The First Political Scientists – Machiavelli

Paper by Matthew Jacob

Paper by Matthew Jacob

Almost two thousand years after Plato and Socrates, a new founder in the field of Political Science emerged. Niccolò Machiavelli was a statesman and writer from Florence in the 15th and 16th centuries.  Italy at this time was a disunited mess. The various city-states and pope fought wars of acquisition while foreign powers such as France, the Holy Roman Empire and Spain vied for dominance on the peninsula.  Machiavelli studied grammar, rhetoric and Latin and grew up in a Florence ruled by the Medicis. When Florence expelled the Medicis and reinstated the Republic, Machiavelli took a leading role in the politics of the city as the head of the second chancery. Besides that he organized the Florence city militia and dealt with negotiations with foreign powers such as Spain and France. After the Medicis retook control of Florence Machiavelli was tortured and then released. He spent the rest of his life writing and studying.

Machiavelli’s great tribute to the field of Political Science was his work The Prince. Considered the first work of modern political philosophy The Prince is a harsh break from the political theories of Plato and Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle focused on ideologies. Virtue and morality were key aspects in their philosophies.  They both believed, as a majority of the philosophers and people who followed them up until Machiavelli, that if the ruler and the people were virtuous the society would be good. They believed in an ideal, something that would be wonderful, but was never truly possible. “Men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good.”

The Prince practically coined the term “the end justifies the means.” According to Machiavelli if you accomplished your goal you succeeded. There are many people who have fit into this category over the years. For example Vlad the Impaler, Robespierre and Lorenzo de Medici all ruthlessly ruled over their people to accomplish their goals. Because of this Machiavellian has taken on quite a negative connotation in our society. A person who is described as Machiavellian is seen as someone who will do any type of immoral act to get his end desire, but Machiavelli meant much more when he wrote the prince. He did not mean for any person to do what they want and not have to pay the consequence if they succeed. Machiavelli was writing about a leader that would do what was necessary for the good of the people, if it benefited the people for you to be a ruthless leader than he believed you should be ruthless. Machiavelli did not trust the virtues of man. He saw them as being unable to create a good society since there was too much evil in them. One can see how this is a major thought shift in the way people perceived governments. Unlike Plato and Socrates who believed the good of the people good make the ideal state. Machiavelli believed it was the ability and the willingness of the leader to do what was necessary to make the ideal state.

One comment on “The First Political Scientists – Machiavelli
  1. Jennifer says:

    Thank you! Most people get it wrong when it comes to Machiavelli thanks to a bad translation of The Prince. What he really said was, “Si guarda al fine,” which basically means “you must look at the end result of your actions.” If people actually read The Prince thoroughly, they would see that he found no glory in a prince who comes into power through crime or trickery. A prince can be virtuous but be willing to use brutality when it is NECESSARY, not at will. So thanks again for this.

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