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Political Theory by Niccolo Machiavelli Essay


Niccolo Machiavelli is a writer that is considered as a political vision, this is because of his political theory that has been described by analysts as beyond analytical understanding. His advice to politicians through his writings has been questioned by many people; according to Machiavelli, one will only survive in politics if he plays his cards well. He believes that for one to succeed in politics he or she must have virtues that will propel him forward; this is good advice to those who wish to be a success in politics; however, his definition of virtue in the Prince and the Discourse has been considered as abusive to morality. This paper will analyze the meaning of virtue in relation to Machiavelli’s the Prince and Discourses

Definition of virtue

According to philosophers, virtue is a deed that is good, and for one to be considered to be virtuous he or she must do good things to achieve the best, and according to Christianity, these good things must be accompanied by moral virtues. However, according to Machiavelli, virtue is a skill which can be used, particularly in politics, to attain what ones put his or her mind to. Therefore, he considers a virtue as something that is useful in one’s life; one should make use of it to attain his goals, this means that Machiavelli values the end and not the means (Machiavelli 74).

Meaning of virtue in relation to the Prince and the Discourses

The definition of virtue is seen Machiavelli’s The Prince, in this book he talks of the prince and what he is suppose to do to be successful in his leadership. First, according to him, a prince should be able to develop the state he is governing and come up with the laws that will govern the state; to attain this, the prince should be ready to fight and fight effectively (Machiavelli 85). Machiavelli encourages war as a way the prince should use to develop the state he is governing and come up, with the laws that can be used to govern the state.

For many, especially Christians, it is not a virtuous way to develop a state, but considering that the cities in Italy were constantly faced with threats from the neighboring principalities, this was the only way to develop the states. The states had suffered for many years through power struggles, and Machiavelli thought that it was only virtuous for the prince to view almost all state affairs through a military lens. In the prince, he takes time to describe a good war and how it fortifies a city, he also advices the prince on how to treat his subjects, and prevent domestic insurrection which might distract the state from succeeding in war (Machiavelli 56). He does not only advice on military force, but also use international diplomacy, historical analysis, geographical mastery, tactical strategy and domestic politics.

The prince should also be careful in his struggle to develop the state because he cannot succeed alone; he needs the good will of the people he is ruling to succeed in his endeavors as a prince. Therefore, he should avoid actions that would make his subjects to hate him; these actions might include dissolution of traditional institutions of property confiscation. However, sometimes it is not necessary for his people to love him because there are some actions that he might do for the state’s benefits and gain no support from the people; people might not notice the importance for his cruelity at that time but later they will realize it (Machiavelli 101). According to Machiavelli, cruelity and dishonesty should never be practiced for their sake, they should be pursued as a means to an end; therefore, any action taken by the prince should be done considering its people and the state as a whole (Machiavelli 106).

Machiavelli also shows that there is the case of human nature, whereby, humans are always contented and comfortable when they are not victims of a circumstance and in their comfort they want to be praised, honored and admired and yet they do not have virtues that can make them receive the praises, honor and admiration. According to Machiavelli, people need to justify their virtues for them to be praised to have them; for instance, a prince cannot be honored for what he has not done. However, the prince cannot own all the virtues people want him to have, but since he wants to keep his power and position he can feign it to according to necessity. A prince should know when and how to be wrong or right in order to make the situation favor him.

According to people who watch morals, when one is wrong and the wrong has no benefit to him or to others, but according to Machiavelli, you a prince can do a wrong thing so as to make use of it. For instance, one might feign to be loyal to get useful information from another person, this might be considered to be a wrong doing but, it a prince can use it to gain power to rule or control a certain situation. Machiavelli argues that ancient leaders like Achiles were half-man and half-beast; this is because they understood the requirements of politics, one should be humanly excellent and at the same time he should be able to act with beastly ferocity when situation required them to do so (Machiavelli 98). The prince is advised to know how to use both beast and man; this is because without one, the other cannot survive for long. He must learn to mimic the fox and lion; the fox represents the fraud, while the lion represents the force.

