What Does It Mean To Be Machiavellian? Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince is considered an influential work of the Italian Renaissance spirit that established a realist approach with regard to the political aspects of managing principalities. The Machiavellian concept of power is usually held to be thoroughly practical in nature, using any possible means, including flattery, violence and betrayal, to gain and sustain authority.
Machiavelli’s observation that all armed prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed prophets have been destroyed (26) exhibits his confidence that it is inevitable to resort to violence in the process of gaining power over the people and to maintain it. However, this does not approve violence for the wrong reasons, leading to one’s personal gratification or gains. Machiavelli’s aim in The Prince is to prepare the members of the ruling Medici family of Florence to handle the subjects of their principality. Machiavelli had the clear understanding that moral ideologies were not sufficient to meet the demands of real situations of governing a principality. In such a situation, the ruler has to deal with the needs and expectations of many people. In the present times too, there are debates about the emergence of terrorism as a response to the state policies that suppress the masses. This makes the Machiavellian principles of power in the governing bodies very significant.
The ruler of a principality can remain in power only with a complete understanding of its subjects. The uprisings against the rulers may not always branch from a personal dislike to the ruler. Machiavelli observes that men, thinking to better their condition, are always ready to change their masters, and in this expectation, will take up arms against any ruler (6). To retain the power of the ruler over the dissatisfied and demanding masses, the principalities will have to use force when necessary. Machiavelli further states: …let it here be noted that men are either to be kindly treated, or utterly crushed, since they can revenge lighter injuries, but not graver. Therefore the injury we do to a man should be of a sort to leave no fear of reprisals (9). Though it is possible to interpret such remarks as cold-blooded decrees that decide the fate of numerous subjects in a principality, the ultimate goal Machiavelli aims at is the effective management of the people with the help of force when gaining their consent in all issues seems unlikely. The use of violence serves a symbolic purpose as well, in setting an example. It is not a coincidence that the imperial and colonial aspirations of the European expansions turned out to be Machiavellian.
It is perhaps the Christian religious verdict on The Prince as a diabolic treatise on power that brand Machiavellian as an essentially evil term. This Christian response must have come from the fact that Machiavelli criticized the Popes and their political interferences in The Prince. Quite paradoxically, the major criticism raised against the power structures in Christianity in the past few centuries had been that they follow the Machiavellian principles. Even in democratic governments of today’s world, Machiavellian concepts work on all spheres of power relations. The strongest strain of Machiavellian power structures can be found in the corporate business establishments.
The sense of nationality Machiavelli propagated through The Prince had also served as a model for the democratic governments of the post-colonial world. Explaining the necessity to form a good army of soldiers for Italy, Machiavelli makes clear how individuals can be exploited well if they form part of a larger, unified mass that works for a common cause: …although every single man of them be good, collectively they will be better, seeing themselves commanded by their own Prince, and honored and esteemed by him (127). This sheds light to the necessity for organizational skills that are of great significance in the welfare of a nation, be it ruled by a king or by a democratic government. Thus, Machiavellian principles, though shunned by many idealists for its lack of morals, are unavoidable wherever people come in contact with each other on the basis their personal and shared aspirations.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. London: Pocket Books, 2004.