Niccolo Machiavelli opens The Prince in full compliance with the behavioral laws he sets forth in following chapters; fitting with his brazen separation of ethics from politics, he meekly addresses Lorenzo de Medici with such words as “I hope it will not be thought presumptuous for someone of humble and lowly status to dare to discuss the behavior of rulers” (6) and “I therefore beg your Magnificence to accept this little gift of mine in the spirit in which it is sent” (6). In order to avoid “the unrelenting malevolence of undeserved ill fortune” (6), Machiavelli meets the standards of etiquette expected from his role as a commoner, thus subliminally introducing his utilitarian philosophy on virtue by feigning humility in order to win approval. At great odds with Aristotle in the area of morality, Machiavelli will not have any part of virtue unless it proves to serve some use to the ruler of a principality. Such is the reality of modern American life; as Machiavelli resolves not to ignore “the gap between how people actually behave and how they ought to behave” (48; Ch. 15), so are the everyday ethical motives of a democratic people impeded by worldly visions of capitalistic success and personal achievement.Despite Machiavelli’s political focus in The Prince, his underlying goal for a successful principality–thereby creating power for the ruler and the greatest good for the greatest number– finds certain magnetic attraction between the ideas of morality, practicality, and ambition in everyday life. As he does away with Aristotle’s notion of habitual virtue, he points to a barefaced reality in our existence from the removed perspective of an observer; his circumstantial criteria for being virtuous is such that it insightfully addresses those background motivations for being good as not only sensible and reliable, but as deciding factors in acting well or wickedly. As individualist thinking has become the familiar canon for superiority, America has found a strangely Machiavellian generation of young adults that wants progress but lacks emotional success. Machiavelli advises the ruler, “If you are already a ruler, generosity is a mistake; if you are trying to become one then you do, indeed, need to be thought of as generous” (49; Ch. 16). The connection he makes between compassionate generosity and heightened status are not inapplicable to modern circumstance. History instills in middle-to-upper-class Americans a sense of privilege, intellectual and economic prosperity, thus driving the aspiring young citizen to empathize with society’s dejected, and to compound that social service with the opportunity to be recognizably good at it. Thus is the bind of today’s Christian-American young adult—he vacillates between higher purpose and haughty transcendence, knowing that “nothing does more to give a ruler a reputation than embarking on great undertakings and doing remarkable things” (67; Ch. 21).The sixteenth-century philosopher promotes a ruler’s fervent attention towards already-famous figures of the past: “Above all he should set himself to imitate the actions of some admirable historical character, as great men have always imitated their glorious predecessors…” (47; Ch. 14). As Machiavelli suggests a selectivity among those who acquire glory, today’s metropolitan society perpetuates the fear of invisibility in the present and elapsed identity in the hereafter. Christian life principles that were once firmly installed in America’s spiritual center fall second behind the demands of progress; the pace of everyday life quickens with violent crassness, and rather than slow down, we desperately work not to be left behind. Machiavelli’s straightforward talk of practical needs within chaotic times, though morally unsetting, mirrors the present situation of the individual through the scope of fast modernization. No capitalistic atrocities have swayed the souls of a species that cherishes virtue, but a great deal of youthful minds can indeed be typified to relish the opportunity for earthly glory, with or without a higher search for truth. With the will to do well, but the drive, also, to do better than one’s peer, the pursuit of success finds any frustrated American adult at the brink of intellectual or monetary success and personal, moral disaster.Surprisingly, Machiavelli pauses before critically analyzing the strength of ecclesiastical states, for he recognizes the unmatched power he has to contend with: “So these are the only rulers that are secure and happy. But because they are ruled by a higher power, which human intelligence cannot grasp, I will say no more about them; for, since they have been built up and maintained by God, only a presumptuous and rash person would debate about them” (36; Ch. 11). Within religious principalities, Machiavelli finds the only principled rulers that may stay within the boundaries of their religion and find political success at the same time. So, too, does the American social philosophy deem Christian ideals necessary in maintaining a spiritual status quo while in search of grand-scale accomplishment; Christian commands do not lack their immediacy in the present day, but are simply lost to a young people governed by a whirlwind of fragmented virtues. The state governs primarily, and “religion,” a strange old coined term, is obscured behind skyscrapers and billboards aimed at the next generation of entrepreneurs.Machiavelli’s respect for the usefulness of religious virtues lives on in this era of material convenience, and the general run of today’s confused youth cultivates moral values when needed, creating a falsified ethical foundation for self-serving social work. While acknowledging that such religious states are “built up and maintained by God” (36; Ch. 11), Machiavelli does not disregard the earthly possibility of making wrong an effective form of right, stating the viewpoint highly opposed to those of his predecessors, “Prudence consists in knowing how to assess risks and in accepting the lesser evil as a good” (70; Ch. 21). Whatever could possibly be the natural state of man extracted from civilization has become something definitively relegated to the past, as centuries ago Machiavelli did not waste time in determining the natural drive to be “good” or “bad.” The fundamental morals of the country alongside capitalistic messages to the new generation of young adults create individuals that are perpetually in conflict with themselves. In the spirit of Machiavelli’s “religion of practicality,” we “[show] [ourselves] to be generous and understanding…but at the same time always retaining [our] authority and dignity” (70; Ch. 21). Longing for recognition in a world that gives him none, the driven American amateur has a mind for humble fame, wanting solidarity with the world and status within it at the same time.Today’s American youth wants to be indispensable to the race, both as an irreplaceable element to the whole of human life and as a shining finalist at the finish line, forever remembered and always modeled. We foster a Machiavellian ambition that advises us to employ religious ideals while recognizing the present demands of society as they really are: “Do not be afraid of your own shadow. Employ policies that are moderated by prudence and sympathy. Avoid excessive self-confidence, which leads to carelessness, and avoid excessive timidity, which will make you insupportable” (51; Ch. 17). Modern society’s utilitarianism of personal virtue confuses the search for truth with the prospect of civic enterprise, and young go-getters raised on basic Christian values want to touch the hearts of their friends, but also leave the power of their names carved on the souls of America. Despite the separation of Church and State, personal politics and ethics obscurely intertwine. The blood makeup inside us is thick and difficult, yet we still call ourselves Christian, aching to know the way to unload this paralyzing muck of blind ambition.
The concept of virtu is central to Machiavellian political theory in The Prince. The problematic nature of this term makes a concise definition difficult to formulate. Varying definitions often lead to different interpretations of Machiavelli. In order to understand the implications of Machiavelli’s writing it is important to explore this concept and how it shapes his political theory. This essay will be divided into two parts. The first will deal with the definition of virtu and an examination of all the ideas that are included in this term. Examples of historical and contemporary counterparts will be investigated and compared to the Machiavellian model. Next, the implications of this idea on Machiavelli’s political theory will be discussed in detail.Before beginning the examination of the term virtu it is first necessary to explain the context of this essay with regard to The Prince. Many scholars have suggested that The Prince was written with a less than obvious intent. At face value it appear to be no more than a manual for ruling, written in hope that Machiavelli might find employment with the Medici family. A different interpretation sees the text as a offer of bad advice, or at the very least ambiguous advice, written with the intention of bringing down the Medici family that had left Machiavelli banished from the city he loved and destitute. Both interpretations are accepted as possibilities, however for our uses we will be taking The Prince at face value and assume his advice is given in earnest. If it were the case that he was writing with less than truthful intent it would dramatically change the context of his virtu. The unscrupulous, deceitful and vicious activities required of proper statesmanship, according to Machiavelli, can be regarded as a scheme for a ruler’s downfall.The Prince deals with the various questions of policy as they pertain to new ruler, or one taking control of a new territory. From this context the idea of virtu emerges. Virtu is a collection of characteristics that make a ruler great. The tides of fortune (fortuna) can wash away any ruler with ease. The ruler who possesses Machiavelli’s virtu, while not completely free from the possible negative effects of fortune, is in far better position to deal with whatever may arise.Virtu must not be confused with the modern concept of virtue. Machiavellian virtu differs greatly from the present moral model commonly associated with virtuosity. Similarly most historical interpretations of virtue do not agree with Machiavelli.Christian virtue, once described by Nietche as “slave morality” has very little in common with Machiavellian virtu . The Christian version includes characteristics such as meekness, humility, charity, piety, and forgiveness. None of these ideas are present in Machiavelli’s princely virtue (virtu). While not an outright atheist, Machiavelli was far from a religious man and held a certain distain for the Catholic Church. He never voices these views and pays respect to the power of religion in his writings, since it would be the equivalent of political suicide to do otherwise, but a secular air does surround his writings.The Platonic model of virtue is similarly out of sync with Machiavelli’s virtu. The emphasis on truth and justice that characterizes Platonic virtue is nowhere to be found in Machiavelli’s conception . Similarly, Roman virtue, which places the highest importance on honesty and honor, is a poor equivalent to virtu .From this one could make the argument that Machiavelli is amoral, or without a moral code. This is not the case. A moral code is defined as a set of standards, by reference to which conduct can be praised or criticized . Machiavelli is very vocal in his praise and condemnation of various courses of action.We have examined what virtu is not, now we will move on to clarifying what this term does mean. If Christian, Platonic and Roman conceptions of virtue do not equate to Machiavelli’s princely virtue, what then can we use to help clarify this troubling concept?The answer lies in the heroic ideas of virtue present in writings of Homer. The Homeric version of virtue found in Illiad and Odyssey is far more in tune with virtu. Emphasis is placed not on truth, justice, and similar concepts. Instead the hero is required to be an ingenious survivor, sacrificing all with self-preservation as the only goal. Where other models of virtue fail to measure up to Machiavelli’s, the Homeric characteristics of virtue are more closely related.The linguistic grounding of the term virtu is not without relevance. Virtu is derived from, but not exactly related to the Italian word virtus. Formed from the root vir, which means man, or more precisely free male citizens, virtus refers to the characteristics displayed in the free male citizen class when fulfilling roles and obligations . In this sense only the vir aspect is truly applicable.Contemporaries of Machiavelli have also utilized the term virtu. D’Vinci used this term with a strictly scientific definition. He used it to designate, in a physical sense, motive power . Another connotation of the term, and most widely used is found within the medical community of the Italian Renaissance . This form of the word describes the vitality giving