In this essay I`m going to discuss the ideas of Niccolo Machiavelli in his work “The Prince”, a book which is dedicated to Lorenzo Di Piero De Medici the governor of Florence at his time and I will try to connect the ideas from it to modernity. Machiavelli wrote the “The Prince” which is an advice on how to gain and retain power of those who is in power. The reason why he wrote “The Prince” is in hopes to win the favor of De Medici family especially Lorenzo Di Piero De Medici for him to be reinstated as government official of Florence more specifically to be the advisor of the Duke.
Before I further discuss about the ideas to Niccolo Machiavelli`s The Prince, I will first give first a background information about his life in order for the readers to fully understand all of the factors that lead to the creation of his infamous work “The Prince”.
Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469 in Florence, Italy.
He was the second son of Bernardo di Nicolo Machiavelli, a lawyer, and of Bartolommea di Stefano Nelli. Both his parents were members of the old Florentine nobility, as a boy he grew up to a wealthy family and at the age of seven he started his education. In 1498 Machiavelli was appointed as the chancellor and secretary of the second chancellery of the Florentine Republic. His duties are consisted of writing diplomatic letters, carrying out the policy decisions of others, reading and writing reports, and taking notes.
He also went on some twenty-three diplomatic missions to foreign states. In 1502 Machiavelli married Marietta Corsini, who he had with, four sons and two daughters. In 1510 Machiavelli, inspired by the Roman history, was active in training a citizen militia of the Florentine Republic since he hated relying to mercenaries.
In August 1512, the Spanish army entered Tuscany and in terror, the Florentines removed their leader Piero Soderini, a man Machiavelli viewed as ‘good, but weak’ and allowed the Medici family, the family who formerly in power to return. On November 7, Machiavelli was dismissed from his position as the chancellor. Soon afterward he was arrested and imprisoned because he was suspected in scheming to bring back the Florentine Republic against the Medici family. Now this is the reason why Machiavelli wrote “The Prince”, he wants to win the favor of the Medici family and by doing so he will get back his former position in the government but sadly, the Medici family view his writing indifferently thus, unable him to win the favor of the Medici family. Only after five years after the death of Machiavelli on June 22, 1527 his work the prince was published.
The purpose of Machiavelli in writing “The Prince” has two parts: First, to show a ruler or a future ruler how best to maintain a prosperous and safe state amid the political turmoil in Italy during early 16th century and Second, For him to redeem himself in the eyes of the Medici Family which is the ruler of Florence, specially to Lorenzo Di Piero De` Medici.
I`m going to discuss now the major themes of “The Prince” which are; Statesmanship and War, Goodwill and Hatred, Free Will, Virtue, and Human Nature, later I will try to connect the idea of Machiavelli to modernity. But before I start discussing this major themes I will first talk about Machiavelli`s famous quote “It`s better to be fear than to loved, if you cannot be both”, the reason for this is that in general men are inconstant, false, cowardly, ungrateful, and greedy. And men having experience under a prince who ruled by love are less worried about offending them than a prince who rule by fear. According to Machiavelli “as long as you succeed, they are entirely yours but when the need approaches, they turn against you”.
This is the reason why Machiavelli suggests that it`s okay to be feared than to be loved, because in the former a prince ought to encourage fear but at the same time he avoids hatred thus, he keeps his subjects united and loyal to him, while the latter ought to rely love which eventually lead to his destruction. For Machiavelli if a prince wants to rule by fear he should know the limits to where his hands come in touches. He said that a prince should avoid taking away the property of his subject and their women in order for his subjects to not bear any hatred and ill will against him. But at the same time when it is necessary for a prince to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it with proper justification and reasons. The reason for this is that men are quick on forgetting the death of their loves ones than the loss of their property that`s why in order for a prince who ruled by fear to continue to rule in that way, he ought not to take away the property of his subjects.
The first one is Statesmanship and War. Machiavelli believes that good laws follow naturally from a good military. In his famous statement that “the presence of sound military forces indicates the presence of sound laws”, describes the relationship between the developing states and war. Much of The Prince is devoted in describing what it means to conduct a good war: how to treat subjects in newly acquired territories, how to effectively fortify and defend a city, and how to prevent the subjects to revolt that might potentially hinder the success from war. But Machiavelli’s description of war encompasses more than just the direct use of military force: it comprises domestic politics, international diplomacy, geographic mastery, tactical strategy, and historical analysis. All of this was within the context of Machiavelli`s Italy, when cities are constantly threatened by neighboring principalities and every are area had suffered through power struggles for many years in the hands of its various ruler. Machiavelli method of viewing almost all of the affairs of the state through a military lens was innovative in political thinking.
