A Comparative Analysis Of Machiavellian Principle And Nigerian Society

A Comparative Analysis Of Machiavellian Principle And Nigerian Society



Machiavelli’s views have been frequently interpreted as meaning that wickedness is more effective than goodness. This distortion of his views has been regarded as the essence of Machiavellian teaching, as identical with what later centuries called Machiavellianism[1]. Historically, Machiavelli’s philosophy came




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After payment, text the name of the project, email address and your names to 08064502337 to be identified with Machiavellianism (also spelt Machiavellism), the doctrine that the reason of the state recognizes no moral superior and that, in its pursuit, everything is permitted. Although, Machiavelli himself did not use the phrase “reason of State”[2], his principles have been and continue to be invoked in its defence.

In the mid 15th and early 16th centuries the Italian city was besieged with corruption of different kinds- bribery, nepotism, embezzlement, squander mania and so on. There seemed no end to the ever increasing travails that engulfed the whole Italian city. So systematically corrupt was the nation that nothing seemed to be working, hence there was stalemate everywhere both politically and otherwise. The economy was paralysed and the ruling party was ill prepared to ameliorate the situation. Even the elite class was egoistically inclined to the detriment of the country. In fact, suffice it to say that nobody was altruistic enough to salvage the situation. Thus Omoregbe clearly articulated this Italian condition when he noted that:

Italy was not only politically weak and divided country but a very corrupt society as well[3]

It was in such a decadent society that Niccolo Machiavelli was born.


Nccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence in 1469 of an old citizen family. It was in that year that Lorenzo the magnificent came into power through subversion of the traditional civil liberty of Florence. The Machiavellis have for generations held public office, his father being a jurist and a minor official. Hence, through his family, Machiavelli was closer to most events occurring in Florence than most of his contemporaries. No wonder then that at the early age of twenty-five, he became secretary of the second chancery through which he became so popular that he came to be known among his contemporaries as the Florentine secretary.

By virtue of this position, Machiavelli was placed in charge of diplomatic correspondence of his bureau and served as a Florentine’s representative on nearly thirty foreign missions. Consequently, in his capacity as a diplomat, he dealt mostly with the various principalities into which Italy was divided which gave him an insight into the politics of Europe and of Italy in particular. This exposition no doubt precipitated and galvanized his political instinct through his meditations on them and therein derived inspiration for his future thought. Expressing this view in New Catholic Encyclopedia, F. Scaccia has it that:

He establishes his sciences… according to historico empirical observation of political phenomena… integrated scientifically by deriving useful practical application from it…[4]

This phenomenal observation had a tremendous influence in his two most significant books- The Discourses and The Prince.

These two works laid bare Machiavelli’s apparent inconsistency due to their opposing views regarding system of governance. Thus in The Discourses, he extolled free republic and maintained that in respect of prudence and constancy, the people have the advantage and are more steady and judge better as opposed to The Prince. Being modelled against the footprints of the Roman Republics, free republic according to Machiavelli is superior to the absolute monarchy of the prince. This is so because in the free republic there is freedom of expression devoid of oppression, conformity to law and order with conviction as opposed to coercion and people are equally represented in the government. Moreso, they have freedom to rule themselves and are less influenced by external forces of corrupt judgement with the common good duly respected as against the prince. Hence from all indications, Machiavelli desired free and democratic state. Omoregbe held the same view when he insisted that:

…It is clear that Machiavelli is actually a democrat at heart

who believes  that the best form of government under normal

circumstances is democracy [5]

Nevertheless in The Prince, Machiavelli completely deviated from the above thesis by embracing its antithesis and it is to this antithesis that this paper shall concentrate. Therein, he reiterated upon the need for an absolute monarch- the Prince. He holds that although in human history, men acknowledge and praise honest princes who keep their power by law, but that the successful princes are really the crafty ones who adopt force. Consequently, he recognized no higher laws as Aquinas had propounded but urged a thoroughly circular approach to politics and values acting in cunning rather than moral conviction. To further buttress this notion, he cited that:

The success of Alexander VI was because he was the greatest deceiver ever[6]

It is not surprising therefore to note that the evolution of the term “Machiavellianism” came as a result of the notoriety of Machiavelli’s political thought as succinctly expressed in The Prince. Thus, of the two books, it was The Prince that brought him into limelight and as a radical political thinker. In line with this Omoregbe vehemently noted that:

The Prince…made Machiavelli famous (or rather notorious) because it was in this book that he boldly expressed his immoral views which have come to be known as Machiavellianism[7]

In a similar perspective, Copleston minced no words in affirming of Machiavelli that:

He is chiefly known of course for his amoral advice to the prince, for his Machiavellianism[8]

Machiavelli therefore strongly believed that men ought either to be well treated or crushed and because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, they cannot, of more serious injuries. Therefore, the injury that is to be done to a man should be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge. His political ideology culminated into a matrix which many politicians, especially contemporary ones are pragmatically pursuing with unrestrained alacrity.

