The Prince

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Book cover from Il Principe and La Vita di Castruccio Castracani da Lucca 1550

The Prince ( Italian Il Principe ; originally De principatibus ), written by Niccolò Machiavelli around 1513 , is considered to be one of the first - if not the first - works of modern political philosophy . Stylistically, in the tradition of medieval prince mirror standing, it formulated the modern, detached from the moral and religious ideas principles of state policy . Together with the Discorsi , which were created at the same time, it represents Macchiavelli's main work. Both the concept of Machiavellism and that of anti- Machiavellism are derived from him.

While Il Principe praises the new prince, who did not inherit power , but acquired it through his own efforts, the Discorsi advocate the republican form of government. Despite their different orientations, both works answer the same basic question: "How can one be successful in a hostile political environment, namely acquire power, maintain it and increase it to greatness?" According to Alessandro Pinzani, the main difference between the Princely Book and the Discorsi is that "the former is about ... attaining and maintaining power, ... the latter according to the Discorsi [about] maintaining one's own freedom ." Whether Macchiavelli meant "the individual freedom of the citizens or the general freedom of the republic", he made not very clear.

During Macchiavelli's lifetime, Der Fürst only circulated in a few copies. The work did not appear in print until five years after the author's death. The papal permission to print dates from January 4, 1532. But as early as 1557 the church had the prince's book put on the index of forbidden books .


Lorenzo di Piero de 'Medici, Duke of Urbino

Il Principe is dedicated to Lorenzo di Piero de 'Medici . At first it was to be dedicated to Giuliano di Lorenzo de 'Medici , but Machiavelli decided to change it.

Otfried Höffe claims that some of the prince's interpreters see this as an occasional pamphlet, as it was written out of “a personal need and a political need”. Because on November 7th, 1512 Machiavelli lost all his offices with the return of the Medici , was thereby put on the political side and moved to his small estate Albergaccio in the village of Sant'Andrea in Percussina , which is 15 kilometers southwest of Florence. Höffe, however, contradicts this view and believes that Der Fürst was not an occasional writing, but rather that the work was “well composed, carefully considered in the individual steps of thought and, above all, supported by a wealth of empirical material that the author acquired thanks to his humanistic education as well as has acquired from his own political activity. "

One of the author's motives, a staunch Republican, was to win the favor of the Medici, who ruled Florence at the time . After the fall of the Florence Republic, they threw him into dungeon and tortured him several times. After his release in 1513 they exiled him, and even begging letters written by Machiavelli had not been able to persuade them to pardon the former civil servant.

At the same time the author saw Italy in distress at the time he was writing the Principe . At that time Italy had split up into numerous small states and principalities and was constantly threatened by its neighbors, the Spanish, French and Germans ( Italian wars ). The desire to find political solutions to overcome this political crisis and its negative moral consequences for the individual (Machiavelli calls it depravity ) can be seen as a further driving force for Machiavelli's work . Machiavelli did not write Il principe out of pure self-interest, but dreamed of an Italian state and hoped that a prince would come who had the strength and ability to unite Italy and bring Italy back to its old glory. He saw one such in Cesare Borgia , famous for his cruelty , whose deeds he partially glorified and cited him as a “living” example for many of his recommendations for action. He saw another bearer of hope in Prince Lorenzo di Piero de 'Medici , the grandson of Lorenzo il Magnifico , to whom he dedicated his work. It was supposed to serve as a kind of political guide for him. Dirk Hoeges assumes that Moses “more than anyone else” comes close to the ideal prince.

The Medici did not like the book, however, and so Machiavelli could not benefit from it: He did not gain the desired degree in the favor of the ruling family, but had to wait until 1521 to be rehabilitated as a citizen of Florence; Nor did the Medici comply with his appeal to unite the Italian principalities and drive out the foreign occupiers.

To the title

The first translations of the work into French, English and German come from the time and imagination of the Baroque , for which the bearer of the highest power in the state naturally had to be a ruler legitimized by descent. Many of these translations of a book that is banned in many parts of Europe were not made for the public, but rather “for official use” only for an elite circle at court. The first German translation comes from Christian Albrecht von Lenz and was intended for the rulers at the court of Oels (Silesia).

