Machiavelli has widely been called the “father of modern political thought”.
His thoughts upon deception, the nature of the state, the need for a leader to avoid hatred and his innovative method of political study were revolutionary at their time of writing and are still applicable to modern politics.
Whilst it is true that his thoughts and hypothesis about politics are widely relevant to modern politics it must be remembered that Machiavelli lived in an age vastly different to the modern societies thus it is possible to question Machiavelli’s thoughts in relation to certain issues, specifically here religion. Overarching Machiavelli’s thoughts are still relevant to modern politics.
The best texts to study in analyzing Machiavelli’s relevance to modern politics are The Prince, as the text was intended as a guide to a political leaders (princes) morals and how the state should be ruled, and The Discourses as it is involving Machiavelli’s “political method and is a study of previous political history”.
Machiavelli describes The Prince as “The truth about surviving as a monarch, rather then recommending lofty moral ideals” (Fieser, 2003, web reference)
Thus if one can apply Machiavelli’s concepts to modern politics, Machiavelli’s thought can be regarded as relevant to modern politics.
Machiavelli (1469-1527) was born in Florence and was the son of a civil lawyer. Machiavelli was born into Italy at a time when the politics were very unsteady. Italy was in political division, divided into four different city-states” (Fieser, 2003, Machiavelli; web reference) previously Italy had been ruled by the Medici family, however The Medici family was overthrown during 1494 by the reform movement. (Fieser, 2003, Machiavelli; web reference). It was during the Medici’s absence from rule that Machiavelli became actively interested and involved in politics. He became head of the second chancery, secretary of the Nine of Militia, secretary of the war magistracy and held influence over the head of state at the time, Piero Soderini. (Miller. D, 1987 pg.303)
The Medici family regained power in 1512 and consequently Machiavelli was stripped of his offices and was imprisoned.
Machiavelli’s main work was The Prince (written in 1513 however not published until 1532, posthumously) in order to gain the favour of the Medici family. Having written The Prince Machiavelli was commissioned to write the history of early Italian political history, which became his 2nd major work the Discourses.
Machiavelli died in 1527 the same year the Medici regime collapsed and a republican government was re-established. (Miller. D, 1987 pg.303)
Perhaps Machiavelli’s most well-known and most applicable to modern politics assertion occurs in Chapter 18 of The Prince; where Machiavelli asserts “A prince should know how to be deceitful when it suits his purpose”.
This line of thought is defiantly still applicable to modern politics. Politicians in modern times have used deception in order to win votes, or to help them stay in office or for any number of means and ends during modern politics. The example of the Gulf War in the 1990’s is an example of a politician manipulating the public to garner support for himself or to his means Whereas George Bush – the American president at the time had been lying to the public about humanitarian aid and the effectiveness of the newly developed “smart” weaponry gaining support for the war and election votes. (Stauber John, 1995, Web reference)
Machiavelli’s views upon religion may not be applicable to modern politics.
Modern politics has evolved in a more tolerant way. Due to a changing society modern politics has to be more accepting of various religions to the extent that modern politicians will factor religion into their platforms or include ideas to appeal to appeal to the votes of certain minority religious groups.
Politicians cannot simply discredit religion as Machiavelli does. Machiavelli claims that religion (specifically Christianity) is a virtue that would lead to a Prince’s destruction claiming political virtue has nothing to do with moral (and hence religious) virtue. Machiavelli accuses Christianity of being a servile religion (Perea, Francis, 2002, Web Reference) one that creates slaves to their faiths. He attributes the people’s widespread poverty and regression’s to the religious servitude of the people, their Christian morals kept them form evolving. The Christian virtues including tolerance and humility caused people to bear the lots that they had given and consequently little progress was made.
So in relation to modern politics Machiavelli may have overly simplified or not utilized religion as a tool (to garner votes or to cause change) as modern politicians have. Machiavelli’s thoughts in relation to religion are not relevant to modern politics due to a changed (more tolerant) society.
One of the virtues that Machiavelli asserts would lead to the downfall of a Prince is open generosity.
As James Fieser states on MachiavelliÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s assertion in The Prince:
“If a prince is generous in private then his generosity goes unrecognized and he may be accused of being greedy, however if the princes generosity is done in public he risks going broke to maintain his reputation. He will then extort more money from his subjects and thus be hated.” (Fieser, 2003, Machiavelli; web reference)
Machiavelli assumes then it would be better then for a prince to have a reputation as a greedy man, than a generous one.
