Machiavelli’s The Prince Explained in an Illustrated Film

Nic­colò Machi­avel­li lived in a time before the inter­net, before radio and tele­vi­sion, before drones and weapons of mass destruc­tion. Thus one nat­u­ral­ly ques­tions the rel­e­vance of his polit­i­cal the­o­ries to the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. Yet in dis­cus­sions about the dynam­ics of pow­er, no name has endured as long as Machi­avel­li’s. His rep­u­ta­tion as a the­o­rist rests most­ly on his 1532 trea­tise Il Principe, or The Prince, in which he pio­neered a way of ana­lyz­ing pow­er as it was actu­al­ly wield­ed, not as peo­ple would have liked it to be. How, he asked, does a ruler — a prince — attain his posi­tion in a state, and even more impor­tant­ly, how does he main­tain it?

You can hear Machi­avel­li’s answers to these ques­tions explained, and see them illus­trat­ed, in the 43-minute video above. It breaks The Prince down into sev­en parts sum­ma­riz­ing as many of the book’s main points, includ­ing “Do not be neu­tral,” “Destroy, do not would,” and “Be feared.”

These com­mand­ments would seem to align with Machi­avel­li’s pop­u­lar image as an apol­o­gist, even an advo­cate, for bru­tal and repres­sive forms of rule. But his enter­prise has less to do with offer­ing advice than with describ­ing how real fig­ures of pow­er, princes and oth­er­wise, had amassed and retained that pow­er.

The video comes from Eudai­mo­nia, a Youtube chan­nel that has also fea­tured sim­i­lar­ly ani­mat­ed exege­ses of Sto­icism and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Its cre­ator makes these ancient sources of knowl­edge acces­si­ble with not just his car­toon­ish illus­tra­tions, but also his inclu­sion of illu­mi­nat­ing exam­ples from more recent his­to­ry. In the case of The Prince, these come from eras like the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, World War II, and even our own time of instant glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion, atten­tion-hun­gry media, and a seem­ing­ly weak polit­i­cal class. In much of the world, we live in a time much less nasty and brutish than Machi­avel­li’s. But look­ing at the effec­tive­ness (or lack there­of) of our own lead­ers, we have to admit that the prin­ci­ples of The Prince may not have gone out of effect.

To delve deep­er into the world of Machi­avel­li, you can watch a BBC doc­u­men­tary on the Renais­sance polit­i­cal the­o­rist below.

Relat­ed con­tent:

What Does “Machi­avel­lian” Real­ly Mean?: An Ani­mat­ed Les­son

How Machi­avel­li Real­ly Thought We Should Use Pow­er: Two Ani­mat­ed Videos Pro­vide an Intro­duc­tion

Salman Rushdie: Machiavelli’s Bad Rap

Intro­duc­tion to Polit­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy: A Free Yale Course

Allan Bloom’s Lec­tures on Machi­avel­li (Boston Col­lege, 1983)

6 Polit­i­cal The­o­rists Intro­duced in Ani­mat­ed “School of Life” Videos: Marx, Smith, Rawls & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.


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