Niccolo Machiavelli is a significant figure in modern history, who influenced the world of political thought, and some people even consider him the “Father of Political Science”. His work changed the previous perspective of politics, for he created a more modern and controversial perspective. Machiavelli innovative form of thought soon became a continual point of reference for political thinkers and authors, despite whether they agreed with his beliefs or not. Machiavelli’s significance to the modern political science world was brought forth from his influential military leadership, his famous book, The Prince, and his strong desire to rebuild the government.
Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy on May 3, 1469. He was the third child out of four to Bernardo and Bartolomea. With a family of six, and his father being a lawyer, and a small landowner made wealth not a luxury. Because of this, when Machiavelli started his education at the age of seven, he studied Latin rather than Greek because of the lack of wealth. He was educated primarily through self teachings which was a major contribution of his original way of thought and style. Since, Machiavelli was greatly trusted then he had the chance to experience first hand the rulings of other governments. For instance, the Gilbert states “In this position Machiavelli carried out a number of diplomatic missions in Italy, France, and Germany. His ability attracted the attention of Gonfalonier Piero Soderini, the official head of the Florentine government…” (Gilbert, 2006, pp 262-629). This allowed him to view government rulings in other countries and build his reputation within the government. In 1502, Machiavelli married Marietta Corsini, and they had a total of six children, four sons and two daughters. Machiavelli’s family valued books and writing as well as politics, which greatly influenced his desire to read and write about politics throughout his life. Machiavelli’s significance stems off from his different approach to politics.
Before Machiavelli married he started off working for a Florentine banker in 1487 and soon became a clerk for government service in 1494. In 1498 Machiavelli started working for the government of Florence, Gilbert states “Machiavelli had entered the Florentine chancellery, where his special function was to serve as the secretary of The Ten, a group of magistrates charged with the conduct of diplomatic negotiations and the supervision of military operations in wartime” (Gilbert, 2006, pp 626-629). Machiavelli’s influential leadership started to develop in 1498, when he became a member of the council in charge of diplomatic negotiations and military issues. For Example, the International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences states “He entered Florentine government service in 1498, at the age of 29, as second chancellor and secretary of the Ten of Liberty and Peace, an executive committee concerned with domestic as well as military and foreign affairs” (International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, 1968 pp 505-511). At age twenty-nine, he was appointed to head of the second chancellor, a part of the executive council. In this position, he dealt with policy decisions regarding the Florentine Republic and represented the different international affairs. He was also named the secretary to the magistracy, so he directed foreign affairs and defenses in the name of their governing council, Signoria. In addition, Machiavelli was also involved in numerous trips, International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences states “During his 14-year tenure he was engaged in numerous and sometimes lengthy diplomatic missions which took him to France, Switzerland, and Germany. His dispatches and reports contain ideas that anticipate many of the doctrines of his later works” (International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, 1968, pp 505-511). Machiavelli was trusted with diplomatic missions that were undesirable to ambassadors, therefore Machiavelli was sent in their place. Working for the government made Machiavelli aware of political issues and lack of leadership in the Florentine government, which lead his innovative thinking take over in his writing of The Prince.
Soon after in the years of 1503 and 1503, Machiavelli was in charge of organizing the Florentine militia. This was a significant change during this time, because of his distrust in mercenaries, his army was staffed and commanded differently, however his leadership proved to be both unsuccessful with new militias and successful with troops that had more experience. In 1512 Machiavelli found Cesare Borgia ruining the Republic of Florence because of Borgia’s characteristics of ambition and selfishness. As a result, International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences states, “…Machiavelli skillfully mobilized an army of twelve thousand conscripts to withstand the invasion; however, the amateur citizen-soldiers proved ineffectual before seasoned troops” (International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, 1968, pp 505-511). Machiavelli was not always a great militia leader to the Florentine Republic, but his attempt to protect his country was a rewarding feeling for him. Machiavelli realized that the government was not working in favor of the republic therefore certain measures were taken to help the people of Florence. The Medici family were the previous leaders of Florence and held the authority of the pope.
Once returning to power, Machiavelli was imprisoned and tortured after being accused of plotting against the Medici family, however, despite going through this horrible time he was able to maintain his sanity, which is only something a true leader could do. Many surrounding cities, such as France and Spain, had corrupt governments and militaries which started to influence Italian leaders. Despite being a great leader with a controversial demeanor he also fought for unity in the Florentine cities. On November 7, 1512, when the Medici family returned to power, Machiavelli was dismissed as chancellor. Before Machiavelli was dismissed from his chancellor position he made many important missions to discuss foreign affairs. The most influential encounter that shaped Machiavelli’s view on government ruling was with Cesare Borgia. Machiavelli was certain that Borgia would ruin his country because of ambitious and vengeful characteristics. To illustrate, in Machiavelli’s book The Prince he uses Cesare Borgia as an example on his ruling tactics. For instance, Gilbert states “Sometimes cruelty, sometimes leniency, sometimes loyalty, sometimes villainy might be the right course” (Gilbert, 2006, pp 626-629). Although the book was dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici the inspiration behind the book was Borgia. So when Borgia’s father passed away and Julius II, one of Borgia’s many enemies, came into power after a conference, Machiavelli was pleased for Borgia’s imprisonment. Machiavelli’s mission to Romagna in early 1504 greatly influenced his idea for a people’s militia in Florence. Machiavelli’s persuasion successfully leads him to become the secretary of the council of militia groups. When the republic separated in different districts Machiavelli brought himself to inspect the districts. Then, in 1509 Machiavelli built a new Florentine militia to recapture Pisa. Before a war broke out Machiavelli traveled to France in order to make peace with Pope Julius II, but his attempt to remove the council sponsored by Louis XII was unsuccessful. Therefore, Machiavelli was forced to remove the council himself.
