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About the Document
After the collapse of the western Roman Empire, the Italian peninsula became a common battleground for much of Europe. Not only did its patchwork of city states and petty kingdoms war upon each other, but the great national armies of Spain, France, and Austria often intruded upon the area in their quest for European hegemony. Niccolò Machiavelli, 1469-1527, lived during a particularly turbulent era in Italian history. A citizen of Florence, at various times he served his city as a diplomat; at others he was tortured for suspected treason and then exiled from his beloved home. Machiavelli watched the armies march, saw the destruction visited upon city and countryside alike, and thought long and hard on the legacy of weak leaders who would allow such calamity to befall their people.
Scholars disagree on Machiavelli's reason for writing The Prince, his well-known treatise on securing and maintaining a kingdom. But they do agree that, at a time when the church encouraged rulers to adhere to morality, Machiavelli produced a manuscript that abandoned Christian mores for a very hard-edged, practical path to political success. Survival of the state superseded morality; and thus no ruler could allow personal conscience to endanger the state. The idea is often advanced that methods of modern government owe a great deal to Machiavelli. The selected passages allow the reader to examine that idea.
Source: Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, 1513., in The Prince, ed. and trans. David Wootton (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1995), pp. 31-49.