Machiavelli’s literature continues to be taught, admired, and studied over the centuries. This is especially seen in his book called, The Prince, which gives unique insight of power and politics. He provides a different understanding of legislature and republican government that is defined and described in historical context. This includes different forms of politics such as styles of government, warfare, historical politics, characteristics of leaders, and state humiliation. Living in 16th century Italy Machiavelli was influenced by the political movements of Florence and ancient Rome. In this environment, he developed a distinct theory of government in his use of lessons, analysis, and satire. Through his writing and experience, Machiavelli’s theory for republican states gives assistance in creating a more healthy and balanced government.
Machiavelli used the, The Prince, as a platform to analyze the “moralist view of authority” (Nederman). In 16th century Europe there was little structure to provide a leader a compass of moral judgment. Weather this is a president, dictator, or king, rulers must always have the best interest of the state and the people at heart. Traditionally, leaders gather their information and advice from counselors and administrators. It was a common practice of ancient Rome and modern Florence. However, most leaders have the authority to do as they want with their own political agenda in mind. Machiavelli understands the political tangle between individual desires, the desire of constituents, and the wants and needs of the state. Morality, “reflects the self-conscious political realism of an author who is fully aware… that goodness and right are not sufficient to win and maintain political office” (Nederman). In this way, Machiavelli attempts to instruct leaders how to be fair and just rulers. This is how a leader must effectively and appropriately use his power and apply it to maintain the security of both the citizens and the state. .
Machiavelli was born in the late 1400’s and lived unto the mid 1500’s. During this time his state of Florence Italy was a republican government. It was the government in place during his life that, “affected his thoughts and intentions” (Najemy 144). Machiavelli was well educated and worked as a government clerk. As a diplomat, he was in contact with different government styles and political leaders such as the Pope Julius II and King Louis XII (Nederman). It gave him firsthand experience and knowledge on politics and leadership. This includes insight into what it means to have an effective government and what this should look like. Yet, at the turn of the century Florence had lost its political power and the republic was at an end. In this political environment he wrote his most famous piece, The Prince, while the government was under the strain of political warfare. It encouraged Machiavelli’s desire to create stronger, new, and reformed republic that represented a government united. In his work he applied similar political concepts of the Roman Republic which is known as a true Republican state (Nederman). Despite the intentions his work did not gain popularity in his life time, instead he created controversy. Other works continued to captivate the image of republican government such as Dell’arte della Guerra (The Art of War) where he emphasizes Republican ideals. Through his literature on politics and government, Machiavelli provides “a fundamental principle of international law and good governance” (Harris 1138).
Machiavelli lived before government styles familiar today such as democracy, socialism, or communism. As a result, Machiavelli was most influenced by politics and government observed both before and during his time. Most of his theories derive from ancient Rome and the Roman republic. Thus, “Machiavelli followed the legacy of republican Rome and of the medieval and Renaissance city-republics of Italy in developing his republican concept” (Vujadinovic 40). The republican government observed by Machiavelli is much different from how it is understood today. Republican politics was of little use throughout early history as most states ruled by monarchy, where leaders are born and not made. The republican government is often identified by the lack of a monarchy. Leaders are created through wisdom, experience, and accolades, versus by heritage or linage. Instead, the republic or res republica is translated to mean the “common wealth”. This has “came to be used in English as denoting kingless government” (Najemy 144).
The state of Italy lost its republican government due to internal conflicts. These occurred between major city-states like Florence, Naples, Milan, and Venice. Each city wanted control of the government and other territories such as the Holy land. It is assumed that the title, The Prince has a double meaning. It not only illustrates the title of leadership and how a leader should rule over his government, but also suggest the book was written for the standing Price, Lorenzo de’Medici. It was Medici who was eventually over thrown by the Spanish army who “brought a collapse of Medici government in Florence” (Klosko, 10). This not only demonstrates the lack of leadership in Medici but also the weak Republican government in Italy. This stuck a nerve in Machiavelli who thrived in his political work. It allowed him the space to develop ideas and theories on government he observed in his experience. “Throughout the Middle ages, European politics was heavily influenced by two great supra-national institutions, the Church and the Holy Roman Empire, which impinged upon other political bodies”, (Klosko 10). The religious influence gave Machiavelli a new understanding the republic. He realized that independence from the Church’s influence was necessary to establish and maintain a just republic. .
