Machiavelli and Power

Machiavelli:  The Elements of Power  - summary below

Sexuality and Its Disorders explores sexuality from an evolutionary perspective using powerful, real-life case studies to help readers provide effective guidance around issues relating to sexuality. Drawing on his 30 years of clinical experience and research, author Mike Abrams provides a comprehensive, evidence-based, and clinically-oriented text with cutting-edge coverage throughout. Discussions include the physical and psychological development of sexual identity; the social aspects of sexual behavior; the many expressions of sexuality; cognitive behavior treatment of sexual problems; and more. The many perspectives of sexuality are examined with interviews and commentaries from major figures in the field—including David M. Buss, Helen Fisher, C. Sue Carter of Kinsey, Todd K. Shackelford, Ken Zucker, and Gordon Gallup—who discuss such topics as the origins of sexuality, the nature of love, the role of attachment, and the treatment of sexual problems.
SAGE Publishing Site for Ordering »Visit site

return to history page

return to Home page

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his famous dissertation on power, The Prince, in 1517. His thoughts on the rules of power encompass the struggles for every level of power, from the proletariat struggling in the corporate world to strategies performed by the world leader in the sixteenth century to now. Adolfe A. Berle wrote that The Prince is "the greatest single study of power on record."(Berle,19)
The philosophies set in The Prince, known as Machiavellianism, have been viewed as evil throughout the centuries, but as most business leaders and politicians agree Machiavelli has only defined the physics of power ("Great Books" t.v.).
In fact he wrote The Prince as a guide book for his own prince, Lorenzo De Medici, to promote himself into the political arena of Italy. He analyzed power and the way Italy could gain enough to become its own state and keep control. His extensive explanations were driven by his own fascination with power and his desire for an independent Italy. Just like a guide book, The Prince goes directly to the unarguable axioms of power for the leader to follow like a strategy. Machiavelli was only interested in directly discussing the elements of power.
"...since it is my intention to write something of use..., I deem it is best to stick to practical truth of things rather than to fancies. Many men have imagined republics and principalities that never 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."(Donno, 7)

When Machiavelli mentioned "fancies", he was referring to the theories set prior to his own. Theories which recognized men as good, thus able to be controlled by good. But in this quote Machiavelli points out that men do not live in such a fashion. Therefore, those acts which are "other than good" are necessary for acquisition and preservation of power in society.
Machiavelli set the precedent for the cold and calculated regardless of the century they live in. He discusses frankly, the necessity of cruel actions to keep power. He was in the business of power preservation not piety. Those who desire power in any situation may look to his strategies for solid aid.
"...he (the leader of the state) must stick to the good so long as he can, but, being compelled be necessity, he must be ready to take the way of the evil."(Machiavelli, 63)
Thus the term Machiavelliamism is defined: "The political doctrine of Machiavelli, which denies the relevance of morality in political affairs and holds that craft and deceit are justified in pursuing and maintaining political power."  This definition implies that in the arena of power the end justifies the means. This is essentially the core of Machiavelianism. The priority for the power holder is to keep the security of the state regardless of the morality of the means.
In Machiavelli's own words: "In the actions of men... when their is no court of appeal one judges by the result."
For the reason that his doctrine separated power from morals his theories were rebuked by the Catholics and the Protestants for two hundred years (Berle,30). His ways of acquiring power were definitely not paralleled to those of the Bible. Machiavelli was not interested in what one do according to the Bible, but rather what one must do given the true nature of circumstances. He sought the truth of keeping power in the context of a real and sinful society; not the way the church would view society.
However Machiavelli did not believe in pursuing evil for evil's sake, rather when the only way to keep power is to act evilly, one must. Good and evil are equal in the contest for power.
So what circumstances call for amoral actions in our modern society? Henry Kissinger said:
"There are some situations in which the more the survival is threatened the narrower the margin of choice becomes, unless you say you would rather have your society destroyed than to pursue marginal means."
Are there such threatening situations in the modern world that it is necessary to resort to marginal means?
Henry Kissinger has been called the greatest diplomat of our time. He recognized the need for separation of morals from the power struggle; the irrelevance of morality in politics. For his theories he also been called the Machiavelli of the 20th century. Like a true Machiavellian he, as Secretary of State under the Nixon administration, systematically analyzed the struggle between the democracy of the United States and the threatening communism of China and the Soviet Union. What is our objective? Our means? What is the worst that can happen? What is the best?
Henry Kissinger asked himself these questions when he designed the policy of detente with China and the Soviet Union. His objective: to contain the threatening communism.
Record of the report to China is cited in Kissinger's book, Diplomacy, quoted from the Second Annual Report of The Nixon Papers:
"We are prepared to establish a dialogue with Peking. We cannot accept its ideological precepts, or notion that Communist China must exercise hegemony over Asia. But neither do we wish to impose on China an international position that denies its legitimate national interest."

