Niccolo Machiavelli is best known for his highly controversial ideas on politics. He began writing about his political ideas after the French invasion because of his desire to reunite Italy after the fall of the republic. As a humanist, Machiavelli disagreed with the current religious based politics that were set in place at the time. His humanist ideas allowed him to focus his political ideas on human potential and achievement rather than religious themes.
Even though Machiavelli had a harsh view on the nature of human beings, his unique understanding of the relationship between virtue and politics set the basics for modern political science, and many of his ideas can still be observed in American politics today. Before Machiavelli’s new ideas on political science, politics had been comprised around the ideas of the Christian church. Politics set up by the church relied heavily on good ethics and virtue. The church praised leaders that possessed qualities such as honesty, compassion, chastity, and faithfulness.
Machiavelli rejected classic Christian values when thinking about politics and only considered qualities that were useful in preserving power. Machiavelli had a very different idea on the specific qualities that a good prince should possess. He assumed that people in power that possess virtuous qualities could be easily taken advantage of. He viewed these qualities most people deem as good qualities, as a weakness, which could mean the downfall of a state. He believed that the church should only practice its rights in the spiritual realm and not in politics.
Since he felt that Christianity destroys the state, he believed that the church should have restricted power in politics. Thus resulting in his ideas on separating the church from state. The more Machiavelli’s ideas on government strayed from the Christian ideals, the more his ideas on politics began to reflect our current American government. This idea of the separation between church and state is only one of several similarities Machiavelli’s political ideas reflects American government.
Similarities are seen in the organization of power through fear in the military. Also, his ideas can be seen in American politics when our presidents make decisions based on what is most beneficial, even if it is not always the most virtuous action. Probably one of Machiavelli’s most influential ideas on politics was his belief that it is better to be feared than to be loved. In his eyes, being feared was desirable over being loved since the circumstances of the world make it impossible to be both loved and feared in sequence.
He understood it to be crucial that the people respect his authority and power in order for him to be able to maintain unity and loyalty from his people within the state. The only way he believed this to be possible, was to remove himself from compassion and build fear in the people through cruelty. As long as he was able to avoid being hated, this allowed him to rely on what he could control. This idea that it is better to be feared than to be loved can easily be seen within the American military. Powerful armies are not built under friendship and good virtue.
They are built under fear and respect. As Americans, we have one of the most powerful military forces in the world. We do not achieve this power by making other countries love us. If we were simply loved to gain respect, rather than feared to gain respect, when the pressure of disagreement arose other countries would not hesitate in the decision to attack. So long as we are feared we hold more power over the decision to take rash action against conflict. Through fear our military guarantees our countries continuous security and prosperity.
On the other hand, when it comes to our president’s stand on the question of being loved or feared, it would seem that they would take the opposite stance on the issue. Our American presidents don’t seem to aim at being feared over loved. They fill our minds with the characteristics we find desirable. They aim at making us love, trust, and respect them. Yet, they generally attempt to achieve this love through lies. The government wants us as citizens to love rather than fear, yet as an entire nation, the government aims at remaining a fearful and powerful force in the eyes of other nations.
This leads to another difference between American politics, and Machiavellian ideas. Machiavelli stated, “ it is proper to represent things as they are in real truth, rather than as they are imagined” (p. 8). He wanted to avoid creating an imaginary ideal society, as the Christian based politics had before him. In this issue, our government seems to reflect the Christian idea more than Machiavelli’s idea of truth. America’s presidential candidates create their campaigns according to the standards each separate political party would consider to be their ideal image of government.
These candidates make promises of perfect ethics and virtue, however, after being elected into office, they very rarely follow through with these promises and ideas of perfection that they have convinced us to believe. They present us with these ideal characteristics in order to receive the popular vote, yet as Machiavelli has explained, as a ruler in order to maintain prosperity and security it is not ideal to follow through with fantasies of virtuous leaders. It would be nice if our presidents followed Machiavelli’s advice and were straightforward and truthful from the start.
Since people do not vote for reality and would rather vote for the fairytale, it does not work out his way in our democracy. Machiavelli’s ideas on the significance of virtue in politics may be a result of the way he views human nature. Since he has little hope in the goodness of humanity, he does not hold leaders to the highly positive qualities that the church does. Machiavelli is well known for his negative views on human nature. Even today his name is still largely associated with wickedness. He believed all people to naturally be ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers.
He even went so far as to refer to people as wretched creatures. I feel that Machiavelli’s ideas are solid and well thought out. Although, that does not mean that I completely agree with all his ideas, especially those on the nature of humans. I refuse to confer that humankind is naturally evil willed. I like to see the good in people, and to me it seems that the good in this world greatly outweighs the bad. However, I also do not agree that Machiavelli is the tyrant that history has made him out to be.
Overall, I believe that most of his ideas aimed at improving the well being of his state. Even though he came off as an evil man it seemed to me that he always had his state’s best interests in mind. The way I see it, his negative understanding of human nature forced him to look at issues from a different perspective than most people of his time, and drove his ideas behind the irrelevance of virtuous traits in a political leader. Many of Machiavelli’s ideas are reflected in American politics. Machiavelli believed in practicing the separation of church and state just as America does.
He believed that with fear came power, which is apparent in the United States military. Although many of Machiavelli’s ideas reflect American government there are a few differences between the two, such as the qualities that can be viewed in presidential candidates and how our government goes about the real truth. Overall, Machiavelli’s ideas on virtue and fear, no matter how wicked in nature, seem to properly deem him the founder of the modern political science that our government has been founded off of still today.
Courtney from Study Moose
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