Personal Qualities Of A Political Leader In Machiavelli’s "The Prince"

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Machiavelli presents a legitimate outline of the qualities of political leadership in The Prince. Machiavelli sees state maintenance as the most crucial goal of leadership alongside preserving power; most importantly by way of successful Warcraft with a leader achieving this mainly through displaying qualities of virtú. Virtú refers to a prince doing whatever he must to secure glory and security even if it is not virtuous, as the ends justify the means. Critically, ones virtú can be used toalter ones fortuna, through meeting and ‘bending’ one’s fate by means of deception and decisivefree will, a crucial aspect of how political leadership can be solidified. Although his views have beencriticised for being devoid of ethical reasoning and making inaccurate assumptions about humannature (L. Strauss), he has also been praised for ushering in a new age of political science (J. Scott &V. Sullivan) that separated him from any other author in the 16 th century and makes his dissection of political leadership more persuasive. Machiavelli sees the key to good leadership as being able to balance cruelty and compassion with one’s subjects, nobles, and neighbouring principalities without causing one to be despised, and in this essay I shall assess why any leader who applies all these aspects of Machiavelli’s political philosophy present in The Prince, with care, would maintain a successful state.

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Machiavelli makes it extremely clear throughout The Prince that although virility is a desirable quality of a leader, it should never interfere with statecraft. Qualities such as piety, kindness and generosity are considered virtuous by Machiavelli, however acting virtuous for virtues sake can have negative implications for a state as virtue usually promotes self-sacrifice that interferes withduty and is ultimately not what defends a state from the threats posed against it. “It is better tohave a name for miserliness, which breads disgrace without hatred, than, in pursuing a name for Conor O’Neill 1693700 John Francis liberality, to resort to rapacity which breads both disgrace and hatred. ” Machiavelli sees a good leader’s actions as having little importance in an emotional sense as every action a leader takes must be considered in light of its effect on the state, if cruelty and dishonesty benefit the state a leader should use them as the ends justify the means. This view is not universal however as the violence and deception advocated by Machiavelli borders on Evilness (L. Strauss,1978), with the excuse of statecraft being of little validity and even being hypocritical when wronging your own subjects. The Machiavellian argument is therefore flawed in the sense that value judgements, although necessary in politics to an extent, should not be used as a guide toevery political action taken (L. Strauss, 1978) as the subjective nature of this decision making will inevitably lead to miscalculations, and is why it is difficult to label Machiavelli as a ‘Political Scientist’. Despite how Machiavelli’s lack of ethical considerations are seen as unacceptable bymany critics, what must be considered when analysing his work is that in 1513, violence and other‘evil’ deeds were merely the normality in an unpredictable and treacherous political world (D. Germino, 1979), with virility usually indicating weakness. Despite opinion being divided on Machiavelli’s ethical nature, it is completely comprehensible that the pursuit of virtue before statecraft paves a path to irreparable downfall, as a leader would be abhorred for failing to maintain a state and is why virtú is understandably the crucial and most logical aspect of Machiavelli’s philosophy. The importance of statecraft to Machiavelli is further highlighted by his perspective that Warcraft itself is an extension to virtú and indeed a basic necessity for any leader to achieve glory.

Machiavelli observes Warcraft as being foundational for any state in the 16 th century, with anypolitical leadership not being complete without strong defences. Warcraft links intimately to self-preservation as without the ability to defend one’s state, the main objective of a Machiavellian Conor O’Neill 1693700 John Francis leader would not be accomplished as the state would be vulnerable and almost certainly prayed upon by others. ‘A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up anyprofession but that of war, its methods and its discipline, for that is the only art expected of aruler. ‘ To fully understand Machiavelli’s view we must acknowledge that he saw the military as a state’s most powerful institution; giving it great influenceover a fairly primitive society (with this perspective being fairly new at the time, it was something ofan innovation in political thinking). In this way it is wrong to accuse Machiavelli of being unnecessarily violent or dominating, as he views society as most efficiently organised through its most powerful source. “The presence of sound military forces indicates the presence of sound laws”. Machiavelli views a political leader as someone whose fundamental responsibility is that of state preservation and fulfils it through largely military means, and although in contemporary times we view leaders as having a wide range of other tasks, this is the primary purpose of any leader, and a forceful tool like the military is the best way to ensure its completion. Although Machiavelli doesn’t see a leader as having to be skilled in many disciplines other than war as this is what states are built on, he sees it vital than in relation to war and overall ruling a leader must be proficient in the acts of deception and destruction when appropriate, as this is how one alters their fortuna.

