Machiavelli’s divergence

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli, Political morality -

Machiavelli’s divergence

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli lived during the Italian Renaissance and needed a poignantly distinct philosophy to stand out among the colossal artists during this epochal period of human history. Machiavelli’s political philosophy writings in Il Principe and Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio were the intellectual supernova needed to scorch a path for a new ideal marking the behavior of political leaders as it relates to leading. These works did so in such a brilliant way they carry discernible weight in the modern arena of political dialogue. Niccolò sought to fundamentally change the paradigm of the previous Dark Age by breaking the chains of moral reliance on God and the puritanical views on the nature of virtue. His next break from tradition was how technology could help man conquer nature, a previously dismissed idea due to man’s subjugation to uncontrollable events often seen as fortune or bad luck. A third divergence from Machiavelli was the nature of law being used to channel our selfish nature and facing the reality of humankind’s greed instead of daydreaming about a utopian society [1]. 

Looking at Machiavelli’s departures from tradition, one has to consider the zeitgeist of Il Principe. Aristotle gave us the concept of virtue and its inverse the vice in Nicomachean Ethics, but Niccolò turns virtue on its head by advocating for vice in the scenarios he presents throughout Il Principe as the method for maintaining a stable system of governance. In passage after passage Machiavelli argues for expedience and stability through vice [1]. When given a choice between generosity or miserliness; choose to be a miser, since a generous prince soon runs out of funds to shower the people with for their affection, and then must go to war for other people’s money [1]. In my opinion, Niccolò was being melodramatic by demonstrating what many would consider an antisocial behavior. Afterall, his solutions played out to their furthest, is for the establishment of a stable state. A foreign concept to many people who lived during his time. I feel Niccolò was attempting to break the mold in this instance and free political actors intellectually from previously held notions of good and evil. Machiavelli argued for the provision of a stable and efficient governance and to suspend judgment of a prince using superfluous standards like virtue. Machiavelli could be considered by modern standards as a political manager, where success is measured by outcomes and not by the processes [2].

Niccolò Machiavelli’s second divergence from classical political theory is how humankind can now forge their own path through technology and we humans are the masters of our domain. To modern people this concept may seem like a given, but classical humans suffered no matter how many sacrifices they made. The rains came no sooner. Machiavelli posited half of what happens is within humankind’s control and the other half is left up to fortune, but we can control fortune through impetuous acts and beat her into submission through force of Will. Niccolò illustrates this concept as fortune being a raging river, tamed by dams and dikes to control flooding [1]. 

A final break from classical philosophy was the method leaders ought to consider their application of law. Niccolò was not the first to identify humankind as being overall wicked or cruel, but he was unique in his approach to this wickedness. This new method of governance was more dangerous than discovering the New World according to Machiavelli [1]. These ideas are explained in his later writings, the Discourses on Livy, on how laws should appeal to humankind’s greedy nature to achieve the best results along with arguments for renovating governments and religions regularly, since over time they become corrupted by humans, as opposed to when they retained some good [1]. Eventually, all humans eventually slip into the category of the blamed instead of the praised [1].

These concepts were original for Machiavelli to distinguish him as a philosopher. Numerous times within his writings he states how he is attempting to create a new way of thinking. I assume his allegories often surprised his audience by his advocation of vice over virtue. Personally, I feel Niccolò did this for entertainment and commercial value. When I look at his works as a whole, I see a clear message that stability of government should be the chief concern, but not stability of one particular government, stability for the sake of the populace. Overall, I appreciate Machiavelli’s ideas and I have come to reconcile many of them after my initial contempt at the idea of a virtue-less leader.


[1] Steven, Cahn. Political Philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 

[2] Kettl, D. (2002). Transformation of governance: Public administration for twenty-first century America: The Johns Hopkins University Press


The ends justify the memes

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