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Western Political Thought: Machiavelli

Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli had gained immense fame in developing political thought. He was an Italian Renaissance historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer. He has often been referred as the originator of modern political science. He held the position of senior official in the Florentine Republic for many years, with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs, and poetry.

"Machiavellianism" is extensively used as a negative term to characterize unprincipled politicians of the sort Machiavelli described in The Prince. Machiavelli defined immoral behaviour, such as deceitfulness and killing innocents, as being normal and effective in politics. He even looked to endorse it in some situations. The book itself gained notoriety when some readers demanded that the writer was imparting evil, and providing "evil recommendations to oppressors to help them maintain their power." The term "Machiavellian" is often related with political deceit, deviousness, and realpolitik. Many critics, such as Baruch Spinoza, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot, have argued that Machiavelli was actually a republican, even when writing The Prince, and his writings were an inspiration to Enlightenment advocates of modern democratic political philosophy.

Machiavelli was the first to state and systematically uncover the power view of politics, laying down the foundations of a new science akin to Galileo's Dynamics became the basis of the modern science of nature. Machiavaelli recognized politics as the struggle for the acquisition, maintenance and consolidation of political power, an analysis developed by Thomas Hobbes and Harrington in the 17th century, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison in the 18th century Pareto Mosca and Robert Michels in the 19th century, and Robert A Dhal, David Easton, Hans J. Morgenthau Morton A Kaplan in the 20th century. Machiavelli's literatures do not belong to the realm of political theory. He wrote mainly of the process of government, of the means by which the states may be made strong, of the policies by which they can increase their power and of the errors that lead to their decline and destruction. Prof. Dunning called Machiavellian philosophy as "the study of the art of government rather than a theory of state".

As a theorist, Machiavelli was dominant figure in realistic political theory, crucial to European statecraft during the Renaissance. His two most famous books, Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio (Discourses on Livy) and Il Principe (The Prince), were written in anticipation of refining the conditions of the Northern Italian principalities, but became general handbooks for a new style in politics.

Machiavelli's most famous work, The Prince, certainly proclaimed a theatrical break with previous political principles anchored in moral and religious systems of thought. Unlike his classical or medieval predecessors, who took their political bearings from transcendentally valid or delightfully sanctioned conceptions of justice, Machiavelli oriented himself to the "effectual truth" of politics such as how the world actually "is" instead of how it "ought" to be. Indeed, Machiavelli's viciously realistic advice seems intended to disregard all previous, socially respectable forms of political reflection.

The Prince is Machiavelli's most adorable writing piece in the history of political philosophy, although it is perhaps not as philosophical as the Discourses. The fame of the book rests on its objective and pragmatic approach, even to the point of cynicism, to political action. Machiavelli makes observations about the actual conduct of political leaders and looks at whether or not they achieve the results they set out to achieve. He then uses these considerations as a basis of practical recommendations, and these recommendations frequently go against common morality.

It is not obvious what Machiavelli wanted to accomplish by writing, The Prince. In the dedicatory letter, he appears to be requesting a job for the Medici government, but it has been noted that he undermines his own case by some of the advice he gives in the work (Chapter XXIII). The most innovative aspect of The Prince is its separation of politics and ethics. Classical political theory traditionally linked political law with a higher, moral law. On the contrary, Machiavelli contends that political action must always be considered in light of its practical magnitudes rather than some disdainful ideal.

Another prominent feature of The Prince is that it is far less theoretical than the literature on political theory that heralded it. Other earlier thinkers had constructed hypothetical notions of ideal or natural states, but Machiavelli treated historical evidence practically to ground. The Prince is dedicated to the current ruler of Florence, and it is readily apparent that Machiavelli intends for his advice to be taken seriously by the powerful men of his time. It is a practical guide for a ruler rather than an abstract treatise of philosophy.

