Written in 1513, "The Prince" today is regarded as the first modern work of political science. Niccolò Machiavelli wrote it from his farm after being released from prison, where he had been brutally tortured.
"The Prince" featured two men. The first was the ascetic Dominican friar, Girolamo Savonarola, who railed against the corruption of the papacy and vices of the Florentines. He ruled Florence for four years after the expulsion of the Medici. He was ousted in 1498; he was hanged and his body burned.
Machiavelli called him the "Unarmed Prophet," with his ability to adapt his message to the circumstances and act in accordance with the times, and color his lies accordingly. But, words alone were not enough to secure power. Force was necessary to keep a firm grip.
"The Prince" was written about the bastard son of Pope Alexander VI. His name was Cesare Borgia. A brilliant strategist, Cesare was able to assemble his own state in Italy. When rivals were against him, Cesare plotted revenge by luring them to the fortress of Senigallia, where he ordered them killed.
Machiavelli wrote that an effective prince knows when to use violence to retain power. A great leader, Machiavelli argued, must be able to conquer by force or fraud. Previously, princely conduct was guided on how a ruler gains power through his or her right and legitimacy to rule.
For Machiavelli, however, rightful or legitimate is irrelevant if the ruler cannot hold on to his or her power. Which would mean — the end justifies the means.
TERRY J. SMITH