In reading Machiavelli’s book, The Prince, the issue at hand is leadership. What type of leadership must one exert in order to rise to the highest level of power? Machiavelli proposes that one must be quite ruthless, that “anything goes”, so long as it aides you in gaining and maintaining power. What was really striking about the book was the attitude portrayed and encouraged by it; that one must look one way and act another. From this the question arises, “Can one not look and act the same way and be an effective leader?” Can one not be quite transparent and still be successful in places of power and authority? What is very interesting is what Machiavelli has to say about religion. He tells his readers that the appearance of religion is the single most important aspect of gaining and maintaining power. But I ask, “Can one not be truly religious rather than simply appear to be?” Why is appearing to be religious so much better than actually being religious? In fact, most all of the characteristics that Machiavelli outlines for leaders are directly contrary to Christian religious doctrines, most prominent in Europe at the time as well as in the southeast United States today. In the following paragraphs this conundrum of being religious versus appearing to be religious will be examined. More specifically, the following paragraphs will compare the doctrines of Machiavelli as laid out in “The Prince” to the teachings of Jesus Christ as laid out in the Christian Bible. One can dissect many of Machiavelli’s statements and see that they are contrary to the teachings of Jesus in the Bible. The two leadership styles are polar opposites, and Machiavelli speaks so surely of his own statements that it completely disregards the other as weak and impractical. Let us look at some examples to get a better understanding of the differences. Speaking of followers, Machiavelli says, “People are fickle by nature; and it is a simple to convince them of something but difficult to hold them in that conviction; and, therefore, affairs should be managed in such a way that when they no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force." (Machiavelli, 1984, pg. 41) Machiavelli here says that people need a leader they can follow. He says that people are fickle and that unless you give them something to follow, for the long haul, then you will lose them. So, what is so radical about this statement, and other similar statements made by Machiavelli? Rafael Major answers this question when he says, “Machiavelli does not discover a new or scientifically objective appraisal of the human condition. It is his response to the fundamental human situation that is new.” (Major, 2007, pg. 177) What is that response? The use of force will cause them to believe – if you fail in all other attempts to garner faithful followers, use physical force against them and they will follow you. The parable of the sower, as told by Jesus, says the same thing about the nature of people. In the Gospel of Mark, chapter four, verses three through nine, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer sowing seed and tells what happened to most of the seed through various circumstances: nothing. Only one type of seed produces the desired harvest, and the secret, he says, is to hear and receive the Word of God. So while Jesus and Machiavelli agree on the nature of people, they differ quite drastically on how those people should be led. Machiavelli suggests the use of force. So then, let us examine what Christ has to say about the use of force. In the Gospel of Matthew, the fifth chapter, verses thirty-eight through forty, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also.” (Holy Bible, 1982, pg. 1113) Now, there is quite a different style of leadership from Machiavelli! The nature of people is agreed upon, but one suggests using force and the other suggests grace. Which leader would you rather follow? Another issue Machiavelli talks quite extensively about is the issue of generosity, or as he refers to it, “liberality”. Of generosity, Machiavelli concludes that to appear generous is most desirable, but to actually practice generosity, to actually be a giving person, only leads to disaster. What is the result of being a generous, giving leader? Machiavelli says that, “Of all the things he must guard against, hatred and contempt come first, and liberality leads to both.” (Machiavelli, 1984, Chapter 16) Machiavelli reasons that true generosity leads to bankruptcy, which leads to disrespectability. By what process does this happen? Being truly generous forces a leader to tax his citizens, which overburdens them, which leads to revolution. On the contrary, appearing generous when the opportunity arises, without actually being a giving person, gives rise to a great reputation, which leads to your followers being even more faithful to you. Clifford Orwin addresses Machiavelli’s attitude very eloquently when he writes that, “He is the philosophic founder of pity liberated from piety, the first great "secularizer" of Christian compassion”. (Orwin, 1978, pg. 1223) Like Machiavelli, Jesus Christ had more than a little to say about being generous. Most telling is his famous quote from the Gospel of Luke, chapter six, verse thirty-eight. Jesus says to, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you”. (Holy Bible, 1982, pg. 1115) What is so telling about this statement? What is at its heart that is so different from Machiavelli? Jesus Christ says here that generosity is an attitude displayed in every aspect of life and leadership. The Greek word that Jesus uses for “give” is “didōmi”, which means “to give forth from one’s self”. Machiavelli sees generosity simply as the giving away of money. Giving away money does not make a generous person, it makes a charitable person. Generosity is admired because it is truly giving, which demonstrates to your followers that you genuinely care for them. Just in American history, think about our two most admired leaders – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Why are they so admired? The answer is because they constantly gave. Washington served his country and fellowman so much so that he enjoyed but two years at his beloved Mount Vernon at the end of his life. Abraham Lincoln, striving desperately to keep this country united, worked from dusk until dawn most every day to accomplish this goal. Machiavelli suggests counterfeit charity and Jesus Christ suggests genuine generosity. Which leader would you rather follow? There is one statement that Machiavelli makes that highlights most clearly the difference in true Machiavellian leadership and true Christian leadership. Machiavelli