In the Prince, Machiavelli discovers the world of governments and rulers and develops some revolutionary ideas for a prince to acquire the leading position in the government and maintain his authority and leadership. Though, the philosopher does not teach the ruler to be good and just; his aim is to provide the governor with practical applications of being a great prince but not a good one. Machiavelli focuses on evil features more because they would help to advance the power of the prince. In his book, it does not seem that an evil or cruel behaviour is an intolerable one, as he modifies the moral language about vice and good. In the book, Machiavelli begins with his dedication to Lorenzo de' Medici and finishes it with an assertion that Italy must resuscitate and gain considerable power.

In chapter fifteen, Machiavelli indicated that "Many have imagined republics and principalities that have never been seen or known to exist in truth. For it is far from how one lives to how one should live. That he who lets go of what is done for what should be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation" (p. 54). The passage suggests to the Plato's Republic, in which he reports that the philosopher kings should govern society. The governors have to be good and just and they must help their subjects to maintain the purity of their souls and also be good. In the Prince, "a ruler should read historical works, especially for the light they shed on the actions of eminent men to impersonate some well-known man, worthy of praise and glory" (p. 51).

Though, Machiavelli is concerned with an actual truth of the matter and not the ideal of it. He compares a prince to a prophet, which does not essentially mean that he has celestial knowledge; instead it gives them exceptional responsibilities like law making and shaping opinions that govern our lives. Thus, Machiavelli's visionary, prince has philosopher's features as he tries to change human opinion over the justice and evil. He acts as if he is good, but does not have to be good. To support his conclusions, Machiavelli emerged with extreme examples such as Romulus' and Cain's murders of Remus and Abel reverentially. These murders were the fundaments of the societies and, therefore, the philosopher asserts that no good is possible without evil. Thus, he redefines Plato's philosophies of the philosopher kings who approach pure reason to be good and just. On the contrary, Machiavelli gives examples of extraordinary situations and draws the morality that would flawlessly fit the situation.

Machiavelli's book also differentiates itself on the subject of free will. Medieval and Renaissance philosophers often looked to religion or ancient authors for clarifications of plagues, famines, invasions, and other catastrophes. They considered the actual deterrence of such disasters to be beyond the range of human power. In The Prince, when Machiavelli claims that people have the ability to safeguard themselves against hardship, he articulates an astonishing confidence in the power of human self-determination and confirms his belief in free will as opposed to divine fortune.

Since they were first published, Machiavelli's ideas have been overgeneralised and disparaged. His political thought is usually and unethically defined solely in terms of The Prince. The adjective "Machiavellian" is used to mean "manipulative," "deceptive," or "ruthless." But Machiavelli's Discourses, a work substantially longer and more developed than The Prince, expounds republican subjects of patriotism, civic virtue, and open political participation.

For Machiavelli, the capacity for such acts is not an aberration of the political art, but an essential part of a ruler's "skill set." Such stark realism and the hard break with the Classical-Christian tradition has led many to denounce Machiavelli as an "immoralist," an "advisor to tyrants," and a "teacher of evil." Others have defended the Prince for its author's realistic appraisal of politics, shrewd psychological insights, and tough-minded advice for a dangerous world.

Machiavelli also composed several minor works such as shorter political and historical texts, poetry and plays. The most important of these is the Art of War, a dialogue on military affairs. The Life of Castruccio Castracani is stimulating as a literary model for the Florentine Histories. In his poetry as well as his correspondence, there are alternative formulations of some of the views, he presents in his two major political works. The Urging to Penitence, one of his last writings, is a discourse and thus creates inquisitiveness among Machiavelli's political writings.

