Machiavelli (1469-1527) is from Florence, a republic in what is now Italy. He rose through the ranks as a public official and by the age of 31 became a diplomat and military officer, forming and heading the republic's state militia. After his release from prison in 1513 following a change of political leadership, he wrote The Prince. He was appointed the official historian of Florence and finished his public service career in the Pope's army. In his time, what is now known as Italy was a hodgepodge of small kingdoms in a constant state of conflict and ruled by despotic rulers. Florence and the surrounding city-states were caught in the crossfire of the warring Borgia and Medici families. Italian politics was marked by cruelty and deceit and constantly shifting loyalties. With peace and unity merely utopian ideals that guided many thinkers of the time, Machiavelli's The Prince broke ground by suggesting how a ruler could use power and leadership to create and unite a kingdom for the benefit of the people.
Analysis of Key Points
Among the list of practical advice given to rulers in The Prince, what stands out is the importance of learning "how to be able to be not good and to use this and not use it according to necessity" (p. 571). For Machiavelli, the end justifies the means, so that if the purpose or objective is a higher good, any means must be used to attain it regardless of ethical or moral considerations.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq by coalition forces is but one example of Machiavellian reasoning that justified committing a lesser evil (invading a sovereign nation without the approval of the United Nations) to avoid what was perceived to be a series of greater evils: the presence of weapons of mass destruction (not found) and the growing terrorist threat from Saddam (the threat continues to grow four years hence even with Saddam already executed). In Russia, Kazakhstan, and some nations in Africa, similar forms of leadership behavior continue to be witnessed as rulers maintain their grip on power by bastardizing laws that were designed to avoid precisely this from happening.
This basic line of reasoning found in The Prince proceeds from the subtle basic assumption about the nature of humans as inherently unpredictable and prone to evil and who need strong rulers and institutions to channel thoughts and behavior towards the greater good. Rulers then proceed to a second assumption: they have the mandate to use everything within their power to lead the people towards prosperity, whether the mandate came from the people through a democratic election or from an elite cadre of aristocrats who know what is best. Putting these two assumptions together results in the explosive line of reasoning that have been used to justify the massacre of races and ethnic cleansing, the torture of prisoners, the assassination of elected rulers and journalists, and the 'legitimate' overthrow of governments with the use of