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Was Machiavelli Machiavellian?

October 4, 2010

“Machiavellian” is now a term used to describe ruthless politics, cunning manipulation, and a whole host of other negative practices, but would Machiavelli himself have practiced what he preached?  In the video above, author Salman Rushdie makes an interesting argument that Machiavelli may not have actually been trying to encourage the methods for success that he talked about in “The Prince.”  An alternative explanation is that he was a devoted democrat and astute observer who was sharing the methods that he saw being used effectively by other rulers, whether he personally approved of them or not.  He offers some interesting arguments and background to make his case, including a lot of background that wasn’t explored in our readings.  Some of what he said makes me reconsider the way I understood the point Machiavelli was trying to make in his writing.  Maybe Machiavelli was just criticized for calling things like he saw them.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

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9 Comments
  1. joshuacy permalink
    October 4, 2010 11:58 PM

    I felt the same way when we read Machiavelli.
    Being that Machiavelli was such an intelligent man, obviously educated, and (most likely) aware of the moral implications of the actions he advises, one would assume that he was, like so many f the commentators of our time, using satire to further his actual beliefs.
    We know that, though he wrote on being a Prince, Machiavelli himself did not desire to rule; this only reinforces my belief that he disagreed with his own writings. Generally, men believe in “practicing what they preach,” and when one does not, we are curious of the reasons for such.

  2. Andrew Laing permalink
    October 5, 2010 11:44 AM

    My opinion is that he is in fact Machiavellian . this stems from him introducing his work to the prince in hope of being a consultant. Although, he had no desire to rule, he did explicitly lay out how to do so for the prince.

  3. Jameson McRae permalink
    October 5, 2010 1:13 PM

    The video brought up some very interesting points and leads me to believe that Machiavelli himself would not “practice what he preaches”. Machiavelli’s policies were ruthless, and I think that the reason he never decided to pursue running a kingdom of his own was the sheer fact that he did not want to have to enact the policies he created. There is no doubt Machiavelli is confident in his plan throughout The Prince, but the video and Machiavelli having no desire to run a kingdom makes me confident that he was not comfortable running his own system.

  4. October 16, 2010 11:21 PM

    I just wanted to say this a great post and I really enjoyed the video you use to accompany what you wrote. In my section we were basically told that Machiavelli wrote “The Prince” in order to gain a high position in the government, and therefore in a way it was like a resume to the king to show that he could be a valuable advisor. I accepted this conclusion pretty simply and figure that Machiavelli was just an incredibly smart man. However, after watching this video, there was a lot of new information brought to light, that I was previously unaware of. What I found to be really interesting in “The Prince,” was the way in which Machiavelli structured many of his theories. He always started by saying that he in no way wanted to undermine the power of the ruler, but was simply stating the way he had seen things enacted through his life experiences. At the time I thought he wrote it in this way in order to win favor with the King and show that he was knowledgable, while also explaining that he did not measure up to the king. However, now it seems much more plausible, that he in fact was literally just writing it like he saw it. I wish I knew more, but this is a great example of how our theories about history and its actors are constantly changing, as we slowly uncover new, useful information.

  5. Will Butler permalink
    October 22, 2010 9:56 PM

    I also am quite a fan of this post and thought that it was a great point to bring up. I have in the past, quite ignorantly, used the word “machiavellian” in political conversations, despite the fact that I had actually never read Machiavelli. After reading Machiavelli, I now have gained a deeper respect and understanding of his viewpoints. I very much appreciated his focus on political realities and strategy in contrast to Socrates and others who we have read who are very much concerned with political idealism.

  6. yequan permalink
    November 7, 2010 12:07 AM

    Why I just find the article now?
    The video is enlightening that it is possible that Machiavelli might just act like a scholar and objectively write down what he observe and the conclusion he found out. Although some of his words in Prince sounds kind of nasty, his opinion fists the rules in that era.

  7. Melissa Glassman permalink
    November 8, 2010 12:56 PM

    I very much enjoyed Mr. Rushdie’s comment that Machiavelli was just illustrating what he observed and not what he wanted to take place. “This is the classic case of shooting the messenger, when in reality he (Machiavelli) just understood the nature of power and explained is through his writings”.
    It is strange to think that someone in disagreement with such a way of utilizing power would choose to devote pages and pages to its explanation; however, I can now understand why he would have done so. Certainly, we will never be sure if Machiavelli was or was not Machivellian; however we can study his papers and make assertions based on the way he chooses to write and describe the government of his time. It is extremely intriguing to ponder the points Mr. Rushdie makes throughout this shot clip. He asserts that Machiavelli was a sweet man who chose to explain the happenings to others who were ignorant to them. This video has truly made me questions my initial opinion of Machiavelli’s The Prince.

  8. chris070310 permalink
    November 9, 2010 10:39 PM

    Machiavelli is not machiavellian. He is a man of great thought and moral. However, he had some very crutial literature that may have created this picture to make him seem evil, but he was born during the mid-evil time around the 1600’s. This was usual behavior or thought then from now. Thsi guy is vert interesting and the interview thats in the video above really gives me more information on the type of man machiavelli was. In conclusion he was a democrat that looked for the better good for all in a society by any means neccessary.

  9. Austin Spaulding permalink
    January 25, 2011 9:12 PM

    I think he is Machiavellian and that it is shown in his work the Prince. He is essentially trying to rule vicariously through the prince by writing a list of rules on how to govern. In my opinion Machiavelli is teaching de’ Medici what he needs to do to become successful.

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