Niccolo Machiavelli Was a Sixteenth Essay

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However, to interpret Machiavelli from this angle only would be to view his thoughts myopically. (Viroli, 1998) This is because the other piece of work that Machiavelli wrote at about the same time, the "Discourses on Livy" showed Machiavelli to be essentially a republican who perceived the state to be an autonomous and secular entity which depended upon mass support and human skills for its survival. According to a few present-day analysts, this particular book unlike "The Prince" is a decent as well as useful book which can serve as a guide for leaders, followers, nation-builders as well as reformers of republics on the ways and means by which freedom can be preserved and corruption avoided. His subsequent piece of work, "The Art of War," which outlined the strategies of statecraft and warfare, served as a source of inspiration to later generations of military thinkers like von Clausewitz, Napoleon and Frederick the Great. (Harris; Lock; Rees, 2000);

As per the Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophy, man, being a rational being, is inclined to achieve the perfect society or the state. Therefore, the positive aspects of the state, especially the morality factor, have to be drawn from this rational nature of man, and not from the reality of the real historic behavior of man. Like every other rational concept, even the concept of morality is an absolute truth which cannot change its nature even if it is disobeyed or violated. For instance, even if we accept the hypothesis that all men lie, the fact remains constant that the rational concept of lying is immoral. However, Machiavelli's philosophy does not hold this principle to be true due to the "immanentist principle" wherein the state has to be "considered in itself" regardless of any truth that may surpass it. (the Radical Academy, 2003)

However, there is a problem with interpreting Machiavelli only in the context of "The Prince" without reading the rest of his works which give a more balanced opinion of his intellect and political thinking. His style of writing is direct and never ceases to interest his readers. Most of what he had written is still readable and relevant in the current context. Many of the present day management gurus and teachers of business ethics, marketing and management still find Machiavelli's writings relevant. Of course, opinions differ on this issue. For example, Joe Badaracco and Jean Lipman-Blumen have advocated what may be termed as "denatured Machiavellian strategies" in their "quiet" and "connective" leadership approaches. This involves concentrating on oneself or on relationships in order to achieve what one wants to; computing how much of political capital is being jeopardized before confronting challenging problems; and exploiting people as well as processes in order to find solutions to group problems. Machiavelli urged his "prince" or an ideal leader to be unscrupulous if it resulted in an achievement of the goals of the state. According to Machiavelli's philosophy, a prince must seem to possess virtuous qualities like humanity, sincerity, or faithfulness but reckoned that it would be dangerous to observe them; however, it would still be useful to pretend to observe them. (Harris; Lock; Rees, 2000); (Raelin, 2003)

Now, one must interpret these dictums in view of the circumstances existing in those times. First of all, "The Prince," which is the main source of controversy regarding Machiavelli's political philosophy never caused any controversy during Machiavelli's lifetime. "The Prince" had been published after the death of Machiavelli; however, it was in wide circulation in manuscript form, even before his death. When it was finally published, Cardinal Reginald Pole strongly criticized it as a work of the devil and spoke of the dangers of it being utilized by unscrupulous rulers to discredit the "Respublica Christiana." The Cardinal also may have had some other motive in mind while denouncing Machiavelli and may have targeted Henry VIII who ran away from England to evade the "Reformation" and possible imprisonment. However, this denouncement resulted in the branding of Machiavelli as a villain and the birth of the "Machiavellian" mythology. All of Machiavelli's writings were condemned and put on the "Papal Index of prohibited books" during the year 1559. (Harris; Lock; Rees, 2000); ("Niccolo (di Bernardo) Machiavelli: 1469-1527," n. d.)

