Machiavelli’s Political Ideas and Influence
The Renaissance took place in Italy during the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries. The Renaissance was a “rebirth” and revival of political and social ideas from the Ancient Greek and Roman eras. One social ideal of the Renaissance was Humanism. Humanism was a Renaissance idea that emphasis human potential and ability. A political idea from the Renaissance was political realism. Political realism is when a ruler accomplishes goals in the interest of state and does not mind resorting to violence if necessary.
A major author and political figure from the Renaissance who embodied political realism was Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli was a Florentine born in 1469 and lived during the crux of the Renaissance. Before his career as an author Machiavelli was a Florentine ambassador in France and The Holy Roman Empire. Machiavelli studied Renaissance humanism and political realism. As a reaction to what he saw in the north, In 1513 Machiavelli wrote The Prince, which explained his ideas and experiences from his time as an ambassador.
The Prince was a how-to book on how to rule a country and how to conduct yourself as ruler. After Machiavelli wrote the Prince he became a chief political figure in the Medici. The Medici were a wealthy banking family that consolidated power in Florence. Machiavelli worked as a political advisor to the family until he died in 1527. Machiavelli’s discusses his ideas in The Prince. In the Prince Machiavelli explains his unique and different ideas such as political realism and ruling with the best interests of the state. Also he influenced rulers in the Renaissance, and today in modern political theory.
Before writing The Prince Machiavelli was an ambassador in France and the Holy Roman Empire. During his time in Northern Europe as an ambassador Machiavelli concluded that the people in the north were barbaric, but if there was a war between Italy and one of the Northern European states the Italians would loose since Italy did not have a free standing army. A second reason for writing The Prince was to gain high political status with the Medici family. The third and most important reason why Machiavelli wrote The Prince was to question the work of Ancients, in particular Livy, and to give is opinion of how a prince should rule his country. As Machiavelli said in his Discourses on Livy, ” It is necessary to whoever arranges to found a Republic and establish laws in it, to presuppose that all men are bad and that they will use their malignity of mind every time they have the opportunity. ” These were the stepping-stones for Machiavelli’s reasons for writing The Prince. In The Prince Machiavelli outlines certain characteristics and qualities that he believes a prince should have. One certain characteristic was a prince should be very deceitful.
He thought that if a prince is deceitful he is also unpredictable and your enemy could never calculate the prince’s next move. Machiavelli believes a prince should, “appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, religious upright, and to be so, but with a mind framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite. ” By showing good qualities the people think their prince is merciless. But if he can possess the polar opposite qualities as well, a prince can be unpredictable to their enemy. If a prince were to take Machiavelli’s advice his enemies could not overthrow him.
A second idea Machiavelli discusses in The Prince is, a prince should rule with the best intensions for the state. Ona Matei, a professor at Western University of Arad, wrote an essay on Machiavelli’s ideas on civic virtues and said, “A man who never abandons the task of searching the common good for the community/the state he rules and who posses all the necessary virtues in order to accomplish this task” If a prince accomplishes tasks with the best interest of the state he will be well liked by his subjects and won’t be threatened to leave power.
Also if a prince is well liked by his subjects it is much easier to accomplish tasks with the interest of the state. By ruling with interest a prince can be forced to leave power by his subjects. Machiavelli’s third topic is his biggest concern for Italy. After working as an ambassador he noticed that the “barbarians” or countries from Northern Europe had large armies with well-trained soldiers. Since Italy relied on mercenaries to do most of the fighting Italy would be taken over by these large, barbaric, armies if there was ever a war between them.
So Machiavelli emphasized that a prince should have a free standing army. In The Prince he said, ”Mercenaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious, and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies”. . If a prince were to have mercenaries do all the fighting his enemies can overtake him. But if a prince has a large and powerful army he can intimidate his opponents. Other than being the author of The Prince Machiavelli is well know for his political realism.
In Machiavelli’s case he believed that some bloodshed was all right as long it proves to be beneficial to the state. If the violence is justifiable then it can make the state stronger. During the time of the Renaissance Machiavelli felt there were no strong leaders within the city-states. His remedy for the Italian people is a leader who is strong, but loved by the people. Machiavelli gives this answer to the question whether it is better to be loved or feared, “It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved. If a prince unties both qualities he will never be overthrown because there is no reason if he is loved and if he were also feared then nobody would want to overthrow him. But the reason why it is better to be feared if the two qualities can not be met is a person who is feared is less likely to loose power than a ruler who is kind.