For Machiavelli's political ideas, however, it makes no fundamental difference whether the head of state was legitimized by descent or a nobleman or citizen, church prince or condottiere who had come to power. For him the principle in the sense of the Roman princeps is the bearer of the highest power in the state, and the principati more or less monarchically ruled states. However, it deals in detail with the specific problems with which the respective forms of rule are confronted ( Chapters II, III, VI, VII, IX, and XI ). It is therefore probably more correct to render the term principe in general as ruler and principati as rule .



The book is divided into 26 chapters, with Machiavelli first talking about the various principalities and how to get them, then about the correct leadership of an army and finally about the correct behavior of a prince and what qualities he should have. This is the focus of the book. In the dedication, Machiavelli names "the subject and the method of the project, namely to gain rules for the rule of princes from experience of the political present and ancient circumstances."

Höffe divides the book of princes into the dedication, four main parts and the end. According to Höffe, the first main part is made up of chapters 1 to 11, which classify “the types of rule”. For Höffe, chapter 6 is a high point, as this chapter deals with the new, non-hereditary, princely rule and lists the most important examples of princes: Moses , Romulus, Cyrus and Theseus .

The second main part, chapters 12 to 14, deals with the military and the third, chapters 15 to 19, deals with “the provisional amorality”. The fourth main part, chapters 20 to 25, appears inconsistent. Topics include: fortress construction , reputation , "about the loss of rule of the princes of Italy" as well as fortune and efficiency.

Cesare Borgia , portrait probably by Giorgione , Bergamo , Galleria dell 'Accademia Carrara

Machiavelli already makes his intention clear with the detailed table of contents. The chapter headings are based on the translation by Rudolf Zorn.

Chapter overview

  • Chapter I: Of the forms of rule and the means to acquire rule

In the first chapter of the prince , Machiavelli begins to explain that in his opinion there is a dichotomy of the forms of rule. There are two categories for him - that of sole rule and that of the free state - and all conceivable forms of rule can be assigned to one of these two groups.

  • Chapter II: Of the inherited dominions

At this point, Machiavelli announces that he will subsequently deal exclusively with those forms of rule that can be assigned to the category of autocracy, since the discussion of the subject of the Free States takes place separately in the Discorsi . In relation to those autocracy in which power is inherited, Machiavelli believes that it is comparatively easy for the princes to assert themselves there. Here, for example, even a moderately talented ruler could rule successfully and only need to fear the risk of a sudden revolution. However, this is only slight and, in addition, the chances of the Hereditary Prince being able to quickly return to the throne after such a fall are considerable. The monarch also needs to be less harsh in such states than elsewhere and has to fear the danger of progressive ideas to a far lesser extent than the other princes. Thus, in Machiavelli's eyes, the inherited reign seems to be a relatively rewarding task.

  • III. Chapter: Mixed Autonomy

The maintenance of power by a sole ruler in newly conquered states (so-called mixed sole rulers) is, however, much more complicated according to the Florentine. The reason for this is that in this case the prince naturally has to fear the favorites of the old system and, moreover, often has to fear his former followers quickly. However, even in such a situation, Machiavelli does not see the prince's retention of power as an endeavor doomed to failure. In his opinion, it is sufficient to correctly classify the given circumstances and act accordingly. For example, if the prince conquers an area that is culturally relatively close to his ancestral rulership, it is sufficient, according to the author, to neutralize the previous ruling house and, moreover, to leave fiscal policy and legislation intact. If, on the other hand, the conquered area is far less culturally close to the prince, Machiavelli advises more far-reaching steps, such as relocating the seat of power or building colonies; it also seems to him necessary to secure the support of the less powerful ethnic groups in said territories in order to be able to keep the old elites in check. If the prince follows these instructions and also acts with foresight and determination, Machiavelli concludes, he could certainly succeed in mastering the difficult task of maintaining power in mixed autocracy.

