Niccolò Machiavelli thoroughly discusses the importance of religion in the formation and maintenance of political authority in his famous works, The Prince and The Discourses. In his writing on religion, he states that religion is beneficiary in the formation of political authority and political leaders must support and endorse religion in order to maintain power. However, Machiavelli also critiques corrupt religious institutions that become involved in politics and in turn, cause corruption in the citizenry and divisions among the state. In the following essay, I will examine Machiavelli’s analysis of religion and discuss the relationship between religion and politics in Machiavelli’s thought.
It is important to establish from the very beginning of the essay what Machiavelli’s politics are and how he arrives at his beliefs in order to understand his views on religion in politics. Machiavelli is a realist thinker whose main arguments are about maintaining political authority over a state by using historical evidence, especially Roman, in order to support his theories. His main writings are an illustration of realpolitik, a government policy that emphasizes retaining power by using any means necessary including war and deceit. “Niccolò Machiavelli … emphasized a political calculus based on interest, prudence, power, and expediency above all other considerations.” (Kegley pp 36) Therefore, one must remember when reading Machiavelli that he is attempting to use religion as an instrument to maintain political power rather than a mechanism for achieving ideals.
Machiavelli’s view on religion stems from his famous argument of whether it is better to be feared or loved as a leader of a state. Machiavelli feels that it is safer to be feared than loved, but a great leader would hope to be both even though it is rather difficult. His reasoning behind this is that he feels the nature of man is to be fickle and greedy and man will turn against the political leaders in difficult times despite his loyalty during prosperous times. Machiavelli writes, “…that prince who bases his power entirely on their words, finding himself stripped of other preparations, comes to ruin; for friendships that are acquired by a price and not by greatness and nobility of character are purchased but are not owned, and at proper time cannot be spent.” (The Prince Chapte...
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... control religion. While the government must stay secular without the influence of religious organizations, it must appear to be quite the opposite in the view of the citizenry. Religious organizations must be used to keep the people pious in order to instill the fear of God rather then a fear of the state for the leader to avoid being despised, in turn causing him to be both feared and loved. Unusual laws and organizations are introduced easier into the city when they are based on religion and morals and often times only divine authority would instill them. Religious institutions must be kept from getting too large and must be kept from gaining political power or else they will turn corrupt and cause divisions among the people as in the case of the Roman Catholic Church in Italy since religious organizations are neither powerful enough to defend the state nor are they willing to submit their power to those who can.
Kegley, Charles W., and Eugene R. Wittkopf. World Politics Trend and Transformation. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2006.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. “The Prince and The Discourses” McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages; 1 edition (August 1, 1950)
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