force upon which the life and strength of all organisms rely. Some authors have suggested an echo of this medicinal grounding in Machiavelli’s use of the term. A letter written some years later refers to a king who has recently recovered from illness as having “his virtu once again become strong”. Despite any evidence and similarities very little importance has been attached to this theory.The use of this term in The Prince is widespread and includes numerous connotations. No one word can properly express the idea, and the long list of variations makes applying the term difficult. The result is an array of different possible interpretations in each instance of its use.Some Ideas within the term virtu are desirable in a modern sense. Intellect is a key aspect of the concept. A ruler should be knowledgeable and utilize this knowledge in the affairs of his state. A keen intellect will aid a ruler in search of greatness while ignorance will allow for misfortune and poor decisions. History should be studied rigorously and the actions of great men mimicked. A smart ruler has advantages in all respects of political life. Confidence also plays a role in the formulation of virtu:”I do think, however, that it is better to be headstrong than cautious, for fortune is a lady. It is necessary, if you want to master her, to beat and strike her. And one sees she more often submits to those who act boldly than those who proceed in a calculating fashion.”A proper ruler will be sure of himself and command the respect of those below him. Machiavelli gives the example of Maximilian who often undoes his decrees after they meet criticism. The result is no one knows what his intentions are, and his decisions are unreliable. Talent, intelligence and confidence are all required by Machiavelli if a ruler is to possess virtu.Machiavelli also demands that his ruler of virtu be pragmatic. He must be prepared for every circumstance and able to apply his knowledge to whatever endeavors he embarks upon. He must be attentive to those around him and weigh their opinions wisely taking into account all that may be gained and lost for each party involved. Attention should always be paid to activities abroad as they may affect the state or convey useful information. The ruler must be alert and perceptive as people may plot against in a bid for power. Decisiveness play a role as well. Uncertainty is unacceptable for a ruler and shows weakness. This pragmatism will serve the ruler well in times of crises and help to ensure his reign is long.This brings us to the negative moral aspects of Machiavelli’s virtu. These beliefs led to his fall from popularity as they portrayed him as a tyrant with little heed for so-called moral imperatives. While Machiavelli believes that whenever possible the upstanding road should be taken, there are situations that may require that a leader set aside traditional morality in favor of cunning and trickery.The example of Agathocles, who made bold and deceitful moves to gain sole possession of power, such as the slaughter of Syracuse’s senators and richest citizens, gains praise from Machiavelli:”He was the son of a potter, and from start to finish lived a wicked life; nevertheless his wicked behavior testified to so much strength (virtu) of mind and body…there seems to be no reason why he should be judged less admirable than any of the finest generals.”Although Agathocles receives praise from Machiavelli, the evilness of his character does garner much deserved attention:”…his inhuman cruelty and brutality, and his innumerable wicked actions, mean it would be wrong to praise him as one of the finest men.”He distinction between being a good general and being a good man is clear. Positions of power sometimes require of men actions, which under other circumstance would not gain you praise.Circumstance seems to be the main determinant of whether wicked actions are to be employed or not. A ruler must be able to act against his good nature if it is required of him:”For anyone who wants to act the part of the good man in all circumstances will bring about his own ruin, for those he has to deal with will not all be good. So it is necessary for a ruler, if he wants to hold onto power, to learn how not to be good, and to know when it is and when it is not necessary to use this knowledge.”Machiavelli is all too aware that sometimes wickedness will profit a ruler far more than acts that are supposedly virtuous:”Above all do not be upset if you are supposed to have those vices a ruler needs if he is going to stay securely in power, for, if you think about it you will realize there are some ways of behaving that are supposedly virtuous, but would lead to your downfall, and others that are supposed to be wicked, but will lead to your welfare and peace of mind.”Integrity and truth have always been praised as characteristics of great men. However, careful observation has taught Machiavelli that in affairs of power and statecraft the honest man is not necessarily the one to mimic:”Everybody recognizes how praiseworthy it is for a ruler to keep his word and live a life of integrity, without relying on craftiness. Nevertheless, we see that in practice, in these days, those rulers have thought it not important to keep their word have achieved great things, and have known how to employ cunning to confuse and disorientate other men. In the end they have been able to overcome those who have placed great store in integrity.”Virtu has little to do with justice and more to do with opportunism. Traits that are virtuous for the everyday citizen do not apply to princely virtu. A Ruler, due to his position in a society, is subject different standards.It is due to Machiavelli’s distain for the masses that he acknowledges the ruler must be above common morality:”They are ungrateful, fickle, deceptive and deceiving, avoider of danger, eager to gain. They promise you their blood, their possessions, their lives, and their children, as I have said before, so long as you seem to have no need of them. But as soon as you need help, they turn against you.”If people were not so wicked and undesirable things would be different. However the nature of man, as Machiavelli sees it does not allow for traditional virtue:”So you see a wise ruler cannot, and should not, keep his word when doing so is to his disadvantage, and when the reasons that led him to promise to do so no longer apply. Of course, if all men were good, this advice would be bad: but since men are wicked and will not keep faith with you, you need not keep faith with them.”It is now clear how the concept of princely