Niccolò Machiavelli was an Italian politician and diplomat who lived in Florence. Besides being an enthusiastic writer and philosopher, Machiavelli was among those who founded modern political ethics. Apparently, his upbringing could not allow him to be a politician. Therefore, he spent most of his time as an employee both in the private sector and government service. As a result of his wide professional experience, Machiavelli looked at politics from a technician’s point of view (Machiavelli and Wootton xiv). Consequently, he regarded his job as that of foretelling wars, increasing taxes, preparing defenses, and protecting political alliances.
This paper presents an analysis of the nature of politics in the political philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli. Among other things, the paper looks at Machiavelli’s conceptions of the virtues of leadership and the objectives of the state. It also compares Machiavelli and St. Augustine.
Machiavelli’s Conceptions of the Virtues Leadership and Objectives of the State
Generally, Machiavelli does not look at virtue from a Christian perspective (Machiavelli and Wootton xxix). In his opinion, leaders are meant to have manly virtues such as being prudent, having courage, and exercising justice. Despite the fact that he does not look at the manly virtues from a Christian perspective, Machiavelli contends that leadership virtues should not be used to dominate others. They should not be used to betray friendship or as an excuse for one to be without religion. Consequently, Machiavelli argues that leaders should not be involved in wicked acts for selfish reasons. In his judgment, such leaders should be changed through the power of the people since individuals have the ability to change any leader who fails to lead as expected (Machiavelli and Wootton 8).
Machiavelli shares similar views with other political philosophers regarding the objectives of the state. According to him, one of the objectives of the state is to look after the interests of its citizens. It is alleged that he “spent fourteen years faithfully serving the Florentine state, thinking only about power” (Machiavelli and Wootton xiv). This includes dealing with any form of external aggression by neighboring countries. Another important objective of the state is to maintain law and order and to ensure that the needs of all citizens are catered for. Thus, it is imperative for the state to use any means available to acquire power and provide effective leadership.
According to Machiavelli, there is no single association in the society that is more important than the state. He also alleges that the state was created in order to meet the physical needs of citizens. The state is also regarded as being self-sufficient and with no religious attachments. Although religious teachings may be used to help in the realization of the objectives of the state, Machiavelli argues that it cannot influence politics. Besides being self-governing, it is also alleged that the state cannot be controlled by the church. Consequently, it is inappropriate for the church to interfere with the operations of the state.
Our Political Ends According to Machiavelli
In Machiavelli’s opinion, politics is a means through which the state can acquire power in order to provide safety. The ultimate end of any political process is, therefore, an absolute state that can effectively meet the needs of its citizens. As a result of his background, Machiavelli was convinced that power is an important requirement for protecting a country against internal rebellion or attacks by powerful neighbors. In addition, power can only be acquired through a political process and not in any other way.
How this Reflects Assumptions about Human Nature and Political Reality
Apparently, the society is controlled by laws that are entrenched in human nature. To a large extent, political reality is founded on the fact that politics is controlled by laws that are based on how human beings react to situations in the society. For any meaningful transformation to take place, it is imperative for leaders to have a good understanding of the association between the law and human nature.
Role of the State Relative to Its Citizens
While most people expected Machiavelli’s virtues to be the manly ones, Machiavelli’s approach to life issues was quite opposite. In his opinion, being rash may be permitted as long as it can lead to success (Machiavelli and Wootton xxix). Consequently, he supported the fearful strategies as long as such strategies could ensure greater good for all and subsequently lead to success.
Debatably, Machiavelli advocated for a powerful state for a number of reasons. First, he was born in a wealthy family at a time when Prince Medici was a very powerful ruler. Because of his background, he got an opportunity to learn so much about politics. Machiavelli also worked quite extensively as a government officer and understood the major challenges faced by state authorities. As a consequence, he figured that a powerful state was an important requirement. Seemingly, his political views drove people to regard him as a dictator. Secondly, Machiavelli lived at a time when acts of corruption and selfishness were rampant in Italy.
