Machiavelli is one of the constitutional influencers featured in the KTB Prep American Government and Civics series designed to acquaint users with the origins, concepts, organizations, and policies of the United States government and political system. The goal is greater familiarization with the rights and obligations of citizenship at the local, state, national, and global levels and the history of our nation as a democracy.
Niccolo Machiavelli and The Prince
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) is the father of modern political science. He is the first to fundamentally break political realism and political idealism in his seminal work, The Prince, which is a manual for acquiring and keeping power that rejects rule based on an imaginary ideal society previously advocated for by Plato and Aristotle.
Machiavelli’s ideas had a profound impact on political leaders throughout the modern west, helped by the new technology of the printing press. During the first generations after Machiavelli, his main influence was in non-republican forms of governments.
In The Prince (written in 1513 but not published until 1532, five years after his death), Machiavelli introduces and compares a “New Prince” (those who seize and hold onto power) as opposed to a “Hereditary Prince” (those who inherit power) which was the standard at the time. According to Machiavelli, hereditary princes differed from new princes in that the former had to balance interests to which people were accustomed while the latter had to stabilize his newfound power in order to build an enduring political structure. In both cases, the social benefits of security and stability can be achieved in the face of moral corruption.
Machiavelli believed that public and private morality had to be understood as two different things to rulers meaning they had to balance their reputation with the ability to act unscrupulously when called for. It’s better to be feared than loved, and the methodical use of both brute force, fraud and deceit are necessary to head off challenges to authority in his political theory.
The Ends Justifies The Means
This approach to power is often attributed to interpretations of Machiavelli’s Prince. Again fraud and deceit are necessary for a prince to use, and violence may be necessary to successfully stabilize power and introduce new political institutions. Force may be used to eliminate political rivals, destroy resistant populations, and purge the community of suitable replacements of the ruler. Machiavelli’s prince is exactly the kind of ruler that spurred Magna Carta (the first installment in our series).
Next Constitutional Influencer: Rene Descartes