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Machiavelli And Hitler: Theory And Practice?

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The XX century is often called a century of dictators, and one of them is Adolf Hitler – an evil totalitarian leader, who managed to maintain his regime for 12 years, resulting in horrible consequences to the whole humanity. In his book “The Prince” Nikkolo Machiavelli, an Italian political thinker of the XVI century, presented an outstanding “Dictator‘s Guide”, still applicable nowdays. The book draws an image of a, so to say, perfect dictator. It is a questionable matter, whether Hitler‘s dictatorship was perfect, nevertheless, it would be rather interesting to compare Machiavelli‘s theoretical instructions and Hitler‘s practical actions.

    Three main issues shall be subject to comparison in this paper: how Adolf Hitler came to power; how he kept his power; and what reasons caused him to lose his power in a way this has actually happened.

In “The Prince” Machiavelli explains, that there are two types of states – republics and monarchies. The power in those states may be acquired either by the arms of the ruler himself, or of others, or else by fortune or by ability. Later Machiavelli speaks, that there are some other ways to become a leader, and one of them is to obtain supremacy by a crime. In the latter case, the only way, under Machiavelli, to stay in power is to demonstrate perfect ability and valour both before and after becoming a ruler[1].

Hitler fells under a definition of a ruler, who obtained his dominion by valour and by crime. After an attempt of a Putsch (a military revolution) in Munich in 1923 Hitler was sentenced to imprisonment. There in a prison he had enough time to compose his political manifest – Mein Kampf. After Hitler‘s release from prison his image of revolutionary hero, combined with his rhetorical speeches attracted new supporters to the Nazi party. Nevertheless, after the parliamentary elections, held in 1932 Hitler did not receive majority in the Reichstag, so he found it hard to pass laws as they had to be ratified by a majority.

On 27 February 1933 The Reichstag was burnt down. Hitler blamed the event on the Communists by planting a Communist, Marianus van der Lubbe, in the Reichstag with matches and fire lighters in his pockets. This made the people of Germany fearful of the communist domination. In March 1933, elections were held and of course Hitler won a majority, providing him with ability to pass restricting laws against other political parties and later against non-Germans.

However, Hitler was yet not an absolute ruler. After destroying the other parties, he felt threatened by his own in particular by the SA, the Sturmabteilung. The head of the SA Ernst Roehm was not a danger, himself but he, as the head of the SA had the power to overthrow Hitler as most of the SA’s members were loyal to him. On 30 June 1934, at three in the morning, Roehm was shot and 400 SA members were executed[2].

This was the criminal part of Hitler‘s rise.  Machiavelli‘s words: “Yet it cannot be called talent to slay fellow-citizens, to deceive friends, to be without faith, without mercy, without religion; such methods may gain empire, but not glory[3]” are most suitable to his actions.

Now let‘s consider what instructions does Machiavelli offer to a dictator to keep his power, and what Adolf Hitler really did. In Chapter XVII of “The Prince”, called “Concerning Cruelty And Clemency, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared” Machiavelli writes, that a monarch may be either loved or feared by his subjects. The best for the monarch is to inspire both love and fear, without hatred. But, in case a it is impossible to do so, it is better to inspire fear, than love, because fear depends on the will of a ruler and love does not[4].

It can be clearly indicated, that Hitler was ingenious in inspiring both love and fear. To make people love himself, he used a skillful propaganda and people‘s gullibility, including his outstanding speeches and magnificent ceremonies. To make people afraid Hitler established a ruthless secret police, and played on people‘s far-fetched fear of Jewish oligarchy, communist‘s revenge and national humiliation so as it has happened after the I World War. Hitler‘s populist skills allowed him to withhold broad support of the people and the army even at the eve of collapse of the Nazi domination.

 Our final issue is to clarify the reasons which led to the fall of the Hitler‘s regime and compare them with Machiavelli‘s ideas. In the fourth chapter of “The Prince”, called “Why The Kingdom Of Darius, Conquered By Alexander, Did Not Rebel Against The Successors Of Alexander At His Death”. Machiavelli explains, that a state can be governed in two different ways: either by a prince, with a body of servants, who assist him to govern the kingdom; or by a prince and barons, who have their own subjects, recognizing them as lords[5].

The first type of states enjoy internal unity; it is hard for a conqueror to find assistance between it‘s subjects but is it is easy to be rule them after a conquest using a settled administrative system and official‘s habit to discipline. The second type of states are easy to be conquered, using support of the internal opposition, but they are hard to be controlled later, as this opposition appears to be confronting with the new ruler same as with the old one.

The case of the Nazi Germany represents us a state of the first type. Even despite of single resistance acts, such as an attempt to assassinate Hitler in 1944, the Third Reich was quite a consolidated structure. Little opposition and internal unity provided the Nazi enough support to continue the struggle to the last stand. However, after Hitler‘s suicide, the cornerstone of the empire was beaten out, and the allies were able to establish their administration without any considerable struggle[6].

It is hard to say, whether Adolf Hitler consciously tried to follow Machiavelli‘s advices. But still, as all other dictators, he had to obey the laws of political science, discovered by Machiavelli. And those laws predetermined the fall of his dictatorship.


  1. Niccolo Machiavelli, “The Prince”, Oxford University, Oxford, 1998
  2. Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Harper & Row, New York, 1962
  3. http://www.greenhead.ac.uk/beacon/history/nazi6.htm (04.05.2005)

[1] See: Niccolo Machiavelli, “The Prince”, Oxford University, Oxford.: 1998, Chapter I, VIII.

[2] See: Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Harper & Row, New York, 1962 at p. 200-210

[3] Niccolo Machiavelli, 1998, : 42

[4] See Niccolo Machiavelli, 1998, Chapter XVII

[5] Niccolo Machiavelli, 1998, :21

[6] See: http://www.greenhead.ac.uk/beacon/history/nazi6.htm (04.05.2005)

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