When reading the ideas and themes found in The Prince, it is important to note the tone and context. It is difficult to understand the difference between political science and political satire seen throughout the book (Mattingly). Written in prose and full of images, symbols, and overtones, this makes the text compelling to both philosophers and political leaders. However, it is difficult to decide the context of this words and statements. An example can be seen in the Prince, he is a ruler, a person of authority and power. Although the Prince holds an important title and responsibility, the qualities and characteristics of the Prince are not signs of good leadership. This can be seen when the Prince is, “excused from violence and deception” (Machiavelli 11). Violence and deception must only be used in acts or war and circumstances of national security. Machivelli’s Prince does not represent honesty and bravery. It goes against the many assumptions that people hold against leaders causing some readers to question the context.
The first line of The Prince states, “all states, all powers, that have held and hold rule over men have been and are either republics or principalities… I will leave out the discussion on republics” (Machiavelli 15-16). This statement can be taken in two different ways. If taken as satire or sarcasm, it shows the high regard Machiavelli has for the republican government. It can also mean that principalities can be the downfall of a state. Regardless of how the statement is perceived, Machiavelli encourages others to measure the quality of the state by the context of its government and politics.
Machiavellian Relationship between Government and Religion. Due to the failed political government observed throughout Italy, Machiavelli disagreed with the relationship between the church and the state (Klosko 11). In many ways, he observed the church as a nuisance to the state and held little trust for counselors and advisors to the King. “The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him” (Machiavelli 24). Advisors can give the wrong advice, putting their own interests, wills, and wants first. This allows the King to be easily manipulated and influenced through the misuse and abuse of counsel. This can lead the King down a periless agenda that goes against the needs of citizens. Machiavelli recognized human nature and motivations, putting little trust in absolute power. “No advisor is antecedently trustworthy. Advisors, as do all human beings, will be inclined to pursue their own interest” (Belliotti 90). The government Machiavelli envisioned was much different from the government of the state. A great and long lasting government does not require a large military force, wealth, territory, or power. Machiavelli theorized that when states fought for more things such as land or wealthy, this fight eventually ends in defeat. In his mind, these desires created a government that was weak to their desires. “Machiavelli’s measure of success is the grandeur of a relatively enduring expansionist government, best illustrated in the Roman Republic” (Belliotti 89).
“Within a nation, we were told, conventional morality should be upheld, but not among nations where the law of the jungle prevails” (Hulliung 18). Morality and religion are significant themes found in The Prince. This can be seen in the historical context of the piece and the special relationship religion plays in government. This is even true today. Many of the laws in place can also be found in religious text. These include laws like murder, rape, and theft. In addition, justice is also found in both religion and in politics. For this reason, laws do not only address issues of morality but also address “political goals that were religious in nature” (Klosko 14). As such, Machiavelli encouraged the separation between church and state. This removed from the government the religious agenda of a leader. It also ensures that a ruler does not go against his religion or the religion of the government. Keeping these separate the leader can only focus on what is important. This is to maintain the safety and continuity of the state. To put religion in the forefront is to undermine the needs and wants of the government. Focusing on being a good model for Christ, this may include forgiving others, providing pardons, and putting the interest of others before the interest of the government. “Men in general judge more by the sense of sight than by the sense of touch… everyone sees what you seem to be, few know what you really are; and those few do not dare take a stand against the general opinion” (Machiavelli 7).