  • Chapter IV: Why the empire of Darius conquered by Alexander did not rebel against his successors after Alexander's death

In view of these previously stated difficulties a ruler faces in newly conquered territories, Machiavelli wonders why Alexander the Great and his successors managed to assert themselves so easily in the conquered Asian territories. The author identifies the particular structure of the states subject here as the reason for this. In his opinion, there is a dichotomy of state structures: On the one hand, there are states that are centered on the person of the ruler, as was the case in Turkey, which was conquered by Alexander. Such states are difficult to conquer, but easy to rule afterwards, says Machiavelli. On the other hand, there were also states like France at the time, where the prince would share power with a large number of barons. These are easy to conquer but then difficult to master. Thus Machiavelli closes this chapter by stating that the ease with which Alexander's successors managed to control his empire after his death was due less to extraordinary efficiency than to the particular structure of the conquered states.

  • Chapter V: How to govern cities or lordships that lived according to their own laws before they were conquered

In the following chapter, Machiavelli examines how the prince can manage to maintain power in states that previously lived freely and according to their own laws. He recognizes three possibilities to achieve this goal: to destroy said state, to relocate his seat of power there or to set up a government that consists of citizens of the state and which is allowed to rule over their homeland against payment of a tribute. For the author, which of these methods should be chosen depends on the history of the individual states: if their citizens knew rights and freedoms in the past, then it would be safest for the prince to destroy the state, or at least his residence there relocate. If, on the other hand, there is a tradition of oppression by the rulers, the prince would have to act less rigorously there, since uprisings are much less likely. If the prince follows these instructions, Machiavelli believes, he is most likely to have permanent rule over his conquests, as the Romans had succeeded in in the past in Capua or Carthage .

  • VI. Chapter: From new rulers, which one conquers with one's own weapons and through efficiency

In this chapter Machiavelli deals with the question of how to successfully establish a completely new rule. To this end, he examines historical figures like Moses or Theseus , whom he certifies to have accomplished this - in his eyes colossal - work. On closer inspection, the author thinks he recognizes the reason for the success of these rulers in their weapons and their efficiency: namely, they relied as little as possible on their luck and instead tried to survive by diligent work and with the help of a strong army to ensure their system of rule. Machiavelli himself praises such an approach as absolutely exemplary and advises his readership to imitate rulers like Moses if possible, if they want to lead a completely new rule to success.

  • Chapter VII: About new rulers who have been conquered with foreign weapons and by luck

As a result, Machiavelli also tries to find out how the prince can succeed in remaining in power if he owes his rule mainly to a lucky coincidence and foreign military support. In such a situation he recommends the prince to take Cesare Borgias as an example. Because at the beginning of his reign, according to Machiavelli's analysis, he was in exactly that situation: he owed his crown to Pope Alexander VI. , whose illegitimate son he was, and his rule depended on the weal and woe of Orsini , Colonna and Louis XII. from. However, Cesare Borgia wisely attempted to free himself from this dependency and, thanks to his extraordinary efficiency, almost achieved this project. Only the sudden death of Alexander VI. as well as his own life-threatening illness would have ultimately prevented him from securing his rule in the long term. Machiavelli concludes that although it is possible to consolidate princely power, which was initially obtained with luck and foreign weapons, subsequently through special efficiency; however, he also points out that for this it is essential to be spared severe strokes of fate.

  • Chapter VIII: Acquiring power through crime

Machiavelli also sees crime and cruelty as a possible means to gain power and names Agathocles of Syracuse and Oliverotto da Fermo as examples of princes who established their rule in this way. However, the author also notes that the continued existence of such rule depends entirely on the manner in which the cruelty is applied. So he distinguishes between good and bad use of cruelty. Good use consists in committing atrocities only if they serve to maintain one's own power or to benefit the subjects; also in this case, the cruelty must be carried out in one fell swoop so as not to prolong the suffering unnecessarily. With this chapter Machiavelli recognizes that it is quite realistic as a prince to base his rule on crime and violence. At the same time, however, he restricts that in such a case the prince should at best hope for power, but never for fame.

