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Theoretical Perspectives Of Power In Machiavelli's The Prince

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This essay discusses the views and arguments of the famous philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) by analyzing and interpreting his theoretical perspectives we come to understand the ways in which he thought to acquire power and to maintain it as a ‘Prince’. In addition to this, we will interpret his work through examples from his book “The Prince” but also through modern day examples that will help us understand clearly. Discussing more on his principalities of being a good prince (ruler) in state, the argument here is how Machiavelli’s views on state and its ruler or rulers are important and how it benefits the way in which we see our own governments today.

In Machiavelli’s view, a good politician is not one who is friendly, kind and honest, however someone who is occasionally underhanded and dark, someone who knows how to defend in rich and bring honor to the state. Overall this is the most important goal. Machiavelli stated that being nice is indeed an important virtue in general, however citizens need effectiveness. He argues once we understand this requirement, we find ourselves less disappointed and a lot smarter in regards to our wants and needs in life not only as politicians but also as citizens. To understand Machiavelli’s thought to obtaining power and take hold of it, we must understand his analytical theory, he splits his political theory with “Prince” and “Republic”, meaning, in Machiavelli’s time, “Prince” meant ruler and “republic” meant shared rule.

(Strauss, 1978) Machiavelli made various distinctions to make sense of politics. He elaborated a lot on 2 types of principalities. First, ruler with all the power which in a sense would be a hard principality to take over and second, ruler with nobles, the distinction between both principalities is that, not only the ruler has power, but the nobles have power as well, in time they will become is content and have the urge of wanting to become the ruler. Thus, schemes against the ruler will be planned and the only way to stop this from happening is to kill the important people and their families whether it be rulers or nobles. This principality is what Machiavelli stresses on especially in terms of obtaining power and advising ways to withhold that power. “Rulers must have to establish, restore or maintain order and stability” ( Matravers & Pike & Warburton, 2014)

In Machiavelli’s book the Prince, he thoroughly explains through historical illustrations his political views and theories. Machiavelli stated when a foreign party enters a country, people who have an existing grievance or hatred towards the ruling power are naturally drawn towards this new existing challenger. Despite conquering territory, the romans attempted to appease the majority of local people and keep down any challenges to their power. Several – taken by the romans to ensure they successfully added other lands to their region. Romans set up colonies and maintained friendly relations with weaker powers, Aetolians however at the time ensuring they did not allow any increase strength in smaller states. Secondly ignored requests of friendships from stronger kingdoms, for example the kingdom of Macedonia, third they did not allow foreign parties to gain authority however Aetholians allied with another power the Antiochus ii from Syria and defeated The King of Macedonia, weakening the stronger power. Contradicting this, The Romans did not allow Antiochus to have any state so they killed Antiochus and also Aetolians because the Romans refused to give any strong party authority. Machiavelli encourages Princes to establish alliances however warns them not to make allies too strong as they can easily turn on you and the game plan you created gets you killed and your ally wins. An illustration of this is King Louis II versus Alexander the VI. Machiavelli depicts power as a scarce resource by actin in a way that solidifies your own power will simultaneously weaken others. To Machiavelli giving others power not only weakens yourself but showcases your faults and weakness to the ally, thus turning on you using the power you once fed them with. ‘He who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined; because that predominancy has been brought about either by astuteness or else by force, and both are distrusted by him who has been raised to power.’ ( Machiavelli , 2009)

