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Machiavelli’s Perspective on a Good Ruler Essay

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Updated: Feb 22nd, 2022

Machiavelli claims that a Prince should always seem to be five things to his followers. He should appear to be “compassionate, trustworthy, humane, honest, and religious” (Puchner et al. 178). The author also notes that despite striving to have these qualities, a prince should also know when to disregard them and act as it suits him and his purposes (Puchner et al. 178). Machiavelli stresses how important it is to convince the masses that a prince is very compassionate to their needs, can be trusted with their governance, treat them humanely, be honest with the subjects, and be religious. The last quality, being, or rather, seeming to be religious, Machiavelli values above others (Puchner et al. 178). As there are many devout people, a ruler should try and appeal to them as they represent a majority (Puchner et al. 178). Those followers who can see if their leader is not what he seems and is opposed to the qualities he supports in public will not be able to overthrow a prince as he has the support of the majority.

Machiavelli gives many pieces of valuable advice to new rulers. One of the first pieces of guidance the author provides is for a prince always to be faithful to his word (Puchner et al. 177). However, he also mentions that princes’ promises can be broken if and when it suits them (Puchner et al. 177). Thus, leaders’ promises are not to be relied upon, but the followers must believe them. Another piece of advice Machiavelli gives new princes is to know how to fight and realize that there is more than one way (Puchner et al. 177). He states that a leader should know how “to act like a beast and as a man” and refers, in particular, to lions and foxes (Puchner et al. 177). In Machiavelli’s perspective, a good ruler should be cunning to deal with potential traps placed by his opponents and ruthless to dispose of them with force if necessary (Puchner et al. 177). Thus, a prince should be versatile in how he deals with his enemies.

Machiavelli also advises new leaders on the importance of having a good reputation of a moral man while being able to commit the acts of an immoral one. He notes that a good ruler should be able to go against the qualities he appears to have and adopt the vices he publicly stands against (Puchner et al. 173). A prince cannot afford to be all the things he pretends to be as anyone who chooses to be good in all circumstances “must come to ruin among many who so many who are not good” (Puchner et al. 173). Thus, if a leader always acts morally, he risks losing everything. Finally, Machiavelli recommends new rulers not be too generous to their subjects as it will never be genuinely appreciated and will lead to economic ruin (Puchner et al. 174). It is more prudent to be “stingy to few” and be able to protect himself and his land when there is a need for it than to be excessively generous (Puchner et al. 174). If a prince is too charitable, he will not be able to stay in power for long.

I partially agree with Machiavelli and believe that a good ruler should seem to be compassionate, trustworthy, humane, honest, and religious. Although the Italian author states that a good leader should appear to have the characteristics mentioned above, he also notes that a ruler should practice these virtues (Puchner et al. 178). However, it is unrealistic to expect anyone to observe all these virtues as there can arise circumstances when they should be able to act contrary to them (Puchner et al. 178). I believe that a head of state today should try to practice these virtues but be able to abandon them if the situation requires it. However, here arises another question of the situation which can justify a ruler abandoning his moral virtues. I think that few issues today require our leading politicians to act immorally, for example, when the well-being and lives of the people of their countries are genuinely in danger. The leaders should not act ruthlessly if the only person they protect is themselves and their interests.

There is a certain quality that I would argue the rulers today should not have, but Machiavelli thought was the most important. I think a good leader should not be religious and use faith as a political instrument to control the masses. There are few countries in the world where only one religion is followed. Trying to appeal to one religious group automatically excludes members of all other groups in that country. Furthermore, many people do not subscribe to any religion and may feel neglected if their head of state supports one. I believe that religion and politics should be completely separate. A leader of any country has the right to follow a religion but should not use it in their political interests. Today, maintaining neutrality regarding religion and supporting all people’s right to follow the religion of their choice will help politicians reach more of their electorate. However, our rulers should practice such qualities as compassion, honesty, humanity, and trustworthiness.

Work Cited

Puchner, Martin, et al, editors. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 4th ed., W. W. Norton, 2018.

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