Essay on Machiavelli’s Political Theories

In the words of Sabine: “Machiavelli more than any other political thinker created the meaning that has been attached to the state in modern political usage. The state as an organised force, supreme in its own territory and pursuing a conscious policy of aggrandisement in its relations with other states, became not only the typical modern political institution but increasingly the most powerful institution in modern society.”

Machiavelli is known as a father of modern political theory. Apart from theorising about the state he has also given meaning to the concept of sovereignty. But he never let his belief in the general theory of an omnipotent law giver turn into a general theory of absolutism or absolute monarchy, which the subsequent writer Thomas Hobbes did. This concept of sovereignty internal as well as external – is implicit in his recommendation of despotic power of the ruler for making the state permanent and safe internally and externally.

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This idea was later developed into systematic theory of state sovereignty by French thinker Jean Bodin, while Hugo Grotius built upon a theory of legal sovereignty, which was further given a proper formulation by the English theorist John Austin. Earlier, Hobbes while justifying his social contract had also borrowed Machiavelli’s conception of human nature on which he built his social contract theory and that of absolute sovereignty.

Machiavelli was the first who gave the idea of secularism. In the words of Allen: “The Machiavelli state is, to begin with, in a complete sense, an entirely secular state.” Although he attributes to religion an important place in the state, he at the same time separates the two. He placed religion within the state, not above it and according to him, “the observance of the ordinances of religion is the cause of greatness of the commonwealth; as also in their neglect the cause of their ruin.”

Machiavelli’s belief in the potency of material interests of people rather than the spiritual ones influenced Hegel and subsequently Marx in propounding their theory of Material Origin of the State.

Machiavelli was also the first exponent of the theory of aggrandisement which is the basis of modern power politics. In day- to-day international politics each state aims at increasing its economic and military power over other states.

Machiavelli was the first pragmatist in the history of political thought. His method and approach to problems of politics were guided by common sense and history. According to Professor Maxey: “His passion for the practical as against the theoretical undoubtedly did much to rescue political thought from the scholastic obscurantism of the middle Ages.” Machiavelli’s idea of omnipotence of the state and the business of the government was to provide security to person and property and has had a long lasting effect.

His ideas were revolutionary in nature and substance and he brought politics in line with political practice. In the end, it can be said that a good deal of odium is attached to Machiavelli for his cynical disregard for morality and religion. Machiavellism has become a by-word for unscrupulousness; but it must be noted that he wrote the ‘Prince’ and ‘Discourses’ primarily from the point of view of the preservation of state, every other consideration being secondary.

Machiavelli undoubtedly was frank, bold and honest besides being practical in understanding the real politic which made him a favourite of diplomats during his own time to the present? “Once we restore Machiavelli to the world in which his ideas were initially formed, we can begin to appreciate the extraordinary originality of his attack on the prevailing moral assumptions of his age.