  • IX. Chapter: From the rule of a citizen

After all, Machiavelli sees a last chance to come to power in becoming "the ruler of his fatherland through the favor of his fellow citizens". These fellow citizens can either be a few “great masters” or the broad mass of the people. Machiavelli also judges that it is easier for the autocratic ruler to assert himself if he owes his power to the people than if he depends on the great men of a city, since they would never cease to see themselves as his equal. Machiavelli thus recognizes that even a prince who depends on the support of his fellow citizens can survive, provided he succeeds in remaining popular and keeping his supporters in constant dependence on the state.

  • Chapter X: How to determine the strength of each rule

According to Machiavelli, the strength of a rule is measured in the prince's ability to "assert himself in an emergency". In the opinion of the author, this primarily requires a powerful army and strong defenses. He sees the German cities of his time as exemplary in this regard and urges his readers to follow their example if he is interested in placing his rule on the most stable foundation possible.

  • XI. Chapter: Of Spiritual Dominions

In the case of ecclesiastical lordships, Machiavelli sees the prince's main difficulty in gaining power, since this inevitably requires considerable luck or personal merit. However, once the throne has been climbed, further rule will be comparatively relaxing, since the venerable religious institutions are so strong "that they keep the ruler in power, however he may act and live". Against this background Machiavelli comes to the conclusion that of all conceivable rulers only the spiritual one is “safe and happy” for the prince.

  • XII. Chapter: Of the possibilities of the army organization and of mercenaries

In Machiavelli's eyes, a well-thought-out army organization must have the highest priority for the prince, since it represents a sine qua non for a stable and just state. In his opinion, however, the mistake of hiring mercenaries must be avoided under all circumstances; because these are faithless and expensive to maintain. In addition, they are either incompetent or dangerous competition for the prince. And so Machiavelli urgently warns his prince against assembling an army of mercenaries, as otherwise his empire could suffer the same fate as Italy, which had committed this fatal mistake, subsequently disintegrated into many states, and since then "bondage and shame" have to endure.

  • XIII. Chapter: About auxiliary troops, mixed formations and national armies

Machiavelli considers so-called "auxiliary troops" to be even more devastating than mercenaries. As such, he describes troops that are subordinate to a foreign power and are requested by a prince only because without them a military victory does not seem possible. Because, he argues, “if they are beaten, you are lost; if they win you are their prisoner. ”The author classifies mixed associations, some of which consist of mercenaries and some of their own soldiers, as only marginally cheaper. At the end of the chapter, Machiavelli recommends the approach of rulers like Philip of Macedonia , who would have set up a people's army consisting of subjects and citizens and thus truly secured their state, as the royal road .

  • Chapter XIV. How a ruler should behave in relation to the army

In this chapter Machiavelli mentions mastery of the art of war as the prince's primary duty . If this is not the case, a prince threatens to be despised and ultimately ousted from the throne. The study of the art of war could just as well take place in the course of actual armed conflicts, as in the hunt or in dealing with military history . It is only important that the prince is sufficiently well versed in military matters, otherwise his rule could never be permanent.

  • XV. Chapter: Why the people and especially the rulers are praised and censured

In this chapter Machiavelli turns against the view that the prince can live up to the claim to obey the laws of morality always and everywhere . This is because this is only possible in an ideal world. The real world, on the other hand, is full of bad people and the prince is therefore unable to obey the moral commandments in all situations. Machiavelli advises his prince to avoid the reputation of viciousness if possible, but admits that vicious behavior is sometimes unavoidable and harmless if proceeded carefully.

  • XVI. Chapter: On Generosity and Thrift

Machiavelli also notes that behaviors that are generally considered to be virtuous are not beneficial to the prince. As evidence of this thesis, he cites the example of generosity. Although this is generally regarded as praiseworthy, in the case of the prince it either happens unnoticed or leads to tax levies and thus to hardship in the population. Consequently, the author comes to the conclusion that the prince should have a thrifty style of government and that he need not fear the reputation of stinginess that results from it, since the advantages of such behavior far outweigh the loss of public image.