Machiavelli emphasises how a leader must be cunning as well as forceful in order to successfully defend his state from different threats posed against it, to change their fortune to being as successful as possible. He portrays how individually these talents will not equate to a leader’ssuccess, but instead how political deception and cunningness added to physical strength makes fora highly formidable combination. Using the metaphor of the fox and the lion he shows how a leadermust be aware to traps like a fox, adapting to new situations, and a lion in order to frighten off the Conor O’Neill 1693700 John Francis wolves, but who is defenceless themselves against traps. Moreover, Machiavelli highlights how many events are controlled by God, (Fortuna being the Roman Goddessof luck) however we have the power to “beat and coerce her” by taking necessary precautions that can change fate. This demonstrates how through qualities such as deception, precaution, and ultimately force, a leader has the free will to protect himself and hisstate from dangers in most cases. Although this view from Machiavelli is accurate as it shows how aleader can maximize his accomplishment, it is challenged by the view that behaving such as ‘beasts’like foxes and lions causes a prince to be immoral and diminishes us to the level of creatures who do not represent true princely values such as truthfulness, clemency and unselfishness. Once again this shows how a Machiavellian perspective devoid of ethical considerations troubles some critics, but Machiavelli in recommending leaders to employ certain traits to widentheir victory and decrease negative fortune is simply exemplifying his realist qualities, responding toa world of corruption, rather than the idealistic world desired by Cicero. Consequently, Machiavellid raws a strong link between how deception and force are a tool for ruling, as well as how they canbe used to improve the fortune of a leader before catastrophe occurs. This shows how Machiavelli although exceptionally pragmatic in his layout of ruling, is aware that in order to champion the masses a leader must tap into human nature to a trustworthy extent as well.

Although Machiavelli makes a lot of assumptions about human nature to justify political actions, heconcedes that the support of the people is preferable for good ruling, meaning that a balance between compassion and cruelty is desirable for a leader. Machiavelli believes that if a leader ishated by his subjects it is near impossible for him to rule, as one must maintain the obedience of hissubjects to sustain Statecraft and Warcraft. What is more, he says how the well-being of the peopleis the best guard from domestic revolution and foreign attack and that one should wish to be Conor O’Neill 1693700 John Francisfeared and loved to prevent these from happening (N. Machiavelli, 2015) but simultaneously he preaches that it is better to be feared than loved if you can only choose one. This demonstrates how compassion is a useful political tool for leaders to make sure of the stability to one’s reign; whilst a leader must not overuse it as it is crucial not to risk state maintenance as Machiavelli believes it to be human nature for men to turn against you in bleak times if you are not feared,which can lead to a leader’s downfall (demonstrating why virtú isso important to Machiavelli, and why cruelty is necessary to an extent). Due to the variety ofopinions on Machiavelli’s character and indeed the complexity of his thinking for the time, there are numerous conclusions on his true meanings; for example it has been said that Machiavelli wrote The Prince to cloud his own political views and catalyse his desire for a new ruler of Italy (M. Dietz, 1986), demonstrating how we cannot take everything he writes at face value as well as furthering the view that he is a master of deception. This supposes that the balance between cruelty and compassion he talks about is only figurative and not ‘balanced’ in a literal sense perhaps, although it fits in with the logical tone of the book, a leader in truth must be extremely careful how he applies the tools of cruelty and compassion.

All these political leadership qualities combine to produce a state that is secure with a leader that isstable in their power, exemplifying how in Machiavelli’s view successful leadership is simply attained by making sure nothing critical fails. Although critics have argued that Machiavelli’s idea ofa leader does not contain all the ethical aspects of what a prince should have, or that his presumptions on human nature would lead to problematic situations, it is wrong to say that Machiavelli’s definition of a leader is incorrect (especially for the 16 th century) thereby making his qualities of leadership justified. Crucially Machiavelli does not advocate being cruel for the sake of itsince all the actions he advises a prince to perform being to fulfil an end goal, namely Statecraft and Conor O’Neill 1693700 John Francis Warcraft, showing how he is not morally corrupt and merely interested in successful statesmanship through virtú. It is for these reasons that I believe The Prince to be a useful guide for how oneshould rule a state, even if each individual leader does not agree with every quality advocated, the principles he lays out makes a leadership a lot more durable and prosperous with the example of how we can ‘bend our fortunes’ being one of several great examples.

10 December 2020

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