virtue differs with traditional notions of virtue. How then does this conception of virtu affect Machiavelli’s political theory? The answer is that virtu shapes almost all aspects of Machiavelli’s formulations and dominates the text of The Prince. From the preeminence of military power and strategy in a ruler’s life to theories of which type of ruler is the most suited to overcoming the force of fortune, virtu takes front seat in almost all of Machiavelli’s discussions.Perhaps the most important aspect of virtu and its relation to political power, according to The Prince, is military superiority. In fact, Machiavelli suggests this be the sole area of concern for a ruler:”A ruler, then, should have no other concern, no other thought, should pay attention to nothing aside from war, military institutions, and the training of his soldiers…It is of such importance that military prowess not only keeps those who have been born rulers in power, but also often enables men who have been born private citizens to come to power.”While this may be a slight overstatement, this section is written to impress upon the reader the importance of military strength. Machiavelli does address non-military issues in his text, but none are given the high regard that issues of war receive.Another issue discussed in The Prince is the nature of rule and the role virtu plays in bringing one to power. Rulers may come to power in different ways some, such as ecclesiastical rulers, are chosen amongst a group of like minded men. These rulers face little challenges as their assumed relationship with God prevents ill from coming to them. Similarly. Rulers who are in power based upon Birthright don’t face many challenges, as they are often seen as figureheads, and expectations for them are usually low. The Citizen ruler, however, who gains power through good fortune or of his own virtu, faces the most challenges. In these circumstances the ruler must rely on his virtu to remain in power. Those who were cast into the role of ruler based on the good graces of fortune, without continued luck, will quickly fall from power.It is the ruler who has struggled his way to power, overcoming obstacles and gaining experience, that possess virtu. He is the most skillful ruler yet must contend with the fiercest opposition. He must rely on his wits and strength to both woo, andcontrol the masses, crushing any opposition where he sees fit. While wickedness may be appropriate and acceptable in order to achieve goals and where it is necessary, extended use of cruel means will create a hateful populace who resents your rule. He must manipulate or, if completely necessary, liquidate the elite in order to ensure his position is safe. A strong military is the most important thing to consider, composed of native troops due to the unreliability of mercenaries and auxiliaries. He must be self-sufficient relying on himself alone, save a few well-paid and trustworthy advisors. The ruler who has gain his position through virtu alone faces the most challenges, but is the most capable to handle them.Machiavelli’s position on boastful generosity is negative. As he sees it, it will only drain resources, and while a reputation may aid new rulers, those settled should ignore any discomfort from being regarded as a miser. Generosity can be misplaced and often enriches your enemies while harming your wealth. It is preferable to have your population to fear you rather than love you, if both aren’t possible:”…as far as being feared and loved is concerned, since men decide for themselves whom they love, and rulers decide whom they fear, a wise ruler should rely on the emotion he can control, not on the one he cannot. But he must take care not to be hated…”Machiavelli also advises to garner a reputation. He notes that rulers who undertake great tasks command the respect of their public and military. Public loyalty, however, is always subordinate to military loyalty. The military ensures security, and although the public is powerful and should not be abuse, it is of the utmost importance that the military remains under control. The leader who possess virtu is regarded with fear and awe by his public and respected by his military. Rulers who avoid war and are unwilling to enter into disputes are soon disposed of by other bolder leaders. A ruler should admire talent and skill and honor those who excel in all fields. At appropriate times he should lift the spirits of his people with festivals to gain admiration. While he is not required to be honest at all times, he must demand it of his advisors and avoid flattery.It is clear that the concept of virtu plays a fundamental role in shaping Machiavellian political theory. Primarily concern with the politics of power and warfare, The Prince expresses in detail how important virtu is to a ruler. Strength, cunning, confidence, intelligence, and pragmatism are central to virtu and the primary source of Machiavelli’s. While many societies have had models of virtue few can be equated with Machiavellian virtu. Sometimes viewed as a manual for tyranny, The Prince is a survival guide for the 16 century Italian ruler.Bibliographical InformationBall, T. “The Picaresque Prince” Political Theory 12:4 1984 pg 521-536Gilbert, F. “On Machiavelli’s Idea of Virtu” Renaissance News 4:4 1957 pg 53-56Machiavelli, N. “The Prince” Hackett Publishing Co., Indianapolis: 1995
Within his work The Prince, Machiavelli presents a double perspective on rulership that works to focus the direction of outlook beyond the habitual leader to leader approach we have previously seen. Breaking from tradition, Machiavelli’s idea that “in order to properly understand the behavior of rulers one needs to be a member of the lower classes” introduces a whole new set of problems for the reader that introduce the dynamic between the people and the prince. (p.6). This relationship creates a type of double-layered viewpoint, as neither the people nor the prince have a complete perspective. Thus the people are not predictable, and it is this assertion that really individualizes Machiavelli’s political theory. Bringing in the peoples’ viewpoint breaks with traditional political theory in that it allows for a type of real-world analysis and contextual accuracy that is not possible within theoretical and ideological discussions of rulership – relevant historical examples and personal experience supercede moral arguments about goodness in Machiavelli’s realistic doctrine.One of the major effects of such a populist vantage point is its concentration on the people’s actual realistic relationship with the