This was a writing assignment for IB History. Our teacher gave us several different philosophers and summaries of their ideas on war. We had to pick one and either agree or refute his statements. I chose Machiavelli.

Please keep in mind that this is not meant to reflect the ideas of multiple people. If you don't agree with my views, that's fine, but please don't leave a searing comment telling me off for something. Constructive criticism and opinions are accepted in place of flames.

Philosophers of War Paper

Niccolo Machiavelli

There have been many philosophers who wrote about their thoughts on war. Some devised books of strategy and reason in an attempt to show the world how they should deal with conflict. Machiavelli just wanted a job. Still, his ideas, though the center of mass controversy, had a point: playing nice can only get one so far.

The one concept people tend to remember most often about Machiavelli is that he wrote a book called The Prince and he wrote that "the ends justify the means". This idea taken simply and with no other explanation leads to problems. After all, if the end one has in mind is "to make the world a better place", then this reasoning can be used to provide an excuse for numerous crimes. However, Machiavelli didn't say only that statement and leave it. He also applied several character traits to leaders; someone who is cold and calculating will be successful, and being successful means staying in power. In a time of monarchies, where unsatisfactory rulers stood a chance of being beheaded, overthrown by irritated family members or simply pushed out of their throne, being able to stay in power seems like a good measure of success. The additional characteristics also have their better methods. A compassionate leader would probably allow opposing countries more leeway for transgressions before they went to war. This is great from a civilian's standpoint: peace is good. Meanwhile, in the country next door, armies are being built up and strength is being gathered, during which time the compassionate leader may offer his help to some country in need, spreading his resources thinner and leaving a weakening wall against his enemy. A ruler who is cold and calculating will know that he shouldn't let the country which is beginning to rumble lie around and fester. By no means does this give the leader the right to pounce and attack his adversary at the first sign of opposition. Having the ability to observe how his enemy moves and judge their reaction, the calculating leader can decide when he should launch a force. Being cold, he will beat down the other country enough to ensure dominance, but not so much as to leave resentment to smolder. This combination will, in theory, prevent future conflict and retaliation.

The second idea that may come to the mind of the average person when talking of Machiavelli is "it is better to be feared than loved". Love is the more appealing of the two, surely. The citizens of the country would be happy with their lot in life and, if riding to battle, be loyal to their leader because of their love for him. Fear also has its uses, commanding respect and reputation. Whatever the leader has done to acquire that fear shows that he means business—he is not afraid to carry out threats, because threats will amount to nothing if they are only words. And yet fear does not translate as hatred. The latter causes more eruptions of the people of the country into violence, while the former will keep them meek and quiet, so long as that aura of fear remains intact. Love may mask the voices of the dissenters, and the leader will not know there is a problem until it is too late.

Machiavelli's philosophies on war may seem harsh, but they had legitimate reasoning and support. Niceties—as the name states—are nice qualities for a leader, but the problem is that not everyone else who rules a country is as kind as they are. The other ones aren't going to fight fair, they aren't going to care if their enemy is an environment-loving philanthropist, and so a leader has to be ready.