Introduction to Western Political Thought
Professor Mithilesh Kumar Jha
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati
Lecture No. 10
Machiavelli- II: Politics, Violence and Religion
(Refer Slide Time: 0:32)
Hello and welcome friends. This is the second lecture on Machiavelli. Today, we are going to
focus on his advice to the prince. The main focus of today’s lecture would be his advice to
the prince based on the text which is widely read and based on the characterization of
Machiavelli as a theorist who justified immoral treacherous actions in politics.
So, today’s lecture will be focused on the prince, the advice that he gave to the prince, and
how to rule the principality or polity effectively. How to preserve and defend them, given the
fact that the men are treacherous, wicked, and evil. Thus, given this understanding of human
nature or the prevalence of evil all around. Then how to establish a rule and to govern them
effectively is the central concern of defends.
In the previous lecture, we looked at Machiavelli in the political and intellectual context,
where there was a kind of shift away from the religious thinking or Christian ideology of
politics as impermanent and imperfect to the transcendental which is religious and men
should submit to the will of God.
So, in Machiavelli, there was a decisive shift and citizens of politics in an autonomous
domain with its own set of morality and ethics. We have also discussed how he defined Virtu and how Fortuna played a decisive role in human affairs even when human beings or rulers
are having the necessary Virtu to rule the polity or principalities.
Machiavelli’s conception of Virtu was different from Christian ethics, virtues, or GreekoRoman understanding of virtuous action. Machiavelli defined it in a more ethical neutral or
morally neutral sense, where it required the ability to know the moment and what should be
the appropriate action to respond to that particular moment. And that requires a ruler to be
bold, to have temperance or the necessary foresight to intuitively understand the exact nature
of the moment and then respond to that accordingly.
It is a kind of value-neutral understanding of Virtu that gives the ruler to limit the influence
or decisive role that Fortuna played in human affairs. The other half would be the rule of
Fortuna and the other half would be the Virtu that the Prince or the ruler can develop or
inculcate in the citizen. This we have discussed in the previous lecture.
In the concluding lecture, we will focus more on his idea of Republicanism or how to rule a
republic. How citizens can play a decisive role in governing the city-state by developing what
he calls civic virtu. That is based on his text Discourses. We will conclude Machiavelli’s
contribution to political thought and political theorization in the western tradition.
Today, our focus is mainly on his text, The Prince, and the advice he gave the prince to rule
the principality more effectively given the nature of human beings who were treacherous,
evil, and sinful. (Refer Slide Time: 04:58)
In Machiavelli, what we have is a kind of a new theory of politics. And politics for him is not
about ethical or philosophical speculations and contemplation. But it is about basically the
preservation and the security of the state. That we can understand by the historical context of
Machiavelli, where there was a lot of instability, upheavals, or insecurities in the Republics of
the Italian Peninsula. They were constantly subjected to external aggression by Spain or
France and other states.
For Machiavelli, the main role of politics or knowledge of politics was the preservation and
the security of the state which would ensure the safety and welfare of the people. The welfare
and safety of the people were unimaginable without a secure state governed effectively. So,
the role of politics for Machiavelli was to preserve the state, to defend the state, and to secure
In The Prince, he provided all the advice to the ruler that was necessary to preserve and
defend his principalities and thereby ensuring the welfare of the people. The welfare of the
people was connected with the welfare or security of the state. The main concern for
Machiavelli was to advise the ruler in statecraft where they could ensure the security of the
state and thereby the welfare of the people. Thus, the security and welfare of the people were
not disconnected from the security of the state.
In a secure state, human beings can live a safe life and their welfare can be secured. If the
state is subjected to external aggression, automatically, the lives of the individual and their
welfare are also subjected to those changes or instability. In The Prince, Machiavelli provided that advice which was necessary for the prince to rule
their principalities effectively and defend it from the external aggression, the conspiracies
within and thereby ensure the safety and welfare of the people. His theory of politics was
based on the wickedness, evil, and inherently violent nature of the men. And this
understanding of human nature was there in Christian ethics.
We have discussed how Saint Augustine or Thomas Aquinas argued that human nature is
innately immoral or bad and on its own through their reason or intellect, they cannot achieve
redemption. So, they must subject to the will of God.
Machiavelli shared that understanding of human nature as wicked, sinful, evil, and inherently
violent which would result in political instabilities and upheavals. And the Italian cities or the
principalities were constantly subjected to such kind of political instabilities and upheavals.
When Machiavelli’s personal life was also suffered or influenced by such political
instabilities. He based his theories or advised the prince based on human nature that is
wicked, evil, or inherently violence.
