Machiavellian Meanings

Few writers are so significant that they leave a literal mark on the language, to the degree that their name becomes synonymous with a particular idea or phenomenon. Nicolo Machiavelli, however, was just such a man, and his book The Prince has been central to the study of political thought since its initial publication in 1532. In the English-speaking world, the author is probably best known or recognized through the adjective based on his name: “Machiavellian”, which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “of or relating to Machiavelli” or, more to the point, “suggesting the principles of conduct laid down by Machiavelli; specifically:  marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith.” In other words, Machiavelli’s very name has come to designate an individual whose political behavior is manipulative, deceitful, deceptive, and/or dishonest. To a certain degree, this notion perfectly embodies Machiavelli’s political advice, yet in some ways this premise misses the point or, at the very least, fails to recognize the moral, literary, and political subtleties of Machiavelli’s Prince. For this response, I want you to navigate some of the subtleties brought to the page by Machiavelli, and to do so I want you to do three things. First, identify a particularly contentious idea from The Prince, a piece of advice that would seem, for lack of a better word, quintessentially “Machiavellian.” Quote it for the Blog and then I’d like you to critique that notion in several specific ways. On one hand, I’d like you to try to examine his logic, to try and understand WHY he offers the controversial piece of advice that he does. To help support and explain this statement, you should try to place his comment(s) within the historical context of his day and age (something that he himself does repeatedly in his book). On the other hand, I’d like to see how Machiavelli’s idea might be applicable to our own political moment. Is his particular suggestion for political behavior a wise one, a good way for a ruler to (justly) navigate the challenging political waters of the twenty-first century? Or would his premise be problematic in some way, shape, or form if taken up by a modern-day politician? The Prince is a very challenging and fascinating book of political advice, and it will be interesting to see what you are all able to do by way of examining that advice both as it relates to his own day and age, and also as an applicable premise for our current political realm.

14 thoughts on “Machiavellian Meanings

  1. The quote I feel that demonstrates a “Machiavellian” idea is when Machiavelli says, “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.” This quote shows how Machiavelli feels that it is okay and necessary to have violence and be somewhat cruel if need be. He is basically saying that if a man is going to be severely hurt or injured, that it should be so painful or so bad that he can’t fight back. I believe that he brings up this idea to frighten some people, saying that IF one has to be injured, they will be pretty badly injured. I don’t think that this idea would be accepted and justified in todays society. I believe that hurting someone is not always the best way to go about certain situations. Only on some accounts is violence necessary. With that being said, injuring someone so severely would not be just at all. During Machiavelli’s time, this notion would probably be justified because of the simple fact that they know that violence had to come to a halt and sometimes cruelty is the only way to go about it. Even though this idea could benefit Machiavelli and his beliefs, I still believe it would be problematic. By severely hurting someone to the point of no return could affect many people around them.

  2. Here a question arises: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse. The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved. . . . Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present.
    I feel that Machiavelli is valid when he presents this theory. He’s goal is to maintain the state and if something in the way the citizens think is off could ultimately create a problem for the leader. If your people hate u that could cause a rebellion. So that case it would never be good. Your people don’t need to love the leader they basically have to like the leader. It’s okay to be feared because that keep the leader’s people obedient to him. That’s important for any government ultimately. Machiavelli believes that cruelty is okay if it doesn’t affect the good will of the people in the long run. I feel that all of these or key essential points in having a people who support their leader. I believe that he offers this key essential piece of advice because it different times in society where the people have gone against of their government because they were no longer happy. Machiavelli is basically stating facts as to what he has learned overtime. Machiavelli’s idea may be applicable to our own democratic government. If the people are not happy two things can happen. You can be removed from office or the president may be removed from office. If the people are happy then the president stays in office for both terms. Also, I feel that fear doesn’t really have a strong presence in our government because the people pretty much are obedient in American society.

  3. In Prince, Machiavelli goes on to say, “of the ways in which a private person can rise to be a prince there are two that aren’t entirely matters of fortuna or virtù.” One being, “someone raises himself to being a prince through some really wicked conduct.” Machiavelli is basically saying that someone can become a prince or ruler through some immoral ways. I believe he says this because, wicked conduct, for some desperate power-hungry people, might have been the only way to gain power. That, and people actually did succeed in becoming rulers from nothing but force. For example, he goes on to explain how Agathocles, a Sicilian, was just an ordinary citizen who then became a prince through force and himself alone. Machiavelli’s advice is definitely not good advice because citizens can actually rebel and kill the ruler if he uses wicked conduct and is just a horrible person. People in today’s world would certainly not be okay with a person becoming a ruler by force and sinful demeanor.

