Our lives and much of human progress is shaped by experiences and mistakes of the past. Had any of us the opportunity to do it all over again—make use of different opportunities to create more desirable outcomes for ourselves—who among us would not opt to leave a glorious legacy? The fate of empires has been linked to their potentates and each being effective in wielding the apparatus of power. They all possessed a fear, no matter how composed and in control they portrayed themselves to be. In The Prince, Machiavelli himself expresses this fear—the fear of having never achieved glory.
This fear of having never achieved glory appears to be quite personal to Machiavelli as glory is a ubiquitous theme in The Prince. Little imagination is needed to assume this piece of work to be a catharsis of some sort—him reflecting on his shortcomings as a leader. The depth of his fear led him to become consumed with figuring out and constructing a formula by which a leader can attain glory. Glory, according to Machiavelli while describing the failures of Agathocles, simply means “to be celebrated among the most excellent of men”. However, it can only be attained by possessing what he calls la virtù—the necessary traits, and doing whatever is needed to achieve glory. He applauds leaders he considers to have achieved, or to have possessed what it took (la virtù) to achieve, glory such as Scipio, Heiro of Syracuse, Darius The Great and Ferdinand of Aragon, to name a few. The theme of glory is salient, for the word “glory” appears nine times and is alluded to throughout The Prince. “La Gloria” he purports to be the ultimate goal of a leader. Machiavelli telegraphs his inner turmoil and desires—the fear of not attaining glory—as he recounts their legacies.
Scipio’s “…easy-going” nature, according to Machiavelli, was a double-edged sword. He writes, “Scipio’s mildness would eventually have tarnished his fame and glory…” and he goes on to describe his personality as a potential danger to his career when he says, “this harmful character trait of his not only stayed hidden but actually contributed to his glory.” Here we see Machiavelli finetuning his formula which is necessary for a leader to gain glory.
Heiro of Syracuse’s glory is enunciated by Machiavelli; he is more or less used as an archetype for glory. Machiavelli writes of Hiero, “From being an ordinary citizen, this man rose to be the prince of Syracuse…the Syracusans chose him to head their troops. Afterwards, they rewarded him by making him their prince.” Machiavelli points out that he possessed everything to attain glory when he writes, “He was of such great virtù” and goes on to quote someone as saying of Hiero, “He had everything he needed to be a king…”. Heiro, for Machiavelli, is the embodiment of la virtù—he is everything that is worthy of being called glorious.
About Darius The Great, Machiavelli alludes he used his glory to set up principalities. In chapter 7 of The Prince where he expounds on the machinations of new principalities, Machiavelli references Darius’ glory when he states, “This happened to many in Greece, in the cities of Ionia and of the Hellespont, where princes were made by Darius, in order that they might hold the cities both for his security and his glory”. In this example, Machiavelli illustrates the utility and influence of glory.
Ferdinand of Aragorn, a contemporary of Machiavelli, was the ruler of Spain for quite some time who regained the favor of his people. Machiavelli explains, “…by success and glory, from being an insignificant king to be the most famous king in our part of the world”. Machiavelli in this example, attempts to show the effectiveness of glory. It can change and shape how a leader is received by the people and what legacy he leaves.
Conversely, he makes mention of those leaders who fell short of glory or who did not have what was necessary to achieve it. Agathocles, as previously mentioned, was one of those leaders who could best be described as a brute and a tyrant who fell out of favor with his subjects. Machiavelli explains, “to kill fellow citizens, to deceive friends, to be without faith, without mercy, without religion; such methods may gain empire, but not glory”. Without the necessary element of virtù, as demonstrated in the other leaders, Agathocles was sure to fall short of glory.
The depth of Machiavelli’s fears are evidenced by his dedicating of The Prince “To his Magnificence Lorenzo Di Piero de’ Medici”. It led him to seek redemption from the very persons who deposed him in the first place. It is apparent that he was attempting to create an opportunity to regain a position of prominence, perhaps as an advisor to the prince. This can be seen as an act due to this fear mentioned before, in hopes of seizing some semblance of personal glory. Through introspection of his own failures and his plight at the time, which led him to pen The Prince, he devised some of the most impressive and controversial political theories to date. These theories were intended as a recipe for Prince Lorenzo Di Piero de’ Medici to attain glory and through the influence of his work, Machiavelli would vicariously achieve some recognition. If he could not be the prince, he would be the prince-maker and attain glory through his endeavors.
