I heard of the term Machiavellian villain many times and thus, when I read The Prince, I expected to see some villains and monsters. However, what Machiavelli seems to have described is not a villain, but a way of ruling people and principalities during that time period. Even in today, I think a lot of his theories and assertions can be applied. Still, some of his arguments seem disturbing to my moral code, making me question if what Machiavelli is suggesting is monstrous and if it isn’t… what is?
Machiavelli’s arguments follow very pragmatic and yet ruthless lines. He suggests very well reasoned out directions on how a ruler should react in certain situations. Killing all your opponents before you gain power, or attacking boldly and not staying neutral. I found myself agreeing with many of Machiavelli’s suggestions. Having played strategy games such as Civilization V, the best way to win and to become powerful is to be decisive, to not hesitate. Sometimes, ruthlessness is required or else one’s city will rebel and being neutral can lead to everybody else turning upon you in diplomatic relations. The examples of history that Machiavelli offered only served to convince me.
That being said, I found myself at a crossroads when trying to see the monsters in Machiavelli. Is he a monster? I am not sure. Popular opinion who know Machiavelli from the definition of a Machiavellian villain would say he is, but I disagree. The Italian scholar promotes moderation of ruthlessness. While he did say it was better to be feared than love, he also devoted a section of his argument to saying that if it is possible, a ruler should be feared AND loved. His warnings on generosity are mostly directed to if a ruler is too generous. Most of the examples he brings up are men of great stature and are still admired today. Yes, Machiavelli is ruthless, but this is in a very pragmatic sense. He’s suggesting the best way to rule a state, to seize and to hold onto power and these suggestions are very well thought out and in my opinion, would be extraordinarily effective if put into practice. If Machiavelli is a monster, his silver-tongue would mark him to be completely unlike the inarticulate and unknown Grendel.
In reading Machiavelli, I began to understand the problems of kings and rulers, and also was opened to the idea that sometimes the most pragmatic decision may sometimes be monstrous.