The Prince and the Modern Executive
Few question The Prince’s place in the canon of western literature. That it marks a turning point in our collective history, the origin of the study of politics as a science (Pollock 43), is alone enough to warrant its classification as a "Great Book. Its author, Niccolo Machiavelli, a contemporary of Copernicus, is generally accepted as an early contributor to the scientific revolution, because he looked at power and the nature of sovereignty through the eyes of a scientist, focused completely on the goal without regard for religion and morals and ethics. Machiavelli taught that the way princes actually do govern often differs substantially from than the way they ought to govern, according to medieval Christian virtues. Sir Frederick Pollock wrote that in Machiavelli we find "for the first time since Aristotle, the pure passionless curiosity of the man of science. We find the separation of Ethics and Politics…Machiavelli takes no account of morality" (43). Machiavelli considers a successful ruler to be above morality, since the safety and expansion of the state are the supreme objectives. There had not been such a frank rejection of morality since the Greek Sophists. His ideas are in stark contrast with traditional church teachings. It is no wonder that The Prince was added to the Index of banned books and even today remains one of the most criticized and controversial books ever written. It is a scientific investigation into the tactics of retaining power. It is about application of power in the pursuit a greater goal. The Prince is, above all, about leadership. Though it is doubtful that Machiavelli realized the far reaching impact of his work. Its application is timeless and particularly pertinent to the modern business executive.
Drawing a connection between Machiavelli’s states and modern day corporations is not difficult. A corporation has its king and its barons, its courtiers and ambassadors, its loyalists and its dissident elements, its allies and its enemies. What is important to our application of his principles of statecraft to the business world is not the superficial differences but the underlying unity. Modern corporations that are successful and well-managed do not necessarily operate in harmony with the personal morality of their employees and for the general good of their communities. Similarly, firms which pollute the environment or ask their employees to lie are not always forced into bankruptcy.
The individualism and secularism that characterized the Italian Renaissance are dominant themes in Machiavelli’s thinking. His use of historical examples throughout The Prince demonstrates an extensive knowledge of Greek and Roman history and is consistent with the new-found love for antiquity of the Renaissance. Machiavelli was, in every sense of the word, a true "renaissance man." He appears to be remarkably well-educated, although limited finances probably prevented...