Machiavelli's The Prince was one of the
first humanist works of the Renaissance. Indeed it is a work of art, a literary masterpiece of
sorts. Yet this work has been vehemently debated over the centuries and remains one of the most
controversial pieces of writing today.
Although many critics consider The Prince a satire, simply an attempt to reveal the problems with the
ruling class, most see Machiavelli's work as a serious attempt to lay the groundwork for the reunification
of Italy under the Medici family of Florence. Machiavelli's idea that the model prince should
use a variety of tactics to secure his power-namely that the end justifies the means-is the most controversial
issue raised in The Prince. Knowing that this notion would not be universally accepted, Machiavelli,
through his book, tries to justify his idea by showing that men are inherently evil. Though religion
can often serve to unify a prince and his people, it can also serve to undo him. Thus, Machiavelli
proposes that politics and religion should be held in separate spheres-religion, in God's sphere-politics,
in man's. Many readers applaud this theme as refreshingly realistic; others attack Machiavelli's
assertions, saying that they compromise moral integrity.
Yet Machiavelli's prince does not wish to preserve moral good or spiritual integrity; he simply wants
to attain and maintain his principality. Machiavelli struggles to pave a road for order in this
world, in the here and now; he doesn't attempt to secure the otherworldly blessings of God. This
notion, of course, stands in sharp contrast to the moral virtue promoted by most Greek, Roman, and Hebrew
politicians and writers. These thinkers saw no clear distinction between religion and politics,
instead seeing the king as the human embodiment of God.
Thus, Machiavelli gives a general overview of human behavior, hoping that future princes can establish
peace and security in their kingdoms, using this basic knowledge. The best prince will be able
to determine the best course of action, not based on a strict moral or even political code, but simply
Machiavelli's general logic. Machiavelli doesn't pretend to know all the answers, but portrays
his book as simply a reference guide to political and military strategy, not obtained through special
insight, but through his many years of experience with Italian politics.