I will examine two of Machiavelli’s main texts, Niccolò Machiavelli Discourses on Livy and Machiavelli’s The Prince. Throughout this essay I will examine his many views on the relationship between the state and society, and will provide analysis exploring Machiavelli’s key thoughts and views. Machiavelli has a strong viewpoint on the concept of human nature. … Read more
Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, Peter Constantine, Great Britain, Vintage, 96. Machiavelli’s The Prince is a concise treatise initially interpreted as a handbook to leaders about how to maintain or gain power in a region. The 26 Chapter book goes on to discuss: principalities, armies and military leaders, the expected characteristics of a Prince, and the … Read more
The philosophical ideas of both Socrates and Machiavelli share similarities and differences. These men helped expand political idealism through their values and morals. Both political theorists changed the way people think and have had a significant impact on political thought throughout the past few centuries. Socrates and Machiavelli contributed remarkably to political discussions of their … Read more
In his works, The Prince and The Discourses, Machiavelli analyzes the importance of religion to the construction and preservation of political authority. Machiavelli states that religion is crucial to the formation of political authority and that leaders should encourage and endorse religion in order to maintain their power. While examining Machiavelli’s view of religion in … Read more
Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan marks the genesis of the artificial political entity that is the Hobbesian commonwealth, with a social covenant as its efficient cause. Hobbes claims that this all-powerful commonwealth that he baptizes the Leviathan (as an allusion to the biblical beast) is the ultimate escape from a state where people have unlimited rights, but … Read more
In many presidential speeches, propaganda is used to sell or propose ideas to the citizens of their country. In speeches like Hitler’s “War Propaganda,” or speeches by Goering, Machiavelli, and Bernay, many propaganda techniques are used that could be compared to the speeches from a more present time. Franklin D. Roosevelts, “Arsenal of Democracy” is … Read more
When reflecting on premodern political thought and modern political thought, the biggest difference between the two is the idea of who is fit to lead and the concept of idealism versus realism. This is evident in how the philosophers view the rights of the everyday people within society. Overtime the philosophers have leaned farther away … Read more
Niccolo Machiavelli a political philosopher who wrote “The Prince” has a unique relationship with the subject that he wrote about. Machiavelli wrote his book as a manual on leadership and governing during the late Italian Renaissance. The book was also served as a handbook for the rulers. Niccolo says that he was not interested in … Read more
The modern political theorists do not always play by the rules. Today, the democratic credentials of contentious politics are highly indecisive although some political scholars believe that this type of politics tends to have insufficient respect for the democratic decision. Arguably however, the main tasks of any state include provision of security, development of a … Read more
The Prince by Machiavelli and A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de Las Casas are two distinct books that give accounts of nation-building, power, and the molarity or ruling by giving an insight into what motivates one person to dominate or rule another. The text A Short Destruction of The … Read more
About Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat, author, philosopher and historian who lived during the Renaissance. Born in 1469, he is well known for his political treatise ‘The Prince’ (Il Principe) which he wrote about 1513 and which was later published in 1532. Machiavelli is often called the father of modern political philosophy and political science.
About ‘The Prince’
In The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli recommends it is necessary that a new prince win the support of the populace. In this overview, I begin by exploring the militaristic benefits a Prince gains when he has the support of the people. I then proceed to demonstrate why the support of the elites offers little protection for the Prince’s power. Additionally, I will investigate how the populace’s support benefits the Prince’s power. A central theme that will be explored here is the strategic imperative a Prince has to win the support of the populace. To conclude, I will argue Machiavelli posits a Prince needs the support of the populace to maintain political power.
A good prince ought to win the support of the populace because he will need to rely on them during times of military conflict. Machiavelli states a ruler “should pay attention to nothing aside for war military institutions and the training of his soldiers” (533). Emphasis should be placed on the words “his soldiers,” Machiavelli means a ruler’s army should be comprised of his citizens. He says mercenary troops only postpone defeat and wish to collect a paycheck (529). In addition, Auxiliary troops are no better because if they lose, the ruler is the one who is defeated, and if they win a ruler is beholden to them (531). Citizens will be willing to defend their Prince as long as he doesn’t oppress them (525). This is a mutually beneficial exchange for both the prince and his people. The prince will have an army that will defend his rule, and the people will have a prince who does not commit wrongdoings against them. Machiavelli stresses that even if a ruler takes power with the support of the “elite and against the wishes of the populace” he “must win the populace over to his side” (525). A state will not be secure if a ruler governs in the interests of the elite because they want “to order about and oppress the populace” (525). It is within the best interest of the ruler he keeps his populace content “for otherwise he has nothing to fall back on in times of adversity” (526). This phenomenon clearly recognizes it is the support of his people that gives a Prince his power. If people view him as illegitimate, he cannot command the military and expect people to participate. Therefore, it is not an aspirational decree when Machiavelli says a ruler ought to win over the populace, it is strategically essential for a ruler to treat his people well so he can be seen as legitimate and have his people follow his directives in times of need.
