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High vs. Low

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory


Nor, I hope, will you think it presumptuous that a man of low, really the lowest, station should set out to discuss the way princes ought to govern their peoples. Just as artists who draw landscapes get down in the valley to study the mountains and go up to the mountains to look down on the valley, so one has to be a prince to get to know the character of a people and a man of the people to know the character of a prince.

Your Highness, please take this small gift in the spirit in which it is given. Study it carefully and you will find that my most earnest wish is that you should achieve the greatness that your status and qualities promise. Then if, from the high peak of your position, you ever look down on those far below, you will see how very ungenerously and unfairly life continues to treat me. (1.2)

Check out that gorgeous mountain imagery. On top of the mountain, you have the nobles, the rulers, the popular kids, the socs, the jocks. Down at the bottom are your common people, your paupers, and Machiavelli himself. In order to see anything properly, Machiavelli says, you have to be looking from the other side. So only people down on the bottom can tell what's the real deal with rulers and vice versa.

This is Machiavelli's excuse for writing The Prince even though he's just an ex-diplomat. He's hoping that as he's looking up, that Lorenzo de' Medici might be looking down on him.

This high-low thing doesn't stop here, though. There's tension throughout the whole book between what the nobility want and what the 99% want. Generally, Machiavelli sides with the people:

What's more, you can't in good faith give the nobles what they want without doing harm to others; but you can with the people. Because the people's aspirations are more honourable than those of the nobles: the nobles want to oppress the people, while the people want to be free from oppression. (9.3)

But the nobility or the army still wins if they are the ones with the weapons who will kick you out of power. Otherwise, though, the people are the ones that you need on your side. There are so many of them, after all.

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