Niccolò Machiavelli painting by Santi di Tito
Niccolò di Bernardo Machiavelli, born in Florence in 1469, was a recognized author and philosopher during Renaissance. During this period, through his major political roles, mainly related to diplomacy, he was able to understand society in a remarkable way and to reflect about different structures of government and leader profiles. Also, given the fact that Machiavelli was well versed in classical history, he was able to explore and develop his own concepts on what were some of the best practices of political governance given different possible socioeconomic circumstances. He was also the founder of Realpolitik, a concept based on practical governance direct towards attaining goals in detriment of ideological notions or moral principles, i.e., governing according to objectives, disregarding means.
The most widely recognized literary work by Machiavelli is undoubtedly “The Prince”, a series of reflections dedicated to Lorenzo Di Piero De Medici, a prince at the time, and published in 1531. In this work, the author enumerates multiple approaches to be taken by political leaders upon different situations. All of these ideas are presented in a comprehensive and schematic way and always supported by multiple real historical examples, accompanied by Niccolò Machiavelli’s reflections about the reasons behind why each historical approach was either successful or a failure. Among these, the reader is presented with the cases of Cesare Borgia, Alexander the great, the Persian Darius l, Pope Julius II and many others.
Among the author’s reflections and suggestions, the most remarkable is arguably the one regarding what the population should feel towards their political leader. According to “The Prince”, ideally, the country’s (“principality”) population should feel “love and fear” at the same time for the state’s political governance. However, if this scenario is not possible due to its complexity, it is always preferable, from a leader’s perspective, to be feared rather than loved.
While some of these reflections got strictly related to the concept of “reaching goals by all means”, the term “Machiavellian” started being used in a derogatory way, often related to situations of tyranny throughout the ages, although the author defends a much wider concept.
“The Prince” is considered by many as one of the first works of modern literature but, although it has been a pioneer in this area, one should not forget that it was created more than 500 years ago, an era in which most of these reflections made sense and were appropriate to the social or political landscapes. On the other hand, the most repressive arguments defended by Machiavelli can also help us better understand the mechanisms and objectives behind some of the most violent and autocratic states of the 21st Century, often lead according Realpolitik, and how those aspects seem to be out-of-date, from an evolutionary perspective.
by YKW // 24 March 2022
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