Niccolò Bernardo di Machiavelli is one of the venerated political leaders cum philosophers of the Renaissance period. One of his renowned works is the Prince, which underscores the Machiavellian political philosophy. In this book, Machiavelli digresses from the conventional monarchical princes and explores the possibility of a new prince rising to the throne of rulership. The Machiavellian political philosophy adopts the consequentialist normative theory, where the end justifies the means. Therefore, according to Machiavelli, a leader has to do whatever is necessary to remain in power regardless of who it hurts. In other words, the Machiavellian political philosophy advocates authoritarianism, whereby the ruler has the final say. In this sense, politics is not for the weak-hearted, as the king has to be brutal in a bid to remain in power.
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In light of this argument, in Machiavelli’s thoughts, moral corruption forms the order for a king to stabilize his power. Unfortunately, the majority of leaders and especially in the developing world, view politics through the Machiavellian political philosophy, which explains the bloodshed being witnessed in most of these nations. In some parts of Africa, presidents rule for over three decades through manipulation and elimination of they that disagree with the government of the day. This paper explores the nature of politics in the political philosophy of Machiavelli by looking into the virtues of leadership, objectives of states, political ends, and the role of the state relative to its citizens. In conclusion, the paper compares Machiavelli to Aristotle.
Virtues of leadership
Machiavelli highlights some virtues of leadership, even though some are unconventional. Princes or leaders should not uphold the highest moral standards in the land. On the contrary, they must know what is right and wrong and use it for their own good. A moral weakness should not be upbraided if it assists a nation towards protecting the prince. On the other hand, any harmful virtue should be discarded for the sake of the king and the nation. In essence, virtues of leadership should be defined by their efficacy; that is, if they benefit the prince and the state, they should be embraced, but if they do not, they should be sacrificed.
However, he warns leaders to be frugal as indulgence and wastefulness would affect one’s grip on power. According to Machiavelli, leaders should instill fear even if they attract hate for the same. He wonders whether one should be “loved than feared or feared than loved” (Machiavelli, 79). To this question, he notes that it is prudent for a leader to have both. In a recap, Machiavelli advocates virtues that will protect the prince, and thus, leaders should exercise virtues, as they deem necessary. He notes, “How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his word and live with integrity rather than by craftiness…yet we see from recent experience that those princes have accomplished most who paid little heed to keeping their promises, but who knew how to manipulate the minds of men craftily” (Machiavelli, 83). Therefore, from the Machiavellian perspective, virtues of leadership are conditional and they should be applied as the situation demands provided they protect the leader.
Objectives of state
According to Machiavelli, the key objective of the state is to maintain its stability. This objective calls for the state to maintain both external and internal vigilance to avert invasions from outside sources or disintegration from within the nation. The state should be concerned with making “sound laws and strong military forces” (Cox 1110). Therefore, a Machiavellian state should not be concerned with the logical wellbeing of its citizens, but on keeping its power. States thrive on foundations and Machiavelli notes that the “chief foundations of all states, new as well as old or composite, are good laws and good arms” (55).
Therefore, the state should use all its energy in ensuring that its building blocks, viz. laws and arms are intact. In the light of this argument, it suffices to conclude that the state seeks to make good laws, which favors its continuation, and securing arms coupled with forming a string military in a bid to maintain its stability. Other peripheral objectives of the state include protecting its citizens, ensuring law and order, and guaranteeing the wellbeing of its citizens. The word ‘peripheral’ is used here because if such objectives are in violation of the main duty of the state, viz. its stability, then they can be violated or sacrificed. To this end, Machiavelli notes, “But when a prince is with his army, and has under control a multitude of soldiers, then it is quite necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without it he would never hold his army united or disposed to its duties (81). This assertion means that if need be the prince, who denotes the state, can resort to cruelty to achieve his objectives.
Our Political ends
The American political ends are becoming Machiavellian by each passing day. Initially, the constitution was supreme and presidents had to act within its premises whilst executing any action. However, that seems to be changing albeit slowly. For instance, President W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq on the pretext of the existence of weapons of mass destruction was Machiavellian. The ongoing debate points to the possibility that President Bush was aware that Iraq had no such weapons, but he gave the green light for the invasion nevertheless. This kind of leadership fits the Machiavelli’s beliefs that the state’s interests are above any law.
