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What Implications Did Machiavelli's Idea of the End Justifying the Means Have for Both Renaissance Politicians and What Implications for Politicians Today?

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“It is much safer to be feared than loved.” This quotation is an example of the tough and practical political commentary of Niccolò Machiavelli— philosopher, statesman, and patriot. The son of a poor lawyer, Niccolò spent many hours educating himself in his father’s library. In 1498, he began a political career in Florence, Italy that would lead him to write one of the most important books in history—The Prince The Prince (1513). Machiavelli was not a (1513). Machiavelli was not a great artist or religious leader, but he had the greatest infl uence on history of any single individual of the Renaissance or Reformation.

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In ‘The Prince’ Machiavelli was quite clear that the end the Prince should aim for is the acquisition and holding down of power, the long term stability of the state, the maintenance of order, prosperity and thereby the promotion of the ‘greater good’. The states that Machiavelli sought the Prince to emulate were those of ancient Rome or Sparta and in articulating this vision we can see how the individual citizen’s (or Prince’s role for that matter) is simply to contribute to the ideal of a strong and splendid state.The end for Machiavelli was not riches and glory for the aspiring Prince, nor was it individual freedom or liberty for the populace.In fact it is interesting to note that ancient Rome and Sparta shared another commonality, that of not producing any great art or poetry.Machiavelli’s vision was for a political state not a cultural one and as such had he lived in the early 20th Century he might have been in favour of the kind of state promoted by the Nazi’s. This is not the say that Machiavelli didn’t believe that individuals couldn’t pursue lives based on Christian virtues in anticipation of a heavenly afterlife, but rather that in a World of competing ends the Prince that could and would act by any means would triumph. So is it true that the common good is the only end worth pursuing?I would argue that Machiavelli’s philosophy was a reflection of his position in history and that the common good is achieved not by states but by individuals.Machiavelli saw individuals as pawns in a giant political game of chess whose role was to work towards the achievement of a republican ideal.The view was moulded by his direct experiences living as one of the 80,000 citizens of the republic of Florence in a time that was marked by constant wars between opposing states.In 2009 we live in a World not of city states, not even of national borders but of trading blocks involving billions of people.Today there is a plurality of ideas of what the ‘end’ should be.I argue that the power and stability of the city state has been replaced by the freedom and flourishing of the individual within a Global community.Therefore I am just one person among many in my country of the UK, and my interests are no more or less important than yours.I am willing to see my country as just one among other countries, and my interests as no more or less important than those in other countries.Taking this rationalist and post-Enlightenment view to its conclusion it can be argued that we should have equal concerns for all human beings.Or as Havelock Ellis put it more poetically “we have failed to grasp the fact that mankind is becoming a single unit, and that for a unit to fight against itself is suicide”

I am well aware that Machiavelli might have scoffed at this idea as the ravings of someone overly optimistic about the basic nature of his fellow humans.Machiavelli offered us Savaronola as proof that this wishy-washy thinking thought too highly of human nature.Granted the leaders of today’s countries may act like Renaissance Prince’s in their double dealing but the sands have shifted.The end for today’s political leaders is not so much the glory of their state but the flourishing of the individuals within it.However whether you think that the end should be a state in the mould of Sparta or a civilisation marked by individuals each pursuing their own vision we should not believe that all the ends must be compatible, and perhaps even entail one another.That is a monist idea and Machiavelli hinted at a pluralism of ends, which I agree with him on.Where I differ is that politics should have the individual not the state at its centre, permitting people, within agreed limits, to pursue their own ends for which there is no map.

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There are times when being feared may mean a more firm grip on power for a prince. Machiavelli reasons that it is possible for a prince to be feared and not hated at the same time by showing cruelty only when there is “proper justification and manifest cause”. A prince may achieve the same by keeping his hands off the property and the women of his citizens and his subjects. Machiavelli is right to mention that leaders can maintain power by not appearing to be too merciful to offenders who may disrupt law and order. Even in big democracies like America and India, offenders do not away with their crimes just to please the masses. Indeed, the only way to deal with indiscipline especially in the military may not seem merciful to the public, yet it may be crucial to avert a potential mutiny. Machiavelli argues that a wise ruler should not keep his promises if doing so disadvantages him or the reasons to keep the promises become invalid. He further advises that there will always be valid reasons for a prince to break his promises. In other words, the prince has to learn to be a hypocrite since the masses will always go along with it

President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya promised the electorate that he would deliver a new constitution within the first 100 days of office. A lot of political analysts argue that the president reneged on the promise upon the contemplation of a few ramifications of the proposed new law that him and his cronies were not comfortable with. He reneged on so many of his campaign pledges that by the end of his first term close to or even above 50% of the electorate wanted him out of power. The president was so unpopular that, that it is widely thought (both locally and internationally) that he rigged the elections. Deception of the electorate to win their support during electioneering periods is a widely practiced vise all over the world. However, President Obama appears to want to keep his word regarding the closure of the Guantamo bay detention camp having signed an executive order to that effect on January 22, 2009 (Rhee). He is working towards a complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Today members of the public consider seriously the fulfillment of pledges made to them by presidents before they vote in their favor for the second time. Therefore, it would be imprudent for any leader to go down the Machiavelli’s path of deception and dishonesty.

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As shown above, Machiavelli’s works has become subjects of concern among many people of many countries in the world. This was actually not the intention of Machiavelli himself

It has actually brought up many and varied ethical questions that were inexistent before his writings. Many political and business ventures are utilizing the ides of the book to carry out their weird intentions in the societies. These people are rationalizing many of the actions that they are doing with the prospect that the end will justify the beginning. This is actually wrong having in mind what actually justifies the beginning. In conclusion, there are varied reactions that followed Machiavelli’s work during the renaissance period. They ranged from those which sounded positive to those that were actually negative in nature. However, most of the works that Machiavelli did have been of practical use in many governance and leadership skills in the world.

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Findlaw. U.S. Constitution: Article II. n.d. 11 October 2010. <>

Ochieng, Z. Stunning Revelations. March 2003. 11 October 2010. <>

Rhee, F. Obama Orders Guantamo Bay Closed, Bans Torture. 22 January 2009. 11 October 2010.

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