Perhaps you stumbled onto this web site because you are working on a term paper on Machiavelli, Machiavellianism, or Machiavelli’s book The Prince. The first thing you did is what any modern student would do: you googled the topic. Now you are wondering if you can use any of the ideas here for your paper.
Here is my advice to you:
- Be aware that I have no credentials in philosophy or political science. Your professor will not accept what I have written as a valid or authoritative evaluation of Machiavelli’s writings. However, the ideas and comments here can be used to stimulate your own thinking.
- Download a text file containing a copy of The Prince. This will allow you to search the text for words or phrases. It will also allow you to copy and paste quotations into your paper. The source of this translation is www.gutenberg.org, a site you should be familiar with. It provides hundreds of classic works in text or html format for free, and it is a wonderful resource for any student.
- If you are looking for a topic, you should try to think of something that interests you and something that is narrow enough that you are not taking on too much. Rather than writing about the whole book, pick a chapter for your topic. Having read the book a few times myself, I think the most interesting chapters are:
Select a concept (rather than a chapter) if that appeals to you. The big concepts in Machiavelli’s book are:
- Chapter 8 on Wickedness
- Chapter 14 on War
- Chapter 15 on Praise and Blame
- Chapter 17 on Love, Cruelty, and Fear
- Chapter 18 on Truth and Honesty
- Chapter 19 on how to avoid being hated
- Chapter 21 on how the Prince should build his reputation
- Chapter 23 on Flattery
- Chapter 25 on the effects of Luck on human affairs
What approach might you take to the concept or chapter you choose for your topic?
- Political leadership
- Political and military conquest
- Gaining political power and keeping it
- The impact of luck on human affairs
- The personality of the leader. What kind of person must a leader become to gain and keep power?
- What kind of team might the leader gather around himself, according to Machiavelli?
- Does modern research in psychology and neuroscience confirm Machiavelli’s vision of human nature? Look at books and research on irrational behavior, lying, etc. (For example, half of the people who say they go to church every week are lying. What does this say about human nature and how does it confirm or contradict Machiavelli’s assertions.)
- How does Machiavelli incorporate religion and Christian concepts into The Prince?
Take a biographical approach. How did Machiavelli’s life influence his opinions and writing?
- Contrast what Machiavelli said about the topic with what his contemporaries believed and said about it.
- Review what Machiavelli’s critics have written about the topic.
- Write a dialog - like Plato’s dialogs - in which Machiavelli, the Pope, an articulate peasant, and another Renaissance philosopher debate Machiavelli’s ideas.
- Pick a piece of advice from Machiavelli and describe how that advice is followed - or not followed - by modern businessmen, military commanders, religious leaders, or marketing experts.
- Find a paper by some reputable critic of Machiavelli and write the reply that you imagine Machiavelli might have written to it.
Take a look at the dozens of authors who have used Machiavelli’s name as a hook on which to hang their own writings. Though I am by far the best one, I am far from the only one and far - alas - from the best known one. How do modern authors articulate Machiavelli’s thoughts to the modern reader?
Modern psychologists have created a personality type that they call the “Machiavellian” personality. Would Machiavelli himself agree with their description? There is more about this topic on this site.
Be sure to look at these web sites.
- Machiavelli wrote The Prince in an effort to return to a position of power. How did Machiavelli end up in that situation? Why did he fail?
- Read one of his plays (Clizia, Mandragola), his poetry (Sonetti, Canzoni, Ottave, Canti carnascialeschi), or his novel (Belfagor arcidiavolo) and contrast the ideas presented there with those in The Prince.
Best of luck to you on your paper, but this is one situation in which luck will not help you or hurt you. Writing the paper is totally under your control. Create a schedule. Do your research. Create an outline. Write your paper. Make backup copies of your work in case something happens. Have a literate friend proofread it and critique it (you do the same for your friend). Finish it well before the due date. These are not new recommendations but they are good ones. If you get a poor grade on your paper, you can choose from these three excuses. Pick any that apply to you:
- I didn’t plan well enough.
- I didn’t execute my plan well enough.
- I am stupid.
Lastly, e-mail me a copy of your paper along with permission to reproduce it here on this web site. I’ll create a page for you with your name prominently displayed. I will write a kind introduction to it and you can enjoy seeing it on the web.
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