Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) was a born political scientist. He started his career as a civil servant and also proved his credentials as a first line diplomat. His political theory influenced numerous rulers and a number of political leaders tuned themselves to adhere to his advices. His philosophy still rules many rulers around the globe. For the sustenance of governance, a significant number of authoritative figures refer to his legendary work, The Prince even in the era of social rule and democracy. Machiavelli was also a seasoned play writer but his political thoughts overshadowed this aspect. His famous work that has secured a permanent place for him in the compilation of political theories is The Prince. The work is dedicated to his patron Duke Lorenzo di Piero de Medici. The Prince offers brief analysis of how to rule a state and contains a set of advices for the ruler.
Although it has been written with special reference to an Italian city-state that how it has to be ruled with success but its utility is beyond of that particular state and situation. The time period is late middle ages.
In The Prince, Machiavelli has confined himself to elaborate the technique of governance. His scope does not involve morality or religious beliefs. With the clarity of concept, he has persuaded the prince that how he has to emerge successful ignoring ethical aspects of rule. His advices are also worth noting on the tactics and strategies that enable a prince to establish his writ on the power. The Prince is full of valuable suggestions to the rulers for the achievement of desired objectives. Morality seems useless to Machiavelli in the attainment of goals. He recommends that a leader should employ the strength of the lion and the cunning of a fox. (p. 128)
The acceptance of the Machiavelli’s above advice will surely generate a controversy and the subjects might be divided into classes. One class will develop liking for the prince while the other will adopt the opposite course. Here Machiavelli argues that although it is desirable to be both loved and feared by one's subjects, it is difficult to achieve both, and of the two, Machiavelli declared, it is far safer for the ruler to be feared. Although The Prince was compiled for a selective audience but it has proved very useful for every ruler who wanted to rule with authority and total control. Machiavelli stated that The Prince is a gift to the newly installed ruler of Florence. He observed, “I have not found among my belongings anything that I might value more or prize so much as the knowledge of the deeds of great men, which I learned from a long experience in modern affairs and a continuous study of antiquity . . . [There] could not be a greater gift from me than to give you the means to be able, in a very brief time, to understand all that I, in many years and with many hardships and dangers, came to understand and to appreciate.” (Introduction)
Undoubtedly, Machiavelli was a genius political philosopher of his own class. He was a master of human nature and was very well versed with the laws of nature. His study and observation of the laws of nature can be judged from the following lines, he penned in The Prince. “I… believe that the man who adapts his course of action to the nature of the times will succeed and, likewise, that the man who sets his course of action out of tune with the times will come to grief.” (p. 160)
The prince should possess the ability to foresee and sense the problem that are likely to crop up in the future and should take all possible steps to avoid such circumstances. This suggestion is the most important one to the prince for seizing the opportunities with least efforts and to derive maximum benefit out of these. On the subject of human nature he noted that human nature is unchanging and essentially corrupt: "[One] can generally say this about men: that they are ungrateful, fickle, simulators and deceivers, avoiders of danger, greedy for gain."(p. 131)
Machiavelli advices to the prince are very practical and pragmatic. His central idea is that prince must exercise his strength in all favorable and unfavorable circumstances. For these arguments he has sliced the personal and public morality. He is of the view that the prince’s only virtue is his control rather his goodness. He believes in the far sightedness of the prince and his anticipative skill of the problems much before they prop up. To cope with certain undesirable circumstances, he advises the prince for the formation of organized army with the remarks that the prince should ably lead the forces. He is deadly against the mercenaries and says, “He who holds his State by means of mercenary troops can never be solidly or securely seated. For such troops are disunited, ambitious, insubordinate, treacherous, insolent among friends, cowardly before foes, and without fear of God or faith with man. Whenever they are attacked defeat follows, so that in peace you are plundered by them, in war by your enemies. And this because they have no tie or motive to keep them in the field beyond their paltry pay”. (p. 95)
Since the modern state is too complex to be managed by any single human being, the effective ruler will naturally need to have advisors who assist him in governance. The prince must possess an extraordinary ability to select his subordinates and this selection speaks of his good leadership capabilities. Good, honest and loyal companions guarantee a smooth running of the government and hence, strengthen the rule of the prince. According to Machiavelli “good counsels, whence so ever they come, are born of the wisdom of the prince and not the wisdom of the prince from good counsels”. In a steady and peaceful environment, he emphasized, on the role of ministers and handing over a golden piece of advice to the prince. “When you see a Minister thinking more of himself than of you, and in all his actions seeking his own ends, that man can never be a good Minister or one that you can trust…to keep his Minister good, the Prince should be considerate of him, dignifying him, enriching him, binding him to himself by benefits, and sharing with him the honors as well as the burthens”. (p.164) The good subordinates are also entitled to rewards of honor, wealth, and power. The prince should keep himself away from flatterers and associates who give him wrong advice.
