Are Machiavelli’s Theories Legit?

The Prince reveals several theories from Niccolo Machiavelli on how a prince should behave in order to become successful. He provides both his own insight and examples from his real life experience. I have found that some of his theories from the 15th century can be found in the business world today. These range from big name oil companies to the athletic department from the University of Michigan.

Niccolo Machiavelli

In chapter XXV, Machiavelli discusses how a prince must be adventurous and willing to make changes instead of being cautious. In an world that is constantly changing, it is crucial that a leader must be able to adapt to unexpected situations that arise. By staying cautious and waiting for things to happen, the leader puts himself at a disadvantage, which usually results in loss of power. However, if a leader is continuously thinking of new ideas and making changes to things that don’t work, then success will come. This is exactly what happened when Dave Lesar took over Halliburton, a large oil field service company. He was thrown into the role of CEO when former CEO Dick Cheney left to become the Republican Vice President nominee in 2000. Lesar took the position and ran with it by taking the company global. He saw an opportunity in foreign markets and instead of being cautious, he decided to take advantage. He created a new headquarters in Dubai, which will open up many opportunities abroad. If Lesar hadn’t taken a risk on the foreign investment, then his company might not still be here today. Even though Machiavelli was thinking of this theory with regard to a kingdom, it is still relevant in current situations.

Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke

However, Machiavelli’s theories do not always apply to present day situations. Take for example the drama surrounding Michigan’s athletic director Dave Brandon. Students and fans of the Michigan football team are fed up with Brandon’s actions as athletic director and want him fired. There has been a petition signed by over 10,000 students and a protest in the diag to convince the new President of the university, Mark Schliseel, to fire Brandon. These attempts have been unsuccessful with many authority figures from the university supporting Brandon. This situation can be compared to what Machiavelli was talking about with regards to a prince having the support of his people versus having the support from the nobles. The students and fans are “the people” while the president and the board are “the nobles”. The people want to overthrow the Brandon or the “prince”, but they can’t do it without the power from the nobles. This contradicts Machiavelli’s theory that the people are the only thing that matters. The prince must do whatever it takes to keep the people happy because they are supposed to be the ones with the power since there are “so many”. In this case, the people want to overthrow the prince, but are unable to.

I have found it interesting to compare Machiavelli’s theories to some articles that I have read about current events. Even though these ideas were from 500 years ago, they are still somewhat relevant today.

~Andrew Fink