Machiavelli’s message in The Prince, centers around maintaining the state or “mantanere lo stato”. This task he regards as the fundament of leadership, with avoiding being hated and despised as primary agendas. To illustrate, Machiavelli warns against becoming like Antoninus who “…became hated by the whole world”, and like Commodus who “…was by nature cruel and hard” and “did not maintain the proper respect for his own position..”, “…doing wicked things not worthy of the emperor. He became despised by the soldiers, and being hated by one party and despised by the other, he was conspired against and killed”. Others warned against were Pertinax and Alexander, both either hated and/or despised, causing them to lose control of the state.
A leader not being hated or despised is essentially how the state is maintained and the end result, if successful, is the glory that all princes seek. This means in order to secure glory the prince must understand the affairs of the state to be paramount. He must do whatever it takes to avoid being hated and despised, thereby ensuring the ship of state is intact. For Machiavelli, maintaining the state seems to also be in tandem with staying in control and not losing power—maintaining the role as ruler—eventuating glory. All part of a very simple equation we shall soon see. Accomplishing this, Machiavelli augurs, is not easy, for it requires leaders to act in ways that may be both favorable and unfavorable. The leader, at times, will risk sullying his reputation, disappointing many, betraying trusts and even murdering those closest to him. This kind of ruler would appear to be schizophrenic or unpredictable and it can be surmised that Machiavelli himself possessed these same characteristics. After all, The Prince is the landscape of his mind. However, about the ruler, Machiavelli explains, “…he need not feel uneasy about being criticised [sic] for that bad behaviour [sic] which is necessary to maintain the state…”. Similarly, the ruler may express too much of the opposite traits—being too trustworthy, too kind, too merciful, too generous—princely virtues Machiavelli finds also to be detrimental when expressed in excess. Balancing either paths requires what he refers to as la virtù. This, in concert or acting upon fortuna—opportunity—is best expressed as seizing opportunities or what happens when preparation meets opportunity. This is his formula—la virtù plus fortuna equals glory. Notwithstanding, on the value of virtù, he does conclude that “it is much safer to be feared than loved, when only one is possible.” Deviating from this will result in ruin and glory will never be had.
To those familiar, Machiavelli’s formula seems to be quite similar to Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics, where an excess or deficiency in virtue will result in disaster for one, so a balance is needed. However, one particular historian who would have seen Machiavelli as insane would be Cicero. Cicero espoused the notion that the only right and just way to rule is through justice. He held the notion that reason is the most important human ability, which enabled us to learn from mistakes, to modify our behaviors and propels us in our quest for knowledge and truth. He understood and was an avid proponent of proper communication, not just for leaders, but the common man, and keeping one’s word or fides (faith) was the crux of getting others to cooperate. It is through this cooperation and “keeping good faith” or fides est servanda, that we evolve the concepts of justice, law and order. Justice is what sets us apart from primitive man. As it pertains to rulership he is noted to have said:
Justice is the crowning glory of the virtues.
Justice consists in doing no injury tomen…
Justice is the set and constant purpose
which gives every man his due.
Machiavelli’s philosophy, to Cicero, would be seen as one of self-preservation which goes against Cicero’s justice because Cicero views humans’ natural affinities to be for love, friendship and community. Specifically, Cicero’s brand of justice is fides est servanda and, Machiavalli’s “do whatever is necessary” approach defies all “good faith”. Through this keeping of one’s promises, Cicero believed that this is what creates justice and community, not fear. He said, “Justice extorts no reward, no kind of price; she is sought…for her own sake.” From this we see Cicero would postulate that justice is a non-self-serving virtue, which when pursued would ensure a leader clings to his power and be rewarded the glory he desires for being a just ruler, not a feared one.
The Prince is Niccolò Machiavelli’s finest work. For those who misunderstand it, he will forever remain in infamy, but will forever be “the father of political science”, albeit posthumously. This accomplishment is a blueprint not void of criticism, but reliant on it so that others may build upon where he may have erred. His fear of not having achieved glory has been assuaged and many readers stand to learn from this wonderful and insightful handbook.