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Machiavelli was a product of his times. Italy in the 15th and early 16th Centuries was an extremely turbulent system of city-states riven by violence and intrigue. In addition to the governments of each city-state, the Catholic Church fought to extend its influence, and foreign incursions from countries like Spain and France further destabilized the region. Most importantly, Machiavelli observed the rule of the notorious Borgia family, the patriarch of which was Pope Alexander VI. The reign of the Borgias was bloody and provided Machiavelli insights into the way governments conducted themselves and what measures were adopted to maintain power while holding territory together. His positions of military and political importance enabled him to have a front row seat to some of the most instructive and disreputable political practices of the day.
In short, the kinds of states Machiavelli describes are autocratic regimes that resorted to any level of brutality to maintain power. The lessons he learned from his experiences and observations provided the basis of his widely known study, "The Prince." The theme of that study is that rulers had to be willing to employ violence judiciously and to maintain a presence throughout the breadth of their territory. They had to be cautious about going too far in the use of violence, but that it was an inherent component of governing. Machiavelli also emphasized the importance of care in how a ruler surrounded himself with advisers, as ensuring continuing loyalty was vitally important for self-preservation and for the survival of the state.
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