Machiavelli’s The Prince
Two lectures by Steven B. Smith
Given at Yale University, Fall 2006
From his Introduction to Political Philosophy
The lecture begins with an introduction of Machiavelli’s life and the political scene in Renaissance Florence. Professor Smith asserts that Machiavelli can be credited as the founder of the modern state, having reconfigured elements from both the Christian empire and the Roman republic, creating therefore a new form of political organization that is distinctly his own. Machiavelli’s state has universalist ambitions, just like its predecessors, but it has been liberated from Christian and classical conceptions of virtue. The management of affairs is left to the princes, a new kind of political leaders, endowed with ambition, love of glory, and even elements of prophetic authority.
The discussion of Machiavelli’s politics continues in the context of his most famous work, The Prince. A reformer of the moral Christian and classical concepts of goodness and evil, Machiavelli proposes his own definitions of virtue and vice, replacing the vocabulary associated with Plato and the biblical sources. He relates virtue, or virtu, to manliness, force, ambition and the desire to achieve success at all costs. Fortune, or fortuna, is a woman, that must be conquered through policies of force, brutality, and audacity. The problem of “dirty hands” in political and philosophical literature is discussed in detail.