Alberto Benitez
5 min readJul 13, 2023

It cannot be assured that Machiavelli sought success in writing his The Prince.

He was not a first-time author when he published that work. He already had a long experience writing and publishing. But above all he had vast experience in the world of embassies, palaces, offices and houses and gardens where kings and popes and princes and counts made decisions. The job he sought and obtained was this: to create and shape government policies for the benefit of his city, Florence.

On what it means to be a citizen, Pericles said in his Funeral Oration that although not all of us can originate a policy, we must all be able to judge it. Although not all of us can plan a war or give good reasons for one, we should all be able to judge whether or not the republic should declare it. Machiavelli was the kind of person who could create and put together a policy.

Machiavelli’s job was to determine how the government and the ruler of Florence should conduct themselves against the other neighboring countries that competed for power in Europe. What to do if France won an alliance with England. How to win alliances with the Pope in Rome, with the kingdom of the island of Sicily, with the king of Castile, with Italian cities like Venice or Ravenna. What to do so that King Ferdinand of Aragon would not fear but approve that Florence attacked the domains of the Pope in Italy.

Some readers will clearly remember Henry Kissinger, an American diplomat during the Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford governments. It was he who proposed ideas and opined for or against how to end the Vietnam War. He negotiated the rapprochement of the US with the People’s Republic of China. He helped Israel and Egypt negotiate for peace in the Yom Kippur War. He favored friendly diplomatic relations with right-wing military dictatorships in South America, and is accused of planning the assassination of large numbers of left-wing militants in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

Machiavelli had Kissinger’s work in the 16th century. With access to the resources and information that these kinds of jobs need. Surrounded by the admiration and envy that this type of position arouses.

If Machiavelli had lived in the 20th or 21st century, he would undoubtedly have been much better known and even popular. He would be forced to appear in the press constantly. Dozens of journalists from all over the world would seek him out to ask his opinion or extract information from him. He would have had no problem publishing his books, on the contrary. Many publishers would have offered him good contracts to publish it.

Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. Machiavelli would certainly have earned it, and surely the Nobel Literature Prize as well.

But Machiavelli was born in a world without the media and without social networks.

He was born in a world where access to channels and resources to make himself known as an author was very closed.

The reading public was predominantly ecclesiastical and aristocratic, although there already existed a number of readers who were neither part of the Church nor of the nobility. Those were numbered in the thousands and in the tens of thousands throughout Europe. Making yourself known and becoming appreciated among the aristocratic and ecclesiastical public was a game of personal relationships. Publishing success in those circumstances meant being sponsored by a figure of the nobility or the Church, the more important that figure was, the greater the success. It had nothing to do with how many books you had sold. Success was who was reading you.

Since this was the important public, the aristocratic and ecclesiastical, the books were much more transparent. The authors could not disguise their intentions. If you wrote a book on theology, no matter how obscure the subject was, you knew that your readers were going to be other specialists at least as educated as you. That they would criticize your book, many times with envy. Many times interested and positively intrigued by your ideas, which had to be really solid and original to impress them. That they would receive your book asking themselves a clear question: why did he write this book? And your ideas were almost automatically going to be contrasted with the dogmas and conventional morality and with the prejudices and desires of those readers. It was not easy to disguise an insult. It was very easy to bother important people. And if your ideas were really new and different from the norm, you had to work vigorously so that they weren’t disqualified just because they weren’t the conventional ideas.

The world in which Machiavelli wrote was a world in which the relationships between authors and readers were much closer, much more emotional, and in many ways much more important than they are now.

You couldn’t advertise yourself.

If you gave an interview, the audience that listened were people who knew you well, or who could easily research you and get to know your family, your friends, the history of your ideas. That they could quickly tell who liked you and why. Who disliked you and why. A world in which the causes for someone to dislike or like you were not due to the way you dress or your hairstyle or the sound of your laughter. Someone liked or disliked you for reasons of life or death.

Machiavelli dedicated the Prince to Lorenzo de Medici. That it is not Lorenzo the Magnificent, but his grandson. Which was not unusual for that time.

To find out if Machiavelli was pursuing success with his The Prince, you don’t have to see the dedication.

You have to understand what he wanted to teach and to whom.

You must understand the prejudices of those to whom Machiavelli sent the book and how he wrote to overcome those prejudices, persuade them, and reflect on how he, that powerful man, would receive new ideas on the subject that mattered most to him: how to govern.