Due to internal fights among the various states in Italy, the country was weakened and became an easy prey for external aggressors. Third, Machiavelli argued that a powerful state was necessary to protect Italy and its citizens from neighboring countries. The unfair treatment of Italy by powerful neighbors is part of what made Machiavelli conclude that Italy was in need of a powerful state to safeguard its interests and to alleviate the suffering of innocent individuals. According to Machiavelli, Italy could not survive with leadership that regarded citizens as being loyal and straightforward individuals. It is due to the fact that most Italians were self-centered and extremely corrupt. Therefore, Machiavelli advocated for an authoritative leader for Italy. Fourth, Machiavelli had no interest in impractical political ideas. He strongly believed that strong leadership was an absolute necessity for effective governance.
Ostensibly, the main agenda behind Machiavelli’s political ideologies was power and how it could be used to safeguard the interests of the state. As a result, politics without power was of no consequence. Although the church has been regarded by some authors as the greatest source of morality in the society, Machiavelli had a different opinion. In his view, the moral teachings of the church cannot be used as a successful guide for a state ruler. Apparently, it is only power that can bring success to a nation and rulers must therefore do everything possible to acquire power. As a result, politics is generally regarded as a means of acquiring power. To Machiavelli, the end of any political arrangement is an absolute state that can only be realized by powerful state authorities.
Arguably, the role of the state is to create a powerful nation that is united and fully equipped to protect its citizens. In relation to the state, citizens are expected to keep away from immoral behavior including acts of corruption. They are also expected to support the efforts of the state in creating a fair society. Machiavelli also argued that no form of human association can be compared to the unity of the state. Despite the fact that Machiavelli’s views about the state are slightly different from those of other scholars and philosophers, he agrees that one of the main tasks of the state is to protect innocent lives. The state is also responsible for maintaining law and order while ensuring the wellbeing of citizens. Generally, human nature according to Machiavelli is wicked and consequently, the state should use every means possible to attain its objectives and ensure that citizens abide by the rule of the law.
Comparing Machiavelli and St. Augustine
Whereas all other philosophers were convinced that the state was a means to an end and thus saw the power of the state as a way to instill morality among citizens, Machiavelli had a totally different opinion. In his view, it is necessary for every state to aim at maximizing its power. Arguably, failure to do so may have a negative effect on the development of a state. Consequently, Machiavelli focused on how to acquire power and retain it.
A clear distinction between Machiavelli and Augustine is based on their different convictions about the responsibility of religion and the church (Saint Augustine 12). While religion is central to Augustine’s arguments, it is given minimal consideration in the writings of Machiavelli. To a large extent, Augustine’s political theory is dominated by a very strong belief that the bible contains important revelations by God. Although Machiavelli focused on the world he saw before him, his values were also closely associated with his view about the relationship between the state and human nature. Generally, Machiavelli’s political thought was not devoid of values.
Unlike Augustine, Machiavelli pursued a method that was in some respect scientific and in a more specific sense, centering on rigorous examination of his subject matter. Machiavelli’s work was also based on systematic research that was unfamiliar to other political philosophers such as Augustine. With a wide experience in practical politics, Machiavelli was a careful observer of the Italian political scene and based his writings on his experiences in politics and civil service. In addition, he took time to study ancient texts in order to compliment his political experience.
Without a doubt, Machiavelli’s political philosophy forms a strong basis for political thoughts of most political leaders in the contemporary world. Unlike other scholars and political philosophers of his time, Machiavelli endeavored to separate the state and religion and regarded them as being distinct from each other with clearly defined roles. Accordingly, the state is considered to be an independent organ that requires no support from the church to realize its objectives. However, Machiavelli acknowledges that Christian teachings can help to impact the way citizens behave.
For most other political philosophers, the state was regarded as a means to an end. Subsequently, state power was a strategy of instilling morality among individuals in a given state. Notwithstanding, Machiavelli held an entirely different opinion from other political philosophers. In his writings, he stresses the need for every state to do everything possible in order to maximize the power. Arguably, failure to do so would make a state vulnerable to attacks and abuse by neighboring countries. According to Machiavelli therefore, it is imperative for state authorities to focus on strategies that facilitate the acquisition and extension of power. Unlike in the Prince, Machiavelli argues that a republic is the best government in Discourses. Arguably, the focal point of Discourses is the success of the Roman republic.
Saint Augustine. The City of God. Trans. Henry Bettenson. New York: New City Press, 2012. Print.
Machiavelli, Niccolò and David Wootton. Selected Political Writings. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1994. Print.