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The responsibility of a good prince is to defend the state from external and internal threats to stable governance this means he must know how to fight, have a good reputation and have the ability to manage those who surround him. People should not think of him as soft or easy to disobey nor should they see him as a cruel ruler which will then portray him as disgusting in his society Overall Machiavelli suggests a good prince should be someone who seems unapproachably strict but have reasoning as well. There are few factors that Machiavelli suggests on how a prince should act and keep his power he has earned. One of the greatest principalities is “It is better to be feared than loved”, like one of Socrates most famous quotes “ it is better to be just but thought of as unjust than to be unjust but look just”, Machiavelli believes indeed “it is good to be compassionate , loved and compassionate but it is better to be compassionate, loved and honest when it is useful” . Being feared at your job as a leader or boss is not enough to secure the loyalty of workers. Strength and discipline are required to keep them under control. Good leaders are admired but strong leaders are obeyed being over compassionate enables disorder. This theory for Machiavelli has been used throughout the course of history. Fear and intimidation have often been used as an effective means of motivation in Machiavelli’s era. Cesare Borgia inspired fear by committing cruel acts, however in the end, peace and ordered was restored in a state that was powerful. Machiavelli points out that every prince would be thought of as being merciful but he believed a prince should not mind being cruel, Borgias’ behavior of killing Remirro De Orca VII was in fact merciful as though his acts of cruelty, he saved his people from societal and political chaos. Machiavelli talked about two great leaders Scipio Africanas and Hannibal Barca, both who he used as examples to illustrate the difference between how they both ran their armies and how their act as leaders benefited the state. Prince Hannibal who enacts cruel punishment is not cruel if his behavior creates stability. In contrast, a prince such as Scipio who shows mercy is not really merciful if it allows disorder to grow, which in the end will hurt everyone. A limited member of severe punishments will affect a small group of individuals whereas being excessively merciful can cause disorder and damage the community.

“It is better to be feared than loved”, Arguably the most famous statement from philosopher Machaivelli , however, throughout time has been misinterpreted and misunderstood; this breeds one criticism that is constantly argued by other theorists. Firstly, in an ideal world Machiavelli said it is better to be feared and loved, however realism points out that both factors do in coincide with each other. The argument that it is better to be feared than loved has been face valued and out of content, giving the impression that it is simply encouraging to be deviant and contradicts radical behavior this has led to centuries of abuse throughout history. Thou, when taken into context of what Machiavelli advocates as a princes’ ultimate goal to maintain the state, we can see that this goal requires the people to be compliant which fear achieves.

Machiavelli does not support using cruelty for its own purpose but only to benefit the prince and preserving the state. Machiavelli continues to advice prince’s on how to acquire and keep power. To avoid being hated, prince’s simply have to be feared. He argues that by using the power to protect his citizens and not interfering with their lives, the price can be feared not hated. It is important for a prince to avoid being hated as Machiavelli argues it is deadly as being hated on can lead to be overthrown by your own subjects. Alternatively, if the people fear their prince, the fear acts a more powerful commitment of support this is due to peoples fear of what the lack of support can lead to. Machiavelli also suggests that in order for a prince to achieve fear not hatred, the prince most only be cruel when it is necessary and should not injure his people or take their property. However, threat of punishment should be made clear, as a leader who does so has a far easier time of keeping control of his subjects. Individuals will also comply if the prince does not threaten their lives or property, therefore if the prince wishes to compose discipline there should be a proper reason why and also justification of why the lives will be taken. ‘On this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.’ (Machiavelli, 2009)

In Machiavelli’s view the fear of punishment is constant, the feeling of affection is unreliable therefore when ordering the rulers by their strength the weakest only depends on love, a stronger command inspires fear in his people, the strongest prince instils both fear and love and is not hated but feared. Therefore, it is important for a prince to behave in a sensible manner which also involves cruelty but not to a point where the prince is hated.

Machiavelli’s insights are important, he writes that we cannot be good at everything not only because of our limited resources and abilities but also it is in conflict with our moral codes. If not politics but within businesses or family life which require difficult decisions and sacrificing neo-Christian values of kindness for the sake of practical effectiveness, we may also have to lie just to keep relationships and friendships afloat or ignoring employee’s feelings just to keep the business stable and running.

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Theoretical Perspectives Of Power In Machiavelli’s The Prince. (2021, September 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
“Theoretical Perspectives Of Power In Machiavelli’s The Prince.” Edubirdie, 14 Sept. 2021,
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