ruler. Rather than “constructed imaginary republics and principalities that have never existed in practice and never could” Machiavelli chooses to acknowledge that “the gap between how people actually behave and how they ought to behave is so great that anyone who ignores everyday reality in order to live up to an ideal will soon discover he has been taught how to destroy himself” (p. 48). Through the prism of this wisdom Machiavelli illustrates many significant aspects of the actualities of ruling a population. The most prominent of these features are the omnipresent ideas of fear and the fragile and fallible nature of control. Machiavelli looks at the conditions around him to illustrate these tenets of leadership – talking about the King of Spain, Machiavelli remarks that the King “is always plotting and carrying out great enterprises, which have always kept his subjects bewildered and astonished, waiting to see what their outcome will behe has never left space between one [enterprise] and the next for people to plot uninterruptedly against him” (p.68). Thus the populace can be governed without fear of uprising. “As far as bring fearedis concerned, since men decide for themselves who they love, and rulers decide whom they fear, a wise ruler should rely on the emotion he can control” (p.53). This idea breaks radically from the previous ideas of social control we have seen, because its illustration is based both in reality and in the opinion of the populace of the ruler, rather than the ruler of the populace.Machiavelli also utilizes the analysis of the populace when instructing what to do about mixed principalities. He puts forward that “one of the best policiesis for the new ruler to go and live in his new territories. This will make his grasp on them more secure and more lasting. As a consequence [the subjects] have more reason to love you, if they behave themselves, and, if they do not, more reason to fear you” (p.9). The acknowledgement of such realities as region-specific cultural institutions and traditions is a conception achieved from the view of the populace, one that is overlooked in previous political philosophies with their much more vague and malleable citizens. Machiavelli asserts with his every instruction the individualized and highly personified character of the populace, reinforcing the reality that people are ruled, rather than figurative sheep.The simple fact that it is people that are being ruled creates the fundamental notion of a dynamic between the ruler and the citizens. Human nature is unpredictable, and Machiavelli acknowledges this by working so hard to explore the outlines of this dynamic. He does this through persistent examples of how the people must be dealt with while understanding this dynamic, with everything from violence to cultural appreciation defining the necessary qualities of a good ruler. “Fear restrains men because they are afraid of punishment, and this fear never leaves them” (p.52). The idea of founding violence is also a large part of the relationship to the populace. “In order to get a secure hold on [territories] one need merely eliminate the surviving members of the family of their previous rulers. In other respects one should keep things as they were, respecting established traditions” (p.8). Machiavelli very logically instructs to concentrate the bad and disperse the good, thus creating a stable and satisfied popular impression of the ruler. Machiavelli asserts once again the importance of human nature in the dynamic between ruler and people: human memory makes men “quicker to forget the death of their father than the loss of their inheritance” (p.52).The vantage point of the people also enables Machiavelli to address seemingly quotidian issues, such as “subjects’ exactions” that actually deeply affect the power of the ruler because ignoring them could create popular hostility. Such an unseen before bottom-up method allows a level of thoroughness that Machiavelli exemplifies in his appraisal of local politics at the time. His explanations of the political strategy of everyone from the King of France to Caesar lets the reader see for himself the significant breadth of the lower-class viewpoint. Yet at the same time the ultimate fallibility of a reliance on either viewpoint is shown – human nature can not be predicted from either the mountain or the valley, and perhaps that is Machiavelli’s ultimate goal, to illustrate the complex dynamic between populace and ruler without relaxing into the traditional comfort of aristocratic idealism.
Machiavelli’s The Prince is an ambitious attempt to outline the steps necessary to ensuring success in leadership. The work dissects the elements of power; it identifies the sources from which it springs and the tactics required for its maintenance. His position rests on the claim that power is “acquired either through the arms of others or with one’s own, either by fortune or virtue” (Ch. 1, pg. 6), and he asserts that success in politics cannot exist outside of this basic framework. Centuries later, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. would rise from the masses as a leader, armed only with the candor of his objectives and their means. King is generally accepted by those who are familiar with his career in politics as a successful leader – one who’s ends were steadily achieved through the perserverence of his spirit and the support of his people. Yet Machiavelli states plainly that “all the armed prophets conquered, and the unarmed ones were ruined” (Ch.6, pg. 24). Machiavelli’s failure to account for the success of a leader as antithetical to his beliefs as King betrays a fundamental flaw in the former’s reasoning. Machiavelli’s understanding of true leadership and success is limited; he is short-sighted in assuming that all power must be absolute power, and fails to acknowledge that the oppressed and the great can ofttimes converge to strive toward an end greater than mere material acquistion.King manifests none of the qualities Machiavelli identifies as virtuous. Rather than relying on cunning and ingenuity to manipulate or eliminate his adversaries and constituents, King achieves his goals “openly, lovingly…with a willingness to accept the penalty” (pg.294). Machiavelli would then assert that his rise would necessarily have to be precipitated by fortune. As he states, “the result of becoming a prince from private individual presupposes either virtue or fortune” (Ch. 6, pg. 22). Yet again, King neither relies on his own wealth, nor is he funded by any outside party throughout the entire duration of his career. And he