Machiavellianism in Politics

Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian political author and commentator whose works have been relevant to the current politics. He lived between 1469 and 1527 and celebrated for one of his most renowned books featuring the acquisition, maintenance and consequent expansion of political power, The Prince of 1513 (Hoffmann, S., 1988). He lived at a time of profound political instability and conflicts in Italy which the book is written just when the Medici regime was coming to power. Machiavelli was seen as a proponent of political realism with practises that were contrary to idealism. He outlines two ways of political conflict resolution; through the use of force and methods in line with existing laws of the land. He also suggests that one needs to control their fate and not just accept the turnout of events around. One ought to be ambitious enough to take specific risks that influence their lives and leaves the individual in control (Cavico, F.J. and Mujtaba, B.G., 2004 p.59).

            Politics is an exercise of individual morality among the society, community or social groups. Machiavelli emphasises the importance of ethics in politicians in their course of governance and exercising the popular mandate bestowed on them (Hoffmann, S., 1988).  However, it should be noted that not all politicians assume the populist support in their perceptions. Other rulers get power and into positions of authority through other means such as military coups, rigging of elections or by way of monarchical governance. Whichever way people ascend to power, the maintenance of their positions and future territorial expansion significantly ought to follow the principles of Machiavellism and associated theories. The Prince demonstrates the differences between ‘how’ and ‘should.’ (Inoguchi, T., 2008)


Machiavelli Political Theories and Perceptions

            The author emphasises through the work that rulers who neglect to act within the confines of what ought to be done will undoubtedly lose their power, glory, and greatness. This principle according to Machiavelli is referred to political realism. The interpretation of Machiavelli's artistic worked has a comprehensive school of thought.

            Proponents of his work describe him as having the goodwill of the people at heart. They see his work as a warning to the populations about the treacherous acts of the leadership and that they should take control of their destiny moving forward (Cavico, F.J. and Mujtaba, B.G., 2004 p.59).

During his time, Italians experienced wanton political conflicts that divided the citizens, some backing ideological governing while others were supporting the realistic perception of current affairs. Machiavelli is seen to be mobilising contemporary citizens behind capable leaders. He considers such rulers as those who can unify the various states at war by enforcing a nationalistic governance system (McCormick, J.P., 2012 p.727). Such leaders should be those individuals who fight for the glory, status, and power of their nation by chasing away the foreign “barbarians” on Italian soil. It can be seen as a restoration of economic power and freedom to the natives.

            As a Republican, his conception follows the Ancient Rome, mediaeval and Renaissance Italy republics legacies in advancing his perceptions. He views existing class conflicts as a foundation to populist laws in Florence (Vujadinovic, D., 2014 p.43). Other representations argue that Machiavelli is mostly a neutral political agent. He is viewed to be presenting his works with the existing political realities of his time even though he does not outline morality, justice and ethical behaviours in politics. This group of people in the argument believe that his views are just but a comparison of reality and what ought to be done without necessarily fronting a particular aspect. He is only considered a ‘political scientist and philosopher.’ (Runciman, D., 2010)

            Opponents of his theories and ideas remain adamant about adopting the political realities explored. They think he is an immoral person with interpretations that he is a bad influence. They argue that his proposals advance a dangerous aspect of evil rulership that disadvantages the citizens. It can also be suggested that the author designed his works in that particular manner to gain favour from the new ruling regime. Directing the thoughts in the Prince to Medici, Machiavelli probably just sought to gain back an employment status in the political arena. This is significant because his previous employer was the former ruler and in the event of losing leadership of the Florence state to Medici, Machiavelli was rendered jobless (Berridge, G.R., 2001  p.7).

            The author argues that all which people strive for is something that is valuable. He considers this aim as power and that; it is only worthy when it brings along fame, glory, and rewards. Individuals thus need to equip themselves with the knowledge of acquiring and maintain this power. He portrays human nature as greedy, selfish, egoistic, irrational and at times becomes gullible and short-sighted in their focus. It is because of the individualistic view that the political narrator advances that people ought to be governed by a stable government that is charged with striking a balance and ensuring societal harmony. The values and principles that rulers exercise should always be those whose motive is to manipulate the subjects for self-preservation to power. Leaders should employ disguise, propaganda, manipulation, hypocrisy, and deceit in their dealing as long as their interests are satisfied (Burtt, S., 2006 p.1690). The ultimate results of these actions should always be the success, and in cases where the objectives of the ruler are not achieved, strategies must continually be re-evaluated, and those that do not perform be discarded.       

            The characters and image that the leader demonstrates in public ought to be manipulative and self-fulfilling as opposed to what he portrays in his/her private. There needs to be a distinction between public life and family, and the ruler needs to demonstrates a personality that ensures the good of close aides are met. In public, a leader can either be feared or loved and can never experience both the two attributes at the same time. When subjects fear a leader, they will always endeavour to remain loyal as the undesirable punitive measures from the ruler may be adverse.

