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The Political, Social, and Ethical Philosophies of Machiavelli and Subramanian

One of the greatest comparisons of all time is to contrast Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” with V. K. Subramanian’s “The Chanakya: Kautilya. ” Critically, a look can be taken into several different elements of each author’s work to best compare and contrast them. To that end, a look will be taken at the political, social, and ethical philosophies of Machiavelli and Subramanian to determine how they differ and in which ways the philosophies are similar.

Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince” in the early 1500’s as a way of adding his insight from what he had seen of politics and hereditary principality—even though “it was plagiarized during Machiavelli’s lifetime…[and] was never published by him…[making] the text [itself as] still disputable” (Machiavelli 11). While current versions of “The Prince” are attributed to him, this fact of plagiarism and publishing fraud make the work even more intriguing, given the subject matter itself.

Of the work itself, Machiavelli said that “I pour myself out as fully as I can in meditation on the subject, discussing what a principality is, what kinds there are, how they can be acquired, how they can be kept, why they are lost; and if any of the fancies ever pleased you, this ought not to displease you; and to a prince, especially to a new one, it should be welcome” (Machiavelli 11). Machiavelli dedicated the work itself to Lorenzo de’ Medici, even after he was put to torture by the family for treachery.

Machiavelli’s methods are one of unique significance as he is writing, having been there, in the thick of things. Essentially, “The Prince” is meant as a guidebook on how to rule in all princely matters for Lorenzo de’ Medici. Machiavelli wrote about how hereditary principalities worked, how to keep that inheritance, and even how a prince could gain a new principality, and how a prince should rule his people and act, as a prince, and politically.

While Machiavelli essentially confined his writings to obtaining fortune, keeping and obtaining power, and virtue as a leader, a look can be taken into his writings to discover the philosophies beneath his ideas. In comparison, V. K. Subramanian’s “The Chanakya: Kautilya” was published in 1980 about and are translated from are translated from three works known as the “Chankyasutras,” the “Chankyanitidarpan” and the “Arthshastra” and are based upon the time in history around 300 BC.

The intro of Subramanian’s work notes that “Chanakya, also known as Kautilya and Vishnugupta was the famous Indian Machiavelli who was responsible for the overthrow of the last ruler of the Nada Dynasty and the enthronement of Chandragupta Maurya…there is an interesting story about Chanakya’s first encounter with Chandragupta, which ultimately ended in their collaboration and capture of power” (Subramanian 1).

Subramanian’s work, then, is a direct reflection of Machiavelli’s own. What makes them similar, however, despite the men within the tales, is the philosophies shared between the two. Machiavelli’s political philosophy is perhaps the easiest to pinpoint as the very purpose of his work revolved around the necessity of a prince to reign successfully. Machiavelli, actually, mainly focused on the political aspects of maintaining and gaining principalities.

He notes that “let any one now consider with what little difficulty the king could have maintained his position in Italy had he observed the rules above laid down, and kept all his friends secure and protected; for although they were numerous they were both weak and timid, some afraid of the Church…and thus they would always have been forced to stand in with him, and by their means he could easily have made himself secure against those who remained powerful” (30).

Machiavelli is urging his prince to take note of the past and understand that had the king protected his weaker neighbors, he would have not only gained them as allies—but also could have gained them as part of his reign. And, at all costs, he should protect his allies as he would protect his own lands. Politically, being a stronger power, he would have been made into the “leader,” who they would be indebted to and would follow with more loyalty than any money could purchase. And, to Machiavelli, the art of gaining allies and principalities, even de facto ones, was the art to be achieved.

Even more so, Subramanian’s fourth maxim entitled “Advisors, Aides, Counselors, Ministers,” notes that “after equipping oneself fully, one should seek an ally (aide), one without an advisor has no certainty of counsel, one wheel does not move (the vehicle), the true aide serves alike in prosperity and adversity, a self respecting ruler should appoint as counselor, one who is inferior to him, and respects him…deflection to the enemy takes place due to negligence” (22-25). In this, Subramanian agrees wholeheartedly with Machiavelli’s statements.

To be a successful ruler, allies must be taken and protected, first and foremost, before true rule can begin. The reason being, that with allies, a force become much stronger, incrementally, with each ally added. Furthermore, each ally must be protected and cared for to ensure their cooperation—but with that cooperation comes an extended kingdom. Indeed, Machiavelli’s social philosophy can be found within his writings on obtaining fortune. Machiavelli writes that “principalities are either hereditary, in which the family has been long established; or they are new….

such dominions thus acquired are either accustomed to live under a prince, or to live in freedom; and are acquired either by the arms of the prince himself, or of others, or else by fortune or by ability” (21). Machiavelli is commenting, simply, that the way in which a prince gains land is two-fold: either he inherits it or he fights for it. The manner in which the prince gains and obtains his land, however, is what makes the prince either beloved by his people or hated. For Machiavelli, gaining the most principalities possible by virtuous means was the ideal result.

