In the fast globalising world that we live in, the universal doctrine and theoretical perspectives of international relations have began to contradict. Realism, a practice of international affairs, thriving from its competitive and conflictual nature, differentiates from idealism or liberalism, which promote cooperation. Realists acknowledge, states as a primary player on the global arena, as they viciously pursue their own national gains, build up on their defence and are constantly on the grasp for more power. As these characteristics are familiar to an realist, they often act as their skepticism in regard to the importance of ethical norms in international politics. That said, of course, does not apply to all realist thinkers. The distinction should be made among classical and extreme realism. As classical realism promotes national interest without war and conflict, it definitely differentiates from Machiavellian doctrine ‘that anything is justified by reason of state’ (Bull, 1995). The classical realists do not oppose the probability of moral judgment in global politics. However, they do not favour moralism, as they tend to denote moral affairs by ignoring political actuality. (Karpowicz, 2017)
B. Research design
Realism, as a practice upholds numerous advances and applications a side theoretical tradition. The very classic short piece that helped seed these ideals, in contemporary Western tradition is the work by Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince. (Karpowicz, 2017) We shall begin at the very start of the tale, looking at Niccolo’s early years leading him to his greatest doctrine. Further, we shall approach Realism by analysing his piece. Allowing us to see the whole picture and there elaborate on the essence that it carries in contemporary modern politics. We shall apply Machiavelli’s teachings on one of the acting leaders, Mr. President Vladimir Putin. Thus, helping us to create an objective conclusion of the relevance that the theories carry.
In comparison with other outstanding figures of the Italian Renaissance, Niccolo’s early days are rather vague to us. Born on 3rd of May 1469 in Florence, he grew into a student of renowned latin teacher known as Paolo da Ronciglio. (Capponi, 2010; Vivanti, 2013) Allegedly, glancing through his corpus, he was a student at the University of Florence and attained exceptional humanist learning. Only once he began his political career as the Second Chancellor of Republic of Florence, that we gain the rigorous picture of his life. We can follow, fourteens years of Niccolo’s diplomatic missions from letters and occasional writings, that paint thousands pictures of his political activities along with his vivid talent for scrutinising characters and political institutions. (Nederman, 2014)
In 1494, Florence was under republic governance, when the Medici familia was excelled from their position of ruling. At that period, Niccolo was flourishing under the rule of Florentine gonfaloniere, Piero Soderini. (Nederman, 2014) However, in 1512 a sudden change in regimes occurred with the Medicis’ annexation of Florentine leadership, with the help of Spanish troops. Soon after, Machiavelli had fallen under the new regime and became a victim of wrongful accusations for conspiring against the new rule in 1513. Short after, he was placed in internal exile where he was tortured for few weeks. Once released, Niccolo found peace in his farm outside of Florence, where he reconnected with this literacy pursuits. (Nederman, 2014)
The first bold and accurate reflective work, that ultimately became the most associated with his legacy, was the short book The Prince, written at the end of 1513. Formally published, however in 1532, the book was a source of hope to regain his political trust. Originally, the book was written for Giuliano de’ Medici, yet upon his passing it was dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici, who upon this day, we do not know if he cared to read it. (Nederman, 2014) Of course, Niccolo Machiavelli had gifted us with many other numerous literacies, such as verses, theatrical plays, poems, the study of The Art of War, along his other outstanding political contribution the Discourses on the Ten Books of Titus Livy. And yet, there is something else about The Prince.
By the end of his life, Niccolo fully managed to regain the favour of the ruling family, as occasionally seen to be commissioned for small diplomatic activities. (Nederman, 2014)
3. The Prince: Analysing power
In the following section, we shall analyse key stones presented in The Prince, thus to apply and compare them to primary characteristics of 21st century political realism.
