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On the Art of War by Niccolo Machiavelli: Analysis of his Political Views and Philosophy

Updated on March 3, 2012

Niccolo Machiavelli is an Italian political philosopher best known for his works “The Prince” and “The Discourse.” 'But an equally important contribution was his third work, published in 1521, “The Art of War.” The book follows a Socratic dialog with various characters asking Fabrizio questions that explain the importance of the knowledge and understanding on the technical aspects of war and how to link this with that of the nation’s affair and civil life. After all, Machiavelli emphasized that civilian and military life is inseparable and thus understanding of one is vital for the survival of the other—“to esteem the modes and orders of military discipline... It is not difficult to persuade (people) to these ways, when one considers these at length and approaches them in the usual manner, for the truth will appear in such (examinations) that every common talent is capable of undertaking them” (Machiavelli, “The Art of War”). In this case, through detailed discussion and analysis of the aspects of war, one can apply the theories, mores, virtues, and principles, to that of the nation’s affair and consequently to civilian life.


Military and State

Since the problem of an ideal society or state has already been exhaustively discussed by Aristotelian and Socratic philosophers; For Machiavelli, the problem that he would like to delve on is how to expand and maintain the power of the state, which must be ordered for the benefit of the greater good of the people. To answer this, Machiavelli always would look back at history i.e. Rome, Sparta, Greece, and discovered a very important pattern—that powerful empires emerge out of violent victories. And it is through this premise that he patterned his ideals of leadership as characterized by his ‘Prince.’ “For men change their rulers willingly, hoping to better themselves and this hope induces them to take up arms against him who rules” (Machiavelli, “The Prince”). Ergo, one of the many important points that could be derived from “The Art of War” is that military leadership is synonymous to civil leadership.

Because war is inevitable as man is in constant conflict with himself, political objectives would be the defining force and or limitation of it. War is fought because of political motives—which again reinforces another premise that Machiavelli made—that civil and military life is inseparable. That the way we function—the mores, principles, and standards that we apply in the military is also applicable or could also govern civil actions. For instance, the discipline of the soldiers could be instilled to workers; the essence of always being prepared for battle—stability under pressure, is a mindset that could be adopted in civilian affairs to be able to handle pressures of everyday life.

Military as an Expression of Power

Another important point that Machiavelli made is that military capabilities of a nation are the direct expression of power. The prince, to be an effective and powerful leader must also have an effective army. To prove his point, he again drew example from history “Rome remained free four hundred years while armed: Sparta eight hundred: Many other Cities have been dis-armed, and have been free less than forty years.” If a nation does not have an effective army, it must hire foreigners to fight its battle or for it to have someone defending its borders and citizens. But Machiavelli also warned that hiring foreigners for military could pose more dangers, as compared to maintaining your own, as these people could easily corrupt the citizens. When a nation has its own military, it “has not other fear except of its own Citizens” (Machiavelli, “Art of War”).

Military Strategy and Tactics vis-à-vis Politics

According to Sun Tzu, “the art of war is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected” (9). Besides having the same title of books, Sun Tzu and Machiavelli also shared the same principles—that military strategy and tactics could be applied to politics.

Moreover, Sun Tzu also mentioned that the best way to take over a country is to leave it intact and to inflict minimal damage to it as much as possible. Leaving it desolate and destroyed could prove useless (18). Machiavelli in a way agrees to this premise but goes beyond this principle and added that it is much wiser for a Prince to present himself as peace-loving, giving every opportunity for the enemy to retreat or surrender. This also meant that the Prince must also be able to assess the situation objectively in such a manner that he could avoid the risk of total defeat; that retreat is always an option. Better to strike at an opportune moment than to risk defeat. The objective of war is to not merely conquer territories but to break your opponent in such a manner that it destroys their will or ability to resist.

In much simpler terms, the ability to strike does not only mean the use of force. It could also mean the art of craft—of using the available resources and tools i.e. law, alliance, diplomacy, or any other means necessary to coerce enemies to succumb to your leadership, power or influence in such a manner that it inflicts minimal damage to their property. By ensuring that there is minimal ‘damage’ then there is much to exploit, much to gain.


Machiavelli’s “Art of War” is often times undermined in its value—politically and socially, because most readers misunderstood the philosophy behind it and would just often attribute its value to the study of military because of the very detailed discussion on the technicalities of war—which would no longer be of relevance now because of the much advancement in warfare. However, upon further analysis, we could discover, that, like Sun Tzu’s principles, Machiavelli’s “Art of War” provide valuable philosophical principles and theories towards the approach to politics and leadership. The importance of including human nature—of the capacity to be both logical and irrational at the same time in his theories is one of the critical merits of his work.

Works Cited

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. 2009. Web. 12 January 2011. <>.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Seven Books on the Art of War. 1520. Web. 12 January 2011. <>.

Sun, Tzu. The Art of War. London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 2006. Print.


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    • profile image

      Alishakur 6 years ago

      War is not de use of weapons only ,induce de oponent

    • randslam profile image

      Rand Zacharias 6 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

      I appreciate your topic as I've been wanting to write a biography of Machiavelli, however, I don't know that taking the philosophies of this ancient cast he lived many years ostracized from a state of preference and respect.

      I don't know that the idea of military leaders taking on the helm of prime minister or president for modern nations works in our globally-connected economic times.

      Had America not chosen to attack and invade Iraq...much wealth would have been saved...the act, and art, of war is generally taken as a means to conquer a people and acquire greater wealth. America has lost it's proverbial shirt on fighting to wars in very separate locations--who has made the money? Only mercenaries and construction companies with contracts from the American gov't.

      The art of war is to know when to fight--and when to be diplomatically astute creating more wealth for one's nation and citizens. Spending taxpayers' dollars is simple, yet hardly artful or expedient.

      The art of war is quite lost in our modern era unless it leads to an improvement in the quality of citizens' existence, business or wealth--as has historically been the case, however, many more fields need to be plowed and unearthed, as it were, when countries go to war today.

      Unless we're talking about the "Arab Spring" of recent advent, in which citizens have been removing themselves from decades of dictatorial rule--these uprisings have been long in coming--but of a necessity--had to occur.

      The American invasion wasn't. It would have been much wiser for President Bush to take stock of the costs of two overseas wars. There were many other means at his disposal in which to spend money wisely in discovering the issues, protecting his own borders and saving taxpayers trillions of dollars.

      One can not go into war any longer...simply for just doesn't pay.

      The art of diplomacy is creating wealth for all stakeholders at minimal risk...both financially and physically. We haven't seen very artful wars in recent decades--only costly ones--costly for the people who can least afford it.


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