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The Prince and The Art of War: Reflective Essay

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Europe seemed to have settled into a stable society by 1300. Society as a whole shared the same beliefs. However, this ostensible stability didn’t last long, and a few generations later, people started questioning ideals taken for granted in previous years. Due to this questioning, an outpouring of creativity and new ideas emerged. Historians call this period The Renaissance, which translates to rebirth, because those seeking new answers in Europe tended to look for guidance to what they considered to be a better past – in this case the classical antiquity or the early days of Christianity – and sought to revive long-lost values, their efforts, and the times in which they lived. What was notable about the Renaissance Era was not the various realms of knowledge of the classical world and the discovery and study of old manuscripts. However, “it is the attitude with which these manuscripts and the texts they contained were pursued that had changed drastically from that of teleologically seeking the expected answers to scholarly questions, the answers that would not disturb the status quo, to a more skeptical attitude, open to answers that might indeed disturb previous or present concepts.” As a Renaissance philosopher, I, Machiavelli, am focused on the qualities of humanism and individualism based on my book The Prince. I wrote this book when the Medici family took control of Florence and exiled me. This book is a guide for successful monarchial rule by “analyzing exactly how power is won, exercised, and lost.” I wrote this book based on my political experience and lessons gleaned from ancient history.

The Renaissance value of humanism greatly influences The Prince because I, as a humanist, target human nature in portraying the ideal monarchy. Humanists of the Renaissance were promoters of human potential. The Prince is a handbook on political science describing how to run a state and do it successfully. What is so notable is that this is the first purely secular approach to political action. Before this, the political stage worked between feudal monarchs/servants who were from Church-related institutes. Any past essay was political idealism. The Prince is political realism and describes what is happening in actuality. Throughout The Prince, I discuss the dynamics of humanity. I understand that while a good ruler should possess some admirable qualities, it is impossible for any human being to be entirely good. Therefore, in The Prince, I introduced the concept that characteristics like cruelty and dishonesty are necessary to effectively hold power over a state. Based on ideas in The Prince, I suggest a ruler rather be feared than a loved one. Love is fickle whereas fear is forever. To be the successful leader, I state, “The ends justify the means.” This doesn’t insinuate to be immoral. I don’t ask questions about good/bad. I am just realistic and write what the leader must do to be successful. My point is that you, as the prince, must know your job, do it well, and leave your mark on society in the position in life you have chosen to embrace. A Machiavellian prince is focused on political security, how to be successful as a leader. Unlike a leader during the Middle Ages, a prince living during the Renaissance will not go on crusades which will leave his state floundering with no leader. Unlike other humanists of my time, I am perhaps the first to creatively explore relatively unethical methods of rule while roaming within the intellectual bounds of humanism. The Prince is considered to be a great work from the Renaissance period: I attempt to summarize human nature from an accurate and realistic standpoint.

