Machiavelli wrote The Prince in early sixteenth century, and since then politics have never been quite the same. In The Prince, which was highly controversial, Machiavelli sets forth a how-to guide for maintaining and acquiring power. One of the first things that must be done to maintain power, he claims, is to separate politics and ethics. His hypothesis is that “The end justifies the means.” If the ultimate goal of a prince is to maintain power then Machiavelli is saying that one can lie, cheat, and steal as long as the outcome is the preservation of power. But the primary goal of a prince should not be to maintain power. The primary goal of a prince is to promote peace.
Peace cannot be maintained without ethics and morals, which are based on the belief in God, because as Dostoevsky says in his book, The Brothers Karamoz, “If there is no God, than everything is permitted.” Some claim that the United States of America is a good example of how politics can function well without the church. But the statement that laid the foundation for the American government, “All men are created equal,” necessitates the existence of God. Without belief in God what is there to stop a person from murdering another? If all men weren’t made in the image of God, then there would no such things as human rights. We would be little better than animals. And this type of reasoning is clearly seen in the actions of leaders who were influenced by Machiavelli, such as Hitler and Mussolini. Without the belief that good is rewarded and evil punished by a just God what stands in the way of political corruption and state evils? Nothing stands in the way except natural law, which can be easily warped. Every man desires happiness, and if they don’t believe that God is Supreme Happiness, men will eventually take material things as their ultimate good, such as power and wealth. Men will see another person’s death as a good if they think it will bring them happiness, and so without the existence of God nothing is keeping politic leaders from murder, which is the worst violation of human rights, possible. Thus, the separation of politics and religion is the perfect way to encourage undue love of material things in both leaders and subjects, which ultimately leads to the very opposite of human law’s purpose, which is the desecration of human rights.
To promote peace is the ultimate goal of human government and the primary duty of a ruler, whether the government is a republic or a principality. But there are different types of peace. There is the peace that is the result of strict government imposed by a tyrant; and there is the peace that is the tranquility of true order. This peace requires a government that is suitable to the identity of the people. For some people, a principality is best. For others, a republic is best. The identity of the people, whether they are warlike or peaceful, educated or uncivilized, is the ultimate judge of which type of government is best for those people. But in either case, republic or principality, it is the duty of the rulers to promote the most fitting form of government for that people. But Machiavelli did not believe that the government should be shaped for the people. He believed that a society that was used to freedom should be abolished because the people will never forget their old freedom. Clearly, this is not an example of the government being shaped to fit the needs of the people, but visa versa. Thus, the type of peace that Machiavelli believed that leaders should promote was not true peace, but false peace. True peace brings refinement of the arts, progress in the fields of agriculture, medicine, and science, and in infinite other fields as well. It also encourages progress spiritually and morally. This is the primary duty of a ruler – to support and protect true peace of the betterment of his subjects.
If a prince is faithful to this duty, then naturally his subjects will love him. But Machiavelli believed that it was better to be loved than feared by one’s subjects. There are two types of fear – human fear and fraternal fear. Fraternal fear is the fear of offending the one you love, like a parent, a spouse, or even a beloved ruler. If Machiavelli had been referring to this kind of fear when he said it is better to be feared than loved, his statement would have been superfluous, because love and fraternal fear go together naturally. However, Machiavelli was referring to human fear. Human fear is the fear of punishment. Fraternal fear wishes for punishment if it will appease the loved one offended and if it is just. But human fear fears only the punishment itself, and the anger of the punisher. This fear cannot exist without hate because the fear of punishment drives out love. The people’s hatred is the primary thing for a ruler to avoid. It is even better to be hated by the powerful nobles of one’s country than by the people, as Machiavelli claims. Being unjust and tyrannical inspires human fear. Machiavelli is promoting injustice and tyrannical behavior in princes, rather than faithfulness to their duty as ruler to protect and sustain peace. Thus, Machiavelli was wrong in asserting that is better to be feared than loved because human fear will inspire hatred and loathing, which will the people grounds to revolution and sedition. On the other hand, a dutiful and kind prince will naturally inspire fraternal love.
One famous example of a ruler who inspired human fear is Adolf Hitler. In fact, he inspired such fear in his subjects that they were willing to kill their fellow men and perform all manner of immoral acts in order to escape his punishments. Nobody would claim that he was a beloved ruler, rather the contrary. An example of a beloved ruler who inspired fraternal fear is the American general and president, George Washington. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington inspired such fraternal fear in his men through his courage, dedication, and kindness that soldiers whose terms where up preferred staying in severe conditions to going home, even though they would not have been punished if they left. Thus, it is better to be loved than feared with human fear, and this is accomplished by being faithful to one’s duty as ruler to promote true peace.
In conclusion, Machiavelli’s idea of a great prince was one who could sustain power. But this is not the best judge of greatness in a ruler. There are many factors to be considered in judging greatness. For the most part, rulers are judged by the greatness of their character. Hitler and Mussolini will never be thought of as great, even though at the time they were very powerful and sustained their power for a considerable period of time, because their characters held deadly flaws. The strength of a ruler’s character should be determined by how much they are willing to sacrifice for the good of the people. A ruler should be the servant of all, not visa versa. Governments, including principalities, are created for the good of the people. Rulers are powerless without the people, because their power is from the people, and no effect is greater than its cause. There are very dangerous consequences when rulers abuse their powers, and make the maintenance and acquisition of power the primary principle of ruling. Peace becomes only a secondary consideration, and as a consequence everything begins to degenerate, including the arts, agriculture, medicine, science, and almost every other field except the ones connected with war. The worst consequence, though, is the degradation of the human spirit. Sometimes, self defense or some other great injustice makes war necessary, but for the most part wars are commenced out of greed and lust for the goods of another country. When it comes to self-defense, it is necessary to make the maintenance of power a capital objective, but not for the glory of the ruler, but the good of the people. The exchange of power is a huge determent to peace because it overturns the norm, so for the sake of peace it is better to fight to keep the power in the same hands than to have it continuously switching hands. Thus, in cases of self-defense it is acceptable for the ruler to declare war, but only for the sake of peace. Machiavelli was undoubtedly a brilliant scholar, but his ideas contain such major flaws that is hard to make use of any of them. His hypothesis, “The end justifies the means,” is the first major flaw because it makes everything allowable, even murder. And, when it comes to politics, he was wrong in asserting that it is better to be feared than loved and that the primary principle of ruling is the maintenance and acquisition of power, because these two ideas may work for a while, but in the end they will always lead to the corruption of society and government. Thus, the primary duty of a prince is to promote true peace. Peace should always be the primary objective.