The second theme is Good Will and Hatred. In order to remain in power a prince must avoid the hatred of his subjects and people. It is not necessary for a prince to be loved, in fact it is much better for him to be feared. Being hated however, can cause a prince’s downfall if left unchecked. This assertion seems to be incompatible with Machiavelli`s statements about the advantage of being cruel leader, but still Machiavelli promotes the use of cruelty as long as it does not compromise the long term goodwill of the people. For Machiavelli the people`s goodwill is always the best defense against both foreign aggression and domestic insurrection. He also warns princes against doing things that might result to his subjects bearing hatred against him, such as taking away the property of his subject or taking their women. Even installations that are normally valued for military use, such as fortress should be judged based on their potential together the support for the prince. Indeed, only when the prince is absolutely sure that the people who bore hatred against him will never have a chance to rise against him, only by then a prince can stop worrying about incurring the hatred of any of his subjects. However, obtaining the goodwill of the people has nothing to do with desire for the overall happiness of the populace rather goodwill is a political instrument used to ensure the stability of the prince’s reign.
The third theme is Free Will, one of the most controversial aspects of “The Prince” during its time is the implication about rulers that their power and authority was derive through the exertion of their own will. This idea of Machiavelli of origin of power and authority contradict with the prevailing belief at that time, which is ruler derives their power and authority by divine right. While kings and princes claim the divine right of kings, Machiavelli demonstrates that the source of their right and privileges comes from their ability to manipulate others, destroy enemy and gain the loyalty from the people. These qualities are clearly the manifestation of their own free will rather than the will of God. Machiavelli often uses the words prowess and fortune to describe two distinct ways in which a prince can acquire power. Prowess refers to the individual`s talents, while fortune implies luck or chances. One of the purpose of Machiavelli in writing “The Prince” is to investigate how the own free will of the prince affects his success or failure and how much is determined by nature. In chapter XXV, Machiavelli talks about the role of fortune in determining human affairs, then he attempts to compromise between free will and determinisim by arguing that fortune controls half of human actions and leaves the other half to their own free will. However, Machiavelli argues that through foresight people can shield themselves against fortune unpredictability since it can easily change anytime.
The fourth theme is Virtue, Machiavelli defines virtue as qualities that are praised by others such as compassion, generosity, and piety. Machiavelli argues that a prince should always try to appear virtuous but acting virtuously for virtue`s sake might cause harm to the principality. A prince should not necessarily avoid doing wicked or immoral things such as cruelty or dishonesty if such acts will benefit the state. Cruelty and other wicked or immoral acts should not be pursued for their own sake, just as virtue should not be pursued for its own sake. Every action that the prince should take must be considered in light of its effect on the state not in terms of its intrinsic moral value.
The Fifth theme is Human Nature, Machiavelli asserts that there are a lot of traits that is inherent in human nature. People are generally self-interested, although their favor for others can be won and lost. They are happy and content as long they don`t experience terrible things such as their property is stole by the Prince. People tend to be trustworthy in prosperous times but they will quickly turn to be selfish, profit-driven, and deceitful in times of hardship. People tend to admire courage, honor, piety, and generosity in others but most of them do not exhibit these virtues themselves. Ambition is commonly found among those people who attain some power but most common people are satisfied with their current state and status, therefore they don’t have any interest for increased status. People will naturally feel a sense of obligation to those they receive favor or service and this bond is usually not easily broken. Nonetheless, loyalties are won and lost, and good will is never absolute. These statements of Machiavelli about human nature are often offered as justification for his advices in “The Prince”.
I will try to connect now the ideas of Machiavelli in “The Prince” to modernity. But before that I will first define modernity. Modernity is defined as a condition of social existence that is significantly different to all past forms of human experience. One of the characteristics of modernity is totalitarianism which is widely seen in “The Prince” to be precise “The prince” is an advice to a totalitarian leader. This one of the reason why Machiavelli`s ideas in “The Prince” is considered to be modern for it having the attributes of modernity. To further connect Machiavelli`s ideas to modern times, I will use the Duterte administration as example because his government exhibits a totalitarianism which is widely seen to the acts and decisions he made. For example, the war on drugs or the Philippine drug war a drug policy under the Duterte`s administration which aim to neutralized all illegal drugs personalities nationwide.
This policy is controversial because of the things that happened under it, such as extrajudicial killing. What makes this a example of an act of a totalitarian government because it`s an act of state terrorism were the state is terrorizing the lives it`s citizen which usually characterized in a totalitarian regime. What makes this policy worse is that the President is the one who is encouraging the Philippine national police (PNP) to kill all drug addicts and drug dealers they see and he promised that he will be accountable for all the killings that they committed not only that this policy is depriving others the right to life which written under the 1987 constitution. The justification of such acts for the President is that he was willing to kill all drug addicts and drug dealers for the sake of our country and the future of our youth because for the President illegal drugs is one of the main reason why the lives of youths are in ruined and that’s why he was willing to do anything to eradicate all illegal drugs in the country in expense of lives of many individual. Such acts and reasons is perfect example of Machiavelli`s prince, one who knows how to do evil for the sake of the preservation of the state.
In conclusion, Machiavelli`s ideas can be considered as a modern one because it have the characteristics of modernity which is widely seen in his book “The Prince”, not only that he was the first political thinker that separate religion to governance which can be considered modern and because of that he was often called the father of modern political thought.