A prince ought to win the support of his people to portray his strength to potential adversaries. In Chapter 10, Machiavelli explores how a ruler’s strength should be measured, a critical factor to his strength is the support of his people. As we know, the support of his people allows him to raise a dependable army. In addition, given that the Prince has not set out to make enemies, having the support of his people will make potential adversaries reluctant to attack (527). In the event, another state was able to conquer the Prince’s free state it would be difficult to administer. In Chapter 6, Machiavelli explains it is not worth taking control of a formerly free state. The citizen’s memories of their “former freedom give them no rest, no peace” (517). It would be a major security issue for the conquering state to take hold of a group of people that harbors so much animosity. Machiavelli says “the best thing[for the conquering state] to do is to demolish them” (517). Pragmatically speaking if a conqueror destroyed an acquired former free republic, that wasn’t a security threat to begin with, there would not be much benefit left for the conquerors. What will they do with a city in ruins and with no people? Therefore, a ruler’s benevolence will make his people dissatisfied under conqueror. A wise enemy would leave the republic alone because annexation of the republic would never be sound, and obliterating the republic would add little gains. Once again this dynamic proves to be mutually beneficial. The people’s loyalty to the Prince is contingent on his benevolence to his people. This loyalty when observed by potential foreign adversaries dissuades them from attacking the state which protects both the well being of the people and the rule of the Prince.
A ruler should earn the support of the populace because support of the elite offers few benefits. Machiavelli writes in Chapter 19, within a state, a ruler should fear his subjects (540). The statement is reminiscent of Republican ideals, in particular, popular sovereignty. A ruler should fear his subjects because his power derives from them. If he is hated, he is powerless if he is supported he is powerful. The benefits of having their support can prevent conflicts such as conspiracies. Conspirators will not attempt to commit an act against the ruler because they know it will anger the people (540). Nobels cannot offer this protection to a prince simply because they are few of them. If a conspirator were to murder a prince who is supported by nobles, one can predict Machiavelli would say all the conspirator must do is murder the Prince’s allied nobles to remove any threats. In Chapter 9, he cites the example of Nabias, a Spartan ruler, when faced with danger all Nabias had to do “was neutralize a few” (526). Machiavelli notes if Nabias had the “populace opposed to him, this would have been insufficient” (526). In addition, he might cite the overthrowing the Contessa of Forli, whose people joined forces with the invader, as an example of how the people might support the overthrow of a Prince (546). Additionally, the outnumbering of the populace in comparison to the elite corroborates with his assertion in Chapter 18 that “the elite are powerless if the masses have someone to provide them with leadership” (539). In fact, a Prince is essentially powerless if his rule is derived from the elite. In this case, the elite view themselves as “equals” with the Prince, therefore the Prince cannot “order about or manipulate” the elite as he wishes (525). In essence, the Prince becomes a figurehead. One can hypothesize, the expected abuses committed by the elite to the masses will reflect on the Prince and ferment even more animosity between the Prince and the populace. In looking at Machiavelli’s distrust of the elite we see that a Prince aligning himself with the people isn’t a normative mission, but rather the best option a Prince has to maintain his rule. It is true a mutually beneficial relationship is set up between the people and the Prince, but this appears to be strategically necessary rather than a normative goal. I will expound upon this idea later on.
Machiavelli believes a Prince should care about the populace to advance his power. In essence, the support of the populace is a necessary strategic gain for the Prince rather than aspirational or altruistic. In several passages, he describes the nature of man as contemptible. For example in Chapter 18, he says people are simple-minded, their care for immediate concerns will inevitably “let themselves be deceived” (538). He also describes the goodness a prince should possess as disingenuous. A prince “must seem, to those who listen to him and watch him, entirely pious, truthful, reliable, sympathetic and religious” (539). The phrase “must seem” should be underscored, as it explains a Prince’s benevolence to the people is only a mere appearance. He contends there are times where a Prince must do wrong to remain in power. However, a Prince that he should not worry about going against his word because “the common man accepts external appearances and judges by the outcome” (539). Doing what is necessary to maintain power and presenting the image of good might seem contradictory, but Machiavelli attributes the simpleness of common man as a reason for why these goals are not conflicting. For example, in Chapter 19, he says the two things that make a Prince contemptible amongst his subjects are taking their property and their wives (539). As long as the simple needs of the populace are taken care of, a Prince does not have to worry about the in-between wrongs he commits because the people will still be satisfied with their outcomes.
Those who say Machiavelli believed in Republican ideals, I agree because it is clear Machiavelli acknowledges the populace holds power. He displays the populace’s support as essential for maintaining power within a state but also in light of external conflicts. To my mind, however, I believe Machiavelli seeks to strategize how a Prince could take advantage in a Republican society. He realizes Republicanism doesn’t exist in a vacuum; its effectiveness must be considered in light of the nature of man. It is important to underscore the wants of the common man aren’t overly ambitious. In fact, Machiavelli ridicules those who are ambitious, says they threaten the Prince and advise
they should be neutralized. If the general populace holds all the power in society, but their wants are unambitious it makes sense to satisfy their simple demands because they will not act on the full potential of their power. This means, the populace could demand more than their basic wants and needs if a plurality became ambitious. A smart Prince will realize the potential of the populace’s power and meet their basic needs to quell them. Something not discussed by Machiavelli is the disparity between the Prince and the common man. How much more could the common man collectively demand from the Prince? Hence, I contend Machiavelli recognized the existence of Republicanism; however, I believe he sought to devise a strategy to manoeuvre a Republican state so the Prince can be the primary benefactor.