says that, “One can make this generalization about men: they are ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well, they are yours. They would shed their blood for you, risk their property, their lives, their children, so long, as I said above, as danger is remote; but when you are in danger they turn against you." (Machiavelli, 1984, Chapter 17) This statement is so telling and so tragic because it highlights the inherent loneliness of the leader who adheres to Machiavellian leadership. This leader is always worried, always fearful, because he himself has no one to turn to. If he gets in danger, when he needs help and assistance the most, he has nowhere to go but down. What happens when the Machiavellian leader needs some guidance? What happens when he needs direction? What happens when he needs nothing more than a friend? The answer is clear, as stated by Machiavelli himself, “they turn against you”. Why would they do such a thing? The answer is because you have physically forced them to follow you, and when you are “down and out”, and have no force left, they have no incentive to follow you. The answer is because you have faked generosity so now, when you are “down and out”, they know that you do not really care about them and realistically, why would they put you back in power when they know that you are an aggressive, coercive, selfish leader? The biggest problem comes with the inescapability of personal, political, and national trouble. At some point, inevitably, in your tenure as a leader, you will need help. What happens then? Because of your character you have no one left. What about the leader who adheres to true Christian leadership? Like the Machiavellian leader, trouble will come. What happens then to the Christian leader? Secondarily, your followers have seen and felt your grace and your generosity and, therefore, you have instilled in them a deep trust in you. When they were down, you helped them and they are far more likely to reciprocate that same help to you. But primarily, and this is the focal point of the analysis, the sense of utter loneliness is absent. How is this so? The true Christian leader understands that when the inescapable times of hardship come, and the feelings of desertion and loneliness set in, then Jesus is there. If all others fail you, and they will, then still you have Jesus Christ. How can that be stated with such certainty? It’s really quite simple. If a leader is a true follower of the Bible then he believes all of its contents with all of his heart. If this is the case, he will understand that, even as a leader, he himself is a follower of Jesus Christ. The comfort is contained within this knowledge in that when hardships come, the leader has a place to go for leadership himself. Machiavelli’s leader has nothing to turn to but the paranoia of his own mind, but the Christian leader has Jesus. When he opens up his Bible that he uses as his manual for leadership, he will read in Proverbs 18:24 that Jesus sticks closer than a brother. He will read Deuteronomy 31:6 that Jesus Christ will never leave him or forsake him and, when he flips a few books over, he will read in Psalms 46:1 that God is his refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. If after reading this, he still feels a little scared, he can turn over to Isaiah 41:10 and read, “Don’t you be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. Yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.” The leadership that Machiavelli lays out in “The Prince” is not only unwise, but it is impractical. The only result of exerting Machiavellian leadership is fear and paranoia about controlling your followers. The Machiavellian leader is always waiting for calamity to befall him. All of this culminates when the leader and the nation hit a time of crisis. The leader has no one to turn to; there is no one above him. This becomes a huge problem because the leader is just a man himself, just like all of the others whom he is leading. He will hit hard times just like everyone else, but in his hard time he has no one to turn to, and everyone waiting to turn against him. In the opening chapters of the book, Machiavelli talks at length about the Romans and the Greeks as a means to garner support for his arguments, since the European world, at this time, was in the midst of a Graeco-Roman revival. Ronald Beiner most acutely describes Machiavelli’s attitude toward the religion of the Romans and Christianity when he says that, “In stark contrast to the Roman religion, which ennobled and strengthened human beings, giving them a taste for liberty and a hunger for worldly glory, Christianity has educated humanity in the opposite direction, thereby weakening and enfeebling us”. (Beiner, 1993, pg. 623) Why would Machiavelli consider a Christian leader a weak and enfeebled one? It is because to Machiavelli, and those who agree with him, appearance is everything. When you’re so concerned about your façade of power, force is prioritized above grace and any demonstration of grace is considered weakness. When you’re so concerned about your façade of power, counterfeit charity goes much farther than genuine generosity. However, when you’re concerned about your façade of power, what do you do when you’re brought down to a position of weakness? When all is going well, anybody can look good in a position of power. It is in times of crisis, in times of weakness, where real leadership is needed most. When these times come, and they will come, appearances are thrown out the window. All of the façades that have been in place for so long must come down, and when they do, revolution is imminent; the very thing that Machiavelli is so worried about is inevitable.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. (1984) The Prince: 5th THUS edition. New York: Random House, Inc.
Holy Bible, New King James Version. (1982) Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.
Beiner, Ronald. (1993). Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau on Civil Religion. The Review of Politics, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 617-638. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1407609
Major, Rafael. (2007). A New Argument for Morality: Machiavelli and the Ancients. Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 2 (Jun., 2007), pp. 171-179. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4623819
Orwin, Clifford. (1978). Machiavelli's Unchristian Charity. The American Political Science Review, Vol. 72, No. 4 (Dec., 1978), pp. 1217-1228. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1954535
NG, LR, NCU, USAR
My collection of personal papers written over the years