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Machiavelli grew up at a time when the excesses of the church were more under scrutiny than at any time since Constantine. As Savonarola was decrying Florentine governmental excesses in the 1490s, Machiavelli's star was on the rise. The same year that Savonarola was executed for heresy, Machiavelli began his career as a diplomat and, as Savonarola presaged the Reformation, Machiavelli became an early champion of pragmatism. Il Principe ("The Prince") eschews the idealism of the politics of its age and espouses the realistic political situation that, to a great extent, it inspired.
"The Prince is a mere tabulation of types of government and rulers, and of methods of maintaining them. It is this and no more."—Isaiah Berlin
Credited with taking the ethics out of politics and hailed as the father of realpolitik, Machiavelli's name became synonymous with a form of politics that privileged expediency at the expense of morality. Whilst assuming the guise of a traditional 'Mirror of Princes' handbook, The Prince subverts the classical and renaissance conventions of such moralizing tracts. By exploiting the distance between ruler and ruled, Machiavelli encourages his Price to present an image of virtue when necessity dictates he act immorally. the results is a handbook dedicated to a new Price, espousing a politics of necessity with scant concern for justice and Christian morality when the security of the Price's rule is threatened.
Set in the context of his earlier political writings, this edition shows how Machiavelli's advice was conditioned by the prevailing political and social culture of Renaissance Italy. His clinical analysis of the dynamics of power, however, is as chilling now as it was then.