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To what extent and why did Machiavelli’s views on politics and human nature in his book ‘The Prince’, lead him to be reviled by his contemporaries?

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Introduction

To what extent and why did Machiavelli's views on politics and human nature in his book 'The Prince', lead him to be reviled by his contemporaries? Machiavelli was extensively reviled by his contemporaries because of his views on politics and human nature in his book 'The Prince'. They believed he put forward the principle that the laws of politics and princes were above those of God. This principle frightened them because they did not want to admit that the manner in which religion and politics worked together was in a different dimension, one they were not prepared to acknowledge. However, his philosophies were admired by many, especially rulers of the day. 'The Prince' would probably never have been written if the political situation in Florence had not changed so radically in 1512 when the Republic fell. Therefore, it is necessary to examine the events that led up to Machiavelli writing 'The Prince'. For the 14 years prior to this Machiavelli served in the government in a variety of capacities that included being a member of the Ten of War Committee and carrying out numerous diplomatic missions throughout Europe. These missions brought him into contact with Louis XII of France, Cesare Borgia of Romagna, Pope Julius II, and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I of Germany. Machiavelli was able to observe close-up the most prominent leaders of his era. ...read more.

Middle

'Machiavelli overturns the Christian interpretation of previous centuries, which turned Fortune into either a blind chance or divine (but unknowable) Providence. He returns to the pagan classical view that Fortune can be influenced, and even mastered, albeit not forever.' 10 Through 'virtu' Romans were more concerned with ensuring the good of the whole instead of just the good of an individual. They believed in patriotism above anything else and used their religion, and pagan gods, to enforce patriotism. The Roman doctrine said that loyalty to the state was loyalty to one's gods - whereas Christianity did not teach 'virtu' and said God should be first and foremost in anyone's actions. The Roman's pagan gods 'provided objects for sworn oaths that men feared to break; and divinatory omens which, when positive, filled armies with the assurance of victory.' 11 The importance to Machiavelli of patriotism and the survival of the State resulted in his writings emphasising how critical it was for a ruler to achieve his goals. Probably the most famous saying that evolved from his writings is that the end justifies the means. This had to be seen as a very unchristian outlook, and would be offensive to any truly pious person, but to Machiavelli, the survival of the State was the primary responsibility of any ruler, no matter what means he took to ensure this survival. ...read more.

Conclusion

The philosophy of Machiavelli was not accepted as pivotal during his lifetime. 'Italy was considered to be a political backwater'21 at the time, which made it more difficult for Machiavelli to spread his theories. However, the relevance of his teachings are apparent simply because they have lasted for more than 500 years and are a cornerstone of political thought today. Although Machiavelli was seen as a realist in his views of how governments work, leaders do not like to be identified as having a Machiavellian approach to leadership. When someone suggested to Henry Kissinger (Secretary of State for President Nixon) that he was a Machiavellian, he was quick to deny it. One of Machiavelli's pious adversaries wrote that 'Out of his surname people had coined a word for knave and out of his Christian name a word for the devil.'22 Machiavelli's contemporaries would undoubtedly be stunned to know that five centuries later that his philosophy on leadership is taught at all levels when teaching leadership styles. They would probably also be shocked to find the word Machiavellian in the dictionary, although they would probably be delighted with the definition: 'elaborately cunning; scheming, unscrupulous.'23 None of these are ways that many of us would like to be remembered. However, many of Machiavelli's contemporaries would probably find great satisfaction in knowing the man that they reviled so greatly went down in history in such a negative context. ...read more.

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