Prophylactic Power

This article is part of a series entitled Machiavelli in Society. See also:

  1. Sex: Machiavelli on Seduction
  2. Empathy: Calculated Empathy
  3. Society: Prophylactic Power

“For men commit injuries either through fear or through hate.” — The Prince, Ch. VII

Niccolò Machiavelli, in the blunt words of scholar Max Lerner, “taught the world to think in terms of cold political power” [1]. To the fifteenth-century Florentine’s credit, much of his political writing – including the famous political manual The Prince, as well as the longer, more thorough treatise The Discourses – explores merely esoteric matters, from “The events that caused the creation of tribunes in Rome” to “How the Samnites resorted to religion as an extreme remedy for their desperate condition.” One chapter is titled simply “How easily men may be corrupted.” [1]

Machiavelli did, though, also instruct in the ways of pure power (see, for example, certain portions of The Prince), and Lerner’s statement rings true. Machavelli’s lessons in power – and, more broadly, the philosophical paradigm introduced by his cold, realist realpolitik – have contributed most of all to the writer’s fame.

Power-chasing reminds us of dangerous things: of Raskolnikov’s infatuation with the Men of Bronze, and his subsequent torment; of Nietzsche’s eerie overman and Zarathustra’s flight to the mountains; or of, according to certain readings of Christianity, the devil himself. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes, “Pride… has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. … It comes direct from Hell” [2].

But the study of social competency can also promote equality. Continue reading