  4. In Michiavelli’s “The Prince,” he gives a lot of advice on how to rule. The quote that is most “Michiavellian” to me is, “Well, one would like to be both; but it’s difficult for one person to be both feared and loved, and when a choice has to be made it is safer to be feared.” This is from Michiavelli’s question that, should a leader be loved or feared? Michiavelli claims that it is always better to be feared, but not hated. He wrote this in a time of turmoil in Italy. Many people were living in fear of what was to come if the went against their leader. I believe that Michiavelli wrote this because he wanted all leaders to know that one of the ways to be a good leader is to be feared, not loved. For this to be used in today’s political movement it would be wise. This is the best option for a leader in today’s politics. People respond to feared leader more than one who is loved. I believe that all leaders should be feared, while maintaining the respect of his or her people.

  5. Machiavelli says, “Someone who acquires such a state, if he wants to hold onto it, must take care of two (and only two) things: that the family of this state’s former prince is extinguished; and that neither the laws nor their taxes are altered” I can understand why he says this so the current ruler can keep the people happy. People dislike change very much and are more likely to come after the ruler if he does something to anger them and changing laws might be an example that would set society off. Also, he makes a claim that the next ruler needs to ensure the former prince is extinguished and I believe that is because society should be looking at him not the previous ruler. I do not think this logic could be applicable to today’s society because of the way our government is run. We live in a democracy, where we as a society have the opportunity to vote a political leader into office, so it is almost as if it is society’s fault if we dislike the way the leader goes about his business. We cannot extinguish the former leader because sometimes the current president has to finish what the previous one had started. For example, Barak Obama needed to pick up the pieces that Bush left with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: he could not just forget about them. Secondly, with time laws and taxes do need to be altered. We live in a society where new developments are constantly occurring and they need to be acted on. Imagine if laws had not changed since the Declaration of Independence first was written? Laws are written into play more times than not when tragedies happen. Of course there will be people who might throw fit, but if the law is beneficial to the way society functions then so be it.

  6. Machiavelli’s The Prince outlines what it takes to gain and maintain power. Practical, and not afraid to take mankind at face value, Machiavelli has received lots of criticism over his work. Indeed, the term “Machiavellian” stems from the idea that a politician is “marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith”. Looking at his work, it is easy to see how some people feel this way about him. For example, Machiavelli states that “a prince can’t satisfy the nobles without acting wrongly and harming others, because what nobles want is too oppress people”. This advice, though morally flawed, is good advice to a prince because normally, the people who are in power will stay in power, and therefore, it is good practice to be on good terms with the upper crust of society. These are the people who will ultimately be making the decision as to your role as a leader, and therefore you want to keep them as happy as possible.
    This is seen now in a political candidates faith to his donators and sponsors. Though political candidates are supposed to be the voice of those that they represent, they must be wary of how they treat their sponsors, because if offended, donations and sponsorships could disappear, leaving the candidate with nothing. Though maybe this may not come at the hands of harming others, there are ways that these candidates act to keep their donators happy.

  7. In Machiavelli’s, The Prince, a lot of advice and demonstrations of power are explained. In one instance he states, “When a rebellious province is retaken, it won’t be so easily lost a second time, because the prince will have learned from the rebellion not to hesitate to punish the delinquents, to sort out the suspects, and to fix any weaknesses in his position.” (Machiavelli 4). This perception is ‘Machiavellian’ because of the idea that a prince would not hold back any amount of authority that would ultimately punish a rebel delinquent. In order to be a successful prince one must be authorative and be the strongest leader that he can possibly be. A prince must look out for his own being before worrying about someone so low as a criminal. Machiavelli’s position would be applicable to our president who should take all measures to punish a rebellious delinquent. We recognize the sorting out of suspects in today’s judical system and everyday police work. Usually today’s rebels get convicted for treason and is unlawful to do in American society. I know this Machiavellian notion is very beneficial to today’s society.

  8. In Chapter 3, Machiavelli makes the following statement: “At this point one may note that men must be either pampered or annihilated. They avenge light offenses; they cannot avenge severe ones; hence, the harm one does to a man must be such as to obviate any fear of revenge.” In essence he is saying that, if a prince is to maintain power, it would be futile unless he imposes enough force to make a powerful example. In light of this, however, Machiavelli makes the case that a ruler is to be either kind or enforcing, the more preferable being the lesser. In other words, Machiavelli understands that being a benevolent ruler is preferable and that the use of violence may result in unrest among the prince’s subjects, yet if violence is to be instituted it is wiser to impose force with a magnitude at which people will not be willing to fight back. In modern times this comes as an unsettling idea, but within the historical context it makes sense that a ruler must do whatever is necessary to maintain power (or at least this is what makes for am effective ruler according to Machiavelli). For a ruler to be “good” in terms of national approval and widespread well-being, being Machiavellian would not be considered a positive trait. However, if we were to look at the scenario from the perspective of a businessman, personal gain and the maintained control of power are marks of a successful ruler, at least from the ruler’s perspective. From an American perspective, many would disagree with Machiavelli’s political perspective. We have been conditioned to see the world through the eyes of the many, because our system of government takes into account (or at least pretends to) the opinions of the masses, and the voice of the people is heard to a certain extent. That was not the case in Machiavelli’s time; a period marked by massive populations flying under the historical radar, not a single voice to be heard save those who occupied positions of power.