In modern politics politicians tend to rely upon the virtue that Machiavelli attempts to dismantle. Politicians make points of publicly donating to charities especially during election time. Charities are factored into election promises, politicians pose with children in order to push their public image forward and politicians strive to gain the public opinion that they are generous and loving politicians. In line with Machiavelli’s theorem many of said politicians when they are elected will not donate or continue with their election promises due to the fact that expenditure may exceed that which they anticipated or simply that the cost maybe too much.
So Machiavelli’s assertion that it is better for a prince to be greedy then to be openly generous is still true for modern politics, as many politicians still rely upon this virtue and later discover the downfall to such a public image.
Machiavelli’s thoughts upon the nature of the state are primarily military based.
“Princes aught to make the art of war their sole duty and occupation, for it is peculiarly the pursuit of those who govern” (the prince)
Machiavelli proclaims that the state should be prepared for war at all times.”And that prince who bases his power entirely on…words, finding himself completely without other preparations (for war), comes to ruin;” (The prince)
Machiavelli assumes that a state should make the expansion of its state its concern. Francis Perera makes the analogy comparing Machiavelli’s theories of the expansion of the state to a moon, if the moon [state] does not wax [expand] it will wane [reduce] (Perea, Francis, 2002, Web Reference). Thus in order to be prepared to overtake neighboring states the state must be prepared for war. If there is no reason to be prepared for war, Machiavelli assumes a reason should be conjured up, playing upon the peoples natural fears of being conquered or their xenophobia. (Perea, Francis, 2002, Web Reference) Machiavelli stresses the importance of having a strong military in order to force neighboring states into treaties that would be to the advantage of the ruling prince. The treaties should contain “ambiguous clauses” that would allow the ruling state to break them should a reason to occur.
As Francis Perera says “Weaker states may be invited to form a federation under the ruling state” (Perea, Francis, 2002, Web Reference).
These thoughts upon the nature of the state can be applied to modern politics especially in the case of the current war on Iraq.
George Bush used the American peoples xenophobia and the threat of terrorism in order to garner support for the war, also in line with Machiavelli’s theory is the “Coalition of the willing” (U.S., U.K. and Australia)
America using it’s military prowess to coerce neighboring states into a treaty allowing them to seem justified in invading Iraq. The current war on Iraq can also be interpreted as a war for oil and consequently a war for land, thus in line with Machiavelli’s thoughts upon the state making expansion its goal.
Hitler’s idea of liebestraum, or living space, also fits in line with Machiavelli’s thoughts. So in studying modern history and looking at current events it becomes clear that Machiavelli’s thoughts upon the nature of the state are still relevant to modern politics.
Machiavelli proclaims that it is important for a Prince to avoid being hated.
This is true in modern politics, where it seems image is everything. Public relations plays a major part in modern politics and the function of public relations is to create a presentable and respect image for the politicians.
Machiavelli assumes people are greedy and so to avoid being hated a prince should never take a man’s woman or his land.
“People more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their inheritance” (The Prince)
Modern politicians take land issues seriously; land rights have become a major issue in politics, especially where native rights issues are bought into consideration. So Machiavelli’s theorem that a ruler or political leader should never take land holds true in modern politics, even if his intention was slightly different.
Machiavelli states that a prince having established his government must eliminate all his rivals (Perea, Francis, 2002, Web Reference).
This is true for modern politics; this ideal is a staple for modern dictatorships.
Especially during Stalin’s Russia where Stalin utilized force in the execution of his enemies during the great purges of the 1930’s.
Indeed to a lesser extent this is even involved in modern democracies, although the methods have changed (in a democracy a leader can hardly order his rivals to be executed), the leader will discredit his rival or manipulate the media in order to seem to be the more favorable leader. So Machiavelli’s thoughts on the need to eliminate political rivals hold true in modern politics.
Machiavelli introduced a new political writing style; studying histories rather then philosophizing or proposing political theories ala. Plato and Aristotle.
This practice continues in the modern study of politics; Politicians study the past and past politics in order to back up claims made or to further their studies into politics as a science. Machiavelli introduced a “new scientific method” of studying politics.
Drawing conclusions and rules for successful political ruling by studying history and using experience.
“Studying men’s behavioral patterns instead of Christian moral precepts”
(Miller. D, 1987 pg.303)
In summation Machiavelli’s thoughts are still relevant to modern politics. Many of his concepts presented in The Prince can still be applied to situations occurring and so his thoughts are still relevant. In light of the recent political events with the war in Iraq Machiavellian tactics and concepts are being applied and during studying modern politics many Machiavellian thoughts can be applied, so his thoughts are still relevant.