So what makes the book so heavily important? For its time, Machiavelli’s open and honest shrewdly framed characteristics and behaviours, that one true prince must obtain to preserve his power over his state, is probably what makes it so unique. With manipulative and authorial voice, he engages ancient and contemporary examples to create accurate manual of pragmatic leadership skills, one must have. Perhaps, what makes the book so unique is that he draws deeply on his own diplomatic involvement, making his excessive theories on human nature and the routines of successful rules even more realistic. Machiavelli, is famous for contradicting conventional morality, as he viciously promotes violence and display of safeguard, to his readers. The book manifests accurately the equity among contrasts, measuring virtue and vice, aptitude and fortune, as well as the relationship between rulers and their citizens. (Jumper, 2014; Machiavelli, 1988)
The first lines of the book begin with a short request of acceptance, by Lorenzo de’ Medici as a ‘token of his devotion’. He further elaborates that the treatise beholds his ‘long acquaintance’ with diplomatic affairs and refined examination of the ancient politics. (Machiavelli, 1988) With the first chapter, Machiavelli presents the scope of The Prince, where he draws on previous leaders experience and their principalities. He points out the contemporary principalities face bigger adversity in comparison to hereditary states. Expanding his thought, in which the new country structure ‘appendage to an old state’. With that in mind, Niccolo ushers guiding characteristics of The Prince, advising his readers to embrace the ‘goodwill’ of the citizens and to approach extensively the art of warfare. With the treaty, he calls for rulers to consider political disturbances as a ‘wasting disease’, and as such to be given appropriate diagnoses and treatment. (Jumper, 2014; Machiavelli, 1988)
Later, referring to Cyrus & Romulus, Niccolo furthers his analysis of prowess, by encouraging motivated leaders to consider precedents of ‘ancient great men’. Niccolo penned, those who gain leadership by prowess ‘gain their principalities with difficulty but hold them with ease’. (Machiavelli, 1988) On the contrary, men who became leaders by fortune, turn into rules with ease yet maintain their status ‘only by considerable exertion’. Citing Cesare Borgia as an example of modern leader, Niccolo draws on him gaining his status though fortune, applauding the promising foundation laid by Borgia, yet deplored ‘the extraordinary and inordinate malice of fortune’ that ultimately doomed the young duke. (Jumper, 2014; Machiavelli, 1988)
The book emphasises that every strong state must acquire the same fundamentals, of ‘good laws and good arms’. More importantly, Niccolo stresses out on good arms, as essentially good laws ‘inevitably follow’ from militant efficacy. The book, urges princes to carefully reconsider before operating mercenary or auxiliary troops, criticising their misuse that led to the ruin of Italy and the premature collapse of the Roman Empire. ‘The first way to lose your state is to neglect the art of war’, Machiavelli states, further praising for rulers to effectively study the art of warfare so to ‘reap the profit in times of adversity’. (Jumper, 2014; Machiavelli, 1988)
As Niccolo presents the moral framework fit for a prince, he seems to dim the classical border dividing virtue and vice. He states, that a prince must quickly obtain classic standards of morality to be able to guard his nation by performing ‘in defiance of good faith, of charity, of kindness, and of religion’. (Machiavelli, 1988) The difficulties of governance, is that it needs for leaders to reverse the natural relations between vices and virtues. Even thought, Niccolo advises for smart princes to preserve the presence of virtue.
Regarding the famous theory of ‘better to be loved than feared’, Machiavelli’s though on this is preferably to be feared, if a prince cannot ‘be both the one and the other’. (Jumper, 2014; Machiavelli, 1988). Additionally, a prince must avoid being hated by his citizens. Therefore, Niccolo’s trick is to maintain ‘flexible disposition’, by obtaining the characteristics of the fox and the lion to preserve their rule. (Jumper, 2014; Machiavelli, 1988) Along with this theory, Niccolo believed that fortune is responsible for half of international relations and the other half realise on free will. Thats the difference between fortune and prowess; Niccolo suggests for rulers to ‘take precautions’ to avoid the ‘malice of fortune’, by applying prowess to be ready for the unexpected. The Prince, concludes on a suggestions note, for Lorenzo de’ Medici to take to heart those lessons, for the prevention of future unpleasant shortcoming and to unify great Italy. (Jumper, 2014; Machiavelli, 1988)
4. Machiavellianism in the Contemporary Political World
A. The Modern Machiavelli: Vladimir Putin
The manner in which power is preserved and used does not differentiate much from the past. Modern princes walk the same walk as The Princes of the past, only that with every new prince every path matures into smoother and more familiar one. (Tourianski, 2014) Machiavelli, preaches true guidance of sustaining power, only a fool would not at least consider his advices.