Also, a prince in his endeavors, he should have servants and ministers he can look out for and depend on them for his well being and that of the state. The prince should make use of the people around him to achieve great things for the state, but to do this he ought to study the servants and ministers to know them better. According to Machiavelli, the prince should not make an opinion on his servants, for instance, when he is not honest, lack of kindness among other concerns. A virtuous prince will choose to do to his servant what he expects them to do to him; he should care and honor them, give them all that they desire and wish for to make them wish and desire more, and this way they will all be trustworthy to the prince and they will all have the same goal. The prince and his servants together with his ministers who trust each other will work together for the benefit of the state. Some people will look at the pampering of ministers and servants as not virtues, but according to Machiavelli, it is virtuous because the end, which is working together for the better of the state, is achieved through this (Machiavelli 36).

Leaders are sometimes not used to being told the truth and letting others understand them, but Machiavelli thinks that a virtuous prince is one who uses people around him to realize his power. Being told the truth by everyone might lessen people’s respect for the prince, but the prince should allow it to make people understand that the truth does not make him feel offended. On the other hand he should choose wise men who will have the freedom to speak the truth to him; the prince will listen to their opinions and after questioning them he should make his final decisions. Machiavelli also insists that listening to others is important because, it makes the prince appreciate what others understand, however, he should not understand issues through others.

Above all when choosing people to be next to him, the prince should emulate the lion and fox, according to Machiavelli, it is not wise to be only strong and ferocious, but also to be cunning and outmaneuvering. All this characteristics may not be possessed by the prince or one advisor, therefore, the prince should choose to have wise men with different intelligence and this will help him to have different opinions. With different opinions the wise prince will be able to choose the most effective points and consider them when making final decisions.

In the Discourse, he also insists on the effect of one action, which is the end, according to him, if the end is good, it will excuse the means and mostly if the end is good people not dwell much on the means, even if it was full of vices. The way Machiavelli presents virtue shows the moral pressure politicians face in their daily life, and quickly gives them solutions that will bring help them succeed in their leadership. He argues that politicians are not like ordinary citizens, therefore, their virtues should not be defined in terms of morals, in fact he admires politicians who risks risk their morals to be heroic figures. For instance, there are individuals in history who were willing not only to give their life for their native land, but also to risk their eternal salvation. He also thinks that the community cannot flourish without few members to undertake the necessary evils, and those who take a bold step to undertake the necessary evil is considered to be virtuous.

In the Discourse, Machiavelli describes a virtuous leader as a leader who assumes that all men are bad therefore, all men do not do good except when it is necessary, and since no one has control over ones thought and intentions. A leader should always guard against any sign which might appear as a virtue, and yet it is a false appearance to motivate a political action. Machiavelli warns politicians against such people in the Discourse, but advices the politicians to behave like them to suit the situation and the necessity (Machiavelli 156). However, as much as Machiavelli is justifying the violation of moral, he insists that citizens should not act badly under good leadership.

Many people condemn the advice Machiavelli gives to the prince because it is against the moral virtues, but for him the prince must maintain his state, and to do so he must make advances that are for the common good with any consideration to morality. He also argues that in politics or leadership, one must involve an expense for other people to gain; this is seen in the Discourses, since the republicans are people with pure politics, they aim at weakening others in order to increase their bodies. If the actions of the republicans are analyzed morally, it is obvious that they will be classified as people without virtues, and if they act according to satisfy the meaning of moral virtues, then their life as leaders is shortened (Machiavelli 164).

Therefore, it is only virtuous for them to weaken others so that they gain strength, and as Machiavelli echoes, Common-Wealth cannot endure Diet. He thinks that for any republic to achieve great things it should have a purpose that is purely self-oriented, he gives examples of great cities (Machiavelli 136). Great cities are great because they have a common good, and if republic put their mind to acting for common good then they will definitely succeed, although this might harm private individuals.

