The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito
By Syed Aqeel
‘The Prince’ is a masterpiece on modern politics written by the father of modern political thought Niccolo Machiavelli. The Bible of the politician as it is called has laid the foundations of the current political system, providing a real picture of political realism and its dominance. ‘The Prince’ has been written in a more direct language rather than in an embellished or decorated style of writing, communicating a dictum of advices to ‘The Prince’ or a ruler about how to gain, retain, and exercise power in his dominion or what Machiavelli calls principalities, and also how to gain new ones.
So much has been written about the intellectual ascendancy of Niccolo Machiavelli but the most dominant impact on his fertile and analytical mind was the internecine and religio- political conflict born within the Christian world as a result of crushing and depressive military defeats inflicted by Salahaddin Ayoubi’s forces on the united armies of Europe.
The failure of the European Papacy to defeat Salahaddin Ayoubi under the banner of Christianity had a deep impact on European Christendom which freed the intellectuals from Christian control and the Papacy. The deep studies in the rise of concepts like liberty and democracy were treated as rebellion against the Papacy. The common people in European peninsula started thinking away from papacy and their state control which gave rise to the socio- political philosophers.
People like Francis Bacon who preached and advocated the ‘behaviour of thought’ in the formation of civil society and the metaphysics challenging the basic concepts of Church in the realms of origin of universe and humanities were philosophized by mathematicians like Descartes. The free thought even created defections within Papacy and men like Thomas Hobbes were influenced by the defeat which the western civilization faced at the hands of Salahaddin and his forces, and the Europeans began to doubt their own faith and civilization. Thus, it was under these circumstances which created ripples and strifes within the domain of Roman Empire run by Papacy in Italy that men like Niccolo Machiavelli took up the challenge to guide and lay foundations for the complete separation of the State from Church. Thus was the birth of modern Europe.
For three centuries after the Crusade wars, Europe was over held in thought and leadership. The institutions lain by the priests and Papacy were replaced by freedom of thought and speech. The death and destruction caused by this religio- ethnic conflict gave rise to the thought of “The Prince” in the mind and psyche of Nicollo Machiavelli, who was very closely associated with the happenings around him.
It came to Machiavelli’s mind that the perfectionism of life preached by the Church and Papacy cannot and would not in any way fill the void of human imperfectionism. He was deeply concerned about the instability of regimes in the form of religious strife. Hence he advised that the ‘Prince’ or the ruler should not and cannot associate himself with a certain kind of sectarian or definite code of conduct, when he said ‘A prince must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this. Therefore, a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them’.
‘The Prince’ engages the reader and takes him through the harsh realities which exist between the governance and governed, the complex dilemmas which are hard to relate and even sometimes harder to separate from each other. Machiavelli separates politics from morals, and stresses on the fact that politics cannot run together with morals, by saying that ‘politics have no relation to morals’, thus advocating the concept of political morality.
The book advocates a new kind of tyrant, who has been termed a ‘benevolent tyrant’, he pretends to love his people but at the same time can cross any boundary to protect his power and to further increase it. The authors stress and justification on the use of force, coercion and deceit when dealing with the enemy or even with the princes own subjects makes the reader understand the writers purpose directly without losing himself in deviation from the real essence of the book. Machiavelli presents a more practical and unemotional advice for rulers when he says that ‘it is better to be feared than loved’, advocating that humans have a tendency of shifting their loyalty from one ruler to another for reasons of material desires. So, it is not love for their ruler which makes the people obey him or remain loyal but fear which keeps them from deceiving the prince.
At the same time, Machiavelli creates a prince who is not only a deceiver or a tyrant but a man who has the ablest qualities of governance, a ruler who has the qualities of absolute leadership, who is able to understand and come- up to the idea of “He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.”
After reading and analyzing ‘The Prince’, one can understand the role this magnificent work of a mastermind has played in shaping and re- ordering the world, the ideas and concepts which incite an endless debate on the behaviour of a ruler in relation to his people and other issues related to power. ‘The Prince’ gives detailed advice to the one who governs about the nature and application of power and how to acquire absolute power which makes a prince an unquestionable custodian of the peoples will, life and everything they possess.