And of course, he did not go into the details of human nature as we find in Hobbs and other
thinkers. His prime concern was not to define what is good or bad for the individual, but how
to ensure the security of the state and preservation of the rule. And once, the security and
preservation of the rule are maintained, the human being’s life and their welfare can also be
The primary concern for Machiavelli was the preservation of the state and its defense. So,
given this nature of the men, the challenge for Machiavelli was therefore to advise the rulers,
how to establish their rule, and govern them effectively. That was their major concern of
The Prince generated a complex debate in western political tradition or political philosophy
which was much beyond the immediate context in which this text was written. In The Prince,
Machiavelli also expressed his patriotism to unify Italy and bring back the classical Roman
Republican form of government. The immediate context of writing The Prince was the
unification of Italy. And we have to take into account that with The Prince. Machiavelli was
trying to rejoin the active life of politics.
He regarded the writing or philosophical speculation as subordinated to the active life in
politics. And he wrote this text, The Prince, and dedicated it to the young prince of Medici family, the former ruler of Italy who returned after the upheavals or external aggression with
the support of the Pope, the Spanish monarchy, and the young prince, Lorenzo. He wrote this
text and dedicated it to him with the hope that it would allow him to re-enter politics. So, the
new ruler of Italy would grant him the opportunity to rejoin the active politics of Florence or
This text was written in the immediate context of Italian politics and the real pragmatic
politics that Machiavelli had earlier experienced and wanted to rejoin. However, in the
western political thinking and theorization, such immediate context was not taken seriously
as his imagination or characterization as a theorist of evil. The brand of Machiavellian
politics was associated with the treacherous life or anything immoral, unethical, treacherous,
or dubious, and many tyrants or politicians drew lessons from this text,
The Prince out of its context in which it was written, where there was constant warfare
between different principalities. There were political instabilities and upheavals in that
context. Machiavelli was trying to create an order or establish a rule and govern them
effectively. So, who is going to do that? And what is the necessary advice to rule that
principality effectively was the concern of Machiavelli which he expressed in this text.
When we theorize or interpret this text, we need to keep into consideration the context in
which it was written often taken out of context. And then, we characterize Machiavelli with
everything dubious, evil, and immoral. He was a pragmatist and ruthless realist, and yet he
acknowledged the rule of Fortuna in human affairs. He argued that Virtu could help mitigate
its influence or stating influence. But could not tame it completely.
This point we had discussed earlier that the Fortuna would play a decisive role in the fate of
human affairs or human life or the life of a ruler. No matter how much Virtu or how much
courageous or foresight a king or ruler is, the Fortuna would have its role to play. And how it
plays, we have discussed in the previous lectures.
Here, one has to understand that despite being a pragmatist or a realist thinker, Machiavelli
acknowledged the role of Fortuna or how Virtu could limit the role of Fortuna. Yet the
Fortuna would decide the fate of the ruler, and the fate of principalities. And that is the kind
of circular understanding of human nature or polity or government.
Machiavelli had acknowledged the role of Fortuna as well. And we will see today, in the
lecture, how he also acknowledged the role of religion in governing the city effectively. Surprisingly, Machiavelli wanted politics to have its distinct set of morality and mentally
opposed Christianity which was associated with corruption and moral decay in Italy.
So, everything that was immoral or corrupted for Italian life, he associated with Christianity.
And as we have discussed in his political and intellectual context that the Christian ethics or
Christian morality did not provide enough motivation for the subject or for the ruler to govern
their principality effectively. It was the moral or political degeneration all around that
resulted in the fragmentation of polity or republics.
The reason for that was the inability of Christian ethics or morality to provide enough
motivation to the rulers. There was a kind of all-around moral political corruption and
degeneration which Machiavelli associated with the catholic church or Christianity. And yet
he recognized the role of religion in politics.
And he, thereby, understood the political role of religion as not something which was good in
itself or which gives the absolute truth to the individuals or seeker as Christianity believed.
But for Machiavelli, it had a role in politics. He wanted it to be subordinated to the objectives
of the state.
Thus, a wise ruler must know how to use religion for political purposes and to ensure
obedience among the masses. He argued about the two sets of morality that were public and
private. It was good for the stability of rule if the large section of the population followed the
conventional morality and Christian ethics. It would allow them to obey the rule and thereby
in the sustenance of the kingdom. (Refer Slide Time: 16:24)
In The Prince, Machiavelli first makes a distinction between different kinds of rules. And the
two chief forms of ruling a city or polity were the principalities or a kind of monarchy where
one person ruled the city effectively and the other was republics where the citizens through
their senate or representative government governed the city. He discussed the republican
form of government in Discourses, another text of Machiavelli which we would discuss in
the next lecture.
In The Prince, he dealt with the different types of principalities, how to secure and govern
them effectively was the major concern of this text, The Prince. First, he set out to describe
different types of principalities that existed in the Italian peninsula. These were the hereditary
principalities where the prince or monarchy inherited the rule from their fathers or
Then there were mixed principalities where the combination of the monarchy aristocracy and
the popular form of rule in the form of democracy or polyarchy or any other terms that might
use for the popular form of government. There were principalities where one person was the
ruler. But the effective rule was the combination of all the three elements of monarchy,
aristocracy, and democracy.
There were new principalities and he focused more on the new principalities than hereditary,
mixed, or other forms of principalities. And he preferred that the scope for glory and to
achieve something really rewarding was more available to a new prince than the one who
inherited or the one who was adjusting the rule of principalities. He added more premium to
those who were new in the ruling. And so, the other forms of principalities were the civic principality or the ecclesiastical
principality which was like Papacy, the Pope ruled the principalities, where there was no
effective rule. Nor does the population want to be governed effectively. And yet they obey
the Pope or the Papacy who were least concerned about the effective governing and govern in
the name of God or being representative of God.
There were different kinds of principalities. But he argued that there was a greater scope of
glory for the new prince or new principalities. And in the rest of The Prince, he argued that
how to acquire a new position or principalities and govern them effectively. And that is
where he was somewhat different from other kinds of political thinkers in the western
tradition, where he allowed political thinking and theorization, not based on inheritance or
nobility of birth.
He wanted a ruler or the prince should be the man of the masses. That is to say that he gave
an analogy of a painter. To have a proper perspective or coverage of different kinds of
landscapes, a good painter should have the access to the top from where he or she could see
below or the valley. And he should also have access to the valley. So that he could see the
heights of the mountains.
He made a similar kind of advice to the prince, where he should be in a position to see things
below. But also, he should live among the masses or people to know about the princes or
actions of the princes. This analogy of a new prince or effective prince who could attain glory
was something very unique in Machiavellian thought and imagination.
We will see later on that how he advised the prince to seek friendship among the masses, not
with the novelty and aristocracy who would constantly conspire or set traps for him. So, for
the sustenance of the rule or long term rule, he must seek friendship with the common
Machiavelli argued that there was greater scope for glory to the new prince than the existing
or the hereditary prince. And the single most concern, as I have told, for Machiavelli in The
Prince, was not to take a moral-ethical position on the nature of polity. Unlike in Aristotle’s
classification of a state, where we have seen that how he characterized a constitution based on
ideal type or perverted type.
And this classification of ideal and perverted was based on certain moral judgment or
standards. The monarchy is ideal because it is in the interest of everyone, but tyranny is not, because it is the interest of the ruler, so is the aristocracy, oligarchy, polity, and democracy.
There is a kind of ethical or moral position in the classification of constitutions in Aristotle.
In contrast to that, Machiavelli did not take any moral-ethical position while describing what
different kinds of principalities were there. His major concern was preserving the
principalities and rule them effectively. And he considered the new prince more capable of
ruling effectively than having the scope of achieving the glory, or the existing or hereditary
ruler and certainly, the ecclesiastical principalities.
His stance was morally and ethically neutral. His concern was entirely focused on the
preservation and sustenance of the existing principalities. In the concluding chapter, we will
see that Machiavelli’s Florentine patriotism becomes much more clear where he advises the
future prince on how to unify Italy and re-establish the glory of the classical Roman republic.
That is the overall objective desire of Machiavelli in his advice to the prince or the future
ruler who would unify Italy fragmented into different principalities that were at constant war
with each other and the external forces interfered in matters of Italian city-states or governing
Now, we will move on to understand what is the advice that Machiavelli gave to the prince.
The first advice that he gave to the prince was that he should have the knowledge of history
and Machiavelli understood the role of history in having the correct understanding of the
situation and to respond to that. According to Machiavelli, history provided a storehouse of
great achievements to imitate. It is a gallery of great men to emulate.
Thus, a prince must learn from history which was a storehouse of great achievements in the
past and the great rulers. A prince in his governing or ruling the principalities learned lessons
from the past and knowledge of the past was necessary for a ruler to govern effectively.
For a ruler to preserve his rule, it was critical to understand the ever-changing events in
politics and to seize it by responding to them appropriately. It might seem commonsensical
that a ruler should understand what was the situation or necessity in the given situation and
how to effectively respond to that situation?
