State and statecraft by Niccolo Machiavelli

State and statecraft by Niccolo Machiavelli

Like the human life, political thought is also a constant procedure and it is tough to draw a line difference between the medieval and modern political thought.  Most of the scholars pronounced that the political thought of middle ages is fairly not the same from modern thought.  The middle age thought was theological, dogmatic, allegorical, universal and uncritical as equated to the modern that which consist of objective, rational, scientific, secular and national. The Medieval thought was not new but it was a constant procedure of the Hellenic and Roman ideas, to which new ideas of Germanic and Christian traditions were contributed.

Modern thought was the result of the Regeneration Movement of 14th and 15th century, in which humanistic principles and scientific viewpoint came to dominate the western political thought.  There was an upsurge of literature in which more importance was given to study of relations between man and man, rather than man and God.  This sort of studies rested the foundation for a new chapter in political thinking in 17thcentury.  The world now witnesses the main components of modern political thought such as secularism, tolerance, emphasis on rights, individual happiness and liberty, popular sovereignty, representative government, contract, private property, international and peace etc., were not known to the ancient and medieval thoughts.

Most of these concepts initiated with ancient political thinkers, and were established by medieval thinkers and these were further advanced by the modern political thinkers.  The Regeneration and Reformation thinkers like Machiavelli, Luther, Clavin etc., gave protruding place to these concepts through their writings and contributed to change from medieval to the modern period.  Niccolo Machiavelli was one of the best thinkers of this change. Machiavelli sets a new chapter in the improvement of political philosophy.  He was more of a politician rather than political thinker /philosopher.  His thoughts were principally determined by the historical background of his life.

His Early Life:

Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy, in 1469, in a modest means of family.  His father was a jurist.  He could not get proper education during his childhood, under the direction of his father he studied the Latin Classics, especially on Roman history.  Then he joined the government of Florence as the Secretary of Chancery as he grew up.  In this capacity he got an opportunity to deal the departments of war and interior.  Diplomatic correspondence used to pass through him. He was put in jail on the charge of conspiracy, his failure to side with new rules with the change of power.  He wrote master piece the prince in 1513, eight years later he wrote Discourses.

Influences on Machiavelli:

The factors which influenced the thinking and philosophy are here under:

Conditions in Italy:

During his time the Italian Peninsula was separated into a number of small independent states which fought wars continuously.  They had dissimilar forms of governments; while some were republics, others were rules by despotic rules. Some sort of consolidation of these states has been achieved by the beginning of 16th century still they were divided into five groups like 1) Kingdom of Naples, 2) Territory of Roman Catholic Church 3) The Duchy of Milan, The Republic of Venice and 5) Republic of Florence.  Distant from interior fights amongst these states there was a severe threat from France and Spain on the borders.  Machiavelli wanted to unite these combatant states and make them self-sufficient and strong so that they could handle with them efficiently.  He wrote a books like Art of War, The Discourses on Livy and the Prince, in this book he wrote the principles, which he wanted these states to follow so that they could flourish and thrive. He appealed to the strong ruler who could unite the country and oust foreign invaders.  He practically observed papacy as a greatest difficulty in way of secular integration.

Impact of Republic:

The Renaissance Movement which was for the stimulation of ancient values and culture, had the effect on him, because it was sturdiest movement in Florence.  The movement recharged the ancient and had been elapsed the medieval period but also created perception of life, a new prospect of life and freedom. Man become centre of all studies and God was related to background. This was the revolt against the authority of church, this made the gradual transfer of power from church to state.

Emergence of Strong Monarchies:

The arrival of strong monarchs who took the complete political power in their hands, which was with feudatories and corporations, was left an impression on him.  He was significantly influenced by the writings of Aristotle and Marsiglio.  He learnt the idea of separation of ethics from politics from Aristotle and also the idea of state as the highest organization of human, and also influenced by the division of Monarchy, Aristocracy and Democracy.  He was influenced by Marsiglio, of secularism and political unity of religion are concerned.  It was correctly said that he was the epitome of his times.

Method of Machiavelli:

The approaches assumed by him are positive and negative aspects in his thinking’s, the positive side of thinking, he carry out the Aristotelian process from the particular to general.  His technique was realistic method of observation followed by historical method.  On contemporary politics he made an analytical study. On conclusion he took the help of history of authenticate them.  The historical method practically suited him, because he was mainly student of practical not speculative politics. He was a experimenter, he had not used political philosophy.  His writings were treatise on the art of government rather than the theory of state.  The historical approaches he used a sort of peculiarity in theory.  Historical method to politics comprises criticism of instances in history.  Prof. Dunning pointed out that his historical method was more in appearance than reality.  Thus it may be conclude that his method was inductive Sabine puts it, “His empiricism was based on commonsense practicality’. From this Sabine had concluded, ‘His method in so far as he had one, was observation guided by shrewdness and common sense”.

On the negative side, he totally rejected the theory of Divine law.  In other words we can say that he had no faith in the cardinal doctrine that man was able to predetermine to a supernatural end.  Since there was supernatural end, there was no need for divine law.  He also rejected the natural law as well.

Machiavelli as a Modern Thinker:

He was a modern thinker only in the sense that, he used certain new ideas which were symbolic of modern age.  Some of them here under:

  1. He rejected the Idea of natural law and created his entire thinking basically on the bad nature of human beings.
  2. He completely rejected the fundamentals placed by medieval thinkers, he considered state, to provide security and peace to the people.
  3. He underlined the secular character of the state and overlooked the principle of ‘divine law’ which was popular in medieval times.
  4. He, for the first time he supported the idea of national territorial and state which was independent of pope.
  5. Unlike medieval thinkers, he made use of inductive method along with historical method.
  6. He did not give importance to ethical factors, instead he gave for material motives
  7. The important factor which separates him from medieval thinkers that he separated ethics from politics.
  8. His thinking of separating politics and morality also give a separate look when compared with medieval thinkers.
  9. He essentially mentions to all those features of the state which were progressed during the next two or three centuries like state, is a secular institution and church should be subordinate to it.

Political Ideas of Machiavelli:

He was not a methodical political thinker, he uttered separate views in his works.  We can associate his ideas in a systematic manner and study them.

Machiavelli on Human Nature:

He conveyed his opinions on human nature in his ‘Prince’.  According to him human beings are very selfish, wicked, degenerate, Unscrupulous and opportunists. He says that man is not social but anti-social and tries to encourage his own interest every time.  To endorse he can do whatever he wants.  He says that men love their property than their kiths and kins, a person can readily pardon the murder of his father than the seizure of his patrimony.  His description of human nature is wrong.  Human beings all are not wicked.  They are neither completely good nor completely bad.  He said that, human beings cannot be reformed at all.  Anti-social elements criminals can be mitigated.

His Views on Morality and Religion:


He varied from the earlier thinkers, he tried a formal and conscious separation between politics and morality.  He observed politics and ethics as instituting one whole science.  He made a thoughtful and complete separation between ethics and politics.  He rejected the cultivation of virtues like humanity, submissiveness and disapproval for worldly things on which medieval thinkers laid so much stress and consider quest of well beings in the life as the sole objective.  For attainment of these objectives he even allowed the use of immoral means like fraud, forgery, trickery, breach of faith, violence etc. by the prince.  To achieve the unity of the country he was willing to through the principles of morality to the wind.

It is obvious that he suggested two dissimilar values of morality one for the ruler and other for the private citizens.  The first is arbitrated by the success in keeping and increasing power.  The second by the strength which his conduct imports to the social group.  He openly condemned for open support of immorality in public life.  However, it cannot be denied that his views on ethics and politics suffer from numerous short comings. His views have been acknowledged by most of the clear minded political thinkers in the successive centuries and they have understood that the individual and the state cannot be exposed to the same rules of morality.  Lord Action has said that, “the authentic interpretation of Machiavelli is the whole of later history.  We find everybody using Machiavelli and still denouncing him”.

His Theory of State and Its Preservation:

Machiavelli well thought-out state as the highest connotation and all the subjects must submit to state.  State was be present to check the selfish interests of human beings and it was artificial creation.  State was estimated to create and promote materials of prosperity to the people.  The prosperity of people specifies the success or failure of the state.  According to him a successful state was originated by single man and laws which were made by him replicates national character of state, he favored Monarchy and completely disliked Aristocracy.

He classified states into two types 1) Normal and 2) Perverted. According to him Normal State was the one in which citizens were faithful and law abiding.  They were ready to safeguard their motherland because they have spirit of patriotism. In the perverted state above qualities would not be present.  He said that normal state had tendency to grow when compared to perverted state.  Machiavelli laid down detailed rules and preservation to strengthening of state.  They are as follows.

  1. State must have a dependable army poised of native troops and should not depend on foreign acquisitive soldiers.
  2. He considers Republican state as the best, but under the, then prevailing conditions he favored Monarchial State. He says “The only way to establish any kind of order there is to found a monarchial government; for these the body of people is so thoroughly corrupt that the laws are ineffective for curb, it becomes essential to establish some superior power which, with a royal hand and with full and absolute power, may put a curb upon the undue desire and corruption of the powerful”.
  3. His state is completely secular in so far as he does not attribute any unearthly reason to its presence.
  4. The state has a natural predisposition to expand or grow in power.
  5. Law occupies a dominant position in the state. Though he observed force and fear as important aspects in administration, yet he also reflects the good laws as the foundation steps of the state.

