Machiavelli's The Prince: Politics, War, and Human Nature Essay

Machiavelli's The Prince: Politics, War, and Human Nature Essay

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Machiavelli's The Prince: Politics, War, and Human Nature


"[I]t is necessary for a prince to know well how to use the beast and the man." (Machiavelli, The Prince, p. 69[1]). In this swift blow, Niccolò Machiavelli seems to strike down many visions of morality put up on pedestals by thinkers before his time. He doesn't turn to God or to some sort of common good for his political morality. Instead, he turns to the individual?more specifically, self-preservation in a position of power. Machiavelli's vision rules out the possibility of a 'higher' political authority if 'higher' is meant to say that the morality comes from the divine, but his vision certainly does not rule out any sort of higher political morality. To guide the actions of men in general, Machiavelli turns to the actions of the strong prince. Machiavelli?s higher political morality is to pursue the means to gain and hold power.

Machiavelli approaches the topic of political morality in a completely different way than many of the thinkers that preceded him. Instead of beginning with the way things should be under ideal conditions, he goes straight for reality and observes what he believes to be brutality and savagery being played out in politics. Machiavelli reasons that politics is war, no matter which way you cut it. ?Thus, you must know that there are two kinds of combat: one with laws, the other with force. The first is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because the first is often not enough, one must have recourse to the second.? (Machiavelli, p.69). Notice that ?laws? are a type of combat. Again, Machiavelli swerves away from the path that many thinkers would take at this point. Instead of launching a criticism of m...


... middle of paper ...


...nocent on all counts of breaking campaign promises, selling out allies, misleading voters, and doing something right for the wrong reasons. Sure, the world would be a better place if all men acted like men (and not beasts), but since at least some will act like beasts, then anyone who wants to succeed must also be willing to act like a beast if necessary. ?For a man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are no good.? (Machiavelli, p. 61). Machiavelli was right. Politics is war, and to win in that war for your own good and the common good, you must know the man and the beast.


[1] Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Trans. Harvey C. Mansfield. Chicago, 1998.

[2] Augustine. The City of God against the Pagans. Trans. R. W. Dyson. Cambridge, 1998.

[3] Aristotle. Politics. Trans. Ernest Barker. Oxford: 1995.

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