certainly does not invoke the use of arms. King’s basic guideline for response is “non-violent direct action.” King emerges from the people as a leader, which at once distinguishes him from any of Machiavelli’s princes. According to Machiavelli, the interests of the governed are only important insofar as they affect the governor’s ability to lead. King however, rather than using the backs of the people as stepping stones, takes their burden on his shoulders and brings then to the forefront of public attention. Thus he is loved by the people he leades. Machiavelli warns leaders against this supposed danger. According to him, love can only be maintained through the continous expenditure of the leader on his people, their affections are bought. Yet, as he states,” friendships that are acquired at a price…are bought, but they are not owned and when the time comes cannot be spent…Love is held by a chain of obligation, which, because men are wicked, is broken at every opportunity for their own utility”(Ch. 17, pg. 66-67). However, the esteem King’s followers hold him in is different from that which Machiavelli warns leaders of; its perpetuation is not dependant on generosity and the doling out of material goods. King inspires a sort of love that is unconditionlal because it is based on intangibles. It is a genuine appreciation for the efforts and leadership provided by one of their own. When a leader such as King undertakes the struggle for such intangible conditions as justice and freedom, and for the exclusive benefit of the poplulace, he becomes endeared to the people, and thus gains a fortune that Machiavelli fails to identify: the undying, unconditional support of the masses.As these two types of leaders originate from two opposite ends of the social spectrum, their views on fundamental elements of politics also differ drastically. Machiavelli and King differ almost antithetically in their views on positive law. To the prince, laws are but tools used to control the masses, not codes by which leaders must themselves abide. Furthermore, the existence of laws allows a means by which the Prince can both impress and terrify the populace through the callous breaking of them. The ability to transcend law makes the prince an awesome and powerful image to the people. King, on the other hand, holds laws in the highest possible respect: “In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law…an individual who breaks a law his conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty…is in reality expressing the very highest respect for the law” (pg.294). King endeavors only to break unjust laws after carefully examining whether they truly ought to be broken. He operates within the bouds of the law, establishing himself further as a man of the people.The most fundamental difference however, lies in each man’s definition of success, their ultimate end. To Machiavelli, the prince himself is his own end. Machiavelli’s ultimate goal is to find the means of securing stability throught the entire region of italy, and ensure its security. He believes this is only accomplished through the establishment of a powerful absolute sovereign. Thus, he guides his prince to use fortune and virtue to look out for himself at all costs, so as to rise above all obstacles to achieve total power. This definition of success is measured largely in material acquisition; the prince is to acquire and maintain control over a body of land, and it is the essence of his nature to do so: “…it is a very natural and ordinary thing to acquire, and always, when men do it who can, they will be praised or not blamed” (Ch.3, pg. 14). In such a political atmosphere, the prince operates alone: all others with any ambition toward leadership are but competitors after the same set of acquireable goods, and any objectors to his methods are obstacles to his goals. Thus rivals are eliminated and the people are terrified or manipulated into silence. To King, however, the people are an end in themself. According to him, “law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice” (pg. 295), so that the people may enjoy the highest degree of happiness in a society that treats all men as equal. He fights to bring justice and equality to the most oppressed sector of the population, and his success is measured by intangibles: the exposure of injustice, and the establishment of a “substance-filled positive peace” in which his people are recognized as equal members of society; in other words: justice. King’s end is entirely outside of himself, he is but an agent of and for the people; any ideas of personal gain are subjugated to the benefit of the greater good. By this definition, and through the knowledge of all that he did accomplish, Martin Luther King Jr. was indeed successful.Machiavelli’s problem lies in that he identifies but two humors: “the people desire neither to be commanded nor oppressed by the great, and the great desire to command and oppress the people”(Ch.9, pg.39). From this conflict of interests stems the constant state of distrust between leaders and their people.However, Machiavelli does not presuppose any condition in which the people might wish to work in harmony with a leader; namely, that instance in which a leader promises to rescue the oppressed from further injustice at the hands of the great. In such a case, the people do in fact desire to be commanded by a leader who does not ultimately wish to oppress them. King is the prime example of such a case. His end was genuine, just, and for the people, and the willing masses provided enough reinforcement even in the absence of fortune and Machiavellian virtue, that as an unarmed prophet he was able to succeed.