Suggestions to the Prince for Retention of Power:


Machiavelli was not a political philosopher, but he was chiefly concerned with art of government.  Thus, he made contributory references to the theory of state and at length with the principles which the price should observe to maintain himself in power.  They are as follows:

  1. The prince should crush all opposition to his authority with an iron hand and should make use of aggressive force.
  2. He holds that a thoughtful use of these devices can avoid the need of force. He wants the rulers to be both fox and lion.
  3. The prince should try to take speedy and firm decisions because hesitation can prove harmful.
  4. A good prince try to uphold peace in the country so that the people can lead a comfortable contended life.
  5. He should maintain a well-trained regular national army of his own citizens and should not depend on mercenary soldiers.
  6. Prince must be a good soldier commander, he must have thorough knowledge of war strategy.
  7. Prince must try to uphold his popularity with the people and earn their love and affection.
  8. Prince should try to nurture public spirit and patriotism among his citizens through education, religion and propaganda
  9. Prince should be better feared than loved because people love a ruler as long as they receive or expect certain benefits.
  10. The prince must maintain utmost secrecy in the conduct of State’s affairs.
  11. It was not important for prince to be honest always. The prince should not mind in violating his promises for the good of the state.
  12. The prince should not touch the property and women of his subjects, because people are very touchy about these things.
  13. Prince should be a good showman and project himself with qualities like generosity, kind heartedness, chivalry, mercy, sincerity, bravery and religiousness.
  14. He should avoid the company of praises, because it effects his sense of judgment.
  15. He should not have permanent friends or enemies.
  16. The prince must collect information about strength of his enemy.

In addition to above, he made number of other suggestions for state craft.  Machiavelli is the most universally reprobated figure in the history of political literature which are regularly followed in practice

Machiavelli’s Political Thought:


His main contributions to the history of political thought has left a deep influence on the political thinkers of following centuries.

  1. He completely disallowed the feudal conception of a hierarchy autonomous entities and predicted a territorial, natural and sovereign state.
  2. He deserves the credit for acquittal politics from the churches of ethics, before to him politics were under the churches. He said that there are two distinct standards of morality for the state and individual.
  3. He was first thinker to definitely condemn the authority of the church and tried to reduce it a subordinate position to the Government.
  4. He, for the first time offered materialist clarification of the origin of state, and collectively overlooked the metaphysical or supernatural elements. Though his views in this regard were not identical with Karl Marx but these views profound influence on Karl Marx.
  5. He was the first exponent of the principle of ‘power politics’ and propounded the theory of aggrandizement which insisted that the statement either expand or perish.
  6. His historical method was another important contribution to the history of political thought.
  7. He was a great pragmatic thinker.
  8. He attached great importance to study of human psychology and advised his rules to formulate his policies, keeping in view of people’s wishes and sentiments.

In view, of his contributions to the political though much praise has been bestowed on Machiavelli.

Shortcomings in Machiavelli:

He is one of the misjudged political thinker, according to Sabine, “He has been represented as an utter cynic, an impassionate patriot, an ardent nationalist, a political Jesuit, convinced democrat and an unscrupulous seeker after the favour of deposits. In each of these views, incompatible as they are, there is probably an element of truth. What is emphatically not true is that no one of them gives a complete picture either of Machiavelli or his thoughts”. He has contributed many thoughts which are new, and consist of number of faults and is been under severe attack. Some of his contradictions and defects are here under:

1 There is contradiction about his hypothesis about the nature of human and reasons which monitor him as sketched in Prince and Discourses. He said in the Prince, man is selfish fundamentally and not able to do good unless appreciative to do so. Whereas in Discourses, he said that, men are neither absolutely bad nor faultlessly good, human character is more complex. If we think that man is selfish it is very difficult to clarify how he works with others to form a state. He also prefers the republic form of government because it can work successfully if the people ready to sacrifice their selfish ends for the upliftment of the society.

2 It is criticised because some of his ideas are shallow and unsuccessful to accumulate proper political concepts. He missed logical and philosophical aspects to his theory, Sabine said that, “he was perhaps too practical to be philosophically profound”. He is not considered as political thinker instead he considers as person with practical question of politics. His writings are mere diplomatic literatures.

3 The philosophy explained by him only just local narrowly dated, he is seen people behaving very crooked and thought that all human are bad. It is not good to analyze the whole human society on the basis of Italian grounds. Allen said about him that, “His judgment of human nature was surely, profoundly at fault. May it not be said that he lacked understanding of just what he most of all needed to know”.

4 The principle of “ends justify the means” has been criticised severely, one of the writer said that, “what is morally wrong can never be politically wright’. The crimes based on politics can lead to counter offences and more crimes are expected from it. His policy corrupted public opinion and encouraging dishonest political practices all over the world.

5 Machiavelli gave unnecessary status to the role of force in keeping people united. He did not estimate the importance of willing cooperation of the people forcing unity to work effectively in the state.

6 He has given more importance to the rulers or the law givers in molding the moral, religious and economic life of the people, the statement seems to be incorrect and he seems to be guilty reserving the “sane order of values” and useful order with casual efficiency. He says that law giver is the architect of the state and society, in fact the society comes first and other latter.

7 He is unable to recognize that prince as a human being may try to encourage his self- interest at the cost of public interest.

8 There has been contradiction between appreciation of monarchical government and his republican government. Sabine said that, “his judgment was swayed by two admirations for the resourceful despot and for the self-governing people which were not consistent. He patched the two together rather precariously”. If we accept Machiavelli’s statement, the only possibility is despotic monarchy and the republican government is ruled out, republican government encourages public spirit among the citizens. It is not possible to do everything by the prince.



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