The extreme positions advanced in Machiavelli’s The Prince have been the subject of debate ever since it was written. Scholars in the 18th Century, unable to accept such an unrestrained endorsement of murder and tyranny, made the case that the work was actually political satire.
Other scholars insist that though Machiavelli’s ideas are immoral and extreme, they were shaped by the political events of his time. These scholars insist that Machiavelli was not advocating these ideas out of a sense of idealism, but rather, his views on despotic rulers and violent forms of power were shaped by the real events of his own historical place and period.
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In either case, The Prince has been tremendously influential. In the 19th Century, the book influenced what we now call materialist philosophy, that mode of thought which presumes the conditions of daily life are what shape thought and belief more than our ideal vision of life.
The book did influence some real heads of state. Josef Stalin kept a copy of The Prince and it is believed that he guided much of his methods for shaping the former Soviet Union with this book in mind.
In the shaping of the American Republic, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams were all influenced by the political theories contained in The Prince.
Mussolini used it as a guide for his particular form of Fascism in Italy, and he wrote a scholarly treatise on the book.
Even 20th Century Mobsters found The Prince to be useful. John Gotti and Roy DeMeo regularly quoted Machiavelli’s text and openly considered it to be the “Mafia Bible.”
No matter our own views of The Prince and the morality and ethics of the book, it has been tremendously influential in disparate forms of politics and power. Right or wrong, Machiavelli raised questions on the nature of power, free will, and politics which are not easily resolved even in our own time.