Mr. President Vladimir Putin is not one of them. He is a true Machiavellian, which can be followed in his manner of how he is retaining his leadership, instituting reforms and the way he actualises economic recovery. Furthermore, we can see it in the way he handles political relations, as the Snowden dilemma, the Syrian matter, the legendary 2014 Winter Olympics and the annexation of Crimea.
Mr. Putin’s autobiography speaks louder than words. It is easy to assume that if born into a legacy of wealth and power one is bound to be a ruler. However, Mr. Putin had a humble upbringing, so is it safe to state that he is even more inclined to it, since he got to power on his own. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was born on 7th of October 1952 in the great St. Petersburg. He was raised in working class environment, as his mother Maria was a factory worker and his father Vladimir was a conscript, at the time. Mr. Putin, however, had a different path set for himself. He was anxious to join the KGB, the Committee for State Security. As Mr. Putin shares, he was ‘a pure and utterly successful product of Soviet patriotic education’, hinting that he had no idea what he was getting himself into as his ‘notion of the KGB came from romantic spy stories’. (Gwertzman, 2000)
Skipping fast forward, after his Presidency mandate ended, he quickly recovered by taking the position of Prime Minister of Russia, on 8th of May 2008. He was stronger than ever, keeping in mind Niccolo’s teachings on ‘always maintaining himself in princedom, unless deprived of it by some extraordinary and irresistible force, and even if so deprived will recover it’. (Machiavelli, 1988) With his new position, at the time, Mr. Putin managed to recover his government rule over monopolies and as Niccolo says ‘nothing increases the reputation of a prince so much as great enterprises’, further regaining his nation’s trust with their finances. (Machiavelli, 1988; Russian Profile, 2009) In addition, he recognised and announced that the ones to blame for the 1998 collapse of the economy, was for the monopolies to carry. Once, Mr. Putin got leverage over the monopolies, he managed to manipulate the means of the money inflow. Therefore, helping him to reduce nation’s foreign debt, as a result being praised by all social classes. (Russian Profile, 2009) ‘A wise prince ought to adopt such a course that his citizens will always in every sort and kind of circumstance have need of the state and of him, and then he will always find them faithful.’ (Machiavelli, 1988) Mr. Putin, knew exactly what he was doing, once welcomed by the upper class as he did not increase taxes, he focused on the lower praises. By doing exactly what Niccolo teaches to ‘shower benefits upon them the citizens, they are yours; they offer you their blood, their substance, their lives and their children’. (Machiavelli, 1988). Suggesting that he acted upon this, the fact that when he became Prime Minster the poverty level dropped from 30% to 17%, cannot go unnoticed. (Washington Post, 2009) He perfected the path. His system of privileges changed the standards of living within the country. Furthermore, he managed to sustain the facade that he was mostly giving the civilians rather than taking. Another cross out from the list of teachings, stating ‘It is a good thing to be considered generous. But if liberality is not openly displayed for all to see, no one will ever hear about it’. (Machiavelli, 1988). For years he secretly had been donating money to the Soviet army, further building up on his generosity by announcing public auction. And again we see an evolution of Machiavelli’s concept of arming those who he trusts to love him and fight for him. Mr. Putin has been doing so in arming the state’s police and military. These are still civilians, however with a higher and more specific purpose. (Tourianski, 2014) As a gesture of good will and in the name of the greater good, he very publicly auctioned the one and only painting of his for 1.14 million dollars, that he later donated to the Russian government, to be put in good use in any means necessary. (Gwertzman, 2000) With this public appearance he became even more favoured by his people, yet probably not feared enough. As Machiavelli, poses the question of the two, despite common belief, he does not favour the character of fear over love. Therefore, suggesting to obtain both attributes, and lean towards scare if the two cannot go along. He further elaborates, on the notion that it is under rulers control to be feared, contrary to being loved which is people’s to give, so as he says ‘a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others’. (Machiavelli, 1988) Evidently, we can state that the modern prince, Vladimir Putin, has achieved both in an elegant manner, by simply becoming someone you can relate too. By being a celebrity, he managed to divorce from characterisation of cruelty and fear, passing them on to the parliament. In such way, Mr. Putin gets to be socially loved, while his government is very much feared. (Tourianski, 2014)
