Dialectical Spiritualism: Niccolo Machiavelli

By editor - 2017

Conversations wtih HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, excerpted from  Dialectical Spiritualism: A Vedic View of Western Philosophy.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 - 1527)

Hayagriva dasa: Machiavelli has been called the most influential political philosopher of the Renaissance, and his philosophy of politics has influenced rulers down to modern times. He is typical of the Renaissance in that he turned from the subjects of the Church fathers — such as God, heaven, and salvation — to concentrate on man and nature.

The Renaissance marked a decline in the Church's power, and philosophy began a process of secularization. Machiavelli himself admitted that his most famous work, The Prince, does not apply to a Utopian state composed of good citizens; rather, it is an unscrupulous philosophy that applies to corrupt citizens. The Prince is a guidebook for a tyrant, and it contains the advice he chose to impart to the ruling Medici family. It is a justification for immoral actions. Power is the ultimate goal, and in the quest for power, the end justifies the means. Success in attaining power makes one the object of obedience and respect. Failure is the only sin.

Srila Prabhupada: So, this is politics, the occupation of ksatriyas. In Bhagavad-gita, the qualities of a ksatriya are given:

sauryam tejo dhrtir daksyam 
yuddhe capy apalayanam 
danam isvara-bhavas ca 
ksatram karma svabhava-jam

"Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the ksatriyas." (Bg. 18.43) Of course, in modern politics, the king or president does not come onto the battlefield to exhibit his courage. He simply appears when there is a battle of words, but when there is an actual battle, he remains in a secluded place and lets the citizens fight. And he institutes a draft board to assure that they will. According to the Vedic system, however, when there is a fight, the king or president must be present on the battlefield and should lead the fight himself so that his men will be encouraged. This is called yuddhe capy apalayanam. The leader of a nation should fight with all his ability and be determined either to gain victory in the battle, or lay down his life. Bhagavad-gita itself is a guidebook for ksatriyas and was originally spoken to the sun-god millions of years ago. Sometimes, people try to interpret Bhagavad-gita as a philosophy of nonviolence, but in politics there must be violence, because the king must emerge victorious. It is stated in the Vedas that if the king is victorious, he will be respected. Strength must be there. Apart from this, the chief of state must also be charitable, and formerly all the great kings performed big yajhas, sacrifices.

annad bhavanti bhutani 
parjanyad anna-sambhavah 
yajhad bhavati parjanyo 
yajnah karma-samudbhavah

"All living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rains. Rains are produced by performance of yajha [sacrifice], and yajha is born of prescribed duties." {Bg. 3.14) When sufficient sacrifices are performed by the royal head of government, rainfall results. Power in itself is not sufficient. One must be powerful enough to fully satisfy the citizens by supplying them sufficient grains so that men and animals can eat and be satisfied. This is an ability that the politician or prince should have. He should be not only powerful but charitable as well. Taxes exacted from the citizens should be properly utilized in performing sacrifices. Of course, it is not possible to perform yajhas today as previously. Formerly, they used to sacrifice tons of ghee and grain in the fire, but today that is impractical. The best yajha for today is sahkirtana-yajha propagated by this Krsna consciousness movement. The heads of state should encourage this.

Hayagriva dasa: Machiavelli felt that the prince must at least exhibit five basic virtues, whether he has them or not. These are mercy, faith, integrity, humanity, and religion. He writes: "It is not necessary for a prince to have all the above-mentioned qualities, but it is very necessary to seem to have them. I would even be so bold as to say that to possess them and always to practice them is dangerous, but to appear to possess them is useful. Thus it is well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, religious, and also to be so; but you must have your mind so disposed that, when it is needful to be otherwise, you can change to the opposite qualities."

Srila Prabhupada: Well, Machiavelli may think like that, but unless a prince or king possesses all these qualities, he is unworthy. If he is unworthy, he cannot remain a prince because he is situated artificially. Because the kings lacked the proper qualities, monarchy is finished today, and democracy has become prominent. In Indian history, however, there were kings like Maharaja Pariksit, who actually possessed all good qualities. When Pariksit Maharaja went on a tour of his kingdom and saw a black man attempting to kill a cow, the Maharaja immediately drew his sword and said, "Who is this person trying to kill a cow in my kingdom? He must be punished." A king must exhibit such determination to give protection to all the inhabitants of his kingdom. At the present moment, governments are not offering protection for animals. They are killing cows, although cows are supplying milk from which we can make wonderful preparations. This is Kali-yuga, and the government does not exhibit good sense in any field. Since the government is unworthy of governing, there is chaos throughout the world. According to Vedic civilization, the king is worshipped as God in human form and is therefore called Naradeva. If the good qualities are lacking in a king, he can no longer be considered Naradeva, and he cannot rule for very long, because his rule is artificial. Therefore in Kali-yuga, the royal order is finished.

Hayagriva dasa: Machiavelli didn't say that this is the way political life ought to be. Rather, since this is the way political life is at present, this is the best way a prince can rule.

Srila Prabhupada: Our principles should be the same, whether in the past, present, or future. Krsna delivered Bhagavad-gita millions of years ago to the king of the sun, Vivasvan. Five thousand years ago He repeated these same principles to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra. It is not that the principles have changed. Whether one is a prince, president, or whatever, the ruling principles should be maintained. Then the people will benefit. It is said that when Maharaja Yudhisthira ruled, the people suffered neither from intense heat nor intense cold. There was regular rainfall, and people were free from all anxiety. Such is an ideal kingdom in which the people are happy in all respects.