Now, in the political life of the national state even today, you will find that the leaders often
fail to understand what is the situation, what is the demand of the situation, and how to
respond to them effectively? So, as I have discussed in the previous lecture that for the
human being and the rulers, it is easy to reflect upon the past and predict the future. The toughest and hardest thing was to understand the present constantly at flux. And now, in
such an ever-changing situation, the ruler must understand what exactly is the situation and
how one should respond to them effectively. A ruler who understand the situation and how to
understand that effectively becomes great.
They achieve glory for himself and his principalities. And if he or she fails, then it brings
doom or calamities for them, for his rule and his principalities. So, it was necessary to
understand the moment and to respond to them appropriately. And failing in this could be
disastrous for the king and his kingdom.
(Refer Slide Time: 26:31)
So, the king or ruler must know when to be kind or generous and when to be ruthless. So, in
contrast to the Christian conventional morality or advice of the rulers like Cicero or the
philosophers like Cicero that a ruler must be honest and truthful in all the contexts.
Machiavelli advises the ruler to know when to be kind, generous, and ruthless.
For example, if a ruler is too generous with the people, then when there is a time of drought
or a situation of scarcity, he will not have enough resources to be generous when the situation
demands. He wanted the ruler to be economical and knowledgeable of when to become kind
or generous and when to become ruthless. And again, this knowledge of determining or
deciding when to become generous or kind comes from the understanding of history.
These lessons he could learn only from the examples of past rulers, where there are examples
of many rulers ruining their empire or principalities because of their over generousness or
over kindness which resulted in envy or conspiracies and upheavals from the aristocracy or novelties. Thus, a ruler must know how to balance or behave generously in a particular
situation and ruthlessly in other situations depending on the necessity or requirement of the
So, there is no kind of a priory ethical or moral position for the ruler in the Machiavellian
theory of politics. Without that knowledge of when to be generous and when to be ruthless, a
ruler was bound to fail in preserving his rule and defending his principalities. He despised the
contemporary rulers in Italy for not caring about and learning lessons from the past.
One of the criticisms that Machiavelli had about the rulers of his time as they were not
knowledgeable in history and did not draw lessons from the history necessary for a ruler to
govern his principalities effectively. However, this history in Machiavelli was not that of a
historian’s attention to detail or correction of the fact.
For him, the role of history for a ruler was to draw lessons to respond to the unfolding
situation in the present and not to be concerned about the accuracy or correctness of the
interpretation or facts of the history as that was the rule of historians. Now, the other advice
that he gave to the prince was the knowledge of warfare. And military Virtu is something that
is regarded as necessary for the effective rule of the principalities.
Machiavelli was well aware of the military weakness of Italy of his time which resulted in
internal fragmentation and warfare within, and aggression from the external forces. So, the
situation in Italy where Machiavelli was thinking or writing this text had constant warfare and
political instabilities, or constant fighting within different principalities. Also, the interference
from the external forces.
And on top of that, there was a Catholic church that was confined to their pleasures without
really bothering about governing or ensuring the governing of the city. So, they were more
about lavish life and enjoying the pleasure. There was corruption all around. And all the
corruption and political-military degeneration of Italy. Therefore, Machiavelli was associated
with the church. So, he regarded the military weakness as the reason for fragmentation and
political instabilities in Italy. He wanted the rulers to have both political as well as military
According to Machiavelli, it was the lack of military Virtu that Roman republics or
principalities could not defend itself from external aggression and internal warfare. So he
writes that a ruler should have no other objective and no other concern, nor occupy himself with anything else except war and its methods and practices, for this pertains only to those
For a ruler or a prince who cares about the effective rule, there should be no other concern
than the warfare and how to prepare for the war. What is the effective method of conducting a
war and winning them should be the only concern for the rulers? For a ruler concerned about
the ruling, the only concern was constantly developing the military Virtu or military
So, the warfare and he wrote a text called Art of War is necessary for the ruler to govern
effectively. He advised the prince that he should derive pleasure in hunting. Because the
hunting would develop his skill for warfare and killing. He wanted the prince or rulers to
devote exclusively to warfare and his Art of War provided the significance of military Virtu
and warfare that Machiavelli associated with the preservation of polities.
There could not be a proper defense of the existence of proper polities or principalities
without the Army or military Virtu. He wanted rulers to have their Army in the auxiliaries or
the citizen’s army and continuously seek to expand their territories. The advice that he gave
to the prince or future prince of Italy was to seek constant acquiring or conquering of the new
territories to expand his rule and principalities.
