Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy. He eventually became a man who lived his life for politics and patriotism. Right now, however, he is associated with corrupt, totalitarian government. The reason for this is a small pamphlet he wrote called The Prince to gain influence with the ruling Medici family in Florence. The political genius of Niccolo Machiavelli was overshadowed by the reputation that was unfairly given to him because of a misunderstanding of his views on politics.
Machiavelli's life was very interesting. He lived a nondescript childhood in Florence, and his main political experience in his youth was watching Savanarola from afar. Soon after Savanarola was executed, Machiavelli entered the Florentine government as a secretary. His position quickly rose, however, and was soon engaging in diplomatic missions. He met many of the important politicians of the day, such as the Pope and the King of France, but none had more impact on him than a prince of the Papal States, Cesare Borgia. Borgia was a cunning, cruel man, very much like the one portrayed in The Prince. Machiavelli did not truly like Borgia's policies, but he thought that with a ruler like Borgia the Florentines could unite Italy, which was Machiavelli's goal throughout his life. Unfortunately for Machiavelli, he was dismissed from office when the Medici came to rule Florence and the Republic was overthrown. The lack of a job forced him to switch to writing about politics instead of being active. His diplomatic missions were his last official government positions.
When Machiavelli lost his office, he desperately wanted to return to politics. He tried to gain the favor of the Medici by writing a book of what he thought were the Medici's goals and dedicating it to them. And so The Princewas written for that purpose. Unfortunately, the Medici didn't agree with what the book said, so he was out of a job. But when the public saw the book, they were outraged. The people wondered how cruel a man could be to think evil thoughts like the ones in The Prince, and this would come back to haunt him when he was alive and dead. However, if the people wanted to know what Machiavelli really stood for, they should have read his "Discourses on Livy", which explain his full political philosophy. But not enough people had and have, and so the legacy of The Prince continues to define Machiavelli to the general public.
A few years later the Medici were kicked out of Florence. The republic was re-established, and Machiavelli ran to retake the office he had left so many years ago. But the reputation that The Prince had established made people think his philosophy was like the Medici, so he was not elected. And here the sharp downhill of his life began. His health began to fail him, and he died months later, in 1527.
Machiavelli had been unfairly attacked all of his life because of a bad reputation. But it only got worse after he died. He was continually blasted for his "support" of corrupt ruling. In fact, Machiavellian now means corrupt government. Only recently has his true personality come to light. The world must change it's vision of the cold, uncaring Machiavelli to the correct view of a patriot and a political genius.
“All this gives rise to a question for debate: Is it better to be loved than to be feared, or the reverse? I answer that a prince should wish for both. But because it is difficult to reconcile them, I hold that it is much more secure to be feared than to be loved, if one of them must be given up.”
So if a prince has relied wholly on their words and is lacking in other preparations, he falls. For friendships that are gained with money, and not with greatness and nobility of spirit, are deserved but not possessed…
…above all must pay no heed to being called cruel, because if he does not have that name he cannot keep his army united or ready for duty.
His success resulted from nothing else than his inhuman cruelty, which, when added to his numerous other strong qualities, made him respected and terrible in the sight of his soldiers. Yet without his cruelty his other qualities would not been adequate.
1. What means does Machiavelli suggest in order to keep power?
2. The term Machiavellian describes the process of being cunning and ruthless in the pursuit of power. How would this technique work in a democracy?
3. How would this work in your own life?
4. What could you suggest as a strategy in order to keep power?
5. How does the quote “The end justifys the mean” relate to Machiavelli?