POL200 – POLITICAL THEORY
Niccolo Machiavelli and the Italian Renaissance
Niccolo Machiavelli’s impact on political theory is that he is one of the first in Italy during to
realize that traditional morality will not do in a time for turmoil for Italy. Machiavelli was born
in time that Italy was a very fragmented nation with many different city-states, wars, and
factionalism which troubled Machiavelli as he wanted to see Italy united under a secular ruler.
He preferred a republic, but first, an absolutist monarch is necessary to unite the factions, and to
work with Fortuna in such a way that the political plan of the prince can be realized.
In his letters, Machiavelli admitted that during the day he would go to bars and drink with the
other men, and also play games, and talk with the local forester who is cutting down the trees. At
mid-day or in the afternoon, he would put on some more regal and formal clothing and go into
his study and try to understand what the ancients thought about humanity, human nature, and
political organization. Despite the fact that situations and technology may change, human nature
has been generally constant throughout. Machiavelli hoped to find the best way to organize
society, and to learn from the ancients, critically and philosophically their perceptions of human
nature. He studied such authors as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, and many of the ancients,
whom he interrogates in his study to answer his pressing questions in regard of how to best unite
a factionalizes society such as Italy which has many contenders – the French, the Spanish, the
Roman Catholic Church, many different vying city-states such as Florence in particular, and the
While Machiavelli believed that politics is not religion in that the works of the ancient men of
antiquity were not absolute and godly in anyway, they are still able to offer him some crucial
insight in how humans operated, as that is the basis and foundation of all political ideology, and
theory of how society is to be organized for the best of everyone in common.
The Italian Renaissance was also occurring in Machiavelli’s time as it provided him with all the
literature and wisdom from the ancient times to the present in his era to analyze and understand
the essentials of political organization, human nature, and since human nature is not always
constant, he would have to be very critical in his approach. In essence, Machiavelli is saying that
he wants to unify the state of Italy, but to do so he must seriously consider what others have said,
and their experiences.
Machiavelli’s The Prince and The Letters, and The Discourses
There has been extraordinary misrepresentation and misunderstanding of Machiavelli’s work by
those of lesser minds throughout contemporary times. This is because often his contemporaries
only wanted to see him as evil, power-hungry, ruthless, and heartless in his political theory.
However, Machiavelli really wanted for his readers (that is, those who are princely and who are
capable of great leadership – not the ordinary masses who are lost in drudgery) to understand the
importance and significance of theory in political science in order to understand how to rule and
what to do under certain conditions. There is nothing esoteric or occult about Machiavelli or his
theory of political rule. It is important understand and read his work honestly and with great care
as what he says is not the same as what his contemporaries – those of lesser minds wanted him to
be portrayed and painted as.
Despite the impression that most people gave Machiavelli, he was not a bad person, nor was he
evil. The Prince was simply an opening act, the first act amongst three that form the foundation
of his most crucial philosophy of human nature and what to do as rulers. He has one eye to the
past and another to the future – a future of modesty and unity for Italy, and also of dignity and
order – not barbaric warfare, civil war, and bloodshed. He wanted the Prince to be the one who
can carry out the task of uniting Italy. That was his agenda and point for writing The Prince.
Machiavelli did not only care about power and how to attain and maintain it – that is all nonsense
since Machiavelli cared much more about political philosophy based both on experience and
knowledge of the past.
Machiavelli loved his city-state of Florence, the Republic that is, and he wanted it to become
great, but he did not want to see the city-states to be constantly at war with each other over
nothing, and having the French and Spanish trying to take a chunk out of Italy as he believed that
the cause of Italy`s fragmentation was due to the leaders themselves who did not know how to
rule, or for that matter how to bring about unification of Italy.
Florence at that time was a Republic, not a full-blown democracy that is open to change and flux.