And such expansion of territory could be achieved through the help of others' army too. But
without the military power of one’s own, there was no defense of the rule and principalities.
So, it is through winning wars and gaining new territories and resources that a prince could
aspire to achieve glory and command respect for the people.
What is necessary for the ruler to seek new territories, to expand one’s principalities and
military preparedness or the knowledge of warfare is the absolute necessity for the
preservation of principalities and an explanation of territories. (Refer Slide Time: 34:01)
Now, the next advice he gave to the prince is to learn the virtue of lion and fox. So, it is
similar to Aristotle’s views on human nature which if you recall that he considered human
beings as Zoon Politikon which means human beings are animals. But this animal is someone
who wants to live in the community and has a rational faculty. It has a sense of moral
justification and unjustness.
So, like Aristotle, animal kingdom and species did guide Machiavelli’s understanding of
men’s political world which was full of treacherous or dubious actions and behaviors.
Machiavelli regarded human beings and their collective lives through the analogy of animals.
Life in the jungle or the animal kingdom. And he differed from Aristotle in the sense, he was
not taking any moral or ethical position to judge human nature – good and bad, moral,
ethical, rational, or irrational.
His only concern was how to preserve the polity, how to govern effectively, and to govern
effectively also wanted the prince or ruler to learn from animal’s behavior or Animals virtu or
the characteristics. According to Machiavelli, to be successful, a prince must behave like a
particular animal. That particular animals were the lion and the fox.
For Machiavelli, why a ruler or prince should imitate and learn from lion and fox was that a
lion was easily trapped but not a fox. And a ruler must understand the trap with having the
virtue of a fox. So, the fox because of the cunning behavior, foresight and intuitiveness were
capable of protecting itself from the traps set by wolves and others. Similarly, a ruler to effectively rule must know when trap or conspiracies were set for him by
others. But he should have the virtue of a lion to effectively fight or have the military Virtu to
fight in the open with enemies. He advised the prince to combine the virtue of a lion by being
bold, courageous, and ruthless like a lion with the virtue of a fox by being cunning and have
the foresight to preempt the deceptions and trap set by others.
The political instabilities and political ruling are also simultaneously about the presence of
evils or the treacherous behavior of others. Now, for a ruler to preserve his rules, and to
govern effectively must have the boldness, ruthlessness of the lion, and the foresight to
preempt the conspiracies and traps set by others.
For Machiavelli, a ruler or a prince must know how to act like a beast or a lion. He should
imitate both the fox and the lion, for the lion is liable to be trapped. So the lion is bold,
assertive, ruthless but it can be trapped. But the fox is not bold, not ruthless but it is very
difficult to trap a fox.
For Machiavelli, the ruler or prince should know how to act like a beast and he should imitate
both the fox and the lion. Because the lion is liable to be trapped, whereas the fox cannot
ward off wolves. One needs to be a fox to recognize traps and a lion to frighten away wolves.
There is the kind of constant competitiveness or envyness in the polity particularly from the
Aristocrats and novelties who would constantly conspire against the ruler.
Now to rule effectively, a king or prince must behave ruthlessly and boldly. But he should be
aware of the traps, conspiracies, and learn and imitate it from the fox. So, Machiavelli
recognized the presence of evil in the political life of the nation. He did not downplay or set
aside its devastating consequences. In other political philosophers, we find that they will not
engage with the evil that is prevalent or exists in the society that is part of human nature. He
wanted to engage with the evils and yet to ensure the order, and how to govern the
That was the chief concern of Machiavelli. In that advice, he did not downplay or undermine
the presence of evil that was there in society and human nature. And which has devastating
consequences for the principalities. So, if a prince or the ruler was unaware of the traps and
conspiracies, it would bring ruins to his rule or principalities.
So, advise the king to learn the art of manipulation by being ruthless and having the
knowledge to understand the traps set by others to rule and govern effectively. So, men in politics are like wolves whom a prince could tackle by combining the virtue of a lion or fox.
The political events were always in flux and a king must be flexible enough to adapt to the
changing circumstances to be successful.
The reason why he wanted the prince and rulers to be like a lion or fox to have the attributes
or the virtue that combines the virtue of the lion or fox. So, this is to rule effectively. And to
rule effectively is to understand the evils, the treacherous behaviors of others, and to respond
to them effectively, one needs to have the virtue of the lion and also that of the fox.
This is also to do with the changing nature of the political life where there are the constant
traps or conspiracies to the rulers or to the king set by the others, particularly those who are