Machiavelli and Politics of Power through Force and Propaganda

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Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

Machiavelli`s ideas have been both influential and controversial in the fields of social and political theory and offer a dark pessimistic view of humanity.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) is best known for his controversial work The Prince and the famous maxim that the “means justify the ends”. To Machiavelli human beings were unable to govern themselves and he considered them generally to be lacking in intelligence and to be led by irrational motives and desires.

The Necessity of and Need for a Strong Monarchy

For most people passion would be more important than reason and this would cause them to make wrong or self-interested decisions. Humans are also endlessly ambitious, in his view, as they are never able to completely satisfy their cravings and constantly seek to add to their possessions.

If people are given free hand to express their feelings and act accordingly, the state would result in chaos and be marked with constant unrest, strife and competition. Therefore, Machiavelli proposed a strong monarchy as the best form of government to control people, to keep them in check by means of fear while offering them in return security and protection.

Since men are selfish there ought to be a ruler or prince who ideally is not a tyrant but manages to govern without infringing on his subjects in order to prevent them from committing rebellious acts against the state.

Machiavelli`s Definition of Virtue and the Quest for Power through Force and Propaganda

For Machiavelli virtue was not the commonly accepted moral and ethical considerations embodied by Christianity but rather a specific behavior that “promotes the acquisition and maintenance of power,” whereas vice was defined as the behavior that “either decreases or destroys power” itself. A ruler who can remain in power, even if he may be unpopular, would be a necessary component of such a government.

It is sometimes better to be feared than to be loved when it comes to maintaining one`s power in government in Machiavelli`s view. Such a prince would be also indispensable due to the fact that humans were incapable of governing themselves and whose behavior if unchecked would only lead to chaos and destruction.

The intelligent prince would then be able to control humans by manipulating them and by playing upon their passions. Strong feelings appeal to the sentiment of such beings who are blind to reason, so the prince would need to use two main instruments at his disposal to achieve that particular end, namely force and propaganda.

Force is meant to instill awe and fear and ensure the continuation and legitimacy of the government while propaganda if used properly would satisfy the desires of the populace and give them incentives to support the current prince.

In fact, force should be used ruthlessly, so people would know their limits from the start and not be able to undermine the authority of the prince. Through the correct use and manipulation of propaganda people would be swayed to accept and believe that the private interests of the prince are for the common good, even if this is not so in reality. Perhaps some people are not fooled easily , then it needs to be backed with force to achieve its full and lasting effect.

Machiavelli`s theory had a tremendous impact on social and political theory but it is considered by many as controversial because of projecting a pessimistic outlook and of condoning the use of willful manipulation and deception by the ruler or government.

Source:

  1. Jones, W. T. Hobbes to Hume: A History of Western Philosophy. United Kingdom: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 1980.