Critique on The Prince written by Machiavelli in 1513
The Prince written by Machiavelli in 1513 is one of the several political books, which focuses on the analysis acquisition and maintenance of political power. Over five hundred years since the book was first written, its audience has grown significantly. However, it has been criticized severely based on its premises, which many believe are false or do not have any meaning to the readers. In this paper, the book is criticized based on four premises:
- Its approach to the study of politics
- The existence of human nature
- Its emphasis on the separation of politics and ethics
- Machiavelli’s reliance on the use of force in advising a prince on how to hold on to power.
Concerning its approach to the study of politics, the book focuses on the study of what is done by men rather than what men need to do in the field of politics. Such an approach is known as political realism, and it emphasizes looking at how men act and not at how they need to act; it is also looking at how the world is and not how it ought to be (De Mesquita 6). The fact that the book highlights this approach means that it gives less consideration to or renders human morals immaterial. In the real sense, morality is one of the important elements in life, which man should embrace to be good. However, Machiavelli, in this book, believes that only a few people believe in being good by embracing morality. As such, the book to a large extent stands against morality as Machiavelli finds it right and justifiable to advise the prince to be bad or immoral where necessity demands, which in his opinion is always the case. With an emphasis on this approach to the study of politics, the book misleads its audience by arguing that human nature is bad.
In terms of the existence of human nature, Machiavelli argues that every person despite the influence of the environment would act in a similar manner. He goes ahead to argue that men exhibit selfishness in all their actions, and that this is inherent in men. In other words, the book is in agreement with the argument that men are born selfish and not that it is the environment that makes them selfish. Machiavelli’s notion can be criticized, in this case, because supporters of human nature, as well as religious experts, believe that human nature is inherently good. In other words, humans are born good and not bad as the book suggests. Supporters of human nature think that the only reason a man exhibits evil such as selfishness is because he is not provided with the opportunity to exhibit the goodness in him (De Mesquita 45). However, Machiavelli doubts the existence of human nature at all, and according to him, a child of a criminal would obviously become a criminal, which is wrong.
Another significant aspect is the book’s emphasis on the separation of ethics and politics. Here, Machiavelli advises the prince that it is the end that is important and not the means. In line with this perspective, the book supports those who use treachery to seek and capture power. Through this, the book clearly alienates ethics from political actions or decisions, which means that it emphasizes more the goals or positives that come with political power while ignoring the morals or ethics that ought to accompany the acquisition of political power (De Mesquita 34). In the real sense, the stand of this book that people should use every means possible to seek power and ignore ethics or morals is in conflict with what philosophers, such as Aristotle, and the entire humanity believe. From a philosophical perspective, it is important for people to understand that the moral goal is the most important and not the material one. However, considering the ideas of the book, man is perceived as a creature of evil nature that should not focus on ethics or morals but on the end material goals. Machiavelli advises the prince that while seeking power, he should focus more on his self-interests than on the furtherance of ethics. In this way, the book attempts to convince readers that whatever is done, the result is more important than the ethics involved in reaching the result. From a different perspective, Machiavelli makes an attempt to convince readers that they should use every means possible even cheating to obtain good results at school. Taking Machiavelli’s opinion into consideration would be a great injustice to the global political system. The fact that political leaders focus more on material goals that come with political power and ignore the ethics in seeking the power is the cause of all wars that result from politics in today’s society (De Mesquita 23). As Machiavelli purports, the main objective of injecting ethical values into political rhetoric is to do away with ambitions of grandeur and not to enslave political rulers.
Throughout the book, it is evident that Machiavelli relies heavily on the use of force when he advises the prince to hold on to power. Machiavelli’s main opinion here is that the prince should devote more of his time and energy to the study and practice of the art of war (58). In real life, political rulers who devote more of their time and energy to the practice and study of the art of war do not always have the interests of the electorates in mind but their selfish interests. In fact, this goes against the argument that political rulers should be servants of the people and not vice versa. In the book, Machiavelli goes ahead to state that the prince should use arms to create and enforce good laws. What Machiavelli is pre-empting is that political rulers should not only focus on good laws but also force to ensure that obedience and submission prevail among the electorate. Agreeably, this can be seen as a positive contribution to the political class and the enforcement of laws by political rulers. In modern society, it is very hard to enforce laws, instill discipline, or maintain order without the use of coercive force (De Mesquita 79). Many people in today’s society break rules because they are not enforced, and a perfect example is the increase of crime in a country where there are no law enforcement structures to curb it. However, this tenet cannot be used to lay a foundation for dictatorship in the political context. On several occasions, the use of too much coercive force has resulted in resistance or revolutions where the political class ends up being the biggest loser.
De Mesquita, Bruce Bueno. The Logic of Political Survival. MIT Press, 2005.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. University of Chicago Press, 2010.