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Machiavelli does, in fact, know what he’s talking about!

October 2, 2010

I first heard Machiavelli’s name in a high school European History class, but I never read The Prince. My brief introduction to Machiavelli informed me that Machiavelli wrote The  Prince in order to be on good terms with the Medici Family. However, Medici took no notice of this book and Machiavelli was not invited back to be involved in politics. Moreover, the public was unresponsive to his writings and The Prince was not published until after his death.

Because of the negative reception Machiavelli received, I was sure that I would disagree with his writings as well. But, I began reading The Prince, and had an open mind to the arguments Machiavelli put forth. After reading a couple chapters, I was starting to believe that maybe Machiavelli knew what he was talking about!  Two particular situations caught my attention and although many are critical of The Prince, I agree with many situations Machiavelli discusses.

In chapter three, Machiavelli makes a  claim that rulers must be able to foresee crises that are bound to happen. He compares a looming war to a disease because

“In the beginning the disease is easy to cure, difficult to diagnose; but after a while, if it has not been diagnosed and treated early, it becomes easy to diagnose and hard to cure.”

What a genius analogy! Centuries later, this analogy still applies. If a ruler would have been able to foresee a crisis, many of the wars that have occurred could have been stopped. For example, if Hitler’s intentions had been exposed from the beginning, it could have been easier to cure the “disease” he caused.

Furthermore, in my discussion session, there was a lot of debate over whether we agreed with Machiavelli’s claim that it is “safer to be feared than loved.” Those who disagreed pointed to the fact that there have been numerous leaders in history that have not been feared, and still remain to be the greatest leaders of our time. Nevertheless, I personally agree with Machiavelli’s assertion because fear will motivate a ruler’s subjects to be more responsive to him. Though it is important to be viewed in a good light, too much compassion can prevent people from taking a ruler too seriously. So, to those who viewed The Prince as an immoral piece of work, I want to say that I believe there ARE valid points that Machiavelli makes that prove his knowledgeability about politics. Further, hundreds of years later at The University of Michigan, we are still reading his work.

  1. Neil Rabinowicz permalink
    October 3, 2010 8:46 PM

    Sure, if disasters could be foreseen we would all be happy and healthy; however, we cannot see the future. I do agree that it is necessary to take every possible measure to avoid things such as war. Since there is so much tension in the world, it’s key that world leaders are constantly solving international dilemmas and making sure no country is willing to attack another country, as a result possibly starting another world war, one that could end us all. May be in the future people will have machines that will allow them to look into the future allowing them to prevent terrible things from happening, but until then we’ll just have to rely on our skills to smooth things out ourselves.

    As for your other point, I also agree that it’s better to be feared than loved. However, if you are going to rely on fear as your weapon, you have to make sure you are watching your back at all times, since fear causes hate, and hate will lead to people wanting to hurt you and get you out of power by any means necessary.

  2. euzane permalink
    October 5, 2010 1:27 AM

    A wise leader is not a fortune teller, but one who knows what will happen according to current situations. If there are issues rising within the society, e.g. unemployment rate starting to rise, inflation rates rising, etc, a leader should know to take action immediately instead of procrastinating until the situation gets worse. Under these circumstances, when things get worse, the difficulty to fix the problem is not even one that we can imagine. Ruling a country’s population is not just about focusing on one’s self-interest and how the population obeys ones rules, it is as important to assure that the living standards and well-being of the population since these are what determine a country’s prosperity. To establish a strong nation, a ruler has to know when to do the right things, and what is the best decision that can bring the greatest benefit to the country. Let one think in a more selfish way, the well-being of the country means the same for the ruler him/herself.
    Wars can happen unpredictably, but if the ruler manages to maintain the prosperity of the country; with enough resources of land, food, water, labor, military, advisers, and loyal supporters, the ruler is already making the best preparation for the unexpected and unpredictable future.

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