  9. The quote that i find to completely execute “Machiavellian” ideas is “war should be the only study of a prince. he should consider peace only as breathing-time, which gives him leisure time to contrive, and furnishes as ability to execute, military plans.” this idea is Machiavellian because although with high-ranking comes power, the idea of a prince revolving his kingdom and also his full attention around war is unmoral. the authority of a prince is meant to carry out action only if being threatened and or attacked. therefore prince’s should be more focused on how to maintain a strong kingdom not only through military but also attend to the needs of the people. Machiavelli’s position on this idea would’ve been very applicable to the kingdoms within the warring states period between 278-221 BC which war revolved their status and strength based on military actions. Emperors and commanders revolved their lives around war, especially tactics to beat an attacking kingdom. as of today Machiavelli’s idea wouldn’t fit into our society, our president for example focuses more on what he can do to improve our nation such as economy and medical expenses rather than focusing full on war. especially since war plays a major role in our society, with issues arising from other countries, it doesn’t call for complete attention. society of today focuses more on peace than the possibilities of attacks from other nations, thus making Machiavelli’s idea manipulative in the thought of always being aware on war and war only.

  10. “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.” This quote depicts “Machiavellian” ideas. Machiavelli believed deceit was beneficial for a prince. Why would he say this? I interpreted it as he believes a leader should be deceitful to his followers in order to stay in power. During his day in age, war was very prevalent and this might have been necessary to do for a ruler, or a prince, to stay in power. I believe we are lied to by our rulers today and this is completely necessary. I feel that the highest public leaders do keep things from the public, and it’s probably better this way. It would be dangerous if everybody knew everything that was going on at the moment, especially in the aspects of terrorism and war. Machiavelli would probably appreciate our government for keeping some things secretive and others not.

  11. “Is it better to be loved than feared or better to be feared than loved? Well,
    one would like to be both; but it’s difficult for one person to be both feared and loved, and when a choice has to be made it is safer to be feared.” This quote is from chapter 17 in The Prince. The idea of a king or someone in power wanting to be feared over loved is a very Machiavellian idea. He wanted the people he ruled over to be afraid of him so they didn’t turn on him. I also think he says this because love is something that is broken or betrayed often but fear is always there in a sense. Fearing your leader will make you more obedient and would make you less likely to rebel. In politics today I don’t think being feared would work completely. We live in a society where you have to be voted into your position of power, the only real way to win over the vast majorities is to become the most liked. You do not need to be loved completely but being feared in my opinion wouldn’t work in our society. If we feared our president we would not elect him as our leader. We also have the power to take away his power, we have the ability to not let him get voted in for a second term or if he does something terribly wrong he can be impeached. The idea of being feared over loved would work better when the person in charge was a king but in a democratic society, being fear alone would not allow for a President to be elected into office.

  12. In Machiavelli’s “The Prince” it is once said, “A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war, its methods and its discipline, for that is the only art expected of a ruler…” This quote most represents “Machiavellian” to me because it grabs his whole concept about the sole purpose of a prince. Machiavellian means that the goal to run a kingdom is self-preservation. He is staying that a steady environment/government is the best thing as a whole. A prince sole purpose is to take action to maintain a strong kingdom through military needs. War is always the best answer. Machiavelli idea makes sense for his time period because the stronger the military forces the more power you will have. In today’s society this would not work because the prince would be too busy wanting to create war. The prince in our society would be like the president and if the president just turn to war for answers he would hurt the country even more. The president would forget about his people and peace would never be achieved.

  13. In The Prince Machiavelli is quoted as saying “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.” In this quote he is saying that if you must use violence to another man that you should injure him to a point where he is no longer capable of retaliation. Back in Machiavelli’s time period this would be seen as an accepted way of torture and receiving information, but in today’s society that would be a frowned on tactic. Also this could be used in another way trying to say that if you have an enemy that you must attack or fight you should cripple them to the point that they are no longer a threat to you or your people. This interpretation would be seen as an acceptable tactic today in the twenty-first century. Depending on how the quote is interpreted it could be a very successful quote in helping the government or it could be seen as a negative way to rule.

  14. Machiavelli’s quote saying “He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command” directly pertains to our society today but even more specific, it directly pertains to Josef Stalin, past leader of Russia. Stalin believed in springing out fear in his society which was actually another topic that Machiavelli discussed. Machiavelli discussed that a leader should possess both love and fear from his followers which Stalin had to a certain extent. Although Stalin never had the love of his supporters, he decided to use fear to his advantage which worked for him extremely well since most of his followers supported him in the sole fact that they were afraid what would happen to them if they didn’t follow their orders. I believe Machiavelli’s quote saying “he who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command” was really essential to the way that Stalin lead Russia because he knew how to command with the element of fear spread across a whole country.

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