Even the current administration has shown some Machiavellian connotations. President Obama came very close to invading Syria on controversial claims that President Al-Assad had used biological weapons against his people. This would have been a Machiavellian moment, which places the state and the interests of the prince above the law. Machiavelli advises the prince to instill fear on citizens or hoodwink them in a bid to become popular. President Obama employed the latter advice by initiating his controversial healthcare plan. Whilst on the surface it appears a noble thing to do, the very people being assisted to access healthcare have to cope with tax increases in 18 different areas. This assertion is a clear indication that the prince will always do what favors him and in this case, President Obama is trying to build his legacy at the expense of the American people.
How does this reflect their assumptions about human nature and political reality?
The assumption of the current American political ends is that human nature and political reality are dynamic elements and they change with time. Ron Suskind, a reporter, has captured this reality in his revealing article, Without a Doubt. In one of his interview with one of President Bush’s advisors, Suskind was told, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore…We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality…we’ll act again, creating other new realities” (48). This revelation clearly shows that the American political reality is ever changing and so is the human nature.
The role of the state relative to its citizens
The primary role of the state to its citizens is to ensure that they remain loyal to the prince. This need calls the state to employ whichever machinery at its disposal to ensure that citizens remain patriotic to the government and state of the day. This assertion means that the state can coerce or persuade the citizens as determined by the prevailing conditions. Machiavelli notes, “…when he has found them disarmed he has always armed them, because, by arming them, those arms become yours, those men who were distrusted become faithful, and those who were faithful are kept so, and your subjects become your adherents” (101).
In this case, the state arms the citizens so that they may remain loyal to the prince, which is a way of manipulation. In another area, Machiavelli urges the prince to instill fear into citizens so that they do not dissent. In chapter 21 of the Prince, Machiavelli notes, “Nothing makes a prince so much esteemed as great enterprises and setting good example” (107). In the light of this assertion, the state can choose to persuade the citizens by setting a good example. In addition, the state can protect its citizens, make good laws to maintain law and order, and meet the needs of the citizenry as long as such acts work for the benefit and well-being of the state. The state is supreme and its interests should be above the interests of the citizens (Burnham 82). Therefore, needs of the state should come before the needs of the citizens. In addition, the state should only serve the citizens if such service benefits the former.
When compared to Aristotle, Machiavelli departs from the themes of political leadership and the objectives of the state. On the nature of state, Aristotle held that the “state is a community, which is ultimately founded on building blocks of friendship and trust” (Tarlton 18). In Aristotle’s view, the state is “a partnership of citizens in constitution” (Aristotle 40). On the other side, Machiavelli holds that the partnership, trust, and the constitution are only valid if they work for the good of the state and the prince. In Aristotle’s political leadership, leaders should uphold the highest moral order, while for Machiavelli; morality is of no use if it derails the state and the leaders.
According to Aristotle, human beings are intellectual, virtuous, sociable, and they seek happiness. However, according to Machiavelli, humans “are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed [men] are yours entirely” (34). In addition, Aristotle holds that the prime objective of the state is to serve its citizens. However, Machiavelli holds that the primary objective of the state is to serve itself and the prince. The well-being of citizens is secondary after the stability of the state and prince has been established.
Machiavelli’s political philosophy digresses from the conventional ways of thinking. He holds that governments should not act within the law or morals if such requirements violate the very existence of the prince or leader. Any virtue can be sacrificed if it threatens the stability of the nation and any vice can be accepted if it favors the wellbeing of the prince. Machiavelli’s political philosophy centers on the state and the Prince and anything else comes second. The philosophy encourages totalitarianism as the individual who can command authoritative power then s/he is fit to lead the nation.
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Aristotle. The Politics. Trans. Saunders Trevor. London: Penguin Classics, 1963. Print.
Burnham, James. The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom, Chicago: Regnery Publishers, 1987. Print.
Cox, Virginia. “Machiavelli and the Rhetorica ad Herennium: Deliberative Rhetoric in The Prince.” The Sixteenth Century Journal 28.4 (1997): 1109–1141. Print.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. George Bull. London: Penguin Classics, 1961. Print.
Suskind, Ron. “Without a Doubt.” The New York Times. 2004:48. Print.
Tarlton, Charles. “Machiavelli’s The Prince as Memoir.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 46.1 (2004): 1-19. Print.