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Machiavelli, no doubt will be regarded politically as a maverick of his epoch because he absolutely deviated from the trends of political thought prevalent then. He thus became the first political theorist to portray the state as a complete political structure analyzable on its own merits. His concept of politics can be termed power politics and hence for him, the power of the supreme control of the people is the basic element in politics, every other aspect of needs must conform accordingly to this basis. Politics for him is something pragmatic and experimentative and therefore he can be referred to as a political empiricist since for him what matters is reality and not ideal. Towing his line of thought, Omoregbe vividly believes that Machiavelli:

… Is not interested in abstraction about what we ought to do or how we ought to act. He is interested in how men actually act and get things done, how great and successful men in history achieve their aims.[9]

He conveniently admired strength of character and power to achieve one’s end and the ability to win power and keep it. He considered the prince entitled to consolidate and preserve power at all cost. Through his empirical observation of political sequences in history, he concluded that human nature is fundamentally egoistic, fickle and wicked. Man is ruthless in seeking what he regards as useful to him but he is never satisfied and as such what matters in politics is success no matter the means. He held that such good qualities as being honest, faithful, religious and showing integrity are not necessary for the ruler to acquire them in actual fact but it is very necessary that he should appear to have them. He therefore stated in The Prince that:

A prince therefore who desires to maintain himself must learn not to be always good, but to be so or not as necessity may require… It is well that when the act accuses him, the result should excuse him; and when the result is good… it will always absolve him from blame…[10]

By this stance, Machiavelli inevitably upholds the principle that the end justifies the means. A successful ruler then, is one who is able to maintain himself in power by any means, fair or foul. He outlined the ultimate goal of politics as the grabbing and retaining of political power. Any means used to bring this about is okay but the crux of the matter is that one must be sure to succeed. Once you succeed in seizing and retaining power, all men will hail you and any means employed will be justified. Besides, a ruler should be very prudent and swift, shrewd, practical in his actions. If occasion warrants the use of brutality, he should not hesitate to apply it. By this position, he incontestably dabbed into the Thrasymachusan theory of might is right which, as Omoregbe portrays it, holds that:

In every state, the stronger establish themselves in power and their interests become justice. They make laws to protect their interests which automatically become what is  just and what is right within the state as long as they are in power.[11]

Sequel to this, Nietzsche sounds the same opinion in his book, A Geneology of Morals. Hence, writing of Nietzsche, Omoregbe further insisted that:

It is not surprising that for Nietzsche, the superman, the ideal man, is a strong man who ruthlessly seeks power, since the world… a manifestation of the will to power.[12]

However, Machiavelli’s chief point was that the ruler chooses only those means that could guarantee that the end be in fact achieved. The ruler should therefore extricate anything that would make him despicable so as to win the favour of the people. Such things as greediness, infringement on others’ rights, appearing fickle, frivolous, cowardly irresolute and so on, should be avoided. He should rather evince courage, fortitude and greatness. He believes that the prince;

When settling disputes between his subjects, he should be so regarded that no one ever dreams of trying to deceive or trick him.[13]

This, Machiavelli believes, assures the prince of his place and power. For him, it is praiseworthy to be feared as regards the ruler than respected and therefore the ruler must strive to make his position clear. In order to realize his objective Nwoke surmised that the ruler:

…has to adopt the way of the beast and better still has to adopt the fox to know the snare and the lion to frighten the wolves.[14]

This hanky panky disposition would propel the subjects to fear the ruler’s reputation since his mind cannot easily be read at any given moment. Thus, his intentions should not be publicized always. It is his interest that counts and whatever he considered good is good and vice versa. No other power can counter him as far as he is in power. He promulgates laws for the citizens but is not bound by it since the ruler is above the morality and the law of the land from his own perspective. The only standard for measuring the ruler’s action is success in maintaining himself and ensuring the stability of the state. He consequently insisted in The Prince that:

…where the very safety of the country depends upon the   resolution to be taken, no consideration of justice or injustice, humanity or cruelty, nor of glory or shame, should be allowed to prevail. But putting other considerations aside, the question should be, what course will save the life and liberty of the country.[15]

This follows therefore that Machiavelli’s political thought especially as manifested in The Prince is tyrannical both in its structure and execution