Once released from prison, Machiavelli wrote The Prince, an extremely influential political handbook that shaped the political world today and is where the origin of the term “Machiavellian” was born. As a result, the Encyclopedia of World Biography states “Though a republican at heart, he saw as the crying need of his day a strong political and military leader who could forge a unitary state in northern Italy to eliminate French and Spanish hegemony from Italian soil” (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004, pp 97-99). Under the Medici, when Machiavelli lost his position he was forbidden to enter Palazzo della Signoria and was given limited freedom. Machiavelli wanted to regain the Medici family’s trust. The Prince was made during a political instability time period, because Italy was facing threats from neighboring countries and Machiavelli coming from a political background saw an opportunity and aimed to fix it. The inspiration for this book came from a brutal and harsh prince that goes by the name of Cesare Borgia, who led the Papal States. When Machiavelli experienced this first hand he believed that Italy needed a leader like him to reunite Florence and bring Italy to glory.
The text however was banned by the Holy Church because of its promotion of anti-Christian ideas. However, this in its own is what makes this text so significant because it proposed new outlooks and proposals to political problems unlike what was previously seen before. For instance, the Encyclopedia of World Biography states, “The final chapter of The Prince is a ringing plea to his Medici patrons to set Italy free from the ‘barbarians’ “(Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004, pp. 97-99). Machiavelli’s political thought was built on his passion for ancient history and desire to have a stronger government and moral foundation for the Roman Republic. He rejected Christian morals and stated that their values weaken humans and prevents them from understanding the truth. The message of this text is heavily based on real world experiences rather than the typical assumption and Machiavelli made it clear that in order to achieve greatness, men must sacrifice certain principles and moral standpoints.
Machiavelli wrote The Prince, in an attempt to set Italy free from barbarians, and although many do believe that the text resembles a practical guide for ruling, he was straightforward in his writing when he discussed power politics, Warcraft and goodwill. For instance, International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences states “Although he was not concerned with moral and political obligation or with the analysis of moral and political concepts, a conception of a good society does inform most of his political writings (International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, 1968, pp. 505-511). Critics of the text would say that The Prince represents how a government should not rule, and that his motivation for the writing was not entirely selfless because Machiavelli still had a desire to be in a position under the Medici regime. He also wanted to get rid of the French and Spanish influence because it had a negative impact on Italy. He even dedicated the writing to Lorenzo de’ Medici and after being released this was seen as a last attempt to get his voice heard. Similarly, Encyclopedia of World Biography states, “Like Galileo in astronomy at the end of the 16th century, Machiavelli in politics chooses to describe the world as it is, rather than as people are taught that it should be” (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2004, pp. 97-99). Although this may be true, Machiavelli well exceeded, since he was writing this during an unstable political time period, he was able to offer the Medici family solutions to promote greater leadership such as himself into Florence diplomacy.
The Prince is significant to the evolution of political thought due to its purposeful approach to many different problems. Since Machiavelli believes that leadership is extremely influential, he offered the Medici family a system of governance focused on using the most of everything available. In this last chapter of The Prince, Machiavelli uses a poem stating “Virtue against fury shall advance the fight, And it I’th’ combat soon shall put to flight: For the old Roman valour is not dead, Nor in th’ Italians’ brests extinguished” (Darce, 1640, pp. 58). This created a concrete and stable model for leaders to use when dealing with reality and how a new leader has a harder job than a prince that came from a royal family. The new leader must get accustomed to his new power and figure out how to build up new ways and ideas that work with the people. This prince idea is what set him apart from the rest and is what made the ideas in his book so influential and significant.
In his famous book The Prince, Machiavelli states “And he who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it, for in rebellion it has always the watchword of liberty and its ancient privileges as a rallying point, which neither time nor benefits will ever cause it to forget” (Machiavelli, The Prince, CH 5. Pp 18). Machiavelli strongly believes that unity and equal rights for everybody. If failed and one leader tried dominating a country, then rebellion would follow. Even though Machiavelli wanted equal treatment for all of Florence, he also believed that a good leader would be somebody that is strong and with virtue in order for a successful ruling. In conclusion, Niccolò Machiavelli was considered a diplomat, innovative thinker, political philosopher/writer and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic. He changed the modern perspective of politics and his thoughts have survived for centuries. Although, the ideas may seem selfish and close minded, it is wrong to completely dismiss Machiavelli’s writings and leadership. His work actually gets down to our deepest concerns with the moral judgments of others in politics. Sadly, on June 21, 1527, in Florence Italy, a significant leader died by the name of Niccolò Machiavelli. His work will never be forgotten, for he engineered a whole new political thought and set the framework for leadership and the modern political framework.
- Niccolò Machiavelli. (2004). In Encyclopedia of World Biography (2nd ed., Vol. 10, pp.
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- Gilbert, F. (2006). Machiavelli, Niccolò (1469–1527). In D. M. Borchert (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2nd ed., Vol. 5, pp. 626-629). Detroit, MI: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com.dcccd.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/CX3446801216/GVRL u=txshracd2500&sid=GVRL&xid=2ed29f37