Machiavelli’s Exploration of Leadership Qualities
Niccolò Machiavelli, a renowned individual recognized as one of the founding fathers of political philosophy, devoted a significant amount of his scholarly endeavors to the investigation and explication of the qualities that define good leadership. His thorough investigation aimed to pinpoint the characteristics that are necessary for someone to succeed in fulfilling their own goals as well as serving the state. This thorough investigation is explained in three foundational works: The Prince, The Art of War, and Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy. Each of these books explores different aspects of exercising power, but there is a striking consistency in Machiavelli’s focus on three main ideas: freedom, the acceptance of popular support, and a more complex idea known as Virtù. Although it can seem strange at first to link Machiavelli, a historical person who is frequently seen as unconcerned with ideas of liberty, to the support of such a concept, a more thorough investigation reveals a complex and insightful viewpoint that is worth taking into account.
When assessing Daenerys Targaryen’s leadership abilities, a critical examination reveals her remarkable commitment to unwavering values. The title “Mother of Dragons” has come to represent her unshakable dedication to beliefs, even when they are occasionally hidden under a façade of illusion. Daenerys is typified by a strict moral code that forbids slavery, denounces the abuse of children, clearly distinguishes between good and wrong, and remains opposed to questioning. Although her initial sense of rectitude may come from her principled attitude, it also reveals a weakness in her capacity to deal with situations that call for flexibility, like the difficult choice of whether or not to pardon someone who killed a known terrorist. In contrast to Daenerys’ unbending principles, Machiavelli’s political philosophy presents the idea of Virtù as a necessary quality for successful leadership. Machiavelli defined Virtù as the ability to adjust to changing circumstances and move through them with grace and resiliency. This quality becomes especially important when dealing with fate’s arbitrary decisions, or what is known as Fortuna. In contrast to an approach based on painstakingly crafted long-term plans or an expectation of unwavering success, Machiavelli asserts that the essence of political leadership is the ability to skillfully contend with the unpredictable turns of fate.
Upon reflection of Daenerys’s life path, it is evident that, knowingly or unknowingly, she has struggled deeply with the ongoing conflict between Fortuna and Virtù. Her early years were characterized by a string of misfortunes, including being moved to live with strangers, being forced into a marriage against her will to a Dothraki Khal, and being placed in an environment where language barriers were an added difficulty. But Daenerys shows a remarkable capacity for flexibility in the face of Fortuna’s whims, turning hardship into a source of empowerment. She skillfully transforms her forced union with the Dothraki into a powerful political position in an incredibly short amount of time. Later, once her beloved husband dies, Daenerys takes advantage of the chance to become the commander of her khalasar. Even with these early examples of flexibility, once she reaches a position of influence, there is a noticeable change in the way she approaches using her power. Her moral absolutism starts to get in the way of her overall goals, even while her steadfast opposition to slavery is admirable.
Conquests of Astapor and Yunkai
The conquests of Astapor and Yunkai provide an example of this problem. Motivated by a moral desire to free the slaves, Daenerys achieves her initial objective but fails to construct a long-term, stable power structure. As a result, in the absence of a long-lasting system of government, slavery or its abolition quickly returned after her departure. The fact that Daenerys was unable to solidify and maintain her wins highlights the fundamental conflict between her moral principles and the practical demands of government. The concept of Virtù delineates the obligation of conducting actions that are important for the collective good of society, exceeding the constraints of rigorous ethical attitudes. But a striking contrast can be seen in Daenerys’ story arc as she struggles to balance upholding her moral convictions with making reasonable compromises for the benefit of society as a whole. This tension becomes tangible in the fifth season, where Daenerys rejects a peace offering that may have restored freedom to the Yunkai slaves and diffused the conflicts between her soldiers in Meereen and the Wise Masters of Yunkai.