It is popularly said that there is no smoke without fire. Similarly, every effect has a cause. These two dicta clearly point to the fact that something must have prompted Machiavelli into propounding his amoral thoughts. To begin with, the Italy of Machiavelli’s time was a corrupt and chaotic nation. Consequently, Stumpf opined that:


This fact of human corruption was therefore the starting point of Machiavelli’s political thought.[16]

Equally Omoregbe in his own contribution opined that:

…Machiavelli does not believe that tyranny or despotism is the best form of government. But he believes it is the best form of government in a corrupt society such as the Italian society of his time.[17]

He was therefore particularly struck by the conventional social decadence of Italy in his days and as a nationalist, he was deeply concerned about the political situation of the nation. His priority should never be seen as a channel to self glorification but is deeply rooted in the best possible way to liberate the Italian city from the dungeon of anarchy spreading its ugly tentacle in all governmental parastatals. As a patriotic citizen, he saw his country retrogressively being trampled upon by other surrounding nations and immediately concluded that a redeemer of no mean status is a ‘conditio sine qua non’ to salvage the nation from such unfathomable pit. Machiavelli, as Huchins puts it, believes however, that it was necessary that Italy should be reduced to such extremities:

…so that left as without life waits for him who shall heal her wounds and put an end to the ravaging and plundering of Lombardy, to the swindling and taxing of the kingdom and Tuscany and cleanse those sores that have for long festered[18]

However, it is appalling to note that Machiavelli deemed it fit for Italy to be reduced to such extremity, to such a deplorable condition she was in, so as to necessitate a revolution and most importantly, to discover the virtue of an Italian spirit having endured every kind of desolation. Therefore, since the leaders have endeavoured to make change impossible by subjecting Italy to such a despotic situation, they have ipso facto made revolution inevitable. From Machiavelli’s viewpoint, only a monarchic legislator- i.e. the prince, is efficacious enough to shoulder this onerous task of masterminding that revolution. He had this deep and ingrained conviction that to resurrect the already degenerated Italy, only a ruthless tyrant is eligible for the task, ruthless in all ramifications. In this dispensation, Stumpf notifies that as for Machiavelli:

A basically corrupt society requires a strong government. Preferably in the hands of a single person since it happens rarely or not at all that a republic or kingdom is well ordered or reformed ‘if this is not done by one man…. there should be one man alone who settles the method and on whose mind any such organization depends.’ In short, there is need for an absolute legislator.[19]

Copleston made the same recommendation when he pointedly noted that:

In a corrupt and decadent society in which man’s natural badness and egoism have more or less free scope, where uprightness, devotion to the common good, and the religious spirit is either dead or submerged by license, lawlessness and faithlessness, it is only an absolute legislator who is able to hold together the centrifugal forces and create a strong and unified society.[20]

An absolute legislator is therefore indispensable in the reformation of a state. By this opinion, Machiavelli was harbouring fundamentally, the contemporary Italian state cum political imbroglio plaguing the nation during his time. Thus, the offshoot of his politics lies primarily in the peculiarity of the Italian nation as that submerged in immense atrocities of every kind. Hence, given such a condition of decay in Italy when he was writing The Prince in 1513, the kind of popular government exemplified in the Roman Republic could not successfully be established and that implies the impracticability of democracy. Consequently for him, as Omoregbe unmistakingly reiterated:

To rule such a society successfully, a ruler has to be ruthless, sometimes brutal and cruel and at the same time crafty as portrayed in The Prince.[21]

Perhaps, that was why Sciacca insisted that:

It was necessary to keep in mind the Italy of Machiavelli’s time; it was a country divided and overrun by foreign armies and on the point of loosing its freedom.[22]

Therefore, there is no doubt then that such a situation helped to augment Machiavelli’s vaulting conviction that only the shrewdest and most crafty individuals could survive in the precarious act of governing such a beleaguered society and it was against this backdrop that his political theory, and indeed The Prince was modelled.



In this chapter, the view of some philosophers on morality and politics will be highlighted. But before that, lack of morality, which seems to form the backbone and foundation for Machiavelli’s political thought, will be discussed in details.


