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“Cruel to be kind” is a clich often used in modern society. It suggests using rather harsh means in order to accomplish benevolent ends. For example a parent grounds his or her child for a month after the child is caught smoking. The child thinks the punishment austere, but the parent inflicted the penalty to show the child that smoking is unhealthy and that he or she is breaking the law. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote “The Qualities of the Prince” to demonstrate how a ruler should rule and be successful doing so. He asserts that the prince (or ruler) must use questionable means to be an effective ruler and that a successful ruler exhibits questionable or nearly corrupt qualities. Three of these qualities are making one’s only profession war, miserliness, and deceitfulness. Machieavelli’s values of a successful prince (or ruler) sound remarkably similar to those equated with modern day politicians. The values he praises, however, are seen as faults and would not lead a politician to success presently.
“A prince, therefore, must not have any other object nor any other thought, nor must he take anything as his profession but war, its institutions, and its disciplines…(Jacobus 35).”
Machiavelli first states that war is very important in finding success. Having an overwhelming army is how most princes come into power and how most regain power when it is lost. In present day America, all public officials are elected. Although, the process prior to being elected may very well be likened to war, no physicality is employed. One may decide to campaign on a platform of war, but is not likely to prove prosperous as the vast majority of American citizens are opposed to war unless absolutely necessary. There are instances, however, where war is necessary. Were America being invaded, the public would cry for war in order to defend the country. But, using war to gain power in America would be considered a substantial offense, and the perpetrator could be sentenced to life (likely at the very least) or even be deported. Thus, we see an unnecessary concentration will not lead a politician to prosper. War expends a country’s resource. One of those resources is money.
“In our times we have not seen great deeds accomplished except by those who were considered miserly… (Jacobus 39).”
Thrift is considered a virtue while miserliness a fault. Being thrifty means being more efficient with one’s money while miserliness refusing to spend it. Thrift is an excellent quality for a politician to have. That means he or she is good at managing money and that is an exceedingly important quality for one to have, especially in this age of foreign debt, inflation, and stock mark instability. . Miserliness, on the other hand, denotes bad money management. If a politician is unwilling to spend money, no government- funded programs would get off of the ground; those programs already established would die. Machiavelli comments that in the practice of miserliness the ruler need not impose taxes. As much as any American citizen hates even the thought of taxes, they are absolutely necessary in order to keep our economical system functioning. Perhaps what the average American hates more than miserliness is deceit.
“One sees from the experience of our times that the princes who have accomplished great deeds are those who have cared little for keeping their promises and who have known how to manipulate the minds of men by shrewdness; and in the end they have surpassed those who laid their foundations upon honesty (Jacobus 43).”
The most common stereotype with which we label politicians is that of having two faces or being deceitful. Politicians are well known for being liars and there is nothing they can do to escape this designation. They are always seen as saying one thing and doing another. He or she makes their platform tax breaks, but when he or she gets into office, they sign a bill to raise taxes. Deceit can only take one so far. After the population learns of the deceitful ways of their elected official, that official will not be re-elected.
Machiavelli presents compelling arguments as to the success of his qualities. However, presently each of those values are despised by the majority of the American public. It scorns war, it detests miserliness, and it abhors deceit (perhaps this one above all). Therefore, we see that Machiavelli’s qualities would not lead a present day politician to success. The ideal leader is an honest and thrifty man who can fight his battles without the use of force. These characteristics apparently lead few men to successful leadership in the time of Machiavelli. However, One cannot expect things to be the same in this era as they were when Machiavelli lived, but there are some interesting parallels that present themselves when his words are analyzed.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. “The Qualities of the Prince.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford Books. 1998. 35-48.
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