Machiavelli Political Philosophy Summary

In search of the ideal stateman : Machiavelli’s political philosophy

Power, state, politics and morality are at the heart of Machiavelli‘s thought and philosophy: what is a good stateman ? What qualities are required to make a good politician?

To not rediscover the moon, let’s look at the thinker who founded the modern political philosophy: Machiavelli. In his famous text The Prince, the Florentine, who has spent his life as close to the power of Caesar Borgia to whom The Prince attempts a sketch of the ruler.

At the outset, Machiavelli denies any moral conception of power: the stateman should not follow a fixed set of rules, but adapt it to circumstances, what he calls “fortuna” (in Latin means luck, fate). By separating the morality of power, he does not, however, that the head of state must be immoral, but it can dispense with the traditional morality if necessary. This is what we call nowadays pragmatism, or the primacy of purpose on the means. In other words, the stateman must control and make hay of any idealism that would force him to moralize politics.

Kant, the german philosopher, oppose this conception of power, placing the intentions over results. In contrast to Machiavelli, according to Kant, the political action can not be judged on its facts and not on its potential and its underlying intentions. Machiavelli defines the political arena as the place of confrontation of fate (fortuna) and willingness (virtu). The head of state must embody the will of exceeding the need.


Statesman by Machiavelli: A public figure

Above all, the stateman is a public figure, he is constantly “in sight” (especially in democracies or “mediacracy”). For this reason, it must control its image: it must therefore seem to possess qualities that he may not necessarily possesses. His faults are concealed from the public in order to avoid any destabilization. We see how this is modern. Today, it is the communications adviser (“spin doctors”) who manage the image of politicians through methods such as analysis of polls or media training, trying to make them appear their best. Because it is constantly under the look of others, Machiavelli’s politics should dissimile faults and qualities pretend it does not hold.
The head of state must also bring under control his opponents and the political life. Machiavelli preaches to head of states to conduct a firm policy. Dissent must be stopped because it is the root of the revolt. However, according to Machiavelli, of course, the head of state has only one goal: the preservation of power. In a word: the end, again, justifies the means. If the policy is threatened by his opponents, he does not help to imprison them.

Thus, the dominant feature of the “good” head of state is the “virtue”, that is to say control, mastery: self (the image), the future (the fate), his opponents (politics). This control policy is nowadays called Realpolitik.

It is far from the cynicism that Machiavelli is often reduced …


Cite this article as: Tim, "Machiavelli Political Philosophy Summary, May 13, 2012, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, May 13, 2012,

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