The role of the people in the two works of Machiavelli: The Prince and The Discourses
In “The Prince” Machiavelli refers to the people as inhabitants, subjects, private citizens, populace and two years later, writing “The Discourses” he also uses the words: masses, the general public, the plebs, and “have-nots”. Is there a difference between those words or they generally mean the same? Why does Machiavelli in “The Discourses” add new words when he is talking about “the people”? Is it due to the different contexts or the interval of time between writing these two works influenced the thinker and changed his view on the role of the populace in any political system? Answering those questions requires analysis of both books and deep understanding of the purposes of writing them.
The two prefaces of the books make us alert and suspicious that something has changed with the way the philosopher thinks. “The Prince” is dedicated to the Magnificent Lorenzo De Medici with some kind of flattery and hope to be praised and appreciated, “I am anxious to offer myself to Your Magnificence with some token of my devotion to you, and I have not found among my belongings anything as dear to me or that I value as much as my understanding of the deeds of great men…” (Machiavelli, “The Prince”, p.1) What a great radical change is seeing from the greeting of “The Discourses” to Zanobi Buondelmonti and Cosimo Rucellai when Machiavelli claims, “So, to avoid this mistake [“to dedicate works to some prince, and blinded by ambition and avarice, to praise him for virtuous qualities when they ought to be blamed”] I have chosen not those who are princes, but those who, on account of their innumerable good qualities, deserve to be.” (Machiavelli, “The Discourses”, p. 93,94) If in the first case Machiavelli wants to be cherished by the prince in the second one he prefers the praise of people who are unable to grant him “rank, honours, and riches” but “would like to do so.” (Machiavelli, “The Discourses”, p.94) Such a statement leaves a lot of space for pondering why there’s such a change in the views of the thinker and whether he also changed his believes on the political issues or not.
The role of the people is not a main concern in “The Prince” as this book is about how the virtuous man can become the prince, come to glory, preserve the state at its greatness, and make the life of inhabitants satisfactory. By focusing on the virtu, power, and fortune that help the prince come to glory Machiavelli doesn’t describe the role of subjects in a comprehensive way but certainly mentions it and implies all the time. The thinker doesn’t say it directly, but he obviously realizes that if there is nobody to rule over or to oppress there is no need for the ruler. Therefore, the people are the essential part of state regardless of kind of government.
The situation is quite different in “The Discourses”, and the philosopher pays a great deal of attention to “the general public” or to “the populace” while deliberating about various issues that lead the state or keep it out of the glory. Moreover, not like in “The Prince”, he talks more about the role of the people in each kind of government: principality, tyranny, aristocracy, oligarchy, democracy, and little bit in anarchy. However, it doesn’t mean that his view on that concern has changed.