Sadly, Daenerys turned down this offer because she would not allow the fighting pits to be used again, not even for freed slaves who voluntarily wanted to fight in them. It turns out that her refusal to compromise and move outside of her moral comfort zone is a dangerous position that puts the lives of the people she claims to care about and the causes she supports in danger. The wider ramifications of her unyielding dogmatism become starkly evident at this crucial juncture. When Daenerys allows a liberated slave to sell himself back to his former lord, she exhibits a unique kind of compromise. This seeming compromise, meanwhile, just serves to highlight how fundamentally counterproductive her dogmatism is. The old man, running from the makeshift homes established for freed slaves, discovers living conditions there to be far worse than in the homes of their former owners. This incident serves as a reminder of Daenerys’ moral absolutism’s limitations as well as how her unwavering morality might unintentionally exacerbate the very social injustices she works to abolish.
As the temporary ruler of Meereen, while the abducted queen is away, Tyrion Lannister proves to be a model of Virtù, in sharp contrast to Daenerys’s unshakable moral convictions. Tyrion takes a practical stance that is consistent with Machiavelli’s idea of Virtù. He is prepared to deal with the challenges of governing without letting dogmatic moral convictions get in the way of building a stable community. This shows through his attempts to negotiate with three cities, where he supports the gradual abolition of slavery rather than its sudden and complete abolition. His goal in using this methodical approach is to eliminate the threat posed by masked assassins to the safety and tranquility of the city. Tyrion’s strategic intelligence is evident in his recognition that practical results require compromise, giving Meereen’s increased stability precedence over the implementation of drastic, quick reforms. Even though the parties’ subsequent violation of the treaty highlights the difficulties associated with undertaking such diplomatic initiatives, Tyrion’s capacity to modify his plans in reaction to Fortuna’s capricious turns nevertheless bears witness to his personification of Virtù.
Daenerys’s Leadership Style
Compared with Tyrion’s flexible and diverse style of leadership, Daenerys’s arsenal of strategies seems to consist of a single tactic known as “burn stuff.” This strategy has worked in many cases—it saved her from slavery, secured an army of 8,000 Unsullied soldiers, protected Meereen from impending naval attacks, and won the Dothraki’s support twice—but its effectiveness is mostly derived from tactical judgment rather than long-term planning. When facing unforeseen events, Machiavelli highlights the value of aggression and audacity in mastering Fortuna. Daenerys is a true example of these qualities, using her boldness and force to overcome many obstacles. However, according to Machiavelli, real control over Fortuna requires proactive and preventative measures, which are similar to proactively resolving issues before they arise. Essentially, a leader must metaphorically “defecate” on Fortuna’s imaginary lawn before unfavorable events occur.
There are times when Daenerys demonstrates strategic preparation, most notably during her negotiations with the Unsullied’s owner. She cleverly swaps one of her dragons for the army after being rejected for ships and gold, killing the master in the process to fulfill her goals and free millions. This Machiavellian strategy, while morally dubious, emphasizes the necessity of pragmatism in government when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges. The inability to modify one’s moral code under pressure is a bad recipe for leadership, as evidenced by the several situations in which Daenerys’s moral position and the practical requirements of good leadership diverge. This rigidity, which has been shown time and time again, presents a predictable risk and undermines the flexibility required to negotiate the intricacies of political governance. Considering these insights, it acknowledges her leadership style’s frequent shortcomings in flexibility as well as its moments of strategic brilliance.
Moving on to the evaluation of Liberty, Daenerys—who is hailed as the Breaker of Chains—becomes an enthusiastic supporter of liberty. Her unwavering determination to end slavery in every region she visits and her dedication to interacting with the public at public court sessions in Meereen demonstrate a sincere commitment to the cause of liberty. In The Prince, Machiavelli’s masterpiece, he defies popular belief by praising liberty and elaborating on the virtues of vivere libero, a constitutional republic that guarantees civil rights and public participation for the common people. In Discourses on Livy, he urges for the development of order by increasing contact between the nobles and the common people. Aware of Machiavelli’s teachings, Daenerys claims she is reluctant to replace the slave owners with her harsh authority. She seems to care about the needs and wants of her subjects, even though she consistently asserts her regal power. This agreement with Machiavelli’s advice emphasizes how realistic it is to recognize and grant freedom to the general public because individuals always desire their independence on the inside as well as the outside. This is consistent with Machiavelli’s practical counsel to prevent war and disturbance by proactively granting rights and avoiding the dangers of unforeseen obstacles, such as ambushes in combat pits.
