On Leadership – Part 1, with Socrates and Machiavelli

Statue of Alexander the Great in downtown of Skopje, Macedonia (

Statue of Alexander the Great in downtown of Skopje, Macedonia, FYROM


One morning he assembled the people and the senate of Syracuse, as if he had to discuss with them things relating to the Republic, and at a given signal the soldiers killed all the senators and the richest of the people; these dead, he seized and held the princedom of that city without any civil commotion.” Excerpt From: Machiavelli, Niccolò. “The Prince.” iBooks.

I believe that this follows from severities (harshness)  being badly or properly used. Those may be called properly used, if of evil it is possible to speak well, that are applied at one blow and are necessary to one’s security, and that are not persisted in afterwards unless they can be turned to the advantage of the subjects.” Excerpt From: Machiavelli, Niccolò. “The Prince.” iBooks.

For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.
And above all things, a prince ought to live amongst his people in such a way that no unexpected circumstances, whether of good or evil, shall make him change; because if the necessity for this comes in troubled times, you are too late for harsh measures; and mild ones will not help you, for they will be considered as forced from you, and no one will be under any obligation to you for them.
” Excerpt From: Machiavelli, Niccolò. “The Prince.” iBooks.

Referring to the Duke of Milan:

Therefore, he who considers it necessary to secure himself in his new principality, to win friends, to overcome either by force or fraud, to make himself beloved and feared by the people, to be followed and revered by the soldiers, to exterminate those who have power or reason to hurt him, to change the old order of things for new, to be severe and gracious, magnanimous and liberal, to destroy a disloyal soldiery and to create new, to maintain friendship with kings and princes in such a way that they must help him with zeal and offend with caution, cannot find a more lively example than the actions of this man.” Excerpt From: Machiavelli, Niccolò. “The Prince.” iBooks.

With the excerpts above from The Prince, it is apparent why many consider the book a manual for evil, and a book to be avoided. Condensed in the book are prescriptions for gaining and maintaining power, without recourse to altruism, for even where Machiavelli recommends doing good to the people, it is so that the prince will enjoy their protection. The book is a tribute to personal ambition.

Now let’s cross over from the severe prescriptions of Machiavelli to the sublime of Socrates:

And surely you would not have the children of your ideal State, whom you are nurturing and educating—if the ideal ever becomes a reality—you would not allow the future rulers to be like posts (Literally ‘lines,’ probably the starting-point of a race-course.), having no reason in them, and yet to be set in authority over the highest matters?” Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

I said: ‘Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils,—nor the human race, as I believe,—and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day.” Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

There will be discovered to be some natures who ought to study philosophy and to be leaders in the State; and others who are not born to be philosophers, and are meant to be followers rather than leaders.” Excerpt From: Plato. “The Republic.” iBooks.

Statue of Alexander the Great in downtown of Prilep , Macedonia

Statue of Alexander the Great in downtown of Prilep , Macedonia


Let’s take a look at the example of Alexander III of Macedon, also known as Alexander the Great, which appeals to me, as it appealed also to Nicolo Machiavelli. Alexander was personally tutored by Aristotle (Aristotle was a student of Plato). By the time he died at thirty two (32) years of age, Alexander had already created an empire, through military dexterity. Although it is true that accounts of Alexander’s conquests are controversial, the speed of his achievements and the territory covered is a testament to the scale of his success. It is also commonplace, in this era of sophisticated armies with tanks and nuclear weapons to underrate these achievements; however his remains the greatest documented military  conquest of all time. Much is said about his valor, but little about his wisdom. Despite being an extraordinary fighter and general, Alexander relied on wisdom to maintain conquered territories, respecting cultures, according honors to slain kings and working with local elites; and advised his officers to do likewise. Though he died shortly after his conquests, his vision and wisdom ensured the empire he created lasted about 300 years. This goes to show that great leaders are not defined by the length of their reign, but by the endurance of their legacies.


