo de Medici the city developed into the politically and culturally leading power in Italy. Important artists met at Lorenzo's court. The renaissance, d. H. the rebirth of antiquity in the arts brought masters like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci or Botticelli who all lived and worked in Florence.

While his father had a lucky knack for foreign policy, Lorenzo's son was looking Piero de Medici from 1492 an alliance with the Kingdom of Naples and neglected the good relations with Milan. Milan called on France for help because it feared political isolation. The French king Charles VIII invaded Italy and captured Naples. This in turn angered Austria and Spain, so that Italy became a bone of contention. The former Italian confederation disintegrated and constantly changing alliances developed. This thicket of disputes was of particular benefit to the "condottieri": These mercenary leaders went into battle with their armies for whoever offered the most for it. Sometimes they switched sides in the middle of a fight. After the French invasion, the Medici were banished from Florence. With the help of a Spanish army, they regained power in 1512, but were driven out again in 1527. And as if this would go on forever, the family actually regained control of the city in 1531. It was not until 1737 that the Medici line was finally lost.


The book was created under the Latin original title De principatibus in 1513. Only when it was printed in 1532 did the Italian title appear Il Principe the little book. Machiavelli found himself in a kind of exile while he was writing: after the powerful Medici family had come to power again in Florence, Machiavelli made himself suspicious because he had been in charge of the army in the previous republic. Disappointed, he withdrew to his San Casciano estate near the city. Here he suffered greatly from being condemned to inactivity. He wrote his ideal of a regent in The Prince from the soul. He had a special role model in mind: the power-conscious and unscrupulous Cesare Borgiawho had conquered several regions of Italy. Machiavelli's goal was a nation state strong enough to assert itself against foreign powers.

Impact history

Machiavelli's work was initially out of luck. The writing probably never reached its addressee Lorenzo de Medici. Machiavelli did not live to see the printing of the treatise in 1532, incidentally with the blessing of the Pope. A good 30 years after his death, his writings were placed on the index. The Florentines were probably the first to demonize Machiavelli: when the Medici returned to Florence after their exile in 1529, they took cruel revenge for their expulsion two years earlier. The people blamed Machiavelli's advice on how to maintain their rule. Even so, the book was translated into many languages. The first German-language edition appeared in 1580.

In the centuries that followed, the work was repeatedly the target of vicious insults. Anti-Machiavellism reached a real climax with the book Anti-Machiavelthat the Prussian Crown Prince Frederick II (Frederick the Great) 1739 and for editing and printing Voltaire forwarded. "The old Fritz" explicitly distanced himself from Machiavelli's advice: As the "first servant of the state", the ruler was unconditionally sovereign, but committed to the welfare of the people in every one of his actions. Under Italian fascism Mussolini Machiavelli was given a real hero worship. Of course, this did not exactly increase the willingness to deal objectively with his work. This only developed after the Second World War, so that the font could be seen in its historical context.