Who Was Machiavelli? Niccolò Machiavelli & The Prince

Press Start for “Who Was Machiavelli?” by 8-Bit Philosophy, where classic video games introduce famous thinkers, problems, and concepts with quotes, teachings, and more.

Episode 17: Who Was Machiavelli?| Niccolò Machiavelli & The Prince

Written by: Matt Reichle
Created & Directed by: Jared Bauer
Narrator: Nathan Lowe
Animation Producer: MB X. McClain
Original Music & Sound by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Academic Consultant: Mia Wood
Producer & Additional Artwork by: Jacob S. Salamon

Who Was Machiavelli? (The Prince)

During his eight years in political exile, Italian politician and philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his most famous work: The Prince. In it, he asked: “is it better to be loved than feared or feared than loved?”

For ages, the right to rule was determined by heredity. You were born in to sovereignty and your right to rule was backed by the divine right of kings.

Machiavelli describes a new type of leader—one strong enough to gain power through influence alone. Hereditary rule is for losers who can’t gain power on their own!

Moral goodness isn’t necessary for leadership. For example, power isn’t given or maintained by doing good deeds. In fact, Machiavelli thinks good guys finish last—at least in elections. If a leader is too focused on goodness they may never gain power or be strong enough to do what is best for the people. In the end a reliance on virtue might even hurt the state.

Machiavelli popularized the idea that the ends justify the means. This doesn’t mean that people should get to do whatever they want for a good end. Rather, the end – in this case, gaining power – justifies the means. Moral concepts just don’t apply to political actions.

One of the most discussed people in The Prince is Caesare Borgia, the son of Pope Alexander VI. Caesare beheaded one of his particularly ruthless goons and put the body on display in public in order to make a statement with his subjects. Machiavelli praised Caesare because he was capable of doing what was needed to win over the masses.

If it maintains order, Machiavelli claims, the use of force and fear are legitimate tools of a leader. Force of law—The fact that this force may not be morally good doesn’t undermine the fact that it is a necessary part of maintaining power, and maintaining power is what any leader prefers.

For Machiavelli, then, a good leader needs to get their hands a little dirty. Assassinations, coups, unscrupulous wiretaps, arranged marriages, using coercive force, or sending a robot back in time say… forty five years to kill the leader of the rebel army’s mother so that they are never born… all of these actions would be justified if it protected the people.

Is shouldn’t be a surprise then that ruthless or conniving characters are called Machiavellian.

Is it better to be feared than loved? In this world of shady political alliances and betrayal—what’s love got to do with it?

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