Politics in Minutes (2016)

Machiavelli and political realism

The humanism associated with Renaissance political philosophy instilled the idea that it is people, not God, that determine our politics, decide our laws and how we should be governed. Humans, however, have flaws and live in an imperfect world. Accordingly, the Renaissance humanist Niccolò Machiavelli (pictured) suggested that rather than philosophizing about an ideal form of government in an ideal state, we should be realistic – see things as they are, rather than how they should be. He argued in The Prince that morality and ethics are all very well for individuals, but in government the wellbeing of the state is paramount and should be pursued by any means necessary – ethical or unethical. In short, the ends justify the means. Subterfuge, lying and even violence are legitimate tactics for a ruler or government if the outcome is favourable to the state. Machiavelli stripped political philosophy of its ethics and ideology, influencing a movement of political realism, which was adopted by Thomas Hobbes and later resurfaced in the Realpolitik of 19th-century Germany.