Niccoló Machiavelli’s The Prince is arguably the most popular book about politics ever written. Its observations about human behavior are as true today as they were five hundred years ago. In this book, Machiavelli offers advice to politicians regarding how to gain power and how to keep it.
Although modern readers think that a “prince” is someone who is destined to inherit control of his country, the princes of Machiavelli’s time were by no means that secure: the prince had to be careful to keep the support of his citizens if he wanted to remain in power. The methods that Machiavelli suggests for leaders to keep public support are just as relevant for today’s elected officials as they were for leaders of the sixteenth century.
Although The Prince is taught in many schools, there are few reputable teachers who would recommend actually following the advice that Machiavelli offers; it is meant to serve the prince’s selfish interests, not to serve society in general. The ideas in the book are stated so harshly and bluntly that the term Machiavellian has now commonly used to describe the process of being cunning and ruthless in the pursuit of power.
Previous political writers, from Plato and Aristotle in ancient times to the sixteenth-century humanists, treated politics as a branch of the area of philosophy that dealt with morals. Machiavelli’s chief innovation was to break with this long tradition and present the study of politics as political science.