  • XVII. Chapter: On Cruelty and Meekness; and whether it is better to be loved or feared or vice versa

Machiavelli begins the chapter with the statement that a prince should always try to be considered merciful and not cruel. However, if this is not possible, it is preferable to be considered cruel. Under no circumstances should a prince allow himself to be despised. Machiavelli justifies this by stating that people are generally ungrateful, fickle, wrong and cowardly. In peace and happiness they would stand by you and swear allegiance to you with their life. If luck turns, however, you cannot rely on the support of the people, as they turn their backs on you and leave you in the lurch. However, if a prince is considered cruel, the people fear his revenge and do not dare to betray him. In the first case the prince is therefore dependent on the goodwill of the people, whereas in the latter the prince can still rely on the people because of the threat he poses, even if the latter is lost. It should be noted, however, that if the prince is feared, he is not hated at the same time. He can prevent this by never attacking the belongings of his subjects and that, if bloodshed is necessary, he always has a valid reason to show or the cause is obvious. Machiavelli justifies this with the fact that it is far more human to shed the blood of a few than to allow unrest and anarchy, which harm the whole community. However, if a prince commands an armed force, it is his duty to be considered cruel, because this is the only way he is able to stop unrest and revolts among his troops and to defeat his enemies. Here Machiavelli refers to Hannibal as a model , who was famous for his cruelty and although he led thousands of soldiers from different countries into battle, he never had to fight riots or even a rebellion.

  • XVIII. Chapter: To what extent rulers should keep their word

Machiavelli also emphasizes that when it comes to moral behavior, appearances are the most important. So he declares the prince's broken word to be almost inevitable if he wants to be successful. And since Machiavelli sees success as the prince's most important goal, he classifies lies as a legitimate means of achieving this end. However, he points out that this must take place undercover. Then, at most, a minority can recognize the true nature of the prince, while the broad masses continue to believe in the sincerity of his ruler. And since the prince's maintenance of power essentially depends on this majority of the population, Machiavelli comes to the conclusion that the prince may well break his word as long as this happens unnoticed, because in this way he can increase his successes without endangering his rule bring to.

  • XIX. Chapter: One must beware of contempt and hatred

Machiavelli also warns his prince not to stir up hatred and contempt within the population, as this would lead to the loss of rule, as the examples of Roman emperors such as Commodus or Caracalla showed. Instead, a prince must be careful to be respected by his subjects, since in this way he would know the people on his side in war and minimize the risk of conspiracy against him in peacetime. In order to gain such respect, however, the prince must avoid appearing “moody, frivolous, effeminate and irresolute” and instead display “generosity, boldness, seriousness and strength”. Only in this way does the author conclude that the prince could establish a rulership similar to that of Marcus Aurelius .

  • XX. Chapter: Whether the building of fortifications and many other precautions used by rulers on a daily basis are useful or not

In this chapter, the author discusses the usefulness of various measures that are often taken by rulers with the intention of securing their power. This includes, for example, the arming of the population, which Machiavelli considers useful if the prince has replaced the old ruler within a state, since he could thus secure the support of important influencers in the empire. On the other hand, if the prince conquers foreign territories, Machiavelli judges, then he must disarm and soften the local population in order to secure his rule. The author is similarly divided on the fortress building; this could appear opportune if a prince had to fear internal unrest, but not if he saw himself threatened by foreign powers. In conclusion, Machiavelli recommends that his prince, instead of such means, seek respect for the population in the struggle against the impending loss of power, since this is the safest of all fortresses.

  • XXI. Chapter: What is appropriate for a ruler to do in order to gain respect

Machiavelli sees important undertakings as for example the conquest of Ferdinand the Catholic as best suited to help the prince to respect . It is just as important for the prince to stand by his friends, i. H. to rush to the aid of his allies when they called for it, and not to seek salvation in neutrality out of fear and shyness. But, as Machiavelli finally points out, the prince must not only keep an eye on his reputation with the kings, but also take care of the people. For this, the author recommends as the most suitable means, the reward of hard work, the consideration of guilds and classes, as well as the organization of festivals and plays.

