It is interesting to note that Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) share a great deal of similarity, so that in fact, both have at one time been referred by the clergy of their times as the herald of the antichrist. Nevertheless, the similarity that exists between the two is mainly underpinned by their philosophical standpoints, given that Machiavelli’s and Nietzsche’s philosophical postulations were characterized by their antithetical standpoints towards Christian values, ethics and doctrines.
Particularly, a case in point is Machiavelli’s maxim that the end justifies the means. In his II Principe, Machiavelli sees man as a political animal, but not because of man’s gregarious tendencies as seen by Aristotle. To Machiavelli, man is a political animal in that in the quest for power, he has to act swiftly and be very cunning. Therefore, this brings in the concepts of competition which ensures that only those who are really determined and enthusiastic on whatever they are doing are able to keep up with the stiff competition. The divergence between Machiavelli and Christianity is further widened when he maintains that to seize and consolidate political power, it is necessary for the prince to move faster than his real and perceived enemies and crush them. The rationale behind this standpoint is that the person who moves fast and first emerges the victor, whereas the slow paced are victims (Machiavelli, 175).
The similarity between the above standpoint and Nietzsche’s ideas is that both advocate against Christian ethics such as modesty and justice. Similarly, both disagree with the very fundamentals of Christian ethic as they both see man as an animal, whereas Christianity sees man as the most important being, with this importance being underpinned by rationality and morality. Therefore, the concept of seeing human being an important being they are regarded as civilized and are not intended to act like animals such as being not thoughtful. The main difference between human beings and animals is that human beings have conscious and are able to think and reason out in whatever they do unlike animals. Nevertheless, Nietzsche’s animal instincts of man is covertly mentioned, as he only refers to it, by critiquing Christianity for shutting its doors on pleasure, self, the natural and appetitive elements of man.
In so assuming their controversial standpoints, both Machiavelli and Nietzsche postulate that the need to act towards self preservation, self actualization and self aggrandizement is paramount. This relegates man into likeness with the animal kingdom, given that the animal kingdom is merely driven by the need for self preservation, through instincts. As it were, the place for rationality in lieu of pure pleasure and self seeking is not given a big berth by both Nietzsche and Machiavelli. This is well proven by the fact that Machiavelli casts aspersion on the importance of values such as trust and mutual respect or agreement. Machiavelli argues that after fatally closing in on political enemies, the Prince must later on turn to his friends and eliminate them, since friends as confidants will have accrued a lot of political and administrative secrets adequate to turn against the Prince.
However, it is important to take note of the fact that Nietzsche and Machiavelli had somewhat different reasons for assuming their controversial standpoints. While Nietzsche maintained his standpoint on the account that he saw Christianity a curse and God as being dead [non-existent] as the basis of his standpoint, Machiavelli’s concern was not concerned with atheism, theism or the concern over the existence of a deity. Machiavelli did not write his radical standpoint for the sake of dethroning Christianity, unlike Nietzsche.
In respect to the above development, as a matter of fact, by conjoining ethics to Christianity, and criticizing Christianity for its moralist stands and its shunning of pleasure, debauchery and self seeking, Nietzsche basically made a dereliction on the importance of ethics and morality as important constructs that hold the society together. It is at the same time, this juncture that Machiavelli and Nietzsche part ways, as far as their philosophical standpoints are concerned.
Despite his radical political standpoints Machiavelli sees the need for tampering political administration and rule with some elements of ethics. This standpoint is seen explicitly when Machiavelli urges the Prince to always make sure that he did not amass wealth and affluence by rapine. Similarly, Machiavelli argued that in order that the Prince realizes a peaceful and stable administration, it is important that he stayed away from men’s women and wives. To Machiavelli, the failure to steer clear of men’s wives and the failure to shun the temptation of wealth acquisition through larceny are the very factors that would drive men into vengeful tendencies and thereby sparking off a political resistance, and subsequently, instability. To any one analyst or careful reader, this is indeed a moralist standpoint. So moralist it is that many a world leader has not been able to keep. This is not the case with Nietzsche.
In almost the same vein, Machiavelli does not see religion as being retrogressive or disposable to the domains under the Prince. As a matter of fact, Machiavelli reiterates to the need by the Prince, to desist from interfering with the Church and religious matters. To Machiavelli, the failure to do so would warrant the loathing by the masses. As a corollary to this standpoint, Machiavelli advised the Prince on the need to acquaint himself with the clergy, so as to be able to rule effectively. However, it must be remembered that Machiavelli advised the Prince on the need to ensure that the Church remained under the control of the state, since the Church existed under the auspices of his domains, and the Prince ought to know the developments taking place within his jurisdiction.
On the other hand, Nietzsche in his condescending criticism against the Christian religion or faith, becomes blinded to the point of disposing off, any need for morality, ethics and self restraint. To him, the fact that God is dead has given man the liberty to indulge himself. This is the fatal mistake of Nietzsche’s works (Nietzsche and Mencken, 139).
There is no civilization that can exist in the absolute absence of ethics. In the same vein, it is not tenable, the idea of governance and administration of a people who have a totally laissez faire condition to do as they please. The veracity of this concept is well established by the law which seeks to control and ward off the excesses of man. Nietzsche fails to realize that removing the concept of absolute authority to which all are accountable is to issue a blank check on man’s actions. On the other hand, handing man absolute rights will make life intractable, given that in seeking to exercise these absolute rights, the rights of others and the authority of the state to exercise its powers will have been compromised. In summation, it is important to realize that the main difference that lay in Machiavelli’s and Nietzsche’s works was that of purpose. While Machiavelli only sought to advise the Prince on the technicalities of politics, Nietzsche mainly sought to produce an atheistic treatise.