According to Machiavelli in The Prince, what are cultural humanist ideals from the Renaissance?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Prince, Machiavelli talks about classical humanist ideals, which comprised a different world view than our present day "humanist ideals" encompass. Machiavelli spoke of classical Renaissance humanist ideals--which then were in full accord with Christian ideals though present day humanist ideals are not in such accord--such as were represented by the most notable and powerful historic world leaders, as a source of inspiration and material lessons for the world's princes who wanted themselves to be great and powerful leaders.

These Renaissance humanist ideals included belief in human:

  • dignity
  • free choice
  • power over destiny
  • justice
  • wisdom
  • virtuousness
  • freedom
  • excellence
  • knowledge
  • education in a wide breadth of history

Therefore, a prince, not being able to exercise this virtue of liberality in such a way that it is recognized, except to his cost, if he is wise he ought not to fear the reputation of being mean, ... [since] he exercises liberality towards all from whom he does not take, who are numberless ["his people"], and meanness towards those to whom he does not give, who are few [courtiers]. (Chapter XVI)

Interestingly, these Renaissance humanist ideals were offset by Machiavelli's unorthodox choice to speak of cruel and destructive leaders as a complimentary source of leadership lessons. By doing this, Machiavelli augmented the humanist ideals he advanced by expanding their application through the successful use of anti-humanist ideals of leaders whose cruelty knew no bounds. Thus he ironically reinforced Renaissance humanism by asserting broad education in history and free choice over a narrow world view and destiny or Fate.

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The Prince

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