Preserving public dialogue, especially in the form of discussions, is a key goal in Machiavelli’s conception of the perfect free republic. Resolving conflicts through rhetorical exchanges ensures that the populace has the agency to jointly select the most desirable course of action for the success of the state. The idea that a public deliberative process with participation from the general public is more resilient to fraud than a single leader’s decisions is at the heart of this theory. Even though the city of Meereen is still roiled and does not typically host civilized public discussions, Daenerys makes an effort to demonstrate that speech matters by calling a small council that is made up of both former slaves and former slave owners. Even though Daenerys includes individuals from a variety of backgrounds, it is clear that there are obstacles to overcome to put open discourse into practice. The former slave masters’ advice is notably ignored, a departure Machiavelli claims undercuts the foundation of a governmental system that serves the interests of the people. According to Machiavelli, inclusive discourse—discussion between rival interest groups and between aristocrats and commoners—is necessary for effective rule. He cautions that the only option left for resolving conflicts is violence due to the lack of thorough communication.
Even though Daenerys purports to demonstrate an inclusive government style by supposedly taking into account all viewpoints, a closer analysis indicates a significant deficiency in tackling issues about culture and economics. An increase in tensions and, eventually, violence results from this serious lack of engagement with the complex concerns brought up by different groups within Meereenese society. Although one could argue that her focus on punishing the old slave masters is in line with the sentiment of the majority in the city, there is a crucial problem in her strategy: she fails to truly pay attention to the concerns of the general public. When Daenerys does not intervene to solve the poor inhabitants’ housing situation or spare the former slave who killed the Son of Harpy, it is evident how inadequate her leadership is. The main problem is that she seems to prefer individual petitions over promoting an environment of free discussion, despite her outward attempts to appear sympathetic and attentive. This departure from a Machiavellian focus on speech calls into question the effectiveness of her leadership and may exacerbate a vicious cycle of unrest and bloodshed.
Despite having noble intentions, Daenerys’s attempt at vivere libero seems to be hindered by these innate shortcomings. Her quest for liberty is hampered by her seeming contempt for popular opinion and her incomplete awareness of the economic and cultural concerns of the general public. As so, it recognizes the work but emphasizes the significant space for development. At first glance, Daenerys seems to be receiving a lot of praise, with shouts of approval and nicknames like “Mhysa” following her. The emancipated slaves, in particular, exude a fierce love that unites them in her role as their savior. But closer inspection exposes a serious weakness in this seemingly unstoppable popularity: the freed slaves are only a small portion of the diversified population that includes Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen. The tacit condemnation of the former slave owners, which contrasts sharply with the ecstatic welcome of the emancipated slaves, presents a real threat to Daenerys’s general political position.
The age-old maxim by Machiavelli, “It’s better to be feared than loved,” acquires a deeper meaning in this situation as Daenerys struggles with open hostility rather than love or terror. The consequences of being despised by all are brought to light by the frequent attempts on her life carried out by the Sons of the Harpy, a group fiercely hostile to her authority. As represented by her fearsome dragons, Daenerys’s harsh interventions upend social conventions and thwart compromises, escalating the already simmering tensions inside the cities she seeks to free. The repeated attempts on her life, in the past and now, highlight the dangers of stoking hostility. Daenerys’s existence becomes entwined in the complex interplay of internal dissent and external dangers, from King Robert’s previous attempt to poison her in the first season to the Sons of the Harpy’s constant efforts to eliminate her during her tenure. Attacks by foreign rulers are unavoidable in her role, but a more subtle threat to the stability and legitimacy of her emerging authority comes from opposition from the very people she wants to control.
