The Impact of Classical Literature on Machiavellianism

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In offering his own world view and knowledge to the Medici family, Machiavelli draws a considerable amount of his resources from classical figures and ideology. While Machiavelli is writing for a prince, whose goal would be to gain in territory, power, and control; his philosophy ties simply into less vital victories in the lives of common people. In this paper I will explain the points where he differs and conforms from/to the classical ideology in the generalized context of a leader. He uses these in one of two ways, by agreeing with and reinforcing them, or by refuting them. While Machiavelli keeps the need for a leader to have independence, seriousness, loyalty, and intellect; he rejects the necessity of generosity, mercy, and honesty, in favor of the outward appearance of these virtues. While Machiavelli’s viewpoint differs from the common ideology of his time and of classical antiquity, he does not disagree with all of the virtues. One such virtue is independence. Machiavelli spends the beginning of his treatise discussing principalities and defending them. A wise and successful leader, he says, should not use auxiliaries or mercenaries, as they will always lack unity and their true loyalty is always uncertain. For auxiliary troops, their loyalty is always to a rival, whom may betray the leader at any time. Wise leaders also do not consider a victory with outside help to be a true victory. (The Prince, Chapter 13, pg.49) For mercenaries, their loyalty is to whoever can offer them the most. (The Prince, Chapter 12, pg.43) Machiavelli reinforces this key idea with two examples. The first is in the Old Testament when Saul offered David his weapons and armor, which he rejected as he would be unable to fight well w... ... middle of paper ... the leaders that maintain a façade of honesty, while being skillful in deceiving rivals and enemies. He advises that a leader cannot and should not keep his word when it would harm him. He goes on to say that men are so naïve and focused on the present that any skillful deceiver would have little difficulty finding people to deceive. (The Prince, Chapter 18, pg.61-62) Despite some of Machiavelli’s more provocative and shocking statements in The Prince, upon a close reading, his values are not very different from those of the classical period. Although he rejects the genuine need for generosity, mercy, and honesty in return for the appearance thereof; he keeps the more significant remaining values the way they are. The changes that he makes in explaining his view of the world are based on his examination of humans as inherently corrupt and self-serving.

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