In the book The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli argues that the ruler should govern based on the observations of the real world rather than pursuing idealistic concepts. In order to understand why the author even bothered to draw such a distinction, it is necessary, first, to briefly look at the philosophical views on governing that were popular during his time. In this regard, Lamus (30) states that at the time of Machiavelli’s life, the most important and popular political philosophy ideas were those of Aristotle. The famous Greek thinker maintained that a good ruler is a political leader that is highly virtuous. Moreover, Aristotle asserted that virtue in combination with love for philosophy was the only way to achieve happiness and well-being. This rule applied equally to a common person and his life and to a ruler and his/her realm.
Machiavelli argues against that view and notes that although people should strive for moral perfection in their daily lives, successful governing necessitates abandoning these ideals. For the philosopher, the constant pursuit of virtuous actions would eventually lead to the loss of power. For instance, he claims that “a man who wants to practice goodness in all situations is inevitably destroyed, among so many men who are not good” (Machiavelli 257). As proof of this philosophy, the author mentions that among three Roman emperors, namely Marcus Aurelius, Pertinax, and Alexander Severus, who loved justice and were virtuous, only the first one avoided the tragic death. Moreover, the philosopher notes that sometimes rulers’ cruel behavior can eventually lead to a positive outcome for the country. As an example, the author presents the story of Hannibal, who led the huge army across the enemy territory and never saw any kind of riot. “This fact could have resulted from nothing else but his inhuman ruthlessness which – together with his extraordinary virtue – always made him an object of respect…” (Machiavelli 275). Therefore, Machiavelli suggests that the ruler pursues moral and state ideals only when the situation necessitates it.
Lamus, Felipe. Machiavelli’s Moral Theory: Moral Christianity versus Civic Virtue. 2016. Duke University, Master’s thesis.
Machiavelli, Nicollo. The Prince. Hackett Publishing Company, 2008.