Philosophical Perspectives on Governance: Machiavelli and Castiglione

Categories: Niccolo Machiavelli


As we delve into the philosophical treatises of Niccolo Machiavelli's "The Prince" and Baldassare Castiglione's "The Book of the Courtier," a comprehensive exploration of their distinctive approaches to advising princes, royalty, and nobility unfolds. While both works serve as guides for leaders, the underlying philosophies of Machiavelli and Castiglione diverge significantly. This essay will dissect the core principles of each author, shedding light on their perspectives on governance, military strategy, public appearance, and the securing of power.

Military Knowledge and Strategic Governance

One of the fundamental commonalities between Machiavelli and Castiglione is the emphasis on military knowledge for leaders.

"The Book of the Courtier" underscores the importance of exercising military might with vigor to garner a favorable reputation. Castiglione suggests that a prince's security is contingent upon the ability to raise and lead a formidable army. Machiavelli concurs with the significance of military prowess but delves deeper into the necessity of studying war, reading history, and acquiring a profound understanding of one's land.

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While both authors recognize the importance of military strength, Machiavelli's approach tends to be more pragmatic and strategic.

Public Appearance and Governance

The contrast in the recommended public appearance of a prince is stark between the two works. Castiglione advocates for a courtier to be pleasing and amiable, emphasizing the importance of loveability to all who encounter him. In contrast, Machiavelli, in "The Prince," introduces a more ruthless perspective. He contends that a prince must be willing to use cruelty to eliminate resistance and ensure security. While Machiavelli acknowledges the necessity for a prince to appear virtuous, he advises that a ruler should know when to embrace ruthless tactics.

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The dichotomy is encapsulated in Machiavelli's cautionary statement: "You can gain an empire by slaying citizens, deceiving friends, and being cruel, but you cannot obtain glory in that manner."

Securing and Maintaining Power

The two authors also diverge in their counsel regarding the securing and maintenance of power. Castiglione's advice revolves around the importance of reputation and gaining favor with the people. Remaining humble and avoiding the delivery of unfavorable news are recommended strategies. In contrast, Machiavelli presents more blunt and pragmatic suggestions. A prince, according to Machiavelli, should encourage the development of art and craft, employ only capable servants, and keep them under control. The approaches are antithetical, with Castiglione advocating a more benevolent rule, while Machiavelli's suggestions are characterized by a degree of cruelty and realpolitik.

Conclusion: Philosophical Choices in Governance

In conclusion, Machiavelli and Castiglione present readers with two markedly distinct theories on obtaining and securing positions of royalty. Machiavelli's ideas lean towards the cruel, violent, and suppressive, reflecting a pragmatic understanding of political reality. Castiglione, on the other hand, advocates for a more peaceful and amiable rule, placing a premium on reputation and favor with the people. The choice between these philosophical approaches rests with the individual prince or noble, who must decide the path they wish to tread based on personal preferences and circumstances.

Updated: Dec 01, 2023
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Philosophical Perspectives on Governance: Machiavelli and Castiglione</h1>. (2016, Jun 25). Retrieved from

Philosophical Perspectives on Governance: Machiavelli and Castiglione</h1> essay
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