The piece of philosophical literature The Prince by Machiavelli is literally a guidebook for princes or would-be princes. He introduces his ideas, generally in favor of an overbearing monarch, and gives his audience his implicit idea of what a prince should be or do. In Chapter 14, Machiavelli states:
A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war, its methods and its discipline, for that is the only art expected of a ruler. And it is of such great value that it not only keeps hereditary princes in power, but often raises men of lowly condition to that rank.
In this quote, Machiavelli states that war must be placed above all else when it comes to the knowledge of a prince. This piece of advice has been time tried, and tested many times by many different ruler, always to the same negative consequences. Although based on Machiavelli’s time period, as well as pool of experiences, this was probably good advice for the time when monarchies ruled. However, there is a reason monarchies do not rule anymore.
If the safety of a state is the only thing a ruler concerns himself with, it is true that the military might of the country will be increased. The problem is that social issues are most often pushed to the side in these cases, often resulting in uprisings against these military-minded rulers. A perfect example of this is British colonialism in America, India, and other places throughout West Africa. The British were very concerned with imposing imperialism around the globe as a whole in the 17th and 18th centuries in particular. In 1775, war obviously broke out in the American colonies due to an oppressive ruler, preoccupied with military might. India incurred a similar resurrection against British colonialism for similar human rights issues.
There is another level to this quote, however, that is extremely historically relevant, and does seem to hold true throughout the ages. This is Machiavelli’s view that war can be studied as an art, or for that matter, an academic subject. There are plenty of contemporary historical analogies that prove this to be true.
Perhaps the best, and one of the most contemporary examples, is the calculating decisiveness that Mao showed during the Chinese Civil War. His Red Army, grossly outnumbered, was able to thwart the overbearing, and US-backed, Chinese government. Greatly influenced by The Art of War, Asian cultures have a long history of studying war as a defined discipline.
There are other contemporary examples that back this up as well. US General Norman Schwartzkopf, after World War II, put together a similar book outlining his scholarly views on war, and strategy with regards to the subject. There are also other contemporary examples in modern America that are hidden in plain sight.
Colleges such as the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, as well as The Army Academy at West Point, train future leaders to make informed decisions on the battlefield. In this way, Machiavelli was right on point. The place Machiavelli went wrong, however, were his overbearing views on government as a whole.
Because Machiavelli supported a government based on military, rather than a military based on a government, his advice is mostly impractical in today’s world, while making a valid point with regards to war as an academic field.