That morality has no place in Machiavelli’s politics is an incontrovertible fact. He failed to see any reason why morality should be linked with politics. A ruler then, given his position, is entitled to use any immoral means in attainment of his goal. He refused to comprehend the absurdities of such a conviction and insisted that only the good end suffices. A morally beleaguered society such as Italy of his time needs a drastic immoral approach to necessitate its recuperation. Italy then, was a society permeated with corruption, dishonesty, fraud, selfishness, embezzlement of public funds and so on. Such a society is undoubtedly in a very contagious moral problem. Life therein becomes increasingly difficult, insecure and unbearable. Therefore, Machiavelli having assiduously studied the then contemporary political scene, concluded as Stumpf succinctly puts it that:

…to think of political behaviour in moral terms would be to expose oneself to all the danger clever opponents could create. For this reason, he developed an indifference to the claims of morality.[23]

Besides, he firmly believes that such Christian exaltation of humility, meekness and contempt of the world has rendered Christians weak and effeminate and therefore their interpretations are erroneous since they have caused men to become prey to evil minded individuals. His moral indifference greatly influenced some modern philosophers notably Nietsche who perceives Christian morality as a decadent morality, aimed at destroying men and stifling intellectual pursuit. This notion is clearly seen in his Ecce Homo where he boldly asserted as Omoregbe pointed out that:

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That which defines me, that which makes me stand apart from the rest of the humanity is the fact that I unmasked Christian morality.[24]

Hence for both philosophers, Christian virtues should give way to all empirical and experimental phenomena. Morality should not be reduced to noumenical and a priori concept but should be fundamentally phenomenological and a posteriori which implies a flight into immoral patronage.

Machiavelli formidably maintained therefore that a leader should not be subjected to any moral principles or obligations; rather, he should be above the morality of the people because commitment to moral principles leads to ruin. He accordingly believed that certain things that seem like virtues will lead to auto destruction if one follows them, while others that apparently are vices will result in one’s safety and well being if followed. Consequently, inscribed deeply in his memory is the notion as Sciacca portrays it that:

Christianity has not redeemed humanity, on the contrary, it has promoted man’s decline by its glorification of humble and contemplative men. And if our religion demands you should have fortitude in you, it means that you should be able to suffer bravely rather than do anything bravely.[25]

Noteworthy is the fact that the ecclesiastical moral standard during Machiavelli’s time greatly compounded the worsening problem. The church then was bedevilled with corruption of assorted types and even wallowing in immoral turpitude. That must have therefore boosted his debased view of morality in terms of Christian ethics and his deep aberration towards Christianity. He thus, did not fail to inculpate the church and its hierarchies as basic accomplices regarding Italy’s woes. According to him:

We the Italians owe to the church of Rome and her priests our having become irreligious and bad; but we owe her still greater debt, and one that will be the cause of our ruin namely that the church has kept and still keeps our country divided.[26]

Machiavelli was not alone in incriminating the church’s hierarchy for complicity in the moral deterioration of Italy. Bertrand Russell share the same view when he noted without mincing words that during Machiavelli’s era:

Few rulers were legitimate, even the Popes in many cases secured election by corrupt means.[27]

Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to note that Machiavelli never intended to counsel widespread immorality since he sincerely believed that a morally decadent society is a nuisance. On the contrary, immorality is intended for a morally degenerated society like Italy of his days. For him then, the ruler must hold and maintain power at the cost of good morals for where the body of the people is so thoroughly corrupt that the laws are powerless for restraint, it becomes necessary to establish some superior power which with a royal hand and absolute power, may put a curb upon the excessive ambition and corruption of the powerful. That is the morality of Machiavelli.


The place and relevance of morality in the political cum social development of any nation cannot be over-emphasized. This obviously implies the indispensability of morality from politics as the soul and the summum bonum of politics and hitherto points logically, to the impossibility of severing politics from morality. Therefore, politics devoid of moral guidance and direction is unfortunately detrimental to the society concerned. This has been the locus standi of many philosophers of old as Omoregbe rightly posited:

Western philosophers have in one way or the other linked politics with morality. This has been the tradition from Plato’s Republic to John Rawl’s   Theory of Justice.[28]

This is mainly due to the fact that morality is regarded as a yardstick for monitoring the activities of rulers and for condemning certain political actions. Consequently, this link between morality and politics was evidently manifested in the works of such thinkers as: Aristotle, Aquinas and Augustine.


Aristotle was a disciple of Plato who traced the naturalistic origin of the political society commencing in ascending order. He made it abundantly clear that the family is the foundation of society. The family unites to form a village and the village, community, the amalgamation of which political society is formed.

Like his master Plato, he equally concurred to the inextricability of politics from morality. In this, he maintains that a political society exists to serve man’s needs economically, which is not sufficient. According to him as Stumpf explicitly held:

…beyond this economic end, the function of the state is to ensure the supreme good of humanity, namely, its moral and intellectual life.[29]

Even in intellectual life, morality has a fundamental role to play. For, unless education is accompanied with a high degree of morality, its value will be inconsequential with regard to the political cum social development. Aristotle was not oblivious of this inestimable moral value in intellectual pursuit. Consequent upon this, he strongly asserted that:

In education, the most ethical modes are to be preferred


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