Niccolo Machiavelli was the first political thinker to differentiate politics from morality. He was focused on reality and what needs to be achieved rather than considering what was right or wrong. He had great emphasis on practical and pragmatic strategies over philosophical ideas. I have admired much of Machiavelli’s ideas and I wanted to give a different perspective to his life. It is remarkable that his work from the 16th century is still relevant today and he is without doubt one of the most influential people ever in politics.
Machiavelli arguably had the greatest influence from the Renaissance period. Although he was not a religious leader or a great artist, he was a man of action. At the tender age of 29, he acquired a key role in the government of Florence where he was trusted with diplomatic missions for local Italians and European courts. Machiavelli’s strengths also enabled him to take more direct action as demonstrated when he led troops to capture the town of Pisa under the Florentine militia. However, his most notable mark on history would be his book, “The Prince” which describes how a leader can gain and maintain power. Here he disregarded the idea of right and wrong. “The Prince” is one of the most important books in history and it is still studied to this day.
Fall of Machiavelli
As the defence secretary for Florence he excelled but after 1512 his political career took a major dive as he was accused of conspiracy against the Medici family. He was tortured in jail with one method involving Niccolo being hoisted in the air by a rope wrapped around his wrists. He would then be dropped to the floor several times till he would confess. He refused to confess as he would plead his innocence. This procedure would tear muscles and dislocate shoulders. Remarkably after being dropped several times he asked for pen and paper where he did not confess but instead he wrote to try and impress the Medici family. In an attempt to reclaim a political position within the Medici family he wrote “The Prince”.
The prince was written to be used as a manual for rulers. He clearly states that the writing has nothing to do with ideal republics or imaginary utopias like many philosophers had previously done. Instead it is based on political realism:
“There is such a gap between how one lives and how one should live that he who neglects what is being done for what should be done will learn his destruction rather than his preservation.”
Key outlines of “The Prince”
* Always be prepared for the worst and never be afraid to take action. Risk can never be fully prevented but it can be contained through preparation.
* We have limited time to achieve our goals. Machiavelli emphasises the importance of not wasting time even in rest.
* Join forces with those who properly benefit from your successes as they are the only reliable allies.
* Use passion as the main motivator. It is vital to find people who are passionate in what they do.
* Trust enemies above friends for harsh honesty. He states that you can trust enemies to criticise you when criticism is deserved whereas friends are less likely to be honest.
* Machiavelli firmly believed leaders who inherited success were more likely to fail than self-made leaders as they are forced to learn important life lessons during their journey.
* He believed a prince (leader) would only be successful if he utilised strengths of his ministers.
* “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.”
* “Nature creates few men brave, industry and training makes many.”
* “There is no other way to guard yourself against flattery than by making men understand that telling you the truth will not offend you.” * “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
* “He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command”
* “Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the nature of trouble, and in choosing the lesser evil.”
* “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”
“The Prince” failed to impress the Medici family and it left him isolated from the people of Florence. The book was not officially published until 1532 (five years after Machiavelli’s death) and received significant backlash. He was dubbed as “an enemy of the human race”.
Machiavelli has been seen as a controversial figure throughout history. One area in particular that was seen as controversial was his views on religion, especially Christianity. He believed that pragmatic decisions were guided far too much by imaginary ideas which led people to be lazier and leave events up to chance. Where Christianity would see modesty as a virtue, he took a different approach as he saw ambition and the pursuit of glory as good and natural things that all good leaders (princes) should have. Machiavelli regularly stated that he saw religion as man-made and that religion was used to create social order and rules for morality. He felt in his home country that Christianity made men weak and inactive and that meant politics would often fall to cruel men without a proper fight. These views even in this day of age would be seen as fairly controversial despite having scientific backing so you can imagine how badly this was received in the 15th/16th century. In fact shortly after his death, “The Prince” was published but subsequently banned by the church.
Machiavelli pushed the idea of ambition for leaders as well as encouraging risk taking. He founded new orders and philosophies as he believed innovation was vital to progress for civilization. He believed that humanity could control its own future and that progress would be long lasting if followed.
What makes Machiavelli so unique is that the relevance and importance he has still in this era. Many have argued religious leaders during the reformation era of Martin Luther King had a greater influence but the case for Machiavelli is a lot stronger. Doctor King’s influence was restricted to religion which has become less and less influential in the political and financial dynamic of the world. However, to this day The Prince still has an impact on both those areas. Modern political science still owes a huge amount to Machiavelli as his thoughts are as relevant today as they were in the 16th century. Ethically, there are areas where I disagree with Machiavelli; nonetheless, there is no denying how important he has been for politics of today.
The founding fathers of the American Revolution (including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson) are known or at least proposed to be influenced by Machiavelli’s political works.
Even before Darwin, Machiavelli demonstrated a world without heaven or hell. A world of being in the present rather what the world “should be”. Throughout history we have seen positive and negative examples of people adopting similar ideas to Machiavelli. However, it is only now that scholars are able to acknowledge his work in a positive manner rather than the poor reputation he initially gained. Machiavelli in today’s world would arguably be a freedom fighter, fighting for liberty in the modern world