Political Philosophy of Machiavelli

Machiavelli was born in 1469 in Florence Italy. Florence was one of the five city-states of Italy. All the city-states were at war with each other. Machiavelli was influenced by the chaos and lack of unity of Italy. He wanted to see Italy as a single United Nation like France and Britain. He worked as a diplomat for 14 years. In the second half of 1513, he started writing “The Prince” and “The Discourses”.

Machiavelli’s view on Human Nature

Machiavelli’s view on human nature is very pessimistic and egoistic. He believes that human beings are fundamentally bad by nature. They only think about their self-interest. “For it is good general rule about men, that they are ungrateful, fickle,liars and deceivers, fearful of danger and greedy for gain.” They are selfish. According to Machiavelli, human nature is selfish, fickle, egoistic and run away from danger. Further, it is aggressive and possessive. He says that where human nature is bad, there is conflict and competition. Security and survival is at risk. There would be anarchy and disorder due to the bad nature of human beings. This anarchic situation resembles the situation of 16th century Italy. Machiavelli says that we need a Prince to end the anarchy, to bring law and order and to preserve the existence of society. There is a need of democratic despot.

Functions and duties of Prince

Machiavelli describes the following functions of Prince.

  • He says that prince should base his power on common people.
  • The main objective of Prince is the preservation of his state, his position and power.
  • He must care for the people.
  • He must protect people’s lives and property.
  • He must love his land, and he must maintain law and order and stability.
  • Prince should keep common people satisfied and stupified.
  • The relationship between Prince and people should be based on fear, because love is temporary but fear is permanent. Machiavelli says, “It is better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.” The bond of love can easily be broken at one’s will but the fear of punishment always remains.
  • Prince should never touch people’s private property.
  • He should never touch their women.
  • Prince must use violence and cruelty if required but in limited way Violence should be done to prevent greater violence.
  • Prince should delegate dirty and cruel job to his subordinates.
  • Prince should try to appear as good as he can.
  • Prince must always be prepared for the war. “A Prince must not have any other object nor any other thought but war, it institutions, and its discipline; because that is the only art befitting one who commands.” A Prince must always ready to go to war. Even in the time of peace, he must be preparing for war. Machiavelli supports the use of “citizen army” in place of “Mercinary soldiers”. According to Machiavelli, mercinary soldiers cannot be trusted.

Machiavelli says that Prince is above morality because he is in the position to create morality by law. Machiavelli says that Prince can use all types of evil means like cheating, murder, lying, deceiving etc for the preservation of state.

There are double standard of morality. Public morality is different from private morality. What is applicable to Prince is not applicable for common people, because the objective of Prince is different than common people. The objective of Prince is the preservation of state. “It must be understood that a Prince cannot observe all of those virtues for which men are reputed good, because it is often necessary to act against mercy, against faith, against humanity, against frankness, against religion in order to preserve the state…he must stick to the good so long as he can, but being compelled by necessity, he must be ready to take the way of evil.”

Machiavelli advices the Prince. Prince should have the quality of both Lion and Fox. He should be courageous and strong like a lion, and he should also be cunning like a Fox. “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.”

Moreover, Prince separates politics from religion and ethics. He is not anti-religion but anti-church and anti-clergy. He is a perfect example of renaissance man: skeptical, secular and lover of antiquity. His teachings are very old but relevant today in the field of international politics.