The ideal of a complex nation state, one that possesses a central power and does not operate in a feudal manner or under the control of the Church, came into being during a rather turbulent period of political transition. The political realities of this era provided the gateway for thinkers to advocate change in how states act, how rulers rule, and the overall significance of the centralized nation state’. During 1100 to 1600, the Western World experienced a plethora of challenges to the existing order of how political structures operate. These innumerable events, all of which ignited furious philosophical, social, moral, and political though, eventually gave way to the paramount thinking of Niccolo Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s The Prince, clearly outlines the problems with the religious and feudal rule that was all to commonplace in Western societies, and offers a tangible guidebook for leaders to look to for assistance in ruling. The Prince, which is essentially a realist doctrine, discusses how a ruler should acquire principalities, should act in times of war, should treat his subjects, and most importantlyhow an ideal ruler can maximize his power and effectively rule a lasting and successful state. Machiavelli’s fluctuating political life and his vocational experiences largely contributed to his thinking and intellectual basis for the ideals presented in The Prince. He had been consiglieri of Florence, yet witnessed the Medici’s subvert Florence’s government for their own dynastic needs. Prior to unification, Italy was a spread out territory, consisting of feudal City- States, perpetually engaged in conflict and often being subjugated to attacks from outside powers. In 1494 the Milanese had invited the much more powerful French to intervene in Italian rivalries as Milan’s ally. This eventually led to the Medici’s surrendering Florence to their enemies without a fight, which then led to a popular uprising against the Medici regime. Florence’s republic was briefly restored, and it is these issues of power that frame Machiavelli’s The Prince.The organization of the nation state was a foreign concept to Italy. The size of Italian political organization was on a much smaller scalethat of the city- state, regardless if the form of government was a republic, aristocracy, or oligarchy. Machiavelli is primarily concerned with how a state can maintain it’s independence, and how the ruler must act in order to remain in power. Italy became the pawn of larger nation states, the site of almost a century of war between the French and Spanish Habsburgs, lasting until the Treaty of Cateau Cambresis in 1559. Machiavelli’s The Prince, discusses the different types of principalities, classifying all of them as hereditary, new, mixed, or ecclesiastical. After establishing his definitions for each, he devotes much time to the ideal prince and the qualities he must posses. In doing so, Machiavelli consistently uses historical examples to substantiate his arguments. He looks to Greek and Roman political events, and also to the political instability of his dayboth within Italy and abroad, to strengthen his arguments and to provide tangible reference points for the reader to draw upon. The following passage regarding how a ruler maintains a colony, clearly displays Machiavelli’s use of furthering his ideas with the assistance of a then contemporary example:If the old territories and the new have similar customs, the newSubjects will live quietly. Thus, Burgandy, Brittany, Gascony, And Normandy have for long quietly submitted to France. Although they do not all speak exactly the same language,Nevertheless their customs are similar, and they can easily put Up with each other (Machiavelli 8).One of Machiavelli’s main focuses within The Prince is his construction of the ideal ruler. He delves into the specific characteristics that will enable a leader to flourish. Machiavelli begins writing specifically about the ideal ruler in chapter 15. His prince must posses the qualities that will secure the success of the state. Chapter 16 is devoted to the qualities and overall generosity that the prince should posses. Pope Julius II, King Louis XII, and King Ferdinand of Spain are all then evaluated on the basis of their generosity. Additionally, an example from ancient Rome is utilized to validate Machiavelli’s statements on the topic. Chapter 16 concludes briefly:So it is wiser to accept a reputation as miserly, which people despise But do not hate, than to aspire to a reputation as generous, and as aConsequence, be obliged to face criticism for rapacity, which people Both despise and hate (Machiavelli 50-51).Each chapter follows this pattern of logical reasoning, and as previously noted, each statement is presented and then scrutinized in a historical context. Of those chapters describing the desirable qualities of a prince, the most striking deal with aspects of cruelty. Machiavelli’s theory is that cruelty as an abstract quality is fundamentally undesirable, yet in practice can have its own virtues. He asserts that while cruelty for its own sake is not admirable, cruelty employed by a wise ruler for the preservation of the state is warranted. This reasoning reinforces Machiavelli’s overall notion that the well being of the state always supersedes any other concerns the ruler may be dealing with. Similar statements are made through out The Prince concerning the deceit and duplicity a ruler must resort to if he plans on maintaining a functional state. Through out The Prince, any actions that facilitate the preservation of the state are looked upon favorably, while any conduct that jeopardizes it, however well grounded in principle, must be avoided at all cost. Machiavelli’s intended ideal ruler can easily be contrasted with the ideal ruler, or philosopher king, that is presented within Plato’s Republic. Both Plato and Machiavelli have a set vision of the ideal leader. In both Plato’s kallipolis and Machiavelli’s ideal principality, the supreme goal is some form of the common good. Plato’s common good is maximizing the good for all citizens, while Machiavelli’s is simply the conservation of the state institution, which in turn acts to protect the rights of the citizens. While these ideas are similar, Machiavelli and Plato offer radically different notions of the ideal leader within a given political structure. Machiavelli manifests such differences by stating:I am concerned it may be thought presumptuous for me to write on this asWell, especially since what I have to say, as regards this question inParticular, will differ greatly from the recommendations of others. ButMy hope is to write a book that will be useful, at least to those who read itIntelligently, and so I thought it sensible to go straight to a discussion of How things are in real life and not waste time with a discussion of animaginary world. For many authors have constructed imaginary Republics and principalities that have never existed in practice and never Could, for the gab between how people actually behave and how they oughtTo behave is so great that anyone who ignores everyday reality in order to To live up to an ideal will soon discover he has been taught how to destroyHimself, not how to preserve himself (Machiavelli 48-49). Many political trends that we have witnessed throughout both the present and the past can be seen within The Prince. Machiavelli’s attitudes towards colonization and imperialism can be applied to a multitude of events in recent time. The