About the BookMechiavelli’s masterpiece, The Prince, contains a number of maxims concerning politics. It states that in order to retain power, the hereditary prince must carefully maintain the socio-political institutions which the people are accustomed to, whereas a new prince must first stabilize his newfound power in order to build an enduring political structure. Public and private morality have to be understood as two different things in order to rule well. Therefore, a ruler must be concerned with reputation. In addition, he should also be positively willing to act immorally at the right times. As a political theorist, Machiavelli emphasizes the occasional need for the methodical exercise of brute force or deceit.
The book glorifies instrumentality in statebuilding—an approach embodied by the saying that “the ends justify the means.” Violence may be indispensable for the successful stabilization of power and introduction of new legal institutions. Force may be used to eliminate political rivals, to coerce resistant populations, and to purge the community of other men who are strong enough to rule.
Despite being filled with some mitigating themes, the Catholic Church banned The Prince. Many humanists like Erasmus of Rotterdam viewed the book negatively. As a treatise, its primary intellectual contribution to the history of political thought is still recognized. It marks the fundamental break between political realism and political idealism, and serves as a manual to acquiring and keeping political power.
It has been suggested that there are three ways one can read The Prince: (i) Transparent reading is the literal interpretation of what Mechiavelli wrote; (ii) Tragic reading states that the prince has to take an instrumental stance—he sometimes has to do evil things; and (iii) Moralist reading follows the view that power is different from glory.