  • XXII. Chapter: From familiar co-workers who the rulers have around them

As an aid to the selection of his employees, Machiavelli advised the prince to make sure that they always strived for the benefit of their superior and never pursued their own interests. In return, the prince must take care of their well-being in order to bind them to himself. Such a prudent selection of his employees is of the utmost importance, stresses Machiavelli, since otherwise the prince runs the risk of having a "bad end".

  • XXIII. Chapter: Flatterers must be avoided

At the beginning of this chapter, Machiavelli states that freedom of expression confronts the princes with a dilemma: if they grant too much of it, there is a lack of respect for them. But if he does not allow enough freedom of expression, he will soon be surrounded only by flatterers. As a way out, the author recommends a middle ground. Freedom of expression must exist, but only a select group of princely advisors are allowed to enjoy them. In this way the prince protected himself from the risks that too great a freedom would bring with it, and nevertheless came into possession of sincere advice without which he would not be able to rule.

  • Chapter XXIV: Why the rulers of Italy lost their land

Machiavelli identified the inability to maintain a powerful army and the lack of support among the population as the cause of the loss of power of Italian rulers such as Frederick I of Naples or Ludovico il Moro . In addition, the author accuses these princes of having fled from the approaching enemy troops and thus guilty of cowardice. Consequently, Machiavelli's conclusion is that the rulers of Italy are to be blamed for the loss of their power.

  • XXV. Chapter: What Fortuna can do in the things of this world and how one should meet her

In this chapter Machiavelli acknowledges that some things on earth are determined solely by chance or by a higher power. But he also thinks that in about half of all cases the prince is able to determine his fate himself. To do this, however, it is necessary to plan wisely and take sufficient precautions for the future in order to arm oneself against the most varied of imponderables and strokes of fate in life. Just as important as careful prevention, however, it is that the prince acts energetically and grippingly at the decisive moments. Because, as the author describes it metaphorically at the end of the chapter: “... Fortuna is a woman; to get it down you have to hit and push it. "

  • XXVI. Chapter: Call to seize power in Italy and free it from the barbarians

Ultimately, almost all of Machiavelli's advice has to do with the final chapter, in which he, like Otfried Höffe , calls on Lorenzo di Piero de 'Medici to "seize Italy and free it from the barbarians." To Lorenzo from his project Machiavelli describes to him what great fame a success in this endeavor would bring with it. In addition, the Italian people hold enormous potential and only need a strong leader to fully exploit it. And so Machiavelli calls on Lorenzo to follow the example of past rulers like Theseus or Moses by freeing his people from bondage and leading them into a glorious future.

Key terms

In the Prince , Machiavelli already outlines some concepts that he explains in more detail in the Discorsi , and without which his thinking is difficult to understand. These concepts are often very multifaceted, which makes a uniform translation into German difficult, and explains that in this country too, the Italian terms are often used in the reviews of the work.

These concepts include:

The Fortuna

The Fortuna is a traditional figure in Machiavelli Prince picks up. She was already worshiped in antiquity as the "goddess of contingency"; Later in the Middle Ages, the understanding of Fortuna changed, who from then on was considered to be the "conductress of divine foresight". This eventful history of the term explains the difficulties encountered by German translators who alternate between “fortuna” and “luck” or “fate”.

In addition to this, Fortuna resides in the prince with a fundamental ambiguity, as they can both keep the ruler in power (Chapter XII) and bring him down (Chapter VII).

In general, Machiavelli sees Fortuna primarily as a danger for the prince, as the XXV. Chapter shows. There he also encourages the prince when he assures:

"But since we have a free will, I nevertheless consider it possible that Fortuna is half the master of our deeds, but that she leaves the other half or almost as much to ourselves."

- Niccolò Machiavelli.

To this end, Machiavelli recommends the prince to protect himself against the imponderables of fate with foresight and, in case of doubt, to defy the adversities of life through energetic and energetic action.

