What was the influence of Renaissance Humanism in The Prince?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

pholland14 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Prince serves as one of the early works of political theory.  Machiavelli tries to advise a theoretical prince in how he should act in order to maintain and grow his power.  The work demonstrates Renaissance humanism in that the work focuses on what a human (the prince) can do in order to maintain power.  Machiavelli does not trust chance or that people will do the right things.  Machiavelli lays all the responsibility for maintaining the kingdom at the feet of his theoretical prince.  By not relying on chance or prayers, Machiavelli demonstrates a strong belief in humanism.  The Machiavellian prince tries to win over his subjects with military prowess, impressive works, and the appearance of good.  Machiavelli's prince also works to not create love or hate among the people, only respect.  By putting power in these rational terms, Machiavelli has written a blueprint that other leaders could follow if they wished.  Machiavelli did not want to be known for The Prince; he wanted to be famous for his work The Discourses, which was another book about governance that relied on man's work more than it relied on God and chance.  

Read the study guide:
The Prince

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question