Niccolò Machiavelli

Significance


 That he is regarded as the first modern political thinker who not only gave the concept of state but also of
sovereignty.
 He first gave the idea of Secularism. Allen says,’ The Machiavelli state is to begin within a complete sense an
entirety secular state’. He placed religion within the state and not above it and according to him,’ the
observance of the ordinances of religion is the cause of greatness of the commonwealth; as also in their
neglect the cause of their ruin.
 His importance lies in that he rescued political thought from the scholastic vagueness.
 He also deserves to be ranked as one of the greatest pragmatists.
 Machiavelli’s character and personality as well as his philosophy have been one of the enigmas of modern
history. In the words of George Sabine, “he writes about nothing and thinks about nothing except politics,
Statecraft and the art of war. He was perhaps too practical to be philosophically profound”.
 The extremely dark picture of human nature taken by Machiavelli may explain the existence of the state but it
cannot ‘ explain its ever-growing activities and, the growing multiplicity of social association in the state.
 To quote George H. Sabine, Machiavelli’s philosophy was both narrowly local and narrowly dated. Had he
written in any country except Italy or had he written in Italy after the beginning of the Reformation and still after
the beginning of the Counter Reformation, it is impossible to suppose that he would have treated religion as he
did.
 Many concepts of modern political thought begin with Machiavelli. It was he who first used the word state in the
sense in which it is used nowadays, that is, something having a definite territory, population, government and
sovereignty of its own.
 It was on Machiavelli’s concept of a sovereign territorial and secular state that Bodin and Grotius built up a
theory of legal sovereignty which was given a proper formulation by John Austin. Hobbes borrowed his
conception of human nature from Machiavelli and built up a theory of absolute sovereignty. Both Machiavelli
and Hobbes believe that man is an egoistic brute and is motivated to action by fear. Machiavelli is the first of
modern totalitarian thinkers.
 Machiavelli believes in the potency of material interests rather than spiritual ones and may be said to have
inspired Karl Marx in his materialistic interpretation of history. Machiavelli deifies the state and is for the
complete absorption of the individual by the state. So does Hegel who views the state as the march of God on
earth. Machiavelli is the first exponent, with his theory of aggrandizement of the modern theory of power
politics on which much has been written by thinkers like Nietzsche, Treitschke, Bernhard and others.

Commentaries


Sabine


 He used history exactly as he used his own observation to illustrate or support a conclusion that he had
reached without reference to history.
 the shrewdest insight into points of weakness and strength in a political situation, the clearest and coolest
judgement of the resources and temperament of an opponent, the most objective estimate of the
limitations of a policy, the soundest common sense in forecasting the logic of events, and the outcome of a
course of action.
 The purpose of politics is to preserve and increase political power itself, and the standard by which he
judges it is its success in doing this. He often discusses the advantage of immorality skilfully used to gain a
ruler’s ends, and it is this which is mainly responsible for his evil repute. But for the most part he is not so
much immoral as non-moral.
 Ruler must believe in the religion of his subjects or practice their virtues… Machiavelli offers an extreme
example of a double standard of morals, one for the ruler and another for the private citizen.
 Openly sanctioned the use of cruelty, perfidy, murder, or any other means, provided only they are used
with sufficient intelligence and secrecy to reach their ends.
 His judgement was swayed by two admirations-for the resourceful despot and for the free, self-governing
people-which were not consistent. He patched the two together, rather precariously, as the theories
respectively of founding a state and of preserving it after it is founded. In more modern terms it might be
said that he had one theory for revolution and another for government.

Dunning and Allen


 Dunning: Machiavelli stood on the border-line between the Middle and the Modern ages. He ushered
in the Modern Age by riding politics of the vassal state of religion.
 It was dunning who called his study as “the study of the art of government rather than a theory of the
State”.
 Dunning: Machiavelli stood on the border-line between the Middle and the Modern ages. He ushered
in the Modern Age by riding politics of the vassal state of religion”.
 Allen says,’ The Machiavelli state is to begin within a complete sense an entire secular state’

By Machiavelli


• Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very
necessary to appear to have them.
• And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to
appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with
a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the
opposite.
• And you have to understand this that a prince, especially a new one, cannot observe all those things for
which men are esteemed, being often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to faith,
friendship, humanity, and religion. Therefore it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself
accordingly as the winds and variations of fortune force it, yet, as I have said above, not to diverge from the
good if he can avoid doing so, but, if compelled, and then to know how to set about it.
• For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete
with the above-named five qualities that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful,
faithful, humane, upright, and religious.
• There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally
more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, too few to come in touch
with you.
• Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose
themselves to the opinion of the many.
• Those things were virtuous in a which excelled in bringing success and power and that virtue lay in functional
excellence , these were ruthlessness , cunningness , deceitfulness, boldness and shrewdness along with an
unflinching will.
• The observance of the ordinances of religion is the cause of greatness of the commonwealth; as also in their
neglect the cause of their ruin.
• I affirm that a people is more prudent, more stable and of better judgment than a prince. Not without reason
is the voice of a people likened to the voice of God”.

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