Separating Political Conduct and Personal Morality in Niccolò Machiavelli's, The Prince
Niccolò Machiavelli wrote, in his novel The Prince, that strong central political leadership was more important than anything else, including religion and moral behavior. Machiavelli, writing during a period of dramatic change known as the Italian Renaissance, displayed attitudes towards many issues, mostly political, which supported his belief that strong government was the most important element in society. These attitudes and ideas were very appropriate for the time because they stressed strong, centralized power, the only kind of leadership that seemed to be working throughout Europe, and which was the element Italy was lacking. Machiavelli understood that obtaining such a government could not be done without separating political conduct and personal morality, and suggested that the separation be made. The Prince, written to the Medici family over five hundred years ago contained many truths, so universal and accurate that they still influence politics today.
To understand the writings of Niccolò Machiavelli, it is necessary to understand the world of Niccolò Machiavelli, Renaissance Italy. The region was not one nation as it is today, rather a collection of several city-states, which contained internal fighting between powerful families, fighting with each other. This era differed from the preceding middle ages in many respects, the pope's power was weakened, money controlled power instead of noble birth, and there was a revival of ancient Greek and Roman literature, architecture and art by a new breed of people, the humanists. These changes created the environment in which Machiavelli lived. He saw how the quarrelling was weakening the area, leaving it unable to withstand French attack. He witnessed the corrupt popes of Rome attempting to gain power just as the wealthy families did. These events and people left impressions on him that would become recommendations for strong, ruthless, central government in his writings.
Machiavelli stated that princes needed to be harsh in their treatment of both mixed principalities (new and old principalities combined) and new principalities. There is in all new and mixed principalities a "natural hazard... the willingness of men to change one lord for another, believing thus to improve their lot." To avoid against rebellions, the prince must be very harsh, disarm the populace, and always be cautious. It is easier for a prince to hold control after he has already subdued one rebellion, for he can use it as an excuse to establish himself more solidly, by strengthening his power.
To retain control of a city is much more difficult than acquiring control of a city according to Machiavelli. After a city is acquired, there are three ways of keeping control of it, "the first is to destroy it, the second is to go there in person, and the third is... setting up a government composed of a few men who will keep it...