What was the influence of Renaissance Humanism in The Prince?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Machiavelli's work was reflective of many tenets in Renaissance Humanism. The intellectual movement was driven by a sense of Rationalism.  The Rational feel of the time period sought to move attributes previously given to the divine into the realm of human beings:

Here, one felt no weight of the supernatural pressing on the human mind, demanding homage and allegiance. Humanity—with all its distinct capabilities, talents, worries, problems, possibilities—was the center of interest. It has been said that medieval thinkers philosophized on their knees, but, bolstered by the new studies, they dared to stand up and to rise to full stature.

Machiavelli's work embraces these principles that were intrinsic to Renaissance Humanism.  The "center of interest" for Machiavelli was the human ruler. The extent to which they could go and needed to go in order to consolidate political affairs existed at the base of Machiavelli's theories.

In advising what the effective ruler must do, Machiavelli suggests that the political leaders "cannot observe faith, nor should he, when such observance turns against him, and the causes that make him promise have been eliminated." This is reflective of how The Prince "felt no weight of the supernatural pressing on the human mind."  At the same time, Machiavelli represents the full force of Renaissance Humanism in how he extols individual action.  The bold ruler who wants to "win over" fortuna is where Machiavelli believes the most effective leadership exists. It is here where Machiavelli embraces Renaissance Humanism's idea that human beings "dared to stand up."  The human being that Machiavelli envisions in The Prince is reflective of the influence of Renaissance Humanism. It is constructed from the point of view of what human beings in the position of political power can do and not what they are bound to do in subservience to the divine.  The use of religion is a tool for political expedience, affirming the "new studies" in political science and human ethics that Machiavelli sought to illuminate in The Prince.

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