Machiavelli is also aware of the fact that hatred towards prince can ignite certain problems. The price should take step that elevate his personal image and reputation among the people and win their goodwill. He advices the prince saying, “As Princes cannot escape being hated by some, they should, in the first place, endeavor not to be hated by a class; failing in which, they must do all they can to escape the hatred of that class which is stronger”. (p. 139) He recommends that the prince should avoid to be hated by his people in order to shun the possibilities of any plans against him. “One of the most efficacious (effective, powerful) remedies that a prince can have against conspiracies is not to be hated and despised by the people”. This is advised to protect the prince in case of any hardships of problems and to ensure him the support of his people. “A prince to have the people friendly, otherwise he has no security in adversity”.
Machiavelli however, is of the view that the prince should empower any one in his jurisdiction to a certain limited extant. It is advisable because if he gives more power to somebody, he is likely to be threat to his own authority as he says, “he who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined”. In other words, “A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savor of it.”
In chapter 25 of The Prince, Machiavelli talks about fortune and terms it as a woman. “Because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity (bold, daring) command her.”
The rulers must seem to be generous while spending their money wisely, appear to be compassionate while ruling their armies cruelly, and act with great cunning while cultivating a reputation for integrity. Although it is desirable to be both loved and feared by one's subjects, it is difficult to achieve both, and of the two, Machiavelli declared, it is far safer for the ruler to be feared. A prince should concentrate on making himself a good and successful ruler and not a better human being. He advises the price not to remain neutral in a war between two neighbors but should take side with one or the other. “Declare yourself, and join in frankly with one side or other. For should you fail to do so you are certain…to become the prey of the victor to the satisfaction and delight of the vanquished…for the victor dislikes doubtful friends, and such as will not help him in a pinch; and the vanquished will have nothing to say to you, since you would not share his fortunes sword in hand”. (p. 159)
He further suggests that the prince should discourage mass political activities and divert the energies of his subjects into private recreations. Similarly, the army should be remained engaged in some activities to save the ruler from their interference. He permits the prince for use of violence in coping with his political enemies. In case if the prince wants to eliminate his rival, he should go for mass-level elimination and not for one on a smaller scale. The philosophy behind this is that if the prince kills or harms a single person, the relatives are likely to take revenge at an appropriate time. In case he eliminates the entire family, then no one is left for retribution. According to Machiavelli, man is basically bad in nature and thus is treated in a worst way to keep him under control. The prince should not make himself a prisoner of human moralities but take a strict notice of the people inside his jurisdiction. Laws are always not sufficient to rule and control men and thus, the prince should not hesitate in using force to rule. Also in case of necessity, the subjects could be made to obey or believe certain commands of the ruler by force as he holds, “is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force.” He further says, “For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavor of them may last longer.”
Machiavelli believes and teaches the prince that the purpose of political power is to maintain himself and his rule and extend it. He should not bother himself for the welfare of his subjects. The subjects are meant for his service and not the price is supposed to work for their benefits. He should not bind himself in any principle or stick to moralities or care for right or wrong in his dealings. His main goal should be to remain in power and exercise absolute authority for his own absolute interests. For him everything thing is fair that keep him in power and strengthen his rule. An “ideal” prince is thus an amoral and calculating tyrant who would be able to establish a unified state.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. “The Prince”, Translation: Hill Thompson. Norwalk: The Easton Press, 1980.