establishment of puppet states in conquered territories, as described in The Prince, can be easily related to the emergence of Cold War satellite states. The conception of well-used cruelty’ to further the goals of the state can be related to perhaps the most notorious tyrants in modern history. From Stalin’s purges, to Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Machiavelli’s almost prophesied words are so far reaching, universal, and easily identifiable. In addition to Machiavelli’s The Prince, other texts were born out of similar settings, circumstances, and attitudes towards the existing system of rule. Outside of Italy, many similar socio-political events, and the responses to them were slowly bringing in a set of renewed ideas that led to the intellectual basis for the conception of a strong nation state. During this period, France witnessed significant religious strife between the Catholic’s and the Protestant Huguenots. In effect, the existing French monarchy was nearly torn apart by civil war between these two factions of competing noble families. These events led French philosopher and lawyer Jean Bodin to address the destructive nature of the Huguenot wars in his defining work, Six Books of the Commonweal (1576). Bodin wrote that in order for a state to survive, a sovereign monarchy was imperative. Bodin advocates that the monarch must posses a monopoly on power to defend and maintain the state, while still respecting the individual rights of his subjects. Even though France had begun as one of the early nation states, it was not until the monarch could prevent unruly nobles from fighting against each other and the interests of the central government could nation states really be considered developed. Bodin’s conception of sovereignty, the definitive authority as a means to rule within a given political system, furthered the overall strengthening of the nation state. Machiavelli’s The Prince was born out of an era of widespread political turmoil. His ideas presented within draw heavily from the failures of the past and his present, yet in turn led to a hauntingly real vision of the future role of political structures. Machiavelli’s thought provided the blueprint for the modern day nation state. Subsequent thinkers, such a Jean Bodin, added to Machiavelli’s model of change from existing reliance on feudal, religious, and local governmentsto that of a strong nation state.
At first thought, this question seems simple enough. After all, Nicolo Machiavelli did more or less write an “autocrat’s handbook” when he authored The Prince. In this text, Machiavelli explains how an autocrat rises to power, when an autocrat can best rise to power, and how an autocrat retains power. So going by this, it would seem that Machiavelli is very much a supporter of the autocratic system. In fact, this questions seems to be all but put to rest during the last chapter of The Prince, in which Machiavelli calls for a strong ruler for Italy, and even goes as far to say Italy is primed for such a ruler to take power, as he calls on Lorenzo de’ Medici to become prince to save Italy from it’s constant invasions.However, when one begins to look more closely at The Prince, Machiavelli’s support for autocracy seems to be much less than one might first think. As early as chapter two, Concerning Hereditary Principalities, Maciavelli’s begins to paint the picture that autocratic governance may not be the best from of government. Near the end of the chapter, Machiavelli states that “…one change always leaves the toothing for another” (Machiavelli, The Prince, Ch. 2, p. 2). This could be interpreted as simply stating that any change in governance gives way to later change; however, as he clearly states in the first line of the chapter, he is speaking strictly of principalities so this may well be read as a comment on the instability of autocracy.The first solid statement which shows that Machiavelli sees the benefits of the republic can be seen in chapter three, Concerning Mixed Principalities. In this chapter, the most revealing statement in support of the republic is very brief, but revealing all the same. In this passage, Machiavelli speaks of the subjugation of newly acquired lands (Ch. 3, p. 2).Now I say that those dominions which, when acquired, are added to an ancient state by him who acquires them, are either of the same country and language, or they are not. When they are, it is easier to hold them, especially when they have not been accustomed to self-governance…This last line is incredibly important as it would lead one to believe that a self-governed state (i.e. NOT an autocracy) is more difficult to subdue, and as such, would lead one to believe that it might be more stable than another principality. This can be supported when Machiavelli goes on to say (Ch. 3, p. 2):…to hold [the newly acquired land] securely it is enough to have destroyed the family of the prince who was ruling them.This would not be possible in a republic, and this was a fact Machiavelli was very aware of.The prime chapter to look at when examining Machiavelli’s feelings on autocracy vs. republic is chapter five, Concerning the Way to Govern Cities or Principalities. In this chapter, Machiavelli goes on to explain how to rule a conquered republic. He offeres three options for the aspiring autocrat, one, ruin them, two, reside there in person in order to exact control, or three, allow them to continue living under their own laws by setting up a friendly oligarchy within the current system and simply draw tribute. This chapter is very interesting in that it is one of the few times in the book that Machiavelli actually speaks of the republic itself, albeit only briefly. Whilst Machiavelli is only speaking about the republic as a victim of expansion or as a newly acquired territory, he makes no secret that the republic may well be the more stable, and hence better, form of government, as can be seen in the following excerpt (Ch. 5, p. 8)….when cities or countries are accustomed to live under a prince, and his family exterminated, they, being on the one hand accustomed to obey and on the other hand not having the old prince, cannot agree on making one from amongst themselves, and they do not know how to govern themselves. For this reason they are very slow to take up arms, and a prince can gain them to himself and secure them much more easily. But in republics there is more vitality, greater hatred, and more desire for vengeance, which will never permit them to allow the memory of their former liberty to rest…This statement alone gives a very good glimpse of Machiavