BOZTEPE: Machiavellian thought may not necessarily be all that
Opinions Column: Kaanotations
Niccolò Machiavelli was a Renaissance writer, an Italian politician, humanist and philosopher among many other things. He is seen as the father of modern political science and wrote the famous work known as "The Prince" in which he discusses how to obtain and preserve political power by outlining some characteristics rulers should have. Machiavelli wrote "The Prince" during his exile from Italy. During this time, Italy was split into independent city states which led to constant unrest with neighboring states. Many people have a bad connotation of Machiavelli and they see him as the teacher of evil and sin. Machiavelli states that he would much rather choose the balance to be both loved and feared, but if he could only pick one, being feared would be in his best interest to consolidate and protect his power.
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term Machiavellian as someone who is marked by cunning, duplicity or bad faith. In other words, someone who is deceitful, ruthless and unjust. I would like to argue that this definition is a misrepresentation of Machiavelli and this definition should not define him nor his beliefs. Machiavelli wrote "The Prince" in a time which saw modern-day Italy split into many city-state provinces that were ruled by separate rulers. Within his publication, let alone any of his writings, Machiavelli never states that he supports any of the themes within "The Prince," he just believes that the traits and actions he speaks about within "The Prince" are essential in context with his time to consolidate power and expand one’s sphere of influence.
Machiavelli intended for "The Prince" to serve as a handbook for those who wanted to become a prince. Machiavelli explains that a leader must have alternative ways of dealing with issues regardless of if they are political or civil. Those who want to be a prince must know how to fight either by the law, by force or a mix of both, which is deception. Deception can be seen in modern politics as many politicians publicly state they support something that they actually do not support nor donate to. Machiavelli’s writing might come off as if he only believes one must act violently, but rather than violence, his main concern is stability. After seeing his hometown of Florence overtaken more than 10 times, he believed that if killing somebody will create stability within your state, then you should kill them without looking back.
Machiavelli believed that to rule, one must be ruthless. Ruthlessness in modern politics involves obtaining information about political opponents and using it as leverage during elections or the passing of laws. Machiavelli advises princes to act humanely only when it benefits them — not for morality or ethics' sake, but rather for the consolidation of power. Machiavelli believes the prince must seem more “just” than he is, while still being vicious when he needs to be. In doing so, the prince will seem strong yet fair to his people, while being more malicious than his citizens truly know of.
An example of seeming more “just” than one is can be found in former President Barack Obama’s pre-presidential politics in 2004. When asked about his views on gay marriage he opposed any bill that would allow same-sex couples the right to marry. Although, in 2015, as the American society became more liberal and started to go on marches for same-sex marriage, Obama decided to change his mind and establish a bill passed by the Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage and shared his pride with the bill. This is not to say that Obama had an issue with same-sex marriage in 2004 but supporting same-sex marriage did not fit his political agenda while he was trying to become president.
Machiavelli’s viewpoints are still applicable to modern politics and a few of the characteristics he has laid out within "The Prince" are worth considering when becoming a leader. Some of the main attributes that Machiavelli points out are still commonly used, such as immoral actions, deception, fearfulness and the focus on stabilizing one’s state. Machiavelli is often criticized for painting an immoral character as a prince, but when we look closer into history, we see many former political leaders, such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini, use many of these tactics to consolidate power. "The Prince" does not resemble how Machiavelli himself was as a person nor his beliefs. He may have wished to use some of these tactics, so he would not have been exiled, but the negative term of Machiavellian does harm when thinking about the persona the idea is based off. Machiavelli’s main purpose and virtue he wished to see was stability and a leader being able to make the hard decisions for the security of his people.
Kaan Jon Boztepe is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore double majoring in philosophy and history. His column, "Kaanotations," runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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