The Virtù

For Machiavelli, the concept of virtù denotes the virtue of the ruler in the broadest sense. In the prince it is still an exclusive characteristic that is inherent in the uomo virtuoso from birth, and gives him the power to seize power in the state, to defend it and to defy Fortune. However, the term reveals a remarkable wealth of facets. It describes both a very rational way of thinking, whereby the prince can identify problems at an early stage and thus deal with them more easily (Chapter III). Machiavelli also understands it to be an extraordinary skill with which the prince is able to put his well-thought-out plans into practice (Chapter VII). Finally, Machiavelli gives his virtù a somewhat martial side that is reminiscent of the Roman virtu . So it says in the XXV. Chapter of the prince :

“But I think that it is better to be daring than deliberate. For Fortuna is a woman; to get it down, you have to hit and push it. "

- Niccolò Machiavelli


Since Machiavelli also wrote several comedies and satires at the time of the prince (e.g. Belfagor , La Mandragola ) and referred to the work in a letter to his friend Guicciardini in May 1521 as Ghiribizzi (Fantastica), there is an interpretation of the work lots of leeway. The historical context and the personal situation of the author at the moment of the constitution are often used to interpret and explain particularly controversial passages of the work. Because in the course of its history, The Prince has provoked very contradicting reactions.

Machiavelli's Principe, for example, aroused harsh criticism immediately after its publication. Machiavelli's spiritual adversaries saw the treatise as a guide for politicians striving for personal success and power and were indignant at the little attention Machiavelli paid to the Christian morals of the time. In addition, many contemporaries were bothered by Machiavelli's empirical approach, which contradicted the rationalist methodology of scholasticism . This devastating criticism led to Der Fürst being censored by the papal index commission in 1557. Later enlighteners such as Spinoza , Rousseau and Diderot were of the opinion that Machiavelli wanted to withdraw the ideological legitimacy of a corrupt power politics primarily with the Principe .

The critics of the Principe thus coined the term Machiavellian , which is still mostly used today as a derogatory term and is associated with tyranny , exploitation and unscrupulousness.

However, this reading of the prince contradicts the intentions that Machiavellis formulated in his main work Discorsi, with which he reveals himself as a passionate republican : “It is not the good of the individual, but the public good that makes states great!” Or “Republics are states , in which the people are princes! ”And this is how the German politician Carlo Schmid analyzes in his Machiavelli biography:

“Anyone who thinks Machiavelli says that politics can only be done with poison and dagger, lies and crime, has thoroughly misunderstood him. Where it works without these things, one must not use these means at all, not for moral reasons, but because it would be apolitical to do so. But where, based on the technique of the power struggle, poison and dagger, lies and crime cannot be dispensed with in a certain situation in order to overcome the opponent, if it really is a matter of being or not, then a statesman is only correct in place if he can bring himself to use these means, be it as a nihilistic cynic, or as one who brings the state "the king's sacrifice of his soul". That is the meaning of Machiavelli's saying that a statesman must also be able to act evil. "

- Carlo Schmid

This also explains why the Prince , along with supporters from political operations such as B. Napoleon Bonaparte or Cavour , also found admirers among the great intellectuals such as Goethe , Hegel or Nietzsche .

Former opponents of Machiavelli such as Friedrich II of Prussia , who in his youth had written a flaming pamphlet against the Principe together with Voltaire , eventually agreed to his theses. Friedrich wrote in his political will:

"Unfortunately I have to admit that Machiavelli is right."

- Friedrich II.

Today it is pointed out that a prince who, as Machiavelli advises, does not attack the property and the wives of his subjects, was a predictable prince under the conditions of the Renaissance who guaranteed relative legal certainty . And Machiavelli's empirical approach is often highlighted as revolutionary these days, as it paved the way for the modern political thinking of authors such as Max Weber or Carl Schmitt .