And, as he instructed his prince, it was best to be good, socially, if any hopes of maintaining that principality are held. In fact, Machiavelli comments that, for example, “Louis the Twelfth, King of France, quickly occupied Milan, and as quickly lost it; and to turn him out the first time it only needed Lodovico’s own forces; because those who had opened the gates to him, finding themselves deceived in their hopes of future benefit, would not endure the ill-treatment of the new prince” (23).

Moreover, “it is very true that, after acquiring rebellious provinces a second time, they are not so lightly lost afterwards, because the prince, with little reluctance, takes the opportunity of the rebellion to punish the delinquents, to clear out the suspects, and to strengthen himself in the weakest places” (24). Thus, not only is it important for a prince to be clear in his occupation in a land, to become most beloved, he must first get rid of the troublemakers—thus leaving the peaceable, and willing to be occupied. If a prince does not take this step, he is left in hostile territory with people willing to stage an overthrow.

On contrast, Subramanian writes out a few of the maxims of Chanakya, citing that “economic prosperity creates prosperity for the people, if the people are prosperous, even a leaderless state can be governed, people’s fury is the greatest of furies…[and] to be without a master is better than having an arrogant master” (22). In this, the two authors cannot be more different from the other. Machiavelli believes that the first step of any prince should be to take a firm grasp upon his principalities, to conquer new ones, and to rout the dissenters by force before they can rally for an overthrow.

Machiavelli believes that by getting rid of the rebellious people before they can act, a leader can sustain and mark his position within his land, taking charge before the people even really know that it has happened. Then, once all the rebellion has been stamped out, a leader can begin to make his land prosperous. However, Subramanian cites a very different kind of social philosophy, making note that a leader might as well not exist if he intends to be a tyrant to the people, that a people have more respect for a man intent on prosperity, first, and rebellion last.

Because, in an attempt to rout the dissenters, a leader would make a dent on the value the people hold for him—and thus their fury would remain. To really be a true leader and be beloved by his land, a leader must intend on affluence and prosperity as his bottom line. Finally, Machiavelli’s ethical and moral philosophy requires the most interpretation to highlight significantly. As Machiavelli writes about virtue in a leader, instructing a prince on how to act and behave, an ethical philosophy is formed.

On contrast, Subramanian’s ethical philosophy stems from his ethical roots maxim that states “righteousness is the root of happiness, wealth is the root of righteousness, the state of the root is wealth, victory over senses is the root of the state, humility is the root of sense control, worship of elders is the root of humility, wisdom results from the worship of elders, with wisdom one can prosper, the prosperous one becomes the victorious one…[and] the victorious one obtains all the riches” (21-22). Despite it’s cryptic fortune-cookie nature, Subramanian’s writings do indeed have a fine message on ethical philosophy, here.

In explicating the words, Subramanian is saying that to be a good leader, on must first be righteous, but to be righteous, one must first have wealth, to have wealth, one must first have victory, to have victory, one must first have humility, to have humility, one must listen to their elders to obtain wisdom, and with that wisdom a leader can prosper and be victorious in all they seek to achieve. The value here, is that Subramanian notes the significance of wisdom in all things. Without wisdom and following and heeding the elders who have come before, a leader stands no chance of being successful.

Morally, a leader is obligated to his people to be triumphant so that the land can prosper, but without wisdom, a leader is nothing to his people but a tyrant. Subramanian says what Machiavelli does not. To Machiavelli, leading a people, by first disposing of the bad ones, is the best way for a prince to prosper in his lands. While he encourages his prince to be sound and wise, he first sends out the encouragement that the prince must always guard his assets, for fear of being overthrown or taken down by a greater force. To Machiavelli, obtaining land and prospering was, essentially, about war.

To win that war, a prince had to be wise, and indeed, listen to his elders as well, but not in the ethical sense. Machiavelli meant for the prince to watch out for himself, first and foremost, and then, once the land became prosperous, Machiavelli encouraged the prince to be good to his people so that they would love him and understand that they were prosperous because of him. To Machiavelli, the ethical philosophy came last, after conquering and protecting one’s principalities. Overall, one of the greatest comparisons of all time is to contrast Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” with V. K.

Subramanian’s “The Chanakya: Kautilya. ” Taking a look at several different elements of each author’s work critically revealed a great level of significance as to their philosophies on politics, socially, and even ethically. Politically, Machiavelli and Subramanian follow the same philosophy, which intends a leader to find and protect allies first and foremost. As to social philosophy, however, the two authors cannot be more different. Machiavelli intends his prince to take charge and stamp out rebellion, while Subramanian cites that prosperity and kindness should be shown towards the new land.

And finally, ethically, the two authors also differ. Machiavelli is intent on a prince who focuses on war and conquering new lands, and in this way a leader can gain wisdom and insight—however, to Subramanian, wisdom only comes by following one’s elders. Morally, a leader is obligated to his people to be triumphant so that the land can prosper, but without wisdom, a leader is nothing to his people but a tyrant. Works Cited. Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trns. W. K. Marriott. New York: Plain Label Books, 1910. Subramanian, V. K. Maxims of Chanakya: Kautilya. India: Abhinav Publications, 1980.

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