I wrote several works, one of which is The Art of War which can perhaps explain what the prince should be mastering. Although The Prince and The Art of War seem to be oxymorons, there is much to be learned from The Art of War which can then be applied to The Prince. The purpose of The Art of War is a consideration of the ancient modes and ancient orders of military virtue (AW P, 4; I, 35) and how a return to these ancient forms of military virtue would overcome modern military corruption and perhaps solve the military crisis of sixteenth-century Italy. The primary model of ancient virtue is republican Rome, whose military organization provides Machiavelli’s model for an overhauled army. At the heart of the book, then, is the problem of military organization—not exactly what a prince, hoping to learn how to command, might expect. Indeed, a prince might be disappointed to discover that the bulk of the work appears to be written for a different audience: republicans interested in reviving the humanist ideal of a citizen army. One of the primary arguments of the book is that civilian and military life have converging ends and that the best way to control and manage the potential danger soldiers pose to civil life is to make citizens out of soldiers. But if that is true, then what, if anything, does the book yield for present or future princes? Not much, at first sight. In part, because Art of War is often deemed a technical manual rather than a conceptual engagement with the question of war. A highly successful and influential text throughout the sixteenth century, today the book is generally considered among Machiavelli’s minor writings. Formally a dialogue between a well-known condottiere (named Fabrizio Colonna) and four young aristocrats, Art of War quickly turns into a lecture on military organization. Set in 1516 in the Rucellai gardens, a meeting point of young Florentine humanists and patricians, the dialogue is divided into a preface followed by seven books. The first two books are about the recruitment of soldiers, the function and importance of different types of troops, and the role of drill and training. Book III presents an imaginary battle, replete with battle order and formation, tactics, and maneuvers. Book IV continues the spatial arrangements of battle, the ordering of troops, and emphasis on strategy and ruse. The following book treats the order of marching, geography, reconnaissance, and logistics, while book VI almost entirely focuses on encampment. The final book, VII, starts with a discussion of how to attack or defend towns and fortifications and the work ends with a set of general rules for warfare, presented in aphoristic form. The further the work goes on, the more the text becomes specialized and seemingly esoteric, which has led some scholars to dismiss Art of War as dull and tedious. Yet hidden underneath its monotonous cadence lies a significant rethinking of war and of the politics-war nexus. Contrary to The Prince, which frames the relationship between war and the 170 social research art of the state in abstract and sometimes stipulative terms, Art of War puts forward what we might call a sociological lens that renders war as a social practice. Through such lessons as how to set up an encampment or on how wide the ditch around a fortification ought to be, Art of War shifts attention to the spatial coordinates of warfare, its scales and proportions. The emphasis on the seemingly esoteric details of military organization indicate that if the art of war is “the only art of concern to one who commands,” then it is not because war teaches a prince how to command but for other reasons.

The città mobile of the encampment is a metaphor, or more precisely a metonymy, for a new way of thinking about war. The lessons on how to set up an encampment, how to defend a city, how wide and deep the ditch around a fortification ought to be, indicate that wars are made up of bodies and bodily practices, of spatial arrangements, and of performances. The point is not just that the arte della guerra which the prince is urged to master is an art of detail and a science of particulars. More important, what makes the army a functioning and effective whole is not its hierarchy, nor the skill of its captain but the coherence and cohesion that are produced through shared bodily and spatial practices. An army is a collective subject that is produced through a series of shared practices. 174

Machiavelli alludes to this passage in the final book of Art of War, the book that, of all seven, most resembles The Prince both in style and substance and thus forms the obvious starting point for readers approaching Art of War from The Prince. If republican readers of Art of War derive most benefit from reading the preface and book I—the places where Machiavelli develops the idea of the militia—princely readers will learn more by inverting the sequence and commencing their study with the work’s conclusion. From the conclusion, readers learn that even though Fabrizio has spent much time explaining that the art of war consists in knowing how to manage one’s troops, “[k]nowing how to govern an army [already] made . . . is not enough in Italy . . . rather, it is first necessary to know how to make it” [Non basta adunque in Italia il sapere governare uno esercito fatto, ma prima è necessario saperlo fare] (AW VII, 161). In current conditions in Italy, it is more important to know how to recruit an army rather than how to fight a battle. The concluding claim of Art of War, then, is that the crucial knowledge for the prince is not the art of commanding but of creating an army. It is the dearth of such knowledge that made possible the “great terrors, sudden flights, and miraculous losses” of the wars that began in 1494. Prior to these wars, “our Italian princes used to believe that it was enough for a prince to know how to think of a sharp The Prince and His Art of War 177 response in his studies, to write a beautiful letter, to show wit and quickness in his deeds and words, to know how to weave a fraud [. . . and they failed to] perceive that they were preparing themselves to be the prey of whoever assaulted them” (AW VII, 163). 177 Echoing similar criticisms of humanist grandstanding from The Prince, Art of War can thus be understood as an elaboration of Machiavelli’s call, in the final chapter of The Prince, for a new political and military form that can liberate Italy from “barbarian domination.” The primary lesson of Art of War from the defeat and military crisis in the wake of the Italian wars is how to create buone arme, or, in the language of Art of War, a good and well-ordered army (AW VII, 161). Making such an army, Fabrizio notes, is easy for princes who have access to a large subject population and who can draft 15,000 to 20,000 youths; nearly impossible for those who do not (AW VII, 161).

