During the 1500s, the main form of government in Europe was a monarchy: a king who solely ruled his kingdom and was supported by a group of nobles. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his famous book The Prince based on this feudal system, teaching what he believed to be basic principles of governance for a ruler. In this book, he posits that it is better for a prince to be feared than loved and should stay in power at all costs, because they have the power to do anything necessary for the betterment of the state. Certain aspects of Machiavellian ideologies are slightly apparent in the offices of the President, congressmen, and even the people of the United States. However, the laws prevent anyone from becoming Machiavelli’s “Prince” by establishing a system of checks and balances of power.
The majority of Machiavelli’s concepts can be applied to the President as he is the foremost leader of the nation. Above all else, Machiavelli believes that a capable leader should remain in power at all costs. Many presidents share this desire and are willing to go to extreme measures to stay in office. This is illustrated by the millions of dollars a candidate will spend on his campaign each term. With his vast amount of influential power, the President has the ability to continually approve or prevent bills from passing. His agenda for the nation can be accomplished through various methods such as veto power and pardoning prisoners.
Moreover, congressmen have also been known to get their hands dirty in order to see a bill passed or to maintain their image. These actions are deemed acceptable in Machiavelli’s eyes as long as the congressmen are committed to benefiting the state. Unlike the President, however, they do not possess the level of authority required to manifest all of their objectives for the state.
In any democratic society, the people hold the future of politicians in their votes. This power may resemble Machiavelli’s Prince, but the people have no subjects, methods of enforcing their will and don’t possess the power to control the majority of governmental issues. An argument may be made that the people are their own subjects, yet this argument presents many issues concerning the practicality of enforcing the people’s will upon themselves. The same case can be made concerning their power over politicians: they may have some influence on who gets into power, but there is not a strong enough argument to say they are the “prince.”
A democracy differs from Machiavelli’s monarchy in that the President and congressmen operate by terms and must be reelected. These reelections by the people make it necessary for politicians to find favor in their eyes. This notion contradicts Machiavelli’s belief that it is better to be feared than to be loved. In his opinion, the subjection of the people will lead to their love for their leader. However, modern day politicians in America do not have this option because they cannot simply subject the people. Furthermore, even the President can be impeached. The law creates a boundary that a prince in the 1500s would not have encountered because, essentially, he was the law. The President cannot simply carry out his will for the state as he sees fit, but instead must operate under the confines of the law. Similarly, congressmen possess even less power than the President so this idea of legal constraints applies to them in an even greater sense.
Machiavelli’s “Prince” can never be clearly established in America’s democratic society because of the laws put in place that give power to each branch of government and the people as well. Nevertheless, his theories will continue to assist the analysis of politicians today and their methods of gaining and retaining power.