Friday, May 5, 2017
Great Thinkers, Great Thougts: Niccolo Machiavelli
On May 3,1469, the Italian philosopher and writer Niccolo Machiavelli is born. A lifelong patriot and diehard proponent of a unified Italy, Machiavelli became one of the fathers of modern political theory.
Machiavelli entered the political service of his native Florence by the time he was 29. As defense secretary, he distinguished himself by executing policies that strengthened Florence politically. He soon found himself assigned diplomatic missions for his principality, through which he met such luminaries as Louis XII of France, Pope Julius II, the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and perhaps most importantly for Machiavelli, a prince of the Papal States named Cesare Borgia. The shrewd and cunning Borgia later inspired the title character in Machiavelli’s famous and influential political treatise The Prince (1532).
Machiavelli’s political life took a downward turn after 1512, when he fell out of favor with the powerful Medici family. He was accused of conspiracy, imprisoned, tortured and temporarily exiled. It was an attempt to regain a political post and the Medici family’s good favor that Machiavelli penned The Prince, which was to become his most well-known work.
Though released in book form posthumously in 1532, The Prince was first published as a pamphlet in 1513. In it, Machiavelli outlined his vision of an ideal leader: an amoral, calculating tyrant for whom the end justifies the means. The Prince not only failed to win the Medici family’s favor, it also alienated him from the Florentine people. Machiavelli was never truly welcomed back into politics, and when the Florentine Republic was reestablished in 1527, Machiavelli was an object of great suspicion. He died later that year, embittered and shut out from the Florentine society to which he had devoted his life.
Though Machiavelli has long been associated with the practice of diabolical expediency in the realm of politics that was made famous in The Prince, his actual views were not so extreme. In fact, in such longer and more detailed writings as Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy (1517) and History of Florence (1525), he shows himself to be a more principled political moralist. Still, even today, the term “Machiavellian” is used to describe an action undertaken for gain without regard for right or wrong.
Quotes by Niccolo Machiavelli
It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.
The wise man does at once what the fool does finally.
Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil.
The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.
The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.
He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.
If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.
There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.
It is not titles that honor men, but men that honor titles.
Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions.
There is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rites of religion held in contempt.
A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.
Men rise from one ambition to another: first, they seek to secure themselves against attack, and then they attack others.
Politics have no relation to morals.
Never was anything great achieved without danger.
Before all else, be armed.
One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.
Men are so simple and yield so readily to the desires of the moment that he who will trick will always find another who will suffer to be tricked.
Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society.