Machiavelli, is he really the villain we all think he is?
"Everyone sees what you appear to be; few really know what you are" Born in Florence in 1469, Niccolò di Bernado Machiavelli grew up in an Italy dominated by many works of history and philosophy, most noticeably an entire tradition of artistic
“Everyone sees what you appear to be; few really know what you are”
Born in Florence in 1469, Niccolò di Bernado Machiavelli grew up in an Italy dominated by many works of history and philosophy, most noticeably an entire tradition of artistic works known as “mirrors for princes” that almost acted as manuals for those attempting to formulate a government that is justly and virtuously run. Machiavelli noted that nice princes and statesmen may have tried to act well and have good ends reached by good means. They would conquer the world by persuasion rather than intimidation, and would be kind rather than ruthless, in the face of their enemy. Charitable princes always wanted to win people over through niceties.
Sounds great, right..?
Wrong, nice guys finish last.
As well as being something that was, as proved by Machiavelli, wrong to assume effective and ideal – being a “nice guy” brought only failure and inefficiency. In Machiavellian Italy, being a nice guy could lead to a severe loss in profits as a merchant.
Prince of a ruling family…?
You would probably be murdered.
You would be stomped out by a far more wicked, less-principled, bedazzling, distracting and, even, seductive leader, who would merely utter the words “we in Italy are as we are” before sending you to Heaven. It should then come, as no surprise, that Machiavelli knew where our counterproductive addiction to acting “nice” came from. This would be the man whose gentle soul was trampled upon, humiliated, disregarded and mocked.
Jesus of Nazareth, of course.
The man who always treated people well. The King of Kings. The Ruler of Eternity. There was one small problem. This was a man whose life was practically an outright disaster. Unfortunately, during a time of the European Wars over Religion, both sides found him, frankly, blasphemous. Both Catholics and Protestants found both him and his work, “The Prince”, nothing less than a diabolic work that inspired acts of violence. The two sides thought their opponents’ tyranny was a result of this work.
Throughout history, there has only been one word to sum up a character that many loved to hate; a character that, for centuries, has been known as the schemer for whom the ends always justify the means. That word is, “Machiavellian”.
Before he knew it, his name was used by Shakespeare to denote the most immoral opportunist of men. The “Machiavellian” character.
Keep up the perception of virtues, principles, honesty and generosity, as long as you are willing to abandon them as soon as one’s interests are threatened. It is this idea that complements the quote:
“It is much safer to be feared than loved.”
However, should we take examine further, we begin to understand that The Prince was not a guide to being a tyrant, but a book guiding nice people as to how the minds of tyrants work. It is then we begin to realise how criminally misunderstood this writer really was.
When we think of The Prince and all of Machiavelli’s assumptions, we need to take the reality of his time into account. Italy was divided into city-states, regularly warring each other. In addition, international forces such as the French, Germans and Spaniards were constantly invading Italy. What people needed at the time was a uniting force which could bring warring Italians together and could fight the invading forces. That’s why Machiavelli wrote The Prince and proposed it to the ruling elite. He also wrote the book in an attempt to make the ruling family of Florence cut his exile short once they returned to power and believed he was a significant figure part of the coup that ousted them in the first place.
Many find that Machiavelli’s Prince lacks morality and freedom, but what he proposed was an answer to the difficulties Italy had at the point. His thoughts are still applicable and very much rehearsed to this day, although we may not see it. Medieval strategies are still polished in certain social orders today.
We have many a Machiavellian leader today, and we are certain to have many more.