The United States stood to gain much. These legitimate national interests were to increase trade and halt of the nuclear arms race. These goals were further pursued when President Nixon visited Moscow, with the same intentions, for the signing of the Strategic Arms Limitations Talks, S.A.L.T. (McClenaghan, 498).
In both instances, Henry Kissinger identified the objective and perceived strategic gain. He delicately avoided the worst that could of happened. With his policy of detente the potential for nuclear war was reversed to a harmony of two vast powers working cooperatively for their interests. The United States was no longer blinded by its precepts that communism is evil, rather by the idea that these two countries great powers needed to deal with each other in a mutually beneficial way.
If these steps to cooperate with these communist super powers the outcome could have been war. In words of Machiavelli:
"By making provision is advance, princes may easily avoid such difficulties; but if they wait until they are at hand, the medicine will not be in time, for by then the malady will have grown incurable."

As in world politics, the theories of Niccolo Machiavelli have their place in the power strategies of our own politicians. If Henry Kissinger was a modern Machiavelli, was President Richard Nixon a modern Prince? Niccolo Machiavelli was the first to describe the political actor. When President Nixon arranged the Watergate Scandal in 1973, as it came to be called, did the public have an inclination that their leader as capable of such unethical means? Nixon, under the illusion that his campaign was in danger, groped for power in the only way he saw fit, cheating. In hindsight, historians agree that Nixon would have won by a landslide anyway.
Nixon felt compelled to cheat because he had lost so many times. He felt that the American people hated him. After he lost the Presidency to John F. Kennedy, he swore; he developed an intoleration of losing and sore jealousy of JFK. The American people always loved him he thought .

Nixon was right about Kennedy. Surely, the greatest political actor of the twentieth century was President Kennedy. His handsome face and beautiful wife gave the illusion of a modern day Camelot. As the movie "Naked Washington" suggested, Kennedy "seduced the media" and thus American public with his perfect image. "For the mob is always impressed by appearances and by results, and the world is composed of the mob." He always appeared to have the "soul of clemency, faithfulness, frankness, humanity, and religion." (Both quotations from the Chapter of The Prince: In what way Princes Should Keep their Words)
Did Kennedy really have the qualities that the public thought he had, or unlike Nixon was he just able to impress the mob with these qualities?

Looking back further in history, what caused President Harry Truman to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? The casualties reached approximately 120,000 with the extending effects of radiation. To quote the Machiavellian Henry Kissinger, was the survival of the United States so threatened that the use of such marginal means was necessary? How many American lives did they save because the war was ended by this extreme means?
It has been stated that the strategies of Machiavelli show no prejudices for good or evil means. They have disregard for the principles establishing the power structure. President Truman used Machiavellian principles to support democracy but others have used his tactics for other ideals.
Lenin used Machiavellian tactics for a communist revolution, for Machiavellian was not only interested in the survival of a principality but the way the principality acquired its power. The communist revolution led by Lenin is a modern example of the destruction of an old principality to a new. Machiaviavelli outlines the unfailing process to be followed for a modern revolution. As outlined in chapters VI-IX: VI-Concerning New Principalities acquired by one's own arms and ability, VII-Conserning those who become Princes by Evil Means, IX-Concerning Civil Principality, a leader guiding his fellow citizens as a citizen must stamp out the old principality, establish new government, appoint new officials, and instill respect and gradually fear for the principal leadership.
Were these not the blue prints for the Russian revolutionary followed by Lenin?  After he became leader of the Bolsheviks, he led them in a successful revolution. With his communist ideals pushing them, the Bolsheviks threw out the Provisional Government at the Winter Palace, a symbol of the old principality. Once the complete destruction of the old principality was over, Lenin appointed a new hierarchic system. He established himself as head of that system and developed a reputation of cruelty (Greenberg, 17).
Another of the many Machiavellian principals that Lenin followed was this:

"I (Machiavelli) conclude that since men love as they themselves determine but fear as their ruler determines, a wise prince must rely upon what he and not others control."