Machiavelli and Civil Liberties. Machiavelli begins his book by citing that, “when states are acquired in a country differing in language, customs, or laws, there are difficulties and good fortune and great energy are needed to hold them” (Machiavelli 18). Here, the author emphasizes the hard work and determinations that is required in order to gain and maintain a government. Weather this is a new territory or an old one, much time and consideration should be applied. Machiavelli offers different forms of advice to address this issue. He not only encourages rulers to live in their new states, but also encourages officials to make friends and create a following among citizens. Of course, Machiavelli uses the Roman Empire as an example. It can be seen in the Roman conquest as they sent generals and other officials. These people did not rape or pillage the land. Instead they, “sent colonies and maintained friendly relations with the minor powers without increasing their strength; they keep down the greater, and did not allow any strong foreign powers to gain authority” (Machiavelli 20). Furthermore, Roman leaders did not demand citizens to change or alter their culture or customs. Instead, the Roman Republic accepted different religions and allowed them to practice their cultures freely. As a result, new citizens and acquired territory came to respect their new authority allowing the Romans to remain in power with little conflict.
Freedom and civil liberties for citizens provided insight for Machiavelli and his theory on the Republican government. It is the responsibility of the government to both protect and serve the citizens. “The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves” (Machiavelli 24). Using this analogy, Machiavelli encourages citizens and government to work together in maintaining the continuity of the state. This is the saying that, there are no leaders without followers and there are no followers without a leader. The give-and-take relationship between the government and its citizens is what creates the state and a united front. It requires the leader to play a game of check and balance. Machiavelli understood that the “republican government and the free and civil way of life it facilitates” must rationalize “the difficulty and emphasized the necessity of keeping prominent citizens from overstepping their bounds” (McCormick 386). Weather these citizens include senators, politicians, or religious leaders and organizations they must stay out of the hands of government politics to maintain a healthy state. No matter one’s title, weather prince, nobleman, or pauper, everyone must be bound to the same rules, laws, and obligations. Allowing citizens or other members of the state free access to government rule and authority can be problematic. Thus, everyone within the state both civilians and non-civilians must do their part, and play a role to ensure that the government is working, functioning, and just for all people. It provides the protection that government needs to have a check and balance and protect the establishment.
Machiavelli envisioned a state that was fair, just, and healthy. “A healthy state has strong arms, sound laws, and a rigorous education” (Belliotti 17). This requires the full participation and commitment of both the people and the ruler. A leader cannot work with for his own self-interest. Instead he must be selfless, that is to ignore that needs and wants of himself to work for the greater good of others. When a King acts in this way, it tells a lot about his success as a ruler. The well-being of the citizens is an indication of success. This can be observed when Machiavelli states, “it is much safer to be feared than to be loved” (17). This statement is not to be taken literally however to be taken as sarcasm. When the people must live in fear, under restraint and restrictions, they are more likely to grow disdainful and throw a revolt. However, when a ruler is admired and loved, the people will do everything they can to support the king because to support the king is to support one’s self. A leader must act on the mercy of the people and under the mercy of the government. In this way, “the well-being of citizens is part of the definition of personal glory, rather than merely a means of attaining it” (Belliotti 17).
“Machiavelli’s republic is a classical mixed republic. It is not a democracy… but is characterized by social equality, popular liberty, and political participation” (Doyle 1154). To have a republican government means to have a nation that is healthy, longstanding, and free. It requires for segments of the government to stand undivided and to stand in union with the wants and needs of the people. There are checks and balances, they have a justice that is fair, and a leader that practices selflessness to ensure the safety and security of the nation. The republican government represents the will of the people and the will of the union. The leader works to provide a compromise between the people and the government. Leaders are not only the manager of the government but also the manager of the people. He is a representation of the combinations of minds and characteristics that are each different from one another. However, by following the advice provided by Machiavelli rulers are not rulers. Rulers become leaders of great importance who are remembered for their sacrifice and the liberties granted to the people. “A prudent man should always follow the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it” (Machiavelli 12).
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