Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli and The Prince (1st Installment)

Politics is a word we have heard a lot of in the last six months. It is defined  as “political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices” by Merriam-Webster. Isn’t it crazy how the definition itself includes the term “dishonest” in it? We have witnessed first-hand in this presidential election how prevalent dishonesty is in our political system. It is like everywhere we looked, or anytime we turned on the TV, there was some talk about the dishonesty of the two candidates. However, what was even more shocking than the lies and deceit that plagued this election was everyone’s surprised reactions. Are we as American really blind enough to think that this is the first sign of lies and corruption in our system or any system for that matter?

Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli is probably most famous for his ideas about the corruption in politics and why it is existed. He is often called the father of modern political theory due to his renowned and infamous book The Prince. In this book he dissected the behavioral patterns of politicians he had witnessed first-hand over his years of being a part of political inner workings. It has been said that maybe Machiavelli wrote this work out of resentment. He was so infuriated by being fired from his position in political power that he decided to write a juicy tell all. And who could blame him? All he ever wanted to be in life was a politician. However, I feel the emotional forces that drove him to write this literary work were stronger than just pettiness and bitter resentment. His pure passion for politics motivated his ruthless dig for truth in the political world. This dig just happened to expose those responsible for his political exile, talk about killing two birds with one stone. (: His work in The Prince produced some of most profound and insightful political thinking we have ever seen.
So Why Did He Write The Prince?
Machiavelli has obviously received a bad rap for his vile and malicious “guide” to politics. Some people think maybe he was just that evil at heart and others see The Prince as a satire such as eighteenth century historian of philosophy Williams Enfield. He suggests that Machiavelli essentially fooled all of us as if we were on an episode of Punk’d and Ashton Kutcher is bound to hop out at any moment. He believes that due to Machiavelli’s personality and the way he lived his life it is not possible he actually believed and conducted himself by the things he wrote about. He believes The Prince was a satire intended to “pull off the mask from the face of tyranny”. However, if The Prince was truly a satirical poke at the ugly truth of politics, he did one hell of a job. The amount of discord on whether Machiavelli is immoral and wicked or whether he really was just a satirist is unbelievable. It is almost like the most legendary episode of philosophical Punk’d we have ever seen.

Did Machiavelli really want us to believe that men were always “fickle, liars and deceivers”? He discusses a claim in The Prince that the bond of love was a bond that all men broke. He believed that we as humans, due to our wretchedness, could not have honest, intimate relationships with other humans.   If this was the case none of us would have made it to where we are now because our parents would have abandoned us at birth. It is strange that he thought this though because he fathered six children and was married. For a human that lacks the ability of human to human intimacy, he sure had of a lot of experience with it. It is recorded that he was not the best husband and frequented prostitutes, but he did not abandon his wife and kids immediately at child-birth so he could not have been that incapable of human intimacy. Due to this fact, many people still believe that The Prince was meant to be satirical as a comment on how political leaders often treated the ruled cold heartedly and with contempt.

Another theory on Machiavelli’s true meaning and motive behind writing The Prince was that he was only writing what he believed that the rulers of that time wanted to hear so that he could win back their favoring. A logical idea on his part, buttering someone else’s bread to get what you want is done all the time in the political world. An example of this is all the “Wall Street” money in our political system. Big corporations and spenders pay candidates loads of money to represent what they stand for. This money is used to pay the campaign staff, make flyers, buttons, bumper stickers, hats, to hire terrible actors for campaign commercials and overall just keep a candidate’s campaign running. Whether the big spender is a cosmetic company that tests their products on precious bunny rabbits or a company attempting to save the rain forest does not matter as long as the money is coming in. So if Machiavelli used The Prince to get back in good graces with those in power, only for his own political gain, and he did not actually believe what he was writing about, our political system has appeared to take a few notes from the father of modern politics.

In this theory Machiavelli might not have believed all the things he wrote in The Prince, but he believed that if had what appeared to be a cold and immoral view on politics that it might impress his superiors and he might get his political position back in the government. It is kind of like on mean girls when Kady pretended to be a plastic in order to sabotage Regina George. She was not originally mean, cold and well plastic, but she pretended to be for gain and ultimately hurt quite a few people in the end. It is not really the best political example, but a practical one nonetheless. Anywho, if this was the case, it would make Machiavelli doubly cynical because not only does he advocate for the evil in politics, he is lying about advocating for it.

The circumstances surrounding the writing of The Prince actually support this theory due to the fact that he dedicated it to Lorenzo de Medici who he thought would help get him get back into a political office after the influence of the book.

What is The Prince About?
Let’s look at what The Prince is REALLY all about. Let’s break down some of the themes and ideas presented in The Prince and give examples of those themes throughout recent history and even in current events.  

For starters, let us examine how Machiavelli characterizes human nature in regards to leadership in The Prince. He states that “a prudent ruler cannot, and must not, honour his word when it places him at a disadvantage… Because men are wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them”. Essentially this means a good leader should not back up what he says if it’s not in the best interest of himself. Why be honest with people who would not do the same for you? Machiavelli views human nature as reprehensible and deceitful and believes that a good ruler’s deceitfulness must exceed the people in which he rules. His thoughts were that the ruler who believed and had faith in what people “should” do and their rights over what they will actually do is essentially doomed to self-destruction. A good ruler recognizes the lack of virtues his people have, and trains himself when and how to act without virtues and must be better at it than those beneath him.  His cunning will bring success for his kingdom and his people, but will also preserve his political office and the perks that come with it.
These ideas of political realism are what have caused Machiavelli’s infamous reputation. Machiavelli however only claimed to be illustrating how people TRULY act in normal everyday life. The link below gives a solid interpretation of what Machiavelli was saying when describing human nature. Ultimately we are beings of vice and of pleasure. Sure we may say we are above that type of thinking, but deep down we are not as righteous as we make ourselves seem.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli in plain terms


The first couple minutes of the video is enough to get the important parts of the video.

Word Count: 1,428


  1. Very interesting, the idea that Machiavelli was writing descriptively but not prescriptively - telling us how politicians behave in the real world, not how we'd like them to in a better one. His enduring appeal to some (not to me) must have something to do with his admirers' belief that he alone has cut through the theoretical BS to lay bare the practical prevarications and deceits of "princes" everywhere.

    But, don't we want to be led by people we actually trust and respect? DOn't we want our political theorists to reinforce these values and not subvert them? Don't we reject the "ends justify the means" mentality, in the light of how many disreputable and disgraceful ends have always been pursued by politicians? Don't we aspire to be more than "beings of vice and pleasure"?

    So, I vote against Machiavelli's prince and I don't trust him OR respect him. Definitely don't love him.

  2. I agree that whether or not Machiavelli was saying politicians SHOULD act a certain way, that he accurately described how many do. I'm more troubled by his claim that, "a prudent ruler cannot, and must not, honour his word when it places him at a disadvantage… Because men are wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them” This accepts the way the world is, but does not encourage anyone to change it: but rather give up participate in its corruptness. I hope the everyday folks responsible for electing government officials will indeed acknowledge they way politics work, but have it only strengthen their resolve to alter the model.