Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer in Florence, Italy during the Renaissance. He is considered as the founder of modern political science and political ethics, and was an official in the Florentine Republic. He was a secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence when the Medici were out of power (1498-1512). Machiavelli wrote his most famous work, The Prince, after Lorenzo de Medici regained power in 1512. The Prince is a political treatise that contains several maxims concerning the politics of hereditary princes.
This writing was different from others of the time because it was written in Italian instead of Latin, and it was in direct conflict with the dominant Catholic Church and scholastic doctrines of the time. It is sometimes claimed to be one of the first works of modern philosophy. The general theme of The Prince is accepting that the aims of princes, glory and survival, can justify the use of immoral means to achieve those ends, which brought about the saying “the ends justify the means”.
This philosophy gave Machiavelli a very pejorative name. In chapter 16 of The Prince, which discusses liberality and economy, Machiavelli puts forth the idea that generosity is worse for a ruler and his subjects than frugality is. If a ruler is generous, he says it will ruin his state. In order to have a reputation of generosity, outward lavishness is required, which requires an amount of spending. As this may please the subjects at first, when a war comes or there is a need for government money, there will be none.
This results in excessive taxing on the subjects, who in turn end up despising their ruler. To support being economic, Machiavelli suggests that even though the subjects will initially accuse the prince of being miserly when the time comes for war or to fund a project, unduly taxing is not required and he will have the reputation of being generous. This is shown in the example of Pope Julius II who got his position by his generosity. However, he realised that in order to keep it, he needed to reduce government, or in this case church, spending.
When the time came and he needed to declare war against France, by his parsimony he was able to support the expense of all his wars without the imposition of new taxes. And Caesar, Machiavelli says, if he had lived longer would have seen that in order to maintain his rule, he would have needed to moderate his spending. We can see through these examples that generosity is self-defeating and ultimately, parsimony is the better option. In chapter 17, Machiavelli deals with whether or not it is better to be feared or to be loved.
He states that compassion is usually admired, but a prince should never be too compassionate. A prince ought to adequately punish disloyal subjects and enforce the law or else there is an atmosphere of disorder and the prince’s subjects will take the opportunity to do what they want to extremes, such as murder and theft. Crime harms the whole community, whereas executions and law enforcement only effects the criminals. Machiavelli suggests that a prince be careful with his exercise of cruelty, and to balance it with humanity and prudence.
When the question of whether it is better to be feared or loved is posed, Machiavelli said that ideally it would be both. However, a prince can rarely be both loved and feared, and in those cases, it is better to be feared. This is because men are, by nature, “ungrateful, fickle, dissembling, anxious to flee danger, and covetous of gain. ” He suggested that when a prince is inducing fear, he must be careful to avoid inducing hatred as well. Every ‘cruel’ action must be wholly justified. Machiavelli said that a prince should never confiscate property or take his subjects’ women.
When Machiavelli says that it is better to be feared than loved, it could be that he means more to be respected, rather than feared. True fear of a ruler would be something like how the Jews regarded Hitler. The fear that Machiavelli speaks of is more of a respect for the enforcement of law. If the subjects understand that their actions will be greatly justly and if they commit crimes, they will be dealt with according to the laws, they will be much less likely to commit crimes. If they respect their ruler, and the ruler is fair, they will most likely not want to commit those crimes anyway.
In chapter 18, the issue of keeping one’s word is addressed. Machiavelli states that although a prince who honors his word is generally praised by others, history notes that they achieve the most when they are crafty, cunning, and able to trick others. He says that there are two ways of fighting: by law or by force. Law is natural to men and force is natural to beasts, but in order to succeed the prince must use both. He must be both like a fox and a lion, able to escape the wolves and the traps.
The prince must be able to break promises that put him at a disadvantage and not rely on promises of others since men are naturally wretched and deceitful. Machiavelli says that the prince should be a master of deception, but careful to exude a virtuous aura that belies his deceitful mind. Machiavelli brings up a historical example of this by Pope Alexander VI. His whole life was a game of deception and his faithless conduct was well known, and yet he was very successful. “Oaths and protestations cost him nothing.”
No one had so often broken his word or paid less regard to his engagement than Alexander VI. Machiavelli continues that a prince should have the appearance of compassion, trustworthiness, kindness, guileless, and piety. Actually possessing these is neither possible nor desirable. Most men judge by appearance, so if he continues to appear virtuous, most will think he is. Also, most people don’t mind if he occasionally employs evil to achieve his goals. This is the idea that the ends justify the means. As long as he appears virtuous and is successful in running the state, he will be regarded as virtuous.