  • Machiavelli: The prince. RaBaKa Taschenbuch, Neuenkirchen 2007, ISBN 978-3-940185-05-1 (with a foreword by Dr. Patrick Horvath).
  • Machiavelli: The prince. Insel Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1995, ISBN 3-458-32907-2 (with an afterword by Horst Günther).
  • Machiavelli: Il Principe / The Prince. Italian German. Reclam Taschenbuch, Stuttgart 1995, ISBN 978-3-15-001219-2 .
  • Machiavelli: The prince. Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 1978, ISBN 3-520-23506-4 .
  • Christian Albrecht von Lenz: The Prince of Nicola Machiavell: first German translation, 1692. Renneritz Verlag, 2013, ISBN 978-3-940684-20-2 .

Secondary literature

Web links

Wikisource: Der Fürst  - Sources and full texts


  1. ^ Otfried Höffe (Ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: Der Fürst , Berlin 2012, p. 10.
  2. Alessandro Pinzani: But a republican? In: Otfried Höffe (Ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: Der Fürst. Berlin 2012, p. 164.
  3. Alessandro Pinzani: But a republican? In: Otfried Höffe (Ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: Der Fürst. Berlin 2012, p. 165.
  4. Machiavelli: The Prince. Insel Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1995, p. 148.
  5. ^ Maurizio Viroli: Niccolò's Smile: A Biography of Machiavelli , p. 159.
  6. a b c Otfried Höffe (Ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: Der Fürst , Berlin 2012, p. 5
  7. ^ Panajotis Kondylis: Machiavelli, Akademie Verlag, 2007, p. 20.
  8. ^ Introduction by Rudolf Zorn in Machiavelli: The Prince "Il Principe". translated and edited by Rudolf Zorn. Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 1978, ISBN 3-520-23506-4 , p. IX.
  9. a b c d e Otfried Höffe (Ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: Der Fürst , Berlin 2012, p. 6
  10. The Prince "Il Principe". Translated and edited by Rudolf Zorn, Alfred Kröner, Stuttgart 1978.
  11. ^ Rudolf Zorn (ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince. Kröner paperback edition. Stuttgart 1978, p. 115.
  12. ^ Rudolf Zorn (Ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli. The Prince. Stuttgart 1978, p. 39.
  13. ^ Rudolf Zorn (ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince. Stuttgart 1978, p. 43.
  14. a b Rudolf Zorn (Ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: Der Fürst. Stuttgart 1978, p. 46
  15. a b Rudolf Zorn (Ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: Der Fürst. Stuttgart 1978, p. 55.
  16. ^ Rudolf Zorn (ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince. Stuttgart 1978, p. 75.
  17. ^ Rudolf Zorn (ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince. Stuttgart 1978, p. 98.
  18. a b Rudolf Zorn (Ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: Der Fürst. Stuttgart 1978, p. 106
  19. ^ A b Wolfgang Kersting: Niccolò Machiavelli. Munich 2006, p. 111.
  20. ^ Rudolf Zorn (ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince. Stuttgart 1978, p. 24.
  21. ^ Rudolf Zorn (ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince. Stuttgart 1978, p. 2.
  22. ^ Thomas Flanagan: The Concept of Fortuna in Machiavelli. In: Parel, Anthony (ed.). The Political Calculus. Toronto 1972, p. 152.
  23. ^ Rudolf Zorn (ed.): Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince. Stuttgart 1978, p. 103.
  24. ^ Claudia Knauer : The magical square in Niccolò Machiavelli's: fortuna-virtù-occasione-necessità. Würzburg 1990, p. 21.
  25. ^ Introduction by Rudolf Zorn in Machiavelli: The Prince "Il Principe". translated and edited by Rudolf Zorn. Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 1978, p. XIV.
  26. ^ Introduction by Rudolf Zorn in Machiavelli: The Prince "Il Principe". translated and edited by Rudolf Zorn. Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 1978, p. XIII.
  27. ^ Introduction by Rudolf Zorn in Machiavelli: The Prince "Il Principe". translated and edited by Rudolf Zorn. Alfred Kröner Verlag, Stuttgart 1978, S.XV.
  28. Frederick the Great: Political Testament of 1752. Stuttgart 1987, p. 81.
  29. ^ Walter Reese-Schäfer: Classics of the history of political ideas. Munich 2007, p. 35.