            On the other side, when a leader is loved the majority will demonstrate the following subject to his/her dictates. Whoever the way, in both cases the leader will enjoy support, advance his/her vision with the ability to prolong stay in power or influencing more people thereby expanding political bases. In the wake of this realisation, Machiavelli argues in chapter 17 of his book that it is better when a leader is feared in public. His principles allude that people are ungrateful, greedy, unpredictable and that their loyalty to a leader is guaranteed in time when selfish interests are served. The stand of the public is fluid and may in one way or the other turn against the ruling administration (Philpott, D., 2015). Princes should thus not lay governing foundation on promises made alone but include mechanisms that ensure their survival in power.

            The political philosopher justifies his reasoning claiming the wretched nature of men does not care about love in times they do not gain from the relationship and will often abandon it than when they dread punishment in cases where the partner in the relationship is feared.

            The aspects of virtue

and Fortuna are described by Machiavelli is his text example of Cesare Borgia whose father, Pope Alexander VI played a significant in the conquering Romagna, a town centre of Italy. Borgia had to ensure the loyalty of the people of Romagna to his leadership after the conquest mission. Machiavelli puts it that a prince needs to have certain virtues to ensure adequate ruling including foresight, courage, shrewd acts, ingenuity and ability to provide his decisions and actions are effective. Borgia’s reign was at a time of conflict, and he employed the excessive use of force in governance as a way to create fear in his subjects, an attribute supported by Machiavelli. One of his ministers, however, caused divisions, and Borgia was determined to punish his actions. The virtueness demonstrated by Machiavelli on Borgia is as quoted below;

            “Later, Borgia decided that such excessive authority was no longer necessary, for he feared that it might become odious…. He had the minister placed one morning in Cesena on the piazza in two pieces with a block of wood and a bloodstained knife alongside him. The atrocity of such a spectacle left those people, at the same time, satisfied and stupefied.”

            This punishment act to the minister according to Machiavelli is a manipulative virtue of Borgia for an act of imposing control to his subjects. This cunning action was to disguise the public that Borgia’s leadership was against atrocities committed by the ordinary people as the unjust acts and cruelties by the minister.

            Fortune is, however, an aspect that is not in control by individuals. Even in possessing the virtue of foresight, one cannot conclusively predict of determining such occurrences of life. Borgia had employed all means at his disposal and ability to stay in power but never expected the situation that he ultimately landed.

            “Borgia himself said to me [me being Machiavelli, because Machiavelli knew Borgia and had followed his campaigns] that he had thought of what might take place when his father died, and he had found a solution for everything, except he never thought that when his father was at the point of death he too would be about to die.”

            In all contingency plan to counter his father’s imminent death, Borgia advanced his political strategies to control the entire of Europe never predicting that he would fall sick and prematurely die. This happening was beyond his control (Tully, J. ed., 1988).

            In summary, it can be suggested that the political theories fronted by Machiavelli recommend how politicians ought to behave to remain relevant and exercise authority to their subjects. Princes, leaders, and rulers should have certain virtues that should be used differently depending on the existing situation and as to whether they are in the public or private domains. However, there can never be a situation of absolute power whichever the means a leader enjoys support whether by populist liking or dictatorship (Ball, T., 2007 p.22).


Ball, T., 2007. Political theory and political science: Can this marriage be saved?. Theoria, 54(113), pp.1-22.

Berridge, G.R., 2001. Machiavelli. In Diplomatic Theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger (pp. 7-32). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Burtt, S., 2006. Virtue transformed: political argument in England, 1688-1740. Cambridge University Press.

Cavico, F.J. and Mujtaba, B.G., 2004. Machiavellian Values “The Prince”: Bullying, Beguiling, Backstabbing, and Bargaining in the Twenty First Century Management. Association on Employment Practices and Principles, p.59.

Hoffmann, S., 1988. The political ethics of international relations. Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.

Inoguchi, T., 2008. Political theory–conversations between ‘ought to’and ‘is’’. IPSA Encyclopedia of Political Science. Sage Publications.

McCormick, J.P., 2012. Subdue the Senate: Machiavelli’s “Way of Freedom” or Path to Tyranny?. Political Theory, 40(6), pp.714-735.

Philpott, D., 2015. Just and unjust peace: An ethic of political reconciliation. Oxford University Press.

Runciman, D., 2010. Political hypocrisy: The mask of power, from Hobbes to Orwell and beyond. Princeton University Press.

Stewart, J.B., 2014. Opinion and Reform in Hume's Political Philosophy. Princeton University Press.

Tully, J. ed., 1988. Meaning and context: Quentin Skinner and his critics. Princeton University Press.

Vujadinovic, D., 2014. Machiavelli’s republican political theory. Philosophy " Social Criticism, 40(1), pp.43-68.

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