There are numerous grounds for Machiavelli's moral indifferences. These are mentioned below:

  1. Machiavelli does not believe in any ethical doctrines or in any divine law because of intentional segregation of politics from religion.
  2. In Machiavelli's thinking, moral judgments are wholly subordinate to the existence of political and temporal existence and welfare.
  3. Machiavelli considered that the institution of Papacy brought decline and destruction to the magnificence of Rome. He wanted to practice pagan virtues of cunningness, duplicity and knavery for achieving successful goals.
  4. Machiavelli did not at all refute the brilliance of moral virtues, but he snubbed to accept them essential to the political stability. He pleads that the religion must be skilfully exploited as a useful defence to achieve the annexing designs by the sovereign.
  5. Machiavelli stands bravely for the preservation of his state. He stated that there must be no consideration of what is just or unjust, merciful or cruel, glorious or shameful; on the contrary, everything must be overlooked.
  6. He communicated priority to the state and puts it above morality and religion, because it is the highest form of social organization and the most essential of all institutions for the protection and promotion of human welfare.
  7. Machiavelli's support of unreligious and his indifference to morality have become so much interrupted that even his name has become a by-word for fraud, force and dishonesty. He wrote primarily for the adoration of the state.

In contemporary world, some of the States Heads performed as "Prince of Machiavelli" by freezing all channels of human progress and liberty and also by reducing the citizens to that of animals and slaves. The Prince and the Discourses are still modern theories and are being practiced in many secular countries of modern phase.

During the last 500 years, The Prince has been a choice of several political leaders, like Louis XIV, Napoleon Bonaparte and Benito Mussolini. Because of the purely technical lessons, one can learn from the book. It is beneficial to all politicians no matter what their ideologies are. This may have contributed to the popular conviction that the book is just a manual on how to gain power by any means necessary, with no regard to how you should use that power. This is the Shakespearean view of the man as the "murderous Machiavel".

There is also the long tradition of construing Machiavelli's works as patriotic appeals. The idea can be found in Hegel, and during the 19th century Italian Risorgimento. Machiavelli was known as an important early supporter of Italian unity.

Many thinker observed in the Discourses the seeds of modern republicanism. Jean-Jacques Rousseau even puts forth the theory that in the Discourses Machiavelli presents his true, republican view, while The Prince is an ironic work. But it is said that Machiavelli's republicanism is not based mainly on moral principles, but also on amoral considerations: a republic is simply a more powerful and enduring political and military mechanism.

Actually, The Discourses on Livy is often labelled as Machiavelli's "book on republics," but this is not completely true. The Discourses provides a different viewpoint on politics. The work is a defence of republics, as the best form of government for preserving liberty and security because power is shared between the lower and upper class. "There should never be an institution which allows the few to decide on any matter which in the ordinary course of things is essential to the maintenance of the commonwealth" (The Discourses, I, 50). He does focus on republics, ancient and modern, but he also debates monarchies or princedoms. Conversely, his advice in the Prince is often relevant to leaders of republics. There is, however, a tension between the republicanism of the Discourses and the autocracy of the Prince, for the same author who champions the cause of liberty and self-government in the former gives advice on preserving one-man rule in the latter. It is possible to find a common thread in Machiavelli's mode of analysis (realist and historical) and to view the Prince as a special example of his political science and the Discourses as the core of this science, as well as the heart of his political dogma. Presently, Machiavelli of the Discourses has gained the attention of scholars for revitalising the republican custom in the modern world.

Machiavelli's inheritance is the sturdiest in political science. Many essayists have claimed that his goal was to comprehend and explain political phenomena in scientific terms. Although this is a contentious statement about his true aims, his influence on political science is undisputable. In Machiavellian belief, Christianity should not restrain any political activity. The matters of government should be solely secular. The philosopher strives to create a new type of republic, which would deal only with practical issues and without asserting any mystical moral law. Famous scholar Steven Smith proclaimed that "not only did Machiavelli bring a new worldliness to politics, he also introduced a new kind of populism as Plato and Aristotle imagined aristocratic republics that would invest power in an aristocracy of education and virtue, Machiavelli deliberately seeks to enlist the power of the people against aristocracies of education and virtue." To maintain such state, the republic has to have imperialistic ambitions and subsequently be belligerent.

