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What Are the Characteristics of a Machiavellian Leader?

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Shooner has read Machiavelli's The Prince and wants to help educate readers on this philosopher's perspective.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli Believed Great Leaders Had These 5 Qualities

A successful Machiavellian leader consists of five crucial characteristics and traits. These traits are the deciding factors in whether or not the leader will be successful. These necessary characteristics include being feared or loved (but not hated), having the people’s support, convincingly displaying virtues, using one’s own arms, and having intelligence. Without these five qualities, a leader has no hope of becoming a successful Machiavellian leader.

1. Being Feared

In medieval times it was much safer for a person to be feared than loved because people who feared their leaders were much less likely to revolt, as Machiavelli describes on page 65 of The Prince. However, in today’s society the type of government affects whether a leader would rather be feared than loved. The president of the United States needs to be loved rather than feared because in a democracy the people decide how long you can be leader, but in communist China or Russia being feared is more helpful because your citizens are less likely to rebel and revolt against you. If you are going to choose to be feared than it is crucial that the citizens of your country do not hate you, for as Machiavelli states on page 72 hatred leads to people scheming and ultimately executing an assassination.

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2. Having the Support of the Governed

The second important quality for a leader is the support of the people because without the people supporting your decisions no actions can be made. The importance of the people’s support is explained in almost every chapter of The Prince because without the people’s will behind you, military action is not possible without auxiliary or mercenary units, holding your position as leader is not possible, and territory expansion is also not possible without help from the people. If the people do not believe in the cause you are fighting for they will not join you in battle. If you are not satisfying your people’s basic needs they will rebel and either kill you or banish you from their lands.

3. Displaying Virtue

The third important trait to have or pretend to have is virtue, as described on page 62 because with virtues, it is easier to gain the people's support, and as I said above, without the people's support military action, expansion, and staying in power are not possible. Having good virtues can, in some instances, limit your ability to rule, so a more viable option is to show good virtues in public, but do what has to be done to succeed in the privacy of your fortress.

4. Using One's Own Arms

The fourth trait necessary to be a successful Machiavellian leader is not a trait, but more of a decision. This decision is to use your own arms in battle as opposed to auxiliary or mercenary units as described in chapters 12 and 13. If you use your own citizens, they are willing to die for your cause and will support you no matter what your tactical decision, but hiring soldiers has the opposite affect because they will often flee the battle to avoid death. Auxiliary units are also a bad decision because they will not be willing to die for your cause and this will lead to you being weaker if you win the battle because you will not have your own men to occupy the territory.

5. Having Intelligence

The fifth and possibly the most important of the traits of a Machiavellian leader is intelligence. Without intelligence a prince or king could not gain the support of his people, be able to find the perfect balance of fear or love, or know to use your own arms in battle. Intelligence allows a prince to rule his territory with confidence and pride because he knows that the decisions are his and not a minister's or assistant's.

Who's an Example of a Machiavellian Leader?

The modern man who I believe falls under the category of all five of these traits is Ronald Reagan because he was loved by the American people, he had the people's support, he showed his virtues, he used his own arms, and above all he was intelligent. Ronald Reagan was not evil as the name Machiavellian suggests, but a good kindhearted man who led America out of some of our toughest times.

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