Niccolò Machiavelli and Martin Luther: Shaping Modern Political Theory
By: Andrew Plotnikov
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Martin Luther and Niccolò Macchiavelli were two European figures in the early sixteenth century who recognized crises of leadership and authority in Europe. Machiavelli and Martin Luther were arguably two of the greatest reformist minds of early 1500s, and their reactions to the crises of leadership present in their countries through their writings led to tremendous political and religious advancements; through their analyses of legitimate rule in The Prince ...view middle of the document...
This cemented the feeling that the provinces of Italy simply could not compete with the stronger, centralized Northern powers that had emerged since Italy’s dominance during the Renaissance period. Machiavelli found the solution to this problem in a dominant, unified principality, and he devoted his book The Prince to prescribing the rules of successful governance to any autocrats in such a government. Machiavelli expounded his political reality as a world in which morality was neither useful nor expedient for the founding or maintenance of government.
The Renaissance period leading up to Machiavelli’s time was marked by the revival and application of classical – and especially Aristotelian – philosophy, which primarily attributed qualities shared in harmony among a society’s people as binding them in unity and stability. Machiavelli instead commended princes displaying values of ruthlessness, calculation, and cunning.
In The Prince, Machiavelli created a set of ultra-cynical, pragmatic guidelines for an autocrat to hold legitimate power and to conduct his state efficiently. He first broke down and attacked traditional Aristotelian ideology, deeming that the real world cannot operate on ideals, stating that “the gulf between how one should live and how one does … is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done moves towards self-destruction,” (Machiavelli, 50) further arguing that “because of conditions in the world, princes cannot have [all qualities deemed good]” and that “some things that appear to be vices will bring him security and prosperity” (Machiavelli, 51). Machiavelli then gave significant insight into his image of human nature. “One can make this generalization about men: they are ungrateful, fickle, liars, deceivers,” he wrote, “while you treat them well, they are yours … but when you are in danger they turn away” (Machiavelli, 54). In these sweeping statements Machiavelli clearly departed from conventional thought and opted instead for a new line of practical rules for autocrats seeking success in governance. His princes would rule absolutely through shrewd diplomacy. For instance, he wrote “if you do … earn a reputation for generosity you will come to grief” because generosity leads to “impos[ition of] extortionate taxes” (Machiavelli, 51) on his subjects to fund useless generosity, drawing their hatred in the process. Compassion leads to disorder because too much breeds crime, and “by making an example or two [princes] will prove more compassionate by maintaining order and unity” (Machiavelli, 53). Most audacious was Machiavelli’s claim that princes should choose fear over love from his subjects because “men break their gratitude to princes when it is advantageous to do so, but fear is strengthened by dread of punishment which is always effective” in keeping loyalty (Machiavelli, 54). Filtering Machiavelli’s shockingly realist, amoral approach to rule, he consistently showed the power individuals hold:...