Outlook towards Religion:

The innovation in Machiavelli's writings was his attitude towards religion and morality which differentiated from all those who headed him. He was sarcastic in his attack on the church and its church for their failure to provide moral aspiration. He wrote thus: We Italians then owe to the Church of Rome and her priests our having become irreligious and bad, but we owe her a still greater debt and one that will be the cause of our ruin, namely that the church has kept and still keeps our country divided.

Machiavelli was anti-church and anti-clergy, but not anti-religion. He measured religion as essential not only for man's social life but also for the health and affluence of the state. It was important within a state because of the influence it exercised over political life in general. Machiavelli's boldness towards religion was strictly utilitarian. It was a social force; it played a crucial role because it appealed to the self-centredness of man through its principle of reward and punishment, thereby inducing proper behaviour and good conduct that was necessary for the well-being of a society. Religion determined the social and ethical standards and values that directed human conduct and actions. William Ebenstein proclaimed that Machiavelli's opinions on morals and religion exemplify his belief in the authority of power over other social values. He has so sense of religion as a deep personal experience, and the mystical element in religion, its supernatural and supranational character is alien to his attitude. Yet he has a positive attitude toward religion; although his religion becomes a tool of influence and control in the hands of the ruler over the ruled. Machiavelli visualizes in religion the poor man's reason, ethics, and morality put together and 'where religion exists it is easy to introduce armies and discipline'.

When appraising his theoretical dogma, it is demonstrated that Machiavelli's political theories were not created in a systematic manner; they were mostly in the form of remarks upon particular situations. Prof. Sabine stated that the 'character of Machiavelli and the true meaning of his philosophy have been one of the paradoxes of modern history.

He has been represented as an utter cynic, and impassioned patriot, an ardent nationalist, a political Jesuit, a convinced democrat, and unscrupulous seeker after the favour of despots. In each of their views, incompatible as they are, there is probably an element of truth. Other political philosophers drew their inspiration and further developed solid and most important political notions such as the concept of the state and its true meaning from Machiavelli. As Prof. Sabine has indicated, "Machiavelli more than any other political thinker created the meaning that has been attached to the state in modern political usage".

Machiavelli is considered as the father of modern political theory and political science. Apart from conjecturing about the state, he also given meaning to the concept of sovereignty. Machiavelli's position was in providing an outlook that accepted both secularisation and a moralisation of politics. He took politics out of context of theology, and subordinated moral and subordinated moral philosophies to the necessities of political existence and people's welfare. The absence of religious arguments in Machiavelli led the theorists who followed to challenging issues like order and power in strictly political terms. Thus Machiavelli was the first who gave the idea of secularism. The Machiavellian state is to begin within a complete sense, and entirely secular state. Machiavelli was the first rationalist or realist in the history of political thought. His technique and approach to problems of politics were guided by common sense and history. His ideas were ground-breaking in nature and substance and he brought politics in line with political practice. By empathising the importance of the study of history, Machiavelli recognized a method that was extremely beneficial. Gramsci acclaimed the greatness of Machiavelli for separating politics from ethics. In the 'Prison Notebooks' there were a number of references to Machiavelli, and Gramsci indicated that the protagonist of the new prince in modern times could not be an individual hero, but a political party whose objective was to establish a new kind of state, though critical of the church and Christianity.

To summarize, Machiavelli's political doctrine is discerning especially in those situations where there is unpredictability or substantial change. He is known to be a transitional figure standing midway between the medieval and modern political thought. He was a historian who laid the foundations of a new science of politics by assimilating contemporary history with ancient past. His famous writing is The Prince, a playbook, a manual of sorts, for leadership where government needs to be created or stabilized. Machiavelli is considered the first political theorist to reject Ancient viewpoint, which is characterized by happiness is goal, a well formed society like a beehive, everyone in their place and peaceful (Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, etc.), holistic philosophy including all facets of existence, ontology and nature or Gods who control fate of humanity.

He has had an amazingly immense influence on modern civilization. Firstly, Machiavelli's opinions on politics and political leaders effected how future political leaders would run their countries. Furthermore, Machiavelli had also influence on the future of modern western civilization in comparison to the renaissance artists of his time.