Thursday, September 22

Machiavellian prayer


Machiavelli really wanted us to repent? - Here’s my attempt at a poem 

Machiavellian Prayer


Oh foolish pride those words endure 

Upheld in centuries of poisoned paths 

No heed is paid to a pilgrim’s plea 

Instead to argue the devil's due, 

An eye for eye, expect no more 

Dust to dust, all hope expires 


Then I heard a spirit’s cry 

Banish such thoughts in your despair 

Grasp a hope of reverence unfurled 

To follow that enlightened path 

A new light, not plain to see 


So onward in the light filled world 

Let it burn bright on your faces 

And cast aside in such disdain 

Those words of princely pride 


For such words, not said in jest 

to see you for who you are 

To repent, to seek a new found path 

Eternal hope rings out again 

Monday, September 19



My purpose is to provide some background material prior to answering questions with my tentative answers to support discussions.   

Your own views which will be greatly appreciated to augment those future discussions.  

Machiavelli is one of the few writers whose name has become an adjective in ‘Machiavellianism “ just as was featured in the darker characters of Shakespearian plays.  

“The Prince” was the first comprehensive text in political science clarifying the necessary ethics in retaining power in a Republic.

It lays out how a prudent prince secures and maintains power analogous to the traits of a powerful lion and the cunningness of the fox. Ethics and virtue in this context don’t correspond with the platonic view but rather are defined by the existential reality that one cannot rely on being good to retain power, because of human nature.   

He is regarded as a great thinker whose ideas are still practiced today, notwithstanding his cynical view of humanity and that some of his views when taken literally remain unacceptable. Some interpret his work as satirical or only designed to shock rather than be factual whilst others believe his views are even more dangerous and unacceptable than they first appear.     

He profoundly affected those philosophers who followed him including Bacon Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, Smith, Marx, and Nietzsche.

Early life and service to the Republic of Florence.   

He was born 3 May 1469 in Florence and became a pupil of a renowned Latin teacher, Paolo da Ronciglione. It is thought he attended the University of Florence.

It was an age of culture (Michelangelo and Cesare Borgia) but Machiavelli turned away from lucrative alternatives available to him to serve the city. Firstly he was Chancellor to the military and then Secretary for foreign policy.

But In February 1513, when the regime was overthrown by the Medici Family, he was arrested, imprisoned and tortured, He was released in March 1513 to begin his work writing “The Prince” 

His Ethics

Machiavelli’s is associated with treachery and relentless self- interest. He might be regarded as an ethical consequentialist E.g.  that the end justifies the means to justify why he condoned murder and repression for rulers when necessary to retain power to avoid even worse evil. 

In The Prince, he states of “cruelties well-used” to identify characters as cruel.

However, it should be noted that recent work has suggested that many, if not all, of Machiavelli’s shocking moral claims are ironic.


The hallmarks of Machiavellian virtue are self-reliance, self-assertion, self-discipline, and self-knowledge.

Virtue he attributes as meaning one relies upon one’s self or one’s possessions, to abandon any reliance on nature, fortune, tradition and so on.

Machiavelli describes a wise prince as one who is never idle in peaceful times but instead use his industry to resist adversity when fortune changes.

For Machiavelli, virtue includes a recognition of the restraints or limitations within which one must work: not only one’s own limits, but social ones, including conventional understandings of right and wrong.

Are Fortune and virtue linked?  

Machiavelli maintained that in order to rule over an imperfect world of politics, inhabited by wolves, a ruler must not be meek but rather adaptive, like a general in war. There are times once cannot adhere to Christian values as fortune provides. In other words to aim to do what is right where one can but if necessity dictates to do the opposite to prevent an even greater evil. 

On Religion

He suggests that religion is necessary and salutary for public morality. The philosopher therefore is to take care not to disclose any lack of belief. He is only to be concerned with any impoverished interpretations of religion rather than religion as such.

Discourses on Livy

This appears to be a more measured approach to republican teaching, possibly indicative of Machiavelli’s ultimate position.  The Discourses has stood the test of time to remain one of the most important works in modern republican theory. It had an enormous effect on republican thinkers such as Rousseau, Montesquieu, Hume, and particularly on the American Founders.

Finally here are some selected quotes

On existence

“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.” 

“There is no other way to guard yourself against flattery than by making men understand that telling you the truth will not offend you.” 

 “Never was anything great achieved without danger.” 

“Because there are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others; the first is the most excellent, the second is good, the third is useless.” 

“How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.” 

“Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great.” 

He who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.” 

“Men in general judge more by the sense of sight than by the sense of touch, because everyone can see but few can test by feeling. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few know what you really are; and those few do not dare take a stand against the general opinion.” 
“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.” 

“It is much safer to be feared than loved because is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.” 

“People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance.”

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved” 
“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.” 


“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” 
 “Never was anything great achieved without danger.” 
 “I'm not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.” 

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively.

Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.” 

“He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command” 


One might argue he has not abandoned a sense of what is right to the vagaries of actual powerful rulers as in his later work ‘The  Discourses”, since he writes of 'checks and balances' on power, the powerful ruler and the people have a part in a constitution; liberty is important but requires commensurate personal virtue to be effective.

Some have suggested because of his cynism and advice in (The Prince) it was an attempt to satirize the conduct of the princely rulers of Renaissance Italy. Others regard his ideas as even more dangerous than they first appear when taken on face value.  

In summing up Machiavelli one finds the first comprehensive narrative on political science, concerned only with setting out what human beings are like and how power is maintained, with no intention of passing moral judgment on the state of affairs described.


What do you think about it all? Is Machiavelli an advocate for power and how it is best used to further one's aims?

Or is Machiavelli being Machiavellian and is really telling us how political power is exercised, so we can change into something better?

Look at the behaviour of the most powerful people in politics and economic life. Are they following ethical 'oughts' and 'should's' or are they exemplars of Machiavelli's characters?

Should considerations of what should be done, be guided by moral principles but also by a bit of Machiavelli insight? A bit of Bulldog to go with Piety?

My Response 

Machiavelli gave a good account as to the nature of political power so that much of it remains relevant today. Like Nietzsche philosophy, he wanted one to understand 'the will to power' is inherently within us so that we are better to understand and equipped to deal with our existence. That’s why the most powerful people fall down and remain today exemplars of Machiavelli’s characters. 


By holding up a mirror to ourselves, does he challenge us to become better? Is that a reasonable interpretation? Does Machiavelli ultimately ask us to rise above considerations of utility? Does he, of all people, ask us to rise above what we have come to see as Machiavellianism?

My Response 

I think it is a reasonable interpretation and possibly a redeeming element to his philosophy. There seems to be an element of Frederick Nietzsche’s style here where Nietzsche wanted to shock his readers into thinking more deeply about spiritual and existential issues before finally making. 

Although Darwin didn’t actually make this statement it is generally accepted today to use the word fittest or fitter as a hypothesis to his work.     

However, to recap, he said a ruler must be as cunning as a fox and as fierce as a lion. Machiavelli had an affinity with nature and proposed we need to strive to be more adaptive in meeting changed circumstances like nature.  One might reasonably call that a form of social Darwinism as nature doesn’t have any qualms about activity so long as it ensures the survival of the fitter. 

Hence I think one can say, Machiavelli concurs with a form of social Darwinism that means leaders must constantly adapt to the current circumstances just as does nature. That doesn’t necessarily mean the strong always pray on the weak and so forth but more a matter of adapting to the prevailing conditions.  

Your ideas or answers are always greatly appreciated.