It is the insatiable and self oriented character of cities, especially republics that propel them towards imperial expansion, and this according to Machiavelli is what leads to political success. The republic acquired success will also satisfy as well as expand individual passion to acquire what the heart desires; this means that pursuing a common goal is a virtue that should be a desire by many despite the means because it is beneficial to all.

Machiavelli also argues that people should not be quick to judging others because, there must be a reason that has propelled them to act the way they did. He gives an example of the murder Remus, by his brother Romulus; many people might comment on Romulus’s actions and condemn them (Machiavelli 172). Machiavelli argues that no one should judge Romulus because they do not know the end that induced him to commit homicide. Romulus’s actions are questionable, considering the natural moral virtues. This example from the Prince justifies the vice committed by Romulus; according to Machiavelli he committed the crime not out of his self interest, but in the interest of Rome, his actions were for the common good and not for his good alone.

Machiavelli condemns a person who engages in violent activities to spoil and recommends the one who does them to mend. A similar example is given in the Discourse, where the killing of the sons of Brutus is considered as a powerful remedy and an action that is more necessary (Machiavelli 179). The republican regime founder finds it necessary to kill his own sons in order to establish an extensive political control that was necessary, for the state to be well. The regime found might be judged morally because killing is considered as a wrong act, however, according to Machiavelli; he did it with a reason that was necessary. This means that a leader should have the necessary authority to acquire things that are considered of great importance; in the case of the regime founder, there was no other remedy than killing those who held it.

Machiavelli also talks of another virtue that is necessary in the political society, this virtue is that of corruption; this is not corruption of impropriety or graft, it is corruption of the body. This virtue makes according to him makes him do his politics in a healthy and lively manner, in this case, citizen are allowed to lose their mind and character virtues for them to meet the challenges at the moment.

In the Discourse, just like in the Prince, Machiavelli insists that a human being especially in leadership should learn to react to changing requirements of situations or time. He advices leaders that, there is no one way of doing things, it is always god to be flexible and tactful when faced with a situation that is not normal norm. There are people who refuse to deviate or restrain themselves from doing something because of what they hold as principles, even if the action will be beneficial to them or to others. Such kind of mindsets is what Machiavelli considers as not suitable for one who wants to make it as a good leader; leaders with principalities never last for long, when compared to those who change requirements considering the circumstances (Machiavelli 184). Also, in leadership, republics are preferred to principalities because they always make the right decisions basing of the situation and not of what should be, such leaders are considered the best in steering change in the community and the republic are whole. Therefore, a leader should have a virtue of changing requirements to meet the situation at hand to lead effectively.

Remembering the bible, the king who was faced with a case of deciding the mother of the child between two women; the each woman was claiming that the child was hers, and because the king did not know the mother, he told them that the child will be cut into two pieces to solve the issue. This king, through his statement, he was able to verify the actual mother of the child; this is a situation he handled so quickly, without following the protocols followed to solve a problem. This shows that sometimes it is virtuous to deviate from the normal or moral way of doing things in order to make useful and important decisions.


Machiavelli, in these two writings, presents what he thinks are the virtues that fit a good leader or a politician. In the Prince, he presents the virtues that should be possessed by a prince who wishes to develop his state and maintain his position as a prince. After seeing different states struggling in the hand of poor leadership, Machiavelli decided to give them advice on good virtues of a leader. According to Machiavelli, a good leader is the one whose actions are focused on the end results, and expects a good end for his people and state, then he would definitely acts in a way to achieve a good end despite the moral virtue attached to the action. He goes ahead to insist that the good end should not be for his self interest, but for the common good of his people. In the Discourse, Machiavelli conveys the same message of acting to aim at attaining success for the common good; he condemns the principalities and recommend those who a change requirements to meet the situation of the time. Machiavelli’s definition of virtue is based on the actions aimed at a good end and common good, and any leader who follows hid advice will not only succeed in his leadership, but also develop his state in all aspects.

Work Cited

Machiavelli, Niccolò. Selected Political Writings. U.S: Hackett Publishing, 1994. Print.

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