Within Machiavelli’s wide variety of works ranging from history to comedy, his most prominent and arguably the most controversial piece of work must be ‘The Prince’. Once placed on the Index of Prohibited Books, it is now a must read for all current political science students. ‘The Prince’ is widely criticised due to the fact that it not only suggest that morality is dispensable in the quest for power, it even asserts that it is necessary for one to be immoral in certain circumstances to be successful. Professing such a view was unacceptable during his time, not to mention now. However is his portrayal and analysis of politics accurate?
To find out we shall now discuss if Machiavelli’s realism is an accurate account of politics. I shall start from Machiavelli’s views on military. Machiavelli stated that one should always be armed ‘for between an armed and unarmed man there is no comparison whatsoever, and it is not reasonable for an armed man to obey an unarmed man willingly… ‘(Machiavelli, 1998, 49-50). This shows that Machiavelli places great importance on having a creditable military. His reasons are obvious, for history was littered with great military powers conquering and imposing themselves on states with weak military but never the other way round.
Examples ranged from Hitler who used his powerful military to force Austria and Czechoslovakia into merging with Germany despite their resistance, to the America that insisted on ‘liberating’ Iraq despite Saddam’s apparent willingness to compromise. All these just show that diplomacy without force is feckless. Thus one could see how Machiavelli’s realism gave a largely accurate account of politics in the international arena. Now I shall focus on how a prince should behave because as it is still relevant to our politicians. Machiavelli stated that a prince need not be morally upright but he should always appear to be so.
‘For everyone sees what you seem to be, few touched upon what you are’ and ‘ordinary people are always deceived by appearances and by outcome of a thing; and in the world there is nothing but ordinary people… ‘ (Machiavelli, 1998, 60). I find this to be true even in today’s democracies, for politicians are elected largely due to their image (appearances) rather for who they are in reality. Public only knows their politicians through the images they project, few will ever know them in person. Hence so long as their images were maintained and had good achievements (outcome) during their time in office, it is easy to remain in power.
Troubles only appear when their character flaws were exposed. This is evident even in a mature democracy like America, where scandals ranged from President Nixon’s Watergate to the President Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky. If the scandals were not exposed, they can easily remain securely in power without having to face impeachments of any sorts as both Nixon and Clinton projected an image of being successful and respectable. Hence once more Machiavelli’s realism was able to paint an accurate picture of politics in democracies. Finally I shall focus on Machiavelli’s views on cruelty.