Destroy old principals, appoint new officials, establish a respected leadership. . . Could these be the same blue prints for other aspects of the human power struggle? Every four years in the United States a version of this change of power takes place on a smaller scale. With the change of presidents, an entirely new administration is established. If the elections change the shift of power of president across party lines, an even more drastic transformation takes place.
Moreover, this change of principalities happens almost daily in the corporate world. With the leadership of new management, the entire policy system may change as well as the product and the image.
Machiavelli is not restricted to politics. His physics of power cross over into all arenas. As Adolfe A. Berle wrote:
"The head of a big manufacturing corporation . . ., within area of his capacity to make decisions and give orders, is though less spectacularly, in the same position as a head of government . . . [though the] . . .scope of power is tiny compared the same rules apply."

These rules are the consistency of The Prince used by politicians and businessman alike. As a whole, the strategies of Machiavelli are even more applicable to the world of business than to the present day world of politics. Like the prince, the business person regards his own welfare more greedily than any of the present day politicians because the politician's power is given to him by a vote and the business person's power are given to him by the dollar.
The executive knows that the best way to self preservation is through power by the people by manipulating their passions. A company's system of appealing to the customer's trust and loyalty, in turn earning their money, puts an executive prince at the head of a corporate kingdom.
For the executive Machiavelli has the ultimate advice:

"If he must harm a colony (take over a new company): harm the poor and dispersed."
"If he aquires a state (markets a product) he should absorb the surrounding(companies marketing this same product) and identify the enemies.
"Injuries (raising the price) should be performed all at once: so resentment does not develop, favors (deals, entertaining advertising, grants, charitable works) should be bestowed little by little."
"Whoever desires to found a state (company) and gives it laws, must start with assuming that all men (other executives, share holders etc.) are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it."
"A prince should have no objective but war." (to beat the competition)
" A prince (executive) who is not wise himself cannot take wise (financial)advice."
"Men will succeed as long as method and fortune are in harmony."

Throughout history there have been businessmen who have succeeded to becoming a tycoon by these principals of The Prince. One such individual was Henry Ford. His company "ranks as one of the giants of the American industry."(World Book, 382) Starting from only ability Mr. Ford built himself an economic empire. To appeal to the customers pocket book he invented the assembly line to make his "Model T" available to families with all incomes. In addition to the savings by the assembly line, he employed other pioneering techniques that made the price of Ford in 1913 at $550 to $290 in 1924. This in turn meant the selling of more cars and more power for Henry Ford. His power is proof that the possession of fortune is as effective as the possession of ability as described in Chapter VI of The Prince. Not only did he have ability to build irresistible autos but also to manage the company to total stability.

For not only was his goodness to his customers awarded with more power, so was he goodness to his employees. The regulations for his employees invaded every avenue of their lives to ensure to the utmost morality of his workers. Their compliance to his rules resulted in his voluntary raise of the minimum wage for men over twenty. His need to have control over is company resulted in is extreme distaste for unions. On several occasions, he fought with the United Auto Workers Union. His voluntary concession of the raising of the minimum wage inhibited the effectiveness of the U.A.W. following yet another Machiavellian principle, one that later Nixon practiced: " By making provision in advance, the princes easily avoid such difficulties: but if they wait until they are near at hand, the medicine will not be in time, for by then the malady will have become incurable."
As a man Henry Ford appeared, like Kennedy to have the soul of clemency and goodness. He surely helped his public image with his Museum or his Ford Foundation. The latter charity giving grants to several important causes, one of which was his human rights and justice program. Upon study of Henry Ford, one might remark on the irony of this program. Ford was an outspoken anti-Semitic, surprising to most because the companies well-censored image.

In conclusion all human struggles boil down to the struggle for power. It is only the basics of social Darwinism. Machiavellian principals are exploited on other levels than those first intended by the author for their universal truth. His theories of power have transcended the political arena and revealed the basic functions of the human struggle for power. In the same way the modern governmental principalities understand this, the 20th century corporate tycoon down to the struggling proletariat, understand Machiavellian principles. For if they do not and hope to succeed, they will be compelled to learn : for who can defy physics?
Machiavelli's greatest insight was this:

"For the manner in which men live is so far removed from the way in which men ought to live, that he who leaves the common course for that which he ought to follow will find that it leads him to ruin rather than to safety. For a man who, in all respects, will carry out only his professions of good, will be apt to be ruined among so many that are evil. A prince therefore who desires to maintain himself must learn not always to be good..."