The earlier-advocated civic rights have a dual purpose, as explained by Machiavelli, in addition to fulfilling the primary goal of winning over the populace. These rights, in addition to winning the public over, deliberately foster a support base that is not just sympathetic but also eager to engage in combat on behalf of their leader. In The Art of War, Niccol Machiavelli wisely observes that mercenaries driven mostly by money will probably not be as eager to give up their lives as people who are philosophically dedicated to a cause. For those seeking to expand their empire to the size of the Seven Kingdoms, it becomes especially clear how strategically important it is to gather a force prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. Daenerys’s reformation of the Unsullied provides a striking example of this Machiavellian concept in action. They were once enslaved troops with little religious conviction or loyalty, but Daenerys cleverly frees them, changing them from being apathetic mercenaries to fervent warriors committed to her cause. This premeditated action is not just a sign of Daenerys’s dedication to justice; rather, it is a calculated move to create a strong fighting army. The Unsullied’s subsequent military prowess validates their usefulness as devoted warriors, and Grey Worm, their leader, becomes one of Daenerys’s most valued advisors.
With the Dothraki horde, a different dynamic transpires that diverges from Viserys’s endeavor to gain their loyalty for economic grounds. Taking a more daring and visceral approach, Daenerys wins their allegiance with a demonstration of unadulterated power, setting their leaders on fire and putting on a daring show in the aftermath of a blazing temple littered with dead bodies. This is a practical move that may seem out of the ordinary, but it is in line with Machiavellian ideas that value efficiency over tradition. There has been another occasion when Daenerys has led the Dothraki; in the second season, she had led a small khalasar over the treacherous Red Waste. The difficult trek, fraught with dangers from starvation, dehydration, and exposure, can be interpreted as an example of poor leadership. Her competency is called into question by the precariousness of the situation, and if similar difficulties were to arise again, it may compromise the level of support she can receive. Machiavelli’s adage emphasizes how important it is to provide for the fundamental requirements of the populace to gain their loyalty; Daenerys’s previous mistakes during the Red Waste expedition serve as an example of this lesson.
Daenerys’s Ability to Rally the Populace
One of the most important things that makes Daenerys a strong leader is her ability to rally the populace behind her. The more complex problem, though, is maintaining this support, which is far more difficult to accomplish. By the end of the sixth season, she had amassed a sizable fan base of more than 100,000 people who were ready to support her when she crossed the Narrow Sea. After combining the knowledge from The Art of War, it is clear that a leader has to strike a careful balance between advancing the interests of the state as a whole and chasing personal glory. But Daenerys is more inclined toward the latter. Her actions betray a more overt focus on personal goals, especially the reclaiming of the far-off Iron Throne, despite her seeming empathy for the fate of former slaves. Although she claims to be dedicated to the liberation of the underprivileged, her efforts in this area have been ineffective, and her speech frequently revolves around her imagined victorious return to Westeros.
Daenerys’s tendency to use her entitlement as the “rightful heir” to the Iron Throne to justify her claim to Westeros is a recurring element in her speech. Machiavelli’s pragmatic advice—that true power is obtained, earned, and maintained through proactive and planned tactics, not only through the accident of birth—contradicts this dependence on her ancestry and inherited right to govern. As Daenerys sets her eyes on Westeros, a rigorous assessment of her proposed government identifies glaring holes and unanswered questions. Even while the Dothraki and the Unsullied are skilled fighters, there is serious cause for concern given the absence of a well-thought-out plan for what comes after. The issue of how to feed and house the thousands of Unsullied who, despite their freedom, have no other work experience or cultural knowledge of Westeros, is still unresolved. Disturbingly, the possibility of widespread violence, pillaging, and raiding poses a serious threat to the stability of the kingdom should the Dothraki be let loose upon Westeros.
Daenerys’s leadership is poignantly evaluated using Machiavelli’s unwavering emphasis on political stability as the ultimate goal of governance. The achievement of this stability is threatened, though, by her inclination for self-glory and her absence of a well-thought-out post-conquest plan. It may be argued that Daenerys’s leadership style lacks the crucial component of Virtù, which Machiavelli weighs most severely. In the end, especially during combat, Daenerys’s general skill fails when faced with the complexities of ruling, even though she does occasionally show Virtù. A possible mismatch between her role as a Khaleesi, sensitive to the nomadic lifestyle and battles, and the responsibilities of being a Queen tasked with overseeing the complexities of political stability is suggested by the contradiction between her ambitions for personal glory and the necessary stability in governance. Machiavelli said that the true test of a successful leader is not personal success but rather the capacity to maintain order in the realm once the throne is taken.
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