Niccolo Machiavelli


Niccolo Machiavelli may be the most famous and controversial political writer and theorist of all time. He was a student of politics and an acute observer of historical events. Machiavelli has a place in history mainly for his writing The Prince. This book on how to obtain and keep political power consists of 26 chapters. I found The Prince to be as enjoyable as St. Augustine’s writings. These two pieces are by far my favorite. I have been able to relate to both these works and really enjoy what they have written.

One of my favorite chapters is “Fortune is a Woman.” Machiavelli believes in fate and yet he also relies on a self-made destiny:

‘It is not unknown to me that many have been and still are of the opinion that the affairs of this world are so under the direction of Fortune and of God that man’s prudence cannot control them; in fact, that man has no resource against them. For this reason many think there is no use in sweating much over such matters, but that one might as well let Chance take control. This opinion has been the more accepted of our times … And I myself … have now and then in some measure inclined to their view. I think it may be true that Fortune is arbiter of half of our actions, but that she still leaves the control of the other half, or about that, to us.’

This passage reminds of a survey I took in a psychology course that discussed the differences of opinion people have with the “locus of control.” Some people think they make their own destiny while others believe in chance and rely on fate with a very easy-going attitude about life.

Chapter 17, On Cruelty and Pity, and Whether it is better to be loved or to be feared is another chapter I thoroughly enjoyed. Machiavelli writes “Coming then to the other qualities already mentioned, I say that every prince should wish to be though compassionate and not cruel; still, he should be careful not to make a bad use of the pity he feels.” I think ever leader or person in power has to decide what type of leader they want to be. I remember making decisions about what type of leader I wanted to be when I was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute. I eventually was elected Honor Court President which is the highest post a student can earn at VMI and I thought about these same issues as discussed in The Prince. Although I don’t necessarily agree with everything written in The Prince, I certainly appreciate the thought processes and concepts it discusses. I have spent a lot of time evaluating and comparing leaders and leadership techniques while at VMI and I’m able to relate to what Machiavelli writes about.

I don’t agree with Machiavelli’s philosophy of staying in power by any means necessary. I don’t think the “ends justify the means” either. I think leaders must have solid principles and morals that guide them in their positions. I think Machiavelli would disagree because, according to him, staying in power is all that matters. If this was the case than I, too, would have to agree.