Another word for conquest through the use of appearances is of course “persuasion,” and the fluid and unstable boundary between the force of words and the force of things on which Machiavelli plays suggests that the military commander must be a rhetorician. Indeed in book IV, Fabrizio underlines the importance of oratorial skill for the successful leader of a popular army. Such leaders should imitate the example of the ancients, where “excellent captains needed to be orators” (AW IV, 98; on the captain as orator). Fabrizio, who serves as both captain and orator in the dialogue, imitates precisely this example. Fabrizio’s name indicates that he is a fabbro of war, someone who knows how to fabbricare a military. A fabbro is a blacksmith, and blacksmiths know how to forge The Prince and His Art of War 185 objects and shape matter or materia, a metaphor Machiavelli employs to describe new military recruits (AW I, 21). Incidentally, blacksmiths are one of the primary categories of recruits Fabrizio proposes for a citizen army. To have blacksmiths among one’s troops is useful, he tells his audience, “since it is a good thing to have one soldier from whom you take a double service” (I, 26). Just as his namesakes, Fabrizio does double duty in the dialogue, serving as a military expert and orator. 185. Just as the prince is called on to imagine politics as a field of appearances, so the captain must conceive of war as mediated by sensation and perception. It is thus not only the prince, who must become a professore in the art of war, but the captain who needs to be a professore in the art of the state in order to master the performances required to govern an army of soldiers. If The Prince instructs the reader to read Machiavelli’s Art of War in order to become a professore in this art, Art of War points the reader to The Prince in order to learn about the art of the state—the paradigmatic skill set required for the art of war. 186. In Art of War, the popular army is not simply a tool of the prince to gain and maintain power but emerges as a mechanism that imbues subjects with the kind of virtù that can be mobilized for civil and uncivil activities. 187.

Humanism places human beings, not God or faith, as the center of attention in life. Living during the Renaissance, I have seen many hire an artist, based on Renaissance ideals, to draw their portrait. This is radically different than medieval artwork which was purchased exclusively by or for the church. Italian Renaissance reveres the body and portrayed the human body as a thing of beauty in its own right. Similarly, during my lifetime, Raphael painted The School of Athens in accordance to the themes of Renaissance artwork. Raphael depicted a celebration of the scholars of ancient times. It shows the point of the renaissance campaign which is a revival of these glorious times. The School of Athens demonstrates how humanism had so captured the intellectual human life. Raphael painted faces of known Renaissance Men to be the ancient philosophers. Through this, Raphael is subtly saying the artists are the jewels of society now as opposed to the ancient philosophers.

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Humanists redefined what it means to be educated. And not only that, but also what to do with that education. Civic humanism emerges during the Renaissance. Civic humanism is putting your efforts and talents into the service of the state so your mark will be felt in a broad sense. Participation in public affairs is essential and as a Renaissance humanist, I am doing my civic duty to the state. It is an era to use my education to have a vita activa, an active life. This is in contrast to the medieval scholar who lived and expounded a vita conteplativa, a contemplative life. As a civic humanist, I don’t like the monks living a vita conteplativa because they aren’t utilizing their knowledge in a curriculum that engages the individual. Civic humanists were all about using the individual prowess for a purpose. We are trying to achieve virtue in the traits that are necessary to achieve great things. This is more than moral excellence; it is maximizing our potential so that we all impact society. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola writes on this idea in Oration on the Dignity of Man, which is called the humanist manifesto. He talks about man in a way that doesn’t exist in Medieval society. He states man has free will which puts us in a special position which is not given to animals or angels. Pico is telling us we each have our own abilities and try to reach virtue with them. Only man has the ability to do this as we are created in G-d’s image and He created us in His image so we have the abilities to be an Architect, a Craftsman, and an Artisan among other things. For many years I served as a senior official in the Florentine Republic with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs which helped me in reaching virtue.

