As one of the most cynical thinkers of all-time, Machiavelli is remembered as the philosopher of realpolitik, or the politics of power. His detached, viciously candid investigation of power, The Prince (1517) was published five years after his death. His goal for the work was to “write something of use to those who understand… the real truth of the matter to its imagination.”
His assumption was that human beings never change – for they are all petty charlatans, corrupt and cowardly. Given vulgar human nature, those who aspire to political power are required to act with brutality, force and deception. If the prince is to remain in authority, they must follow the dictates of ruthless logic; morality is in no way relevant when weighing options. People are passive substances to be molded by the prince, who must learn to “caress or exterminate” them to achieve his goals.
Although the threat of religious punishment is silly, if it proves helpful in maintaining authority, the successful prince will appear to heed its edicts, for, as always, expediency is a priority.
Cesare Borgia – a devious, treacherous, and utterly vicious opportunist – was Machiavelli’s model of political truth.
Thanks to The Prince, Machiavelli has been recognized as the first modern political scientist. He was the first political philosopher to view ourselves as essentially selfish and prideful, and to suggest that relationships are based on persuasion, manipulation, and hypocrisy. Deal with us as we are, Machiavelli advised, not as we should be – for to do otherwise will “bring about …ruin.” Those with political power will find nothing in Machiavelli’s writings that they did not already know.