What many critics have not accounted for is the true intent of Machiavelli in separating politics from ethics in those turbulent times in Florentine political atmosphere. They have not tried to find an explanation for the transition of a passionately republican Machiavelli to an advocate of autocracy. Machiavelli, being a seasoned diplomat and public servant, was only too aware of the lurking dangers to Italian autonomy from Spanish and French dominion and realized the necessity of having a strong leader to save the state. Therefore, "The Prince" was not targeted for the general public but was meant as suggestions to the ruling Medici. Machiavelli felt that the immediate dangers that his state faced could be thwarted only by a shrewd leader like Cesare Borgia, whom he had met during his diplomatic days. Machiavelli believed that the common welfare of his people and state could only be resolved by a leader who could channelize his self-interest and leave behind the burden of ethics and morality in order to save the state from impending danger. ("Niccolo (di Bernardo) Machiavelli: 1469-1527," n. d.)

"The Prince" was only a pamphlet or a "handbook of conduct" meant to serve the needs of the monarchy for that period of time only. Machiavelli did not attempt to corrupt leaders or princes by teaching them unethical or unscrupulous practices but only attempted to reflect a very realistic view of what princes, exemplified by Borgia, practiced during those times. Pierre Bayle, a 17th century philosopher, aptly describes opposition to Machiavelli's supposed unethical philosophy as strange since instead of the popular notion that Machiavelli taught dangerous politics to princes, the truth is that "princes have taught Machiavelli what he has written." Modern day critics have also learnt to make the fundamental distinction between the writer's person and the subject matter of the book as well as the difference between political moment and moral moment, and moralistic generalities and technical approach. ("Niccolo (di Bernardo) Machiavelli: 1469-1527," n. d.)

Machiavelli never attempted to teach ethics or to be more precise, amorality or corruption. His actual intent was to preserve the liberty of his state via a strong prince whose ethical values would not hold him back from performing any kind of actions that may be needed to save the state. It is inconceivable that a person who could resist the terrible tortures during imprisonment without giving in to the designs of his captors could so easily break down his moral strength and compromise on his republican values by supporting evil intentions of an autocrat. Lord Macaulay also argued that it was incomprehensible how a "martyr of freedom" could have conceived the notion of acting as "the apostle of tyranny." He also maintained that the notoriety achieved by Machiavelli's supposedly unethical writings "belonged rather to the age than to the man." ("Niccolo (di Bernardo) Machiavelli: 1469-1527," n. d.) Some experts had even suggested that Machiavelli's true intention behind this particular work was to launch a disguised satiric attack which made oblique references to the tyrannical methods of the monarchy. ("Niccolo (di Bernardo) Machiavelli: 1469-1527," n. d.)

Experts who have examined Machiavelli's text as well as his life have pointed out the moral absurdity of his proposals. For example, Ian Johnston of Vancouver Island University has suggested that Machiavelli deliberately leaves a gaping break in the ethical structure of his works which is perhaps all the more evident in "The Prince" than in other works. Highlighting the disparity between Machiavelli's contemporary moral values and the proposed immoral activities was a satirical technique commonly used to drive home the point. For instance, Machiavelli's suggestion that "destroying cities is the only sure way of holding them" which means that the only way to retain one's power is to wipe out exactly that entity over which one desires to have power is illogical. This and many other such suggestions have been described as "reductio ad absurdum" -- but not so absurd if one views all these unethical or immoral suggestions from a satirical point-of-view for that is what the writings actually were. (Johnston, 2002)

Niccolo Machiavelli was an intensely intelligent and passionately republican man who considered the interests of his state to be above all issues but he probably did not compromise on the issue of ethics. To understand Machiavelli and the ethical significance of his works, one must examine them from the point-of-view of a patriot as well as a cynic and satirist. ("Niccolo (di Bernardo) Machiavelli: 1469-1527," n. d.); (Johnston, 2002)


Harris, Phil; Lock, Andrew; Rees, Patricia. (2000) "Machiavelli, marketing, and management" Routledge.

Johnston, Ian. (2002) "Lecture on Machiavelli's the Prince" Retrieved 8 April, 2009


Kemerling, Garth. (2006) "Niccolo Machiavelli: 1469-1527" Retrieved 8 April, 2009


Liukkonen, Petri;…[continue]

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