Individualism takes humanism a step further and is the belief that individual humans are capable of great accomplishments. The more communal, group-oriented society and mentality of the Middle Ages was being replaced by a belief in the potential of the individual to make great achievements. The importance of this concept was that it frees me and others, such as Leonardo da Vinci, to live up to our potential without being held back by a medieval society that discouraged innovation or questioning traditional beliefs. Besides the outstanding achievements of Leonardo, one sees individualism expressed in a wide variety of ways during the Renaissance. Artists started signing their paintings, thus showing individualistic pride in their work. Also, the more communal guild system was being replaced by the more individualistic system of capitalism, which encouraged private enterprise.

The Renaissance virtue of individualism is also represented in my work, The Prince. Individualists of the Renaissance believed in a self-reliant and independent mind, one that worked towards the promotion of self-interest. I highlight these virtues when I advises rulers on how to achieve absolute power. I also take the time to point out specific characteristics that would contribute to the individualistic well-being of a prince: courage, cruelty, craftiness, confidence, and intelligence. This individualistic and perhaps psychological approach in identifying human characteristics helps contribute to The Prince’s overall fame and legacy. This is because I am among the first to tackle an in-depth analysis of the relationship between a person and his quest for personal glory.

The ideas on human capacity for self-development professed by these Renaissance scholars have a solid basis. Modern research also seems to confirm the Renaissance tenet that humans have an almost boundless capacity for development. The tenet is akin to the “growth mindset” described by some psychologists. Recent scientific research has discovered that the brain is not a static organ, but instead changes due to outside stimuli, which has been referred to as brain plasticity. This means a person can learn and improve themselves at any age.

Renaissance humanism tried to bring back the knowledge passed down from Antiquity. The humanists of that era searched through libraries and read widely in order to try to find as much ancient knowledge as possible and try to learn from it. They then applied these ancient ideas to for development. The Renaissance ideal was to try to embrace all knowledge and develop yourself as fully as possible. A man should be skilled in different areas: intellectual, artistic, social, physical.

There are some general prerequisites that a man has to fulfill in order to be able to function to his fullest potential in society. A man should be able to speak and write with eloquence, describe things clearly, and be persuasive. He should also be physically fit and have a deep knowledge of various subjects. Having all these abilities would result in the perfect gentleman who is able not only to talk about any subject, but also contribute to advancing several of these domains.

The idea was that the Renaissance Man ought to do all this with effortless ease. This was described in a book by Baldassare Castiglione called “The Book of the Courtier”. In the book, he advances the notion of “sprezzatura”, or doing things as if they took no effort. The courtier should be able to display “an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them.” Modern movies try to show this easy nonchalance in their main characters all the time. Just think of all the movies where the hero does seemingly impossible things as if they were easy. The hero easily breaks into a high-security installation, runs effortlessly through the desert, dispatches ten enemies at the same time, constructs powerful bombs out of a soap on a rope and some sticks, or solves puzzles through powerful deductive skills.

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The Prince and The Art of War: Reflective Essay. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-prince-and-the-art-of-war-reflective-essay/
“The Prince and The Art of War: Reflective Essay.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-prince-and-the-art-of-war-reflective-essay/
The Prince and The Art of War: Reflective Essay. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-prince-and-the-art-of-war-reflective-essay/> [Accessed 30 Jan. 2023].
The Prince and The Art of War: Reflective Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2023 Jan 30]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-prince-and-the-art-of-war-reflective-essay/
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