Cassirer, Nietzsche and Niccolo Machiavelli’s The PrinceWhen the word “Renaissance” is mentioned, an image of love for antiquity learning and fine arts usually springs to one’s mind. Yet this perception, however legitimate it may be in many areas of Renaissance human achievements, shatters in the face of Niccolo Machiavelli’s masterpiece The Prince. Unlike his contemporary Baldassare Castiglione who exemplified subtlety, Machiavelli was ruthlessly practical, nonchalantly callous, and admirably seamless in his logics about the bloody art of political power.
By all accounts The Prince, is a handbook on the acquisition and maintenance of political power. Neither can it be argued any otherwise, like Ernest Cassirer has acknowledged in his commentary “New Theory of the State”, that “Machiavelli has no scruples about recommending to the ruler all things of deception, of perfidy, and cruelty.” (p157, “New Theory of the State”) Yet in the realm of Machiavellism, a very distinctive line must be drawn between using evil to achieve power and using it for its own sake. The Prince preached the first form of use. To Cassirer, Machiavelli much resembled a fascinated chess strategist, not concerned with who the players were but purely how the games were played out—how each step, when stripped of the useless morality, added to the grand game. His personal sentiments and beliefs could not affect his analysis of the intrigues, thus there is no room for moral principles in The Prince.
Cassirer, however, also points out that while Machiavelli did by no means object to the use of evil, he did not create Machiavellism as the world knows it: Machiavelli had no more invented the practice of cruelty and treachery amongst political rulers than t…
…ody the two distinctive yet intertwined layers of Machiavellism—which is, ironically, far from Machiavelli’s creation. Whereas Cassirer stresses the removed chess-game mentality of Machivalli in the creation of his political masterpiece, Nietzsche shares Machiavelli’s deeply cynical view of human nature. Machiavellism and The Prince can be interpreted from many different angles, yet its profound influence on the politics as well as philosophy has been definitive and far-reaching.
Cassirer, Ernest. “New Theory of the State.” The Prince. Robert M. Adams. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Robert M. Adams. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992.
More, Thomas. Utopia. Robert M. Adams. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992.
Nietzsche, Fredrich. “Morals as Fossilized Violence.” The Prince. Robert M. Adams. New York: W. W. Norton, 1992.