Based on biblical accounts, Moses the leader of the Israelites was an extraordinary man. He did many things to free the Israelites from slavery, and when it became neccesary, he parted the sea for his people to cross towards his vision of the promised land. However this is what Machiavelli had to say about Moses:

But to come to those who, by their own ability and not through fortune, have risen to be princes, I say that Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, Theseus, and such like are the most excellent examples. And although one may not discuss Moses, he having been a mere executor of the will of God, yet he ought to be admired, if only for that favour which made him worthy to speak with God.” Excerpt From: Machiavelli, Niccolò. “The Prince.” iBooks.

Machiavelli admired brute force so much so that, even though he recognizes the role of he knowledge and wisdom, he understates their importance. Thus he failed to recognize one major attribute of Moses as documented in the Bible:

And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and deeds.” Acts 7:22

This quote together with the fact that Alexander the Great was personally tutored by Aristotle, gives credence to what Socrates says about taking care to educate in the right manner those who must lead. Although there are several variables in the emergence of leaders including fortune, conscious efforts must be made to groom them as even Machiavelli himself who usually pays glowing tribute to the use of evil, acknowledged that knowledge is principal, when he stated this in his dedication of The Prince to Lorenzo de’ Medici, Il Magnifico:

To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici:

Those who strive to obtain the good graces of a prince are
accustomed to come before him with such things as they hold most
precious, or in which they see him take most delight; whence one
often sees horses, arms, cloth of gold, precious stones, and
similar ornaments presented to princes, worthy of their greatness.

Desiring therefore to present myself to your Magnificence with
some testimony of my devotion towards you, I have not found among
my possessions anything which I hold more dear than, or value so
much as, the knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired by
long experience in contemporary affairs, and a continual study of
antiquity; which, having reflected upon it with great and
prolonged diligence, I now send, digested into a little volume, to

your Magnificence.” Excerpt From: Machiavelli, Niccolò. “The Prince.” iBooks.

Machiavelli classified states into republics and principalities. A republic can be defined as a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives and leaders emerge through elections or nominations, rather than a monarchy; while a principality refers to the monarchical system where the state is ruled by the prince. Machiavelli states in his classic The Prince, that his prescriptions are for principalities, particularly the new. He stated that principalities can be acquired through inheritance; by one’s own arms and abilities; by the arms of others or by good fortune.
A critical appraisal of things will reveal that whether in a republic or a principality,  one thing is clear, which is that from what ever angle one looks at leadership, either from the perspective of Machiavelli or from that of Socrates; great leaders are persons of knowledge, wisdom and abilities; I like to refer to them as persons of extraordinary capacity.

Just as the steering of a car is relatively small compared to the entire size of the car, but ultimately it steers the car as the name implies, leaders in positions of authority in a state form an insignificant number when compared to the whole population. If you take the sum of kings/presidents, prime ministers, ministers, governors, legislators, councilors, heads of major corporations, tribal chiefs and others by whatever name called, in whatever clime, you will see they are but an insignificant fraction. This insignificant fraction, however determine the course of affairs of the state. There are examples of desert nations, whereby their leaders somehow created rivers in the desert, while other previously prosperous nations with great potentials were led to ruins by poor leadership. No matter the variables for success or failure in a state, it invariably boils down to one thing: leadership! I am aware of the maxim that everyone should be a leader, but it is those occupying positions of authority I am referring to.


A leader is one who is able to part the sea to ensure the survival of his people. Visionary leadership is everything! Without it states are doomed, with it there is no problem that is not very easily surmountable. Thus when selecting leaders, Socrates enjoins us to take care to search for men with extraordinary capacity, who have received the right kind of education, because great minds with the wrong education will wreck great havoc, while great minds with the right education will lead us towards the ideal state; the inferior natures can do nothing great, either good or evil, but can only supervise the deterioration of states.  When it comes to leadership, fair, good or very good isn’t good enough. Only the most excellent of men with extraordinary capacity will do.

A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it. Let him act like the clever archers who, designing to hit the mark which yet appears too far distant, and knowing the limits to which the strength of their bow attains, take aim much higher than the mark, not to reach by their strength or arrow to so great a height, but to be able with the aid of so high an aim to hit the mark they wish to reach. Excerpt From: Machiavelli, Niccolò. “The Prince.” iBooks.

Dr Ande Elisha

The Amateur Philosopher
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