The fearless-ness of Mr. Putin does not stop there. He maintains his profile of the protector, however, he strongly supports harsh punishments on those who commit crimes against their country. In fact, he resurrected torture colonies which imitate Nazi Death Camps. Needless, to say every leader relies on their peoples unconditional support, or their legacy is in jeopardy. (Tourianski, 2014)
Another trick up his sleeve, was Mr. Putin’s decision to restrict oil supply to Poland and gas supply to Ukraine. As he clearly knows, Russia is in control of most of the gas and oil supply, therefore using it as a barging chip to manipulate states to fall before his political desires. The Prince penned ‘the wise prince will rely on what he can control and not on what is in the control of others’. (Machiavelli, 1988) Thus, making this the one necessary weapon, which Mr. Putin can pull upon every state. (Washington Post, 2009)
Additional master move of Mr. Putin’s was the annexation of Crimea. How convenient that it all was occurring in the preparation period for the 2014 Winter Olympics games. As Niccolo would say, maintaining the well-being of your citizens might just be the most powerful weapon of The Prince. We may argue that with the grand preparations of the Winter Olympics, Mr. Putin successfully managed to keep his people encouraged, while the common belief was that he was playing villain. After all ‘he ought to entertain the people with festivals and spectacles’. (Machiavelli, 1988) Regardless, of the continuous petitions and disapprovements by the Western leaders, Russia once again managed to demonstrate their power and favouritism by many, with the annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation willingfully. Further sparking chatter among other surrounding regions of Ukraine and Eastern Europe who are pro-russians, speculating they also want to become part of the great Mother Russia. (Park, 2014)
The modern’s prince entire image is build around his will of power, strength and ability to care for his people. Of course there are plenty more other examples, worthy of mentioning for the sake of the argument, yet they will just further the main point of this paper, that Vladimir Putin is a Machiavellian. He is not only power hungry for him alone, yet he manages to twist it as if it is all for the people. After all, it is about how well you can really lie to you nation. Actions speak louder than words, therefore outside opinion do not matter to the people, as long as you do right by them. Mr. Putin practices seem to be pulled straight from the enumerated advices imprinted in The Prince. Why Mr. Putin’s methods are successful, as Machiavelli would advocate ‘every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them;’ (Machiavelli, 1998) Mr. Vladimir Putin, the king of deception and charades. Niccolo Machiavelli would have been proud of him and probably grateful for proving his tactics relevant and very much effective.
Niccolo Machiavelli is placed among the highest most respected realist philosophers of his times, for a reason. His prosperous and deep understanding of ancient governance and political affairs, stimulated realistic thinking resulting in political and military reforms. This paper tried to prove that Machiavelli’s treatise, still shapes the political world, as mentioned above it is still very much reflected in modern pop culture. His militant theories on civilian soldiers have been seen imprinted in a lot of post modern states militaries. Machiavelli, is a challenging philosophical figure. It is difficult to ignore his teachings, as he undoubtedly fully participated, researched and further applied his knowledge on his diplomatic missions, successfully. (armstrong) One might argue that his treaty is suitable for the ancient times, yet for his time his thought was considered ahead of his time. He deserves to be given both statuses of one of the greatest authentic and modern thinker, of our decade. His ancient ambiguity and directness, should motivate currents scholars to build equally authentic cases on contradictory thoughts. Niccolo stimulates thinkers to always consider the bigger picture from many angles, and draw numerous conclusions from a familiar piece.
The example given in this paper, does not suggest that only Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin obtains the ciharacterteristics of Machavellianism, it merely gives an example of ones methods applied in practice, by a leader of one of the greatest nations.