Machiavellis Theories Essay, Research Paper
Are Machiavelli s Theories Still Applicable Today?
Niccol Machiavelli was an Italian politician and philosopher, who lived in the late middle ages (1469-1527) in Florence. He had gotten in a high political position during the reign of Soblerini, and during his work as a secretary of a ten-man council got the chance to study political tactics of Italian rulers. Unfortunately for him, when the family of the Medicis got back in power, Machiavelli lost his job, as most families in that time wanted to get rid of practically all people that still belonged to the regime of the leaders before them. However, he did not only lose his job, he was also exiled as he was being accused of serious crimes (such as working for the Soblerini regime). He was tortured, but released later as he was found to innocent. He was banished to his country house in France, which is also where he writes his most famous work: The Prince.
The main theme of this book is power; he describes the method through which a prince can obtain power, and, more important even, how he can maintain power. He was very innovative in his theories; before him, all philosophers sought to define the goal of the state. Machiavelli feels no need to define this: he sees power as a goal on itself.
Furthermore, he was fresh in his ideas on morals. Throughout all his theories, he applies double standards when it comes to morals. He feels that rulers are not bound by the morals that are applicable to citizens, because for the ruler, the end justifies the means . This does not mean that rulers can act immoral simply because they feel like it: they can only do things that are immoral if this means they can stay in power. If rulers would use everyday morals , they would get overthrown, and according to him the chaos after the collapse of a state would cause a lot more lives than the measures taken to stay in power would have taken.
According to Machiavelli, acquiring power is possible in two ways: through fortuna (pure luck) and through virt*, which in its literal translation means manliness. In this case, with virtue he means not something moral , but the capabilities a leader should have, such as ambition and cleverness. Fortuna can come in two ways: good luck , which can cause someone to obtain power, and bad luck, which can cause one to lose their power as a leader even when they are very capable. Furthermore, whatever luck one might have, if one doesn t have virtue, then they are not able to do anything with it.
Another thing Machiavelli considers to be important is image: a leader needs to acquire a good political image, while, in the meantime doing whatever political wrong might seem necessary in the circumstances, as he feels that public success and private morality are two entirely different things.
An important focus in Machiavelli s work is that of military strength. He is of the opinion that even, and maybe especially in times of peace, emphasis should be placed on military strength. Only by maintaining strong military, a ruler is looked up to, and feared by his enemies.
Princes should be both feared and loved at the same time. To be loved is safer than to be feared (because one does not run the risk of being murdered), but to be feared is better (unless fear turns into hatred) for love is held by a chain of obligation, which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails . So as long as a ruler is not hated by the people he rules, it is better to be feared than to be loved; the best would be however to combine the two.
Until a certain extent Machiavelli s theories are still applicable today. I think that society has changed tremendously since the middle ages: nations are a lot more stable, a large part of the world s nations have changed into democracies, where everybody (is supposed to ) have an equal say in things, and there are not that many changes of rulers anymore. In western societies one aspect of Machiavellian theory can still be found: that of focus on constant military strength. When we look at the Cold War, we can see that both the U.S. and Russia were building up the amount of weapons majorly. Even in times of peace, countries all over the world spend quite a large amount of their budget on defense. This is because they want to keep up with other countries, and because they see this as means of prevention, amongst other reasons.
I think Machiavelli s theory with regard to double moral standards and not doing as one says can not be found in Western society anymore. There is too much media to let anything go unnoticed: take the example of Bram Peper spending government money on private things, or the example of Bill Clinton having a sexual affair with an intern. Things like these, when political figures do not do as they say (in this case in private life, but it can also be applicable for public life) do not go unnoticed: they are highlighted by the press and the whole nation often spends a lot of energy discussing issues like this.
If something like these cases would happen concerning public life, government money and governmental ruling, the person in concern would definitely be punished because of this because nowadays we don t see morality as a separate thing from ruling anymore.
However, this concerns mostly western societies. In newly built democracies (such as many countries in Africa) and in countries that are ruled by the military (such as many countries in South-America used to be) there is not as much stability as is here, nor is there the same amount of media focus on political issues. Examples of political killings and other amoral deeds can be found here, without the possibility of the population knowing, or having the possibility of doing anything about it.
In conclusion I think we can say that one aspect of Machiavellian philosophy can still be found in Western culture, namely that of military strength. However, for other aspects such as political killings, and amoral issues we might have to look further than the Western world.