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What You Can Learn From Niccolo Machiavelli

Updated on September 30, 2014

Machiavelli is best known for the Prince, and from that book has sprung this idea that he was an advocate of attaining and maintaining power by any means. To hold that view though is to commit a grave injustice against him. His ideas deserve serious consideration, and here are some concepts that are prevalent in his writing.

Machiavelli’s View on Human Nature

When it comes to human nature, there are two major themes that can be found in Machiavelli’s work.

The first is that human nature is unchangeable. As a student of history, he believed that humanity had not changed in any meaningful way since time immemorial nor would we change in the future.

The next major theme was that humans are more prone to do evil than to do good.It is from that idea that Machiavelli based his argument for good government as a counterweight to humanity’s naturally destructive tendencies. It is also one reason that Machiavelli has gotten a bad reputation as a advocate for unethical behavior since he believed that in a world of sharks, you sometimes had to be just as vicious.

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Reality Vs Ideal

Another prominent idea is that the reality of a situation should supersede the ideal.He saw danger in focusing on what should be at the expense of what is.

It ties in to his view on human nature. In a world where all men are inherently good as they should be, it would be wrong to do evil for any purpose. On the other hand, in the midst of a pack of wolves, sheep don’t tend to fare so well.

The End Justifies the Means

In the Prince, there is one passage where Machiavelli states that in the absence of an impartial judge, the final result must be considered. It is easy to make the leap from that to the end justifies the means, but there is more to it than that.

In fact, he is just making the point that consequences should be given the most weight when judging the merit of an action, and that sword cuts both ways. One can set out to save the world and yet cause great destruction and human misery or set out to achieve a selfish goal and end up bettering the lives of millions. Intentions should not matter more than consequences.

The Foundation and Maintenance of Vibrant Organizations

Machiavelli wrote two books on governance. We all know him for the Prince, but the Discourses on Livy went into greater depth on his beliefs. Ultimately though, both books can be considered two sides of the same coin.

They each focused on different types of government, but there were common themes interwoven into both. We’ve already gone over some of them, but the most important one is the idea that creating and maintaining organizations is one of the greatest goods that a man can do.

It was through organizations that Machiavelli felt that the potential of humanity could be best harnessed in order to achieve good, and it is through his books that he tried to use history as a model for others to create and maintain vibrant organizations in the future.

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    • KBEvolve profile image
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      Kenneth Brown 5 years ago from United States

      Yes, more people should give Machiavelli a serious examination. Reading both the Prince and the Discourses, and then weighing them against each other changed my whole perspective.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 5 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      An interesting take on Machiavelli; certainly I have never seen him portrayed in anything but a negative light. A good lesson that common understand does not always equal what actually WAS in our history.

      You give me reason to look more into the man and to read "The Prince" which I have never done. Thank you.

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 5 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      Thank you for giving us a more in-depth understanding of Machiavelli. I have read "the Prince", but have not read "Discourses on Livy". That is a book I will have to check-out over the weekend from our library. If they do not have it, then I will go on-line and see if I can get a copy. Interesting read! :)