The Pathos of Politics (24) Niccolò Machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli

The vulgar crowd always is taken by appearances, and the world consists chiefly of the vulgar. ~ Niccolò Machiavelli

Italian historian, politician, diplomat, and philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) was one of the founders of modern political science. Owing to his hard-nosed realism about the innate corruptibility of those who lust for power, Machiavelli came to command a sinister reputation like no other political theorist.

Of mankind we may say in general they are fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain. ~ Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli viewed individuals generally as wickedly selfish and egoistic. Lacking honesty and a sense of fairness, a grasping man was ready to act in ways detrimental to communal interests. Modern capitalism proved Machiavelli prescient in painting an apt portrait of materialist man.

He who builds on the people, builds on the mud. ~ Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli was convinced that a corrupt people could not achieve or maintain a decent polity, as they would be unable to distinguish between private interests and the public domain. For this reason, Machiavelli favored a strong ruler, and rule of law, with an independent judiciary as a check on corruption by the ruling elite.

There should be many judges, because a few will always favor the few. ~ Niccolò Machiavelli

Unlike Plato, Machiavelli did not dream of a moral philosopher-king. Instead, Machiavelli fondest hope for a ruler was a man with sensible benevolence toward his people.

Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society. ~ Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli saw order and stable political authority as necessary for social cohesion. Hence, he stressed the need for a unified polity, and a government committed to the liberty of its people. By liberty, Machiavelli meant freedom from both external aggression and internal tyranny. Machiavelli felt that public spirit was essential, as selfishness was erosive of liberty.

The chief foundations of all states, whether new, old, or mixed, are good laws and good arms. – Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli’s views were complex, nuanced, and not altogether consistent. He saw the proper polity as particular to the people governed.

As good habits of the people require good laws to support them, so laws, to be observed, need good habits on the part of the people. Besides, the constitution and laws established in a republic at its very origin, when men were still pure, no longer suit when men have become corrupt and bad. ~ Niccolò Machiavelli

On the one hand, Machiavelli valued freedom. On the other, he recognized the need for a strong authority.

The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him. ~ Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli admired a republication form of government, but prescribed despotism to establish a state and to reform a corrupt people.

The first to espouse the power view of politics, Machiavelli was a pragmatist who thought that the end justified the means.

Politics have no relation to morals. ~ Niccolò Machiavelli