Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He was for many years an official in the Florentine Republic, with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs. He is recognized as the founder of modern political philosophy. Machiavelli was considered a "realist" because he concerned himself only with the political situations that actually arose in reality, while previous philosophers were concerned largely with the theoretical politics of an "idealist" perfect society.
The definition of a realist is a person who accepts the world as it literally is and deals with it accordingly. In Machiavelli’s The Prince, written to the ruler of Florence at the time, Lorenzo de' Medici, he analyzes the characteristics of numerous past rulers. In doing so, Machiavelli presents Lorenzo de’ Medici with a sort of guidebook of successful political practices. There were two types of government that Machiavelli considered to be legitimate, one being a republic and the other being principalities.
Machiavelli prefers the system of a republic that to principalities. From examples from The Prince as well as The Discourses, he explains why both forms are legitimate, but considers a republic to be superior because he believes that “a people that governs and is well regulated by laws will be more stable, prudent, and grateful than a prince who would be ungrateful, inconsistent, and imprudent” (Machiavelli pg. 263) and also retains humanistic qualities in the descriptions of these governments through how the people should be treated.
Although Machiavelli’s book The Prince primarily talks about how a prince should rule in a rather harsh, cynical, and backstabbing way, he was not a supporter of princely rule at all. In fact, he was considered to be more democratic. Machiavelli believes “there are six types of government, of which three are very bad, and three are good in themselves but easily become corrupt, so that they too must be classed as pernicious….. for Principality easily becomes Tyranny. From Aristocracy the transition to Oligarchy is an easy one.
Democracy is without difficulty converted into Anarchy” (Machiavelli Pg. 111-112). To have the best possible government, a combination of the three should be adopted by legislators. The principality, the aristocracy and the democracy would cancel each other out and prevent corruption, resulting in a much more stable ‘republic’. Machiavelli favored a Republic form of government because he felt those that were “governed under a republic are more prudent and stable, and have better judgment than a prince” (Machiavelli pg.263).
A republic is a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. Machiavelli believes that “the voice of the people is the voice of god” (Machiavelli pg. 263) and he also believes that the people can see into the future due to popular opinion and predict the good and the bad.
Another reason Machiavelli finds a Republic much more suitable is that when it comes time to elect an official, he believes that their “elections of magistrates make far better choice than princes” (Machiavelli pg. 264). In a monarchy, the prince is usually born into royalty and tries to impersonate past rulers they may have found to seem successful. Machiavelli believes that “people of a republic would never elect a man of infamous character and corrupt habits to any post of dignity” (Machiavelli pg. 264) because he thinks a prince can be easily influenced to do many things that would be considered corrupt habits.
Machiavelli believes that the most perfect form of republic was the Roman Empire because it was the first real republic that lasted over 800 years by combining three types of government including the monarchial, aristocratic, and the tribunes of the people. This made it so that “in order for the nobles to save some of their power, they were forced to yield a share of it to the people; but the senate and the Consuls retained sufficient to maintain their rank in the state” (Machiavelli pg. 116). The sharing of powers is the way he describes to be the ideal republic as compared to the role model of the Roman Empire.
Machiavelli opens the Prince primarily talking of monarchies and despite the fact that he prefers a republic form of government, he explains how a monarchy can be a legitimate base of government. A monarchy is defined by Machiavelli as “either hereditary in which the rulers have been for many years of the same family, or else they are of recent foundation” (Machiavelli pg. 4-5). In a system called primogeniture, the eldest son is the first in line to inherit the throne or family estate and a monarchy generally runs like that.
Another way a prince could rule in a monarchy is to annex a free state by either force from the prince himself, fall to him by good fortune, or special ability. Machiavelli explains that it is much easier to govern a hereditary state than a new principality for two main reasons: “first, those under the ruling of such states have familiarized themselves with the family of the prince and are more adapted to their ruling. Secondly, the natural instinct of subjects in a hereditary state is to love the ruling family, unless the prince commits a horrible act against his people” (Machiavelli pg. 5-6).
A legitimate basis of a monarchy is the claim that compared to a republic, a ruler does not have to pay for elections or be ridiculed in campaign and may even spend all his childhood life preparing to become a ruler of a territory. Machiavelli states that “a prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war” (Machiavelli pg. 53). He believes that this is the primary discipline of the ruler and that the easiest way to lose a state is by neglecting the art of war. These are just a couple reasons as to why a monarchy could be a legitimate form of government in the opinion of Machiavelli.