The paper discusses Machiavelli and his theories of power in politics. Machiavelli claims that morals and sense of right and wrong have no place in politics. He presents a dark and pessimistic picture of the human society. His believes have been subject to various forms of criticism and examination. But to date, Machiavelli stays debatable writer, not least because of his renowned or notorious book ‘The Prince.’ The paper delves deep into Machiavelli’s views on politics and the factors which shaped these views. Machiavelli holds a distinct place in the annals of history, as such commentaries on his work lack consensus. Nevertheless, this paper makes use of three published articles to give as thorough an analysis of Machiavelli’s thought process as possible.
Machiavelli wrote through the lens of a diplomat. It wasn’t that he was an enigmatic or overly outlandish kind of person. But even today it remains unclear as to what his intention in the Prince and in his power politics was.
According to Machiavelli privilege is grounded in the sheer possession of power. He believes that the general populace will pay heed to the higher power of the state only out of respect for it. So, for example, if there is a law that people do not want to obey, the thing that would ultimately lead them to obey it would be a reverence for the power of the state or the actual use of power by it, that is, the state. Power is the determiner of what it is a ruler does when faced with contradictory views about what he should do. If I choose not to pay attention to the state I do it only because I believe that I have more power than the state or because I am ready to accept the repercussions of the state’s supremacy of brute force.
In the Prince, Machiavelli posits that political maneuvers can only be defined in terms of the power under which they are exercised. It is not possible to deem any sort of authority to be independent of power. Machiavelli supports this proposition by referring to observations of political developments and public conduct, and also by examples which reveal the selfish inclinations of living mortals.
Machiavelli states that it is useless to talk about domination and the prerogative to rule without talking about the ownership of greater political power. If a ruler is living his life just by his rights, he will be defeated by those very rights. It must always be kept in mind that in the world of politics the people who vie for power as opposed to authority have more chances of meeting with success. Without even a shred of doubt, prerogatives of states and state laws will never be recognized if they are not buttressed by a demonstration of power which makes obedience incumbent. If a prince wants his subjects to obey him, he might have to experiment with various methods to achieve this, and rely considerably upon his forethought. Thus, it is imperative for a prince who wants to be successful to undergo special training. (Nederman, 2014)
A perspective on The Prince which breaks away from the norms states that Machiavelli wrote The Prince as a sarcastic interpretation of the idea of merciless and cruel rulers in order to expose their tyranny and endorse a democratic form of government. This reiterates the claim that interpretations of Machiavelli are aplenty.
Machiavelli wrote The Prince during a period of political turmoil in his country, Italy. Italy at this time was a collection of city-states- and some of these city states were principalities under control of one person or family, while others were republics. Machiavelli endorsed use of brutal force to get one’s way. Thus, Machiavelli’s genius lied in his non-conformism. His advice was highly controversial and unorthodox not only for his own time but also for times that came after it, including the present one. In the book the Prince, Machiavelli’s advice to the sovereigns was to learn the art of not being good and then apply this art depending on the situation at hand.
When it comes to the global politics, even though it is fitting to say that the present existing interconnected system lies on upholding global supremacy which is highly Machiavellian in nature, the other option which is based on political idealism is also becoming popular. This method lies on mutual global interdependence among different actors, institutional frameworks, global diplomacy, and viable options to tackle zero sum game politics. (Mohammed Seid Ali, 2015) Hence, it can be safely asserted that Machiavelli was not all that correct in his analysis of power structures and politics.
There are various interpretations of Machiavelli’s work. His analysis of power, based on the assumption that the state is the only dominant entity in international or national politics, might seem too one dimensional or short-sight. But there is, of course, something to be learned from what he had to say. Machiavelli talks about the methods and rules for a prince with regard to his subjects and friends. In this matter his opinions differed from those of others. And as such, he was aware; his writing was likely to be seen as presumptuous by others.
Machiavelli’s intention was to come up with something useful for those who could understand him. Thus, for their sake, he thought it appropriate to talk about the real truth with regard to the matter under being discussed, than to just talk about it in imaginative terms.
Machiavelli was of the opinion that many people had made up in their minds republics and principalities which in reality didn’t even exist. In other words, these so called republics were just a figment of people’s imagination. He also believed that how people lived was very different from how they ought to live and that is why a person who gives up what is done for what should be done will do nothing but destroy his life.
Machiavelli stated that a man who aspired to be good in this world will undoubtedly meet with disappointment—owing to the fact that there are so many in this world who are far removed from human goodness.
Machiavelli’s genius is historically unique along with the inexplicable nature of the circumstances which directed his genius towards the crystallization of the ideas of his age in the symbolic form of the Prince, who through his fortune and conduct ought to be the protector and redeemer of Italy. (Voegelin, 1951)
It must be noted here that Machiavelli could not be taken as the sole believer of the ideas which he propounded. There were many other contemporaries of his which shared these sentiments with him. Hence, Machiavelli was by no means a moral freak. His was a proposition based on experience and concrete pre-history.
The morality of Machiavelli’s advice to rulers has since time immemorial remained a subject of ample evaluations. According to Machiavelli human conditions do not permit a ruler to be nice. Thus, the ruler must not waste his time on trying to exercise humble and courteous qualities. He should be ruthless and rapacious. Because it is only by being these things that he would be able to live a life of aplomb and happiness.
Mohammed Seid Ali, M. (2015). Morality and Politics with Reference to Machiavelli’s the Prince. European Scientific Journal, 251-252.
Nederman, C. (2014, October 20). Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Retrieved from Stanford encyclopedic web site:
Voegelin, E. (1951). Machiavelli’s Prince: Background and formation. The Review of Politics, 13(2), 142-168.