17 Sep



Simon S. Sundaraj-Keun

            Niccolò di Bernado dei Machiavelli was a famous Florentine political philosopher, musician, poet, and romantic comedic playwright. Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469 to the city of Florence. He would make his mark in history by becoming an important individual in the Renaissance by contributing to the development of realist political theory. He wrote The Prince and the Art of War which solidified him as the “Father of modern Diplomatic Theory”.

            Machiavelli served the Republic of Florence after the expulsion of the Medici in 1494. He traveled to European courts in France, Germany, and other Italian city-states on diplomatic missions in order to gain to support for Florence during the Italian Wars and to formulate an alliance to deter the ambitious Venetian state. It was during his diplomatic missions that he would draw influence for The Prince from the European elites he met. His first diplomatic mission was in 1499 to Caterina Sforza, who appear as “my lady of Forli” in The Prince. Machiavelli was sent to France in 1500 to obtain terms from Louis XII for continuing the war against Pisa. His public life was enormously influence with the events arising out of the ambitions of Pope Alexander VI and his son, Cesare Borgia, and these individuals fill a huge space of The Prince.

            In 1512, Pope Julius II restored the Medici family to power, Machiavelli’s name was found on a list of individuals supposedly involved in a conspiracy to oppose Medici rule. He was briefly imprisoned and tortured in the Bargello in Florence. He maintained his innocence throughout this ordeal. Pope Leo X a member of the Medici family became pontiff in 1513 secured Machiavelli release and exiled him. Machiavelli moved to Sant’Andrea in Precussina, where he dedicated himself to literature.

            Later in life, he joined the humanist academy around Bernardo Rucellai which met at the Orti Oricellari. There he obtained Polybius unpublished translations which gave him ideas on the form of republican government. Machiavelli used his experience as a diplomat and knowledge of the humanists to write The Prince. The Prince was written in 1513 but it was published five years after Machiavelli’s death in 1532. His book The Prince drew critics from the spiritual and religious leaders like Dutch humanist Erasmus, English Catholic Cardinal Pole, and Frederick the Great who viewed his work as abomination to the Christian faith.

            Nevertheless, Machiavelli’s work became a testament of time that promoted the realist political theory. Realism is the acceptance of fact or reality and the rejection of the impractical visionary. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was a student and follower of the political theory of realism. Bismarck promoted realism in order to sustain a balance of power in Europe in order to avoid an arms race. Henry Kissinger followed the school of realism in order to promote stability and peace during the Cold War.

            Machiavelli’s work inspires an individual to be a good diplomat by representing the state to the best of his/her ability. This present age where realist political theory would believe that the international system is anarchic. The Machiavellian logic that there is no power above a nation-state like an authoritative world government would be able to regulate a state interaction. A diplomat must serve his/her home state, rather than being dictated to them by some higher controlling entity like the United Nations. Diplomats assume the role as the link between sovereign states, rather than international institutions, non-governmental organizations, or multinational corporations that would be considered as secondary actors in international affairs.

            According to Machiavelli’s political realism theory, each state is a rational actor that takes steps towards its own self-interest, and the main objective of each state is to ensure its own security. The duties of today’s diplomats are to pursuit security, amass economic resources, and project the state level of power. That level of power is in turn determined by the state’s capabilities, both military and economic. Moreover, Machiavellian realism believes that states are inherently aggressive, and that territorial expansion is only constrained by opposing powers. The German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck orchestrated proxy wars like the Schleswig Wars of 1864 (Danish-Prussian War), Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 in order to beat surrounding powers in order to expand and unite German territories under Prussian leadership.

            However, diplomats in Machiavelli’s mind should be well-educated and experience in dealing with other states. A diplomat should be well-informed about his/her country’s foreign policy and be exceptionally knowledgeable of the culture, language, and history of one’s assigned state. The benefit of being a diplomat is being able to contribute to the defense of one’s state in gathering intelligence one’s assign state. The flip side of the coin is that a diplomat could be clueless to the economic or military activity of a state if the diplomat is unable to establish an intelligence networks in a host country. It is important for a diplomat to perform his/her duty in order to decipher and intercept other nation’s foreign services in the name of one’s national security. Machiavelli caution one not to reside in a foreign state for a long period of time due in order to prevent the questioning of one’s allegiance.

Personally, I believe that Machiavelli diplomatic theory is more relevant today because it is similar to the United States of America “Cowboy Diplomacy”. The United Nations is not an effective organization in maintaining the balance between states because it is exploited by powerful nations. Basically, the United Nations is an idealistic organization to that its existence is a contradiction of Machiavellian principles. Machiavelli main focus was to make sure diplomats were self-aware of the reality that surrounds them and not to be self indulge into the realm of idealistic grandeur by sacrificing one’s national security. The point Machiavelli emphasize in the end is to prepare a diplomat to be a realist in order to be successful in the field of diplomacy.


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