Machiavelli’s relevance

Niccolò Machiavelli was an Italian diplomat, author, philosopher, and historian who was born in Italy in the year 1469 during the Renaissance and is best known for his political treatise ‘The Prince’ which was written around 1513 but not published until 1532 i.e. about 5 years of his death. He has often been called the father of modern political philosophy. In this epoch-making book, he for the first time propounded unconventional ideas, which were new and shocking for the Renaissance people where religion and morality had reigned for centuries. Among his precepts, he espoused that leaders should always mask their true intentions, avoid inconsistency, and frequently “act against mercy, faith, humanity, and religion, to preserve the state.” He strongly advocated that “the end justifies means”. All these vices recounted by Machiavelli are by and large present in all societies of the world as well as in Pakistan’s ruling and business classes in particular. However, Machiavelli, by justifying all means to attain ends, has been dismissed as an amoral cynic.
What was Machiavelli’s intent in writing The Prince? Some say he wanted to empower tyrants; others say he listed their crimes to expose them. But over the years all kinds of people according to their professions and bearings found some kind of support or advice in their respective pursuits. The book follows its declared purpose fearlessly and without hesitation, and this is its primary achievement. Machiavelli knowingly or unknowingly shifted the sense of “virtue” from moral worth to effectiveness. To retain possession over their territories, his ‘virtuous’ princes were exhorted to resort to the grossest violations. In conveying this he employed his language and diction so skillfully that it became a riddle for centuries to truly resolve his intentions.
Machiavelli has a very pessimistic view of human nature which is central to his moral philosophy. Machiavelli recommends the following three characteristics and behavior for princes: He writes that ‘It is better to be stingy than generous. It is also better to be cruel than merciful and last of all, It is better to break promises if keeping them would be against one’s interests. These are indeed disgusting messages for a sensible modern reader, because of which Machiavelli became a symbol of hatred and lawlessness.’
‘The Prince’ is significant to the history of political thought because it advocates a purposeful approach to problems. Since he believed that the world could not be changed by the then leadership, he proposed a system of governance based on what was available. Due importance has been given to Machiavelli because his research focuses on metaphysics, ethics, philosophy, and biology. Niccolò Machiavelli was one of the most influential political theorists of Western philosophy. The historians report that “His most-read treatise, ‘The Prince’, turned Aristotle’s theory of virtues upside down, shaking the European conception of government at its foundations.” Machiavelli believed instilling fear was an effective way for a ruler to control his subjects. In ‘The Prince’, he says that punishing an individual for their actions is justifiable if it benefits the community as a whole
Since the publication of ‘The Prince’, the term “Machiavellian” has been used to describe corrupt politicians who use fear and cunningness to keep their political power. In this book, Machiavelli describes specifically how a leader can stay in control without losing the support of their followers. Machiavelli believed that to keep in power, a leader could not always be a “good” person. The rulers did not live in ways that they were not supposed to live, which brought about their fall. For a ruler to remain in power, he could take action which would have otherwise been considered brutal or immoral. The action of the rulers is justifiable if it benefits the community as a whole. The ruler must ensure that he should not push things too far to the point where they are hated by their community. Machiavelli believed instilling fear was an effective way for a ruler to control his subjects. In ‘The Prince’, he says that punishing an individual for their actions is justifiable if it benefits the community as a whole. Effectively, these punishments would serve as a lesson to the rest of the community. Machiavelli’s main point is that as long as their subjects see the outcome of a leader’s actions as positive, it does not matter how the outcome came to be. Ultimately, the ends justify the means, regardless of morality. The only thing a leader would need to worry about is not pushing things too far to the point that they are hated by the community.
Machiavelli also states that good leaders must convince their subjects that they possess certain positive qualities to keep them in check. The specific words he uses in chapter fifteen are: “One is reputed generous, one rapacious; one cruel, one compassionate; one faithless, another faithful; one effeminate and cowardly, another bold and brave; one affable, another haughty; one lascivious, another chaste; one sincere, another cunning; one hard, another easy; one grave, another frivolous; one religious, another unbelieving, and the like. And I know that everyone will confess that it would be most praiseworthy in a prince to exhibit all the above qualities that are considered good.”

The writer is a provincial civil servant in Punjab and an author.

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