Most will sway from discussing the legitimacy of the Holocaust. I believe the Holocaust occurred. I think it was an unjustified atrocity that paralyzed the relationship of the Jewish Religion with the rest of the world. After reading the Prince, I became interested in evaluating how Machiavelli might assess Adolf Hitler’s actions. While I understand Machiavelli specifically addresses principalities, many of the arguments he poses apply to any head of state. I will only address such issues. I hope to prove that Machiavelli would endorse Hitler’s actions given the time.
Machiavelli argued that both fear and love are desirable for a leader. It is difficult to unite constituents with love, and fear better conserves leadership. Machiavelli argues, “…Fear restrains men because they are afraid of punishment, and this fear never leaves them,” opposed to love, which, “…attaches men by ties of obligation…which they break whenever their interests are at stake” (Wootton 36). When I first learned of the Holocaust, Hitler became an icon for evil. Hitler is indeed in contention for the world’s most dreaded man.
Machiavelli would give Hitler an A+ for those actions at that time to draw attentiveness towards his willingness to produce horror. Machiavelli explains how a leader, “should make himself feared” (Wootton 36). Fear will produce followers because people typically fear those that may harm them. It is astounding the amount of supporters Hitler gained to conduct such outrageous deeds. Adolf Hitler did an astonishing job at instilling fear in both his enemies and allies.
In chapter 19, Machiavelli explains how it is better for a leader to declare commitment on the side of one force, and against the other. Because one group will endorse that leader, while the other fears him. The latter is entirely more preferable than being neutral, because neutrality does not guarantee committed support. Hitler orchestrated a Nazi campaign, and completely abolished its enemy. By doing such, he gained overwhelming support from the Nazi regime, and was an effective leader because he had a committed army. However, Machiavelli would reconsider his assessment after seeing Hitler’s implications.
Once seeing what Hitler did, Machiavelli would give him an F. Firstly because Machiavelli emphasizes the importance of stability. After Hitler’s reign the German economy collapsed, a sign of instability. The government restructured and the nation was in utter turmoil. Secondly, Machiavelli argued that being feared is good, being hated is undesirable because people are encouraged to betray you. Hitler had a Nazi populous behind him when in power, however, once people saw the implications they concluded differently. Hitler is now revered as a horrific symbol. Furthermore, Hitler was smart because he preserved his munificence by ordering inferiors to execute the “enemy” instead of publically doing ALL of the killings himself.
Hitler’s actions in the Holocaust did two things that Machiavelli says are most significant. Hitler took the side of one group, exploited their wants, and magnified them by eradicating their enemy. Further, Hitler used that extermination to instill fear in his enemies and his allies. Machiavelli would certainly argue that Hitler’s actions were those of a good leader at the time, but caused instability as a result and were ultimately poor decisions.
Machiavelli. The Prince. (Translation source listed below.)
Wootton, David. Modern Political Thought…Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. Second Edition. 2007.