The reason why he wrote The Prince when he did was that one family was in charge of both the
Roman Catholic Church and the city of Florence at that time – and it was not an opportunity to
be wasted as the same family could potentially bring about the unification of Italy under one
leader. He wanted to pass along what he has learned, and in turn, The Prince interrupted his other
larger work The Discourses of Livy, which was about how to maintain peace and power at the
same time once the war, and bloodshed is over. Politics, unfortunately is not a, “science” because
there is no absolute rules or a guidebook for how to gain and maintain power. There are general
statements and actions to be taken, but not laws to absolutely and resolutely guide every single
action of man. That is because times and contexts as well as situations change. While most
people would remain constant and be well-settled with their character, the Prince, on the other
hand must be able to adapt, change, and be able to mend and bend his character to situations and
contexts, as well as control his desires for both irrational and rational power (violence and war
versus reason and logic – or deception and cunning).
Overall, what Machiavelli wanted to do was to ensure that the main point of The Prince did not
escape the reader who is a Prince. He wanted to make it easily digestible and readable, even
comprehensible for the Prince since at that time, the Prince was not exactly the brightest man in
Florence who is called Lorenzo de Medici. The Prince is not a how-to manual, an instruction
manual, or even scientific in scope because Machiavelli admitted that he is not the world’s first
political scientist or theorist because of his predecessor such as Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle
who gave him much to think about in the first place.
A major theme in Machiavelli’s work is that of Fortuna. Fortuna is sort of like lady luck, in that
it depends largely on intuition and pleasing this woman, because woman are fickle,
unpredictable, always in flux, and you have to keep them amused or else one shall suffer their
wrath because women are largely unpredictable and are always in flux. Fortuna is also irrational
and can change her mind in an instant because of her emotions.
As a side-note, Machiavelli’s book The Prince is not here to guide us in our personal existence,
and it is not a life-manual on how to gain power and control. Rather, it is a work of political art
because politics is indeed art as one must be able to have some, even limited control over one’s
own destiny, but also be able to take advantage of Fortuna as she can do anything – both
expected and unexpected. She can bring us up, only to tear us down. She can also take us to
rock-bottom and bring us to the heights of our glory. It really depends on context. There is
nothing in life that we can absolutely say that we have figured out, because we have to be able to
adapt and change with the situation of our times. As for the phrase: “Beating Fortuna to
submission” it does not mean that we torture and beat the hell of out women. What Machiavelli
is saying rather, is that if the Prince allows himself to be guided by Fortuna only, and if he is
arrogance and thinks that he has it all figured out (much like Oedipus), then he will be doomed
by Fortuna and her wrath, or her blessing – because she is irrational and full of surprises that will
both shock us and stun us to submission and her fate.
There are things, according to Machiavelli that we can do to please Fortuna – such as being more
cautious, prudent, virtuous, adaptable, and we have to keep amusing Fortuna or else she will get
bored. While we cannot control everything it is better than controlling next to nothing. It is all
about how to interact and engage in a world of constant flux, change, and evolution that is
unpredictable in nature and scope. Hence, politics, as emphasized earlier is no science or magic –
it all depends on human nature, our understanding of our own selves, our society, and our
landscape – political, moral, ethical, economic, and whatever other variables there are to contend
The prince must also have foresight, vision, and virtue. The prince must be able to entice her
good fortunes and her good side. Machiavelli’s mindset is very ancient and we must not look at it
from a scientific-rational perspective because his mind is still locked to the past and a future that
is based not necessarily on reason, but mastery of the city-states, an Italy that is much more
disciplined and ordered, but not necessarily peaceful per se. This is because politics is not nice,
or pretty. It involves lies, murder, massacre, deception, deceit, cunning, seduction, temptation,
and the forging of alliances that will not last – only permanent interests and goals that are
constantly sustained through blood and fear if necessary.
Machiavelli offers a lot of practical advice for the wise Prince because he needs to understand
what he must generally do, if he can do it. The wise leader must be both a man and a beast. In
terms of being a man, if he can get something done without murder and intrigue, then that is
magnificent, even glorious on his part. On the other hand, as a beast, he must able to commit the
most horrendous of crimes and lie about it in the end in order to maintain peace and relative
order. Once again, nothing is absolute, and leaders have to think and analyze the situation more
carefully before they rush head-on into a situation that they know little about. The prince has to
be able to artfully and skilfully control the political dynamics and relationships around him. Most
important of all: CONTEXT is everything. Context forms the basis for all actions and decisions
of all world leaders. Now, most us of are largely cowards because we are not willing to get our