Question: Machiavelli lists several virtues that all rulers should have. Describe in your own words what those virtues are. Do you agree with Machiavelli? Why? (Note that it is possible that you may agree with some of his virtues but not others. ) Through his many years of experience with Italian politics Machiavelli wrote "The Prince"; a how-to guide for new rulers.
We are given descriptions of what a leader should do to effectively lead his country. A leader should be the only authority determining every aspect of the state and put in effect a policy to serve his best interests. These interests are gaining, maintaining, and expanding his political power. Machiavelli's idea is that a ruler should use a variety of strategies (virtues) to secure his power. Machiavelli lists five virtues that a ruler should appear to have; being compassionate, trustworthy, generous, honest and religious. A ruler should possess all the qualities considered good by other people.
A ruler should have a reputation of being generous, but not actually being generous. If you truly are generous your reputation could be damaged. A ruler who has a reputation as being generous will end up wasting all of his resources and money, causing him to tax the people to continue living plentifully. This will make the people hate him, and possibly turn against him. In the end this helps no one. " So we see a ruler cannot seek to benefit from a reputation as a generous without harming himself" (pg.
49) Being miserly is better than being generous. A miserly ruler may be perceived as miserly in the beginning, but he will eventually earn a reputation as being generous. A ruler who is frugal will eventually have enough money to defend himself and his people against danger, and undertake new initiatives without having to tax the people. By being miserly a ruler has greater power because he has money and with money comes great power, and with power you can dominate anything that you want, hence the phrase a person who has money is dangerous. Being mean allows a ruler to govern. This does not mean you should rob your people.
Compassion, like generosity is also admired. But a ruler must be careful that he does not show compassion unwisely. A new ruler has to be cruel initially, because being a new ruler is full of dangers. If a ruler is too compassionate, and does not effectively punish disloyal people, they take the freedom to do what they like. A lack of cruelty will lead to disorder, chaos, murders and robberies. Some amount of cruelty is necessary to maintain order.
A ruler should be both loved and feared, but this is difficult to achieve. If you must make a choice, it is much better to be feared than loved. Being feared is much safer than being loved. People are unlikely to overthrow a ruler that they fear, because they fear the punishment if they fail. " Men are less nervous of offending someone who makes himself lovable, than someone who makes himself frightening." (pg. 52) A ruler should avoid being hated, that is dangerous, while being feared is not dangerous.
Cesare was considered cruel, but by his cruelty he united Romagna and brought order, peace, and loyalty to the region. Machiavelli says, that if we examine his achievement, we find that his action was much more kind than the path the people of Florence took when, to avoid being cruel, they allowed P istoria to be destroyed. Cesare saved more lives by restoring peace. On the other hand, the people of Florence who were worried about their public image and not being cruel allowed the city to be destroyed.
A ruler, therefore, shouldn't mind being thought of as being cruel, especially when he can keep his people unified and loyal. A few displays of cruelty will be more compassionate than to allow, by being compassionate, disorders to occur. 'Hannibal commanded a vast army, made up of men of many different who were fighting far from home." (pg 52) Machiavelli uses this as an example because he thinks that Hannibal could never have controlled an army of that size without being extremely cruel and being feared. He also explains that Hannibal's other virtues could not have succeeded without cruelty being the first virtue exemplified. It is admirable of a ruler to be considered trustworthy and not cunning.
However, in real life, rulers that were cunning were always more successful than those that were continually trustworthy. A ruler should not carry out his promises when their outcome is opposing to his interests. Since people are naturally evil and conniving, and will not keep their agreements, he should not keep his either. "You cannot always win if you respect the rules, you must be prepared to break them" (pg. 54) A ruler cannot please everybody all the time, so therefore, he has to be cunning in order to maintain control. There are times when a ruler needs to lie to the people, in order to reach a goal that is better in some way for his country.
A ruler must know and understand when to act like a man and like a beast. "A prince should be a fox, to know the traps and snares; and a lion, to be able to frighten the wolves; for those who simply hold to the nature of the lion do not understand their business." (pg. 54) Pope Alexander VI for example, was a genius at using this technique to expand his power. He mislead his followers, broke his pledges, and failed to keep his promises.
Yet, he was successful in his deceits because he knew the weaknesses of the people he was dealing with. The better you understand the nature of mankind, the better you will be able to deceive them successfully. It's not necessary for a ruler to possess all the virtues; it's only essential that he seem to have them. To have them all and to follow them continually can be dangerous. To appear to have them, however, is very valuable. Therefore, it's sometimes necessary for a ruler to be adaptable; easily changing his attitude relating to different situations that appear.
It's most important that a ruler appear to be religious, because people usually judge more by what they see than by what they feel. Some Christians think religion compels them to support conservative candidates like George W. Bush. All through the election the media displayed G. W. B going to church and being a law abiding citizen.
By tying the church to the government, people expect the government to behave ethically, but often times, an entirely moral ruler will be overthrown. People expect rulers to act differently than themselves. A ruler cannot show any weakness, or else he will no longer be feared enough to keep him in power, and he will be overthrown. Everybody sees what a ruler seems to be, but few really know who he is.
A ruler must seem determined and moral to the people, and show positive results from his leadership. The most important thing for a ruler to do is to avoid being hated or despised by the people, which could occur if a ruler took people's property. For the people, more than the form of power, their perception of power may be the most important for a ruler to maintain his position. "If a ruler wins wars and holds on to power, the means he has employed will always be judged honorable, and everyone will praise him." (pg. 55) Therefore, a ruler should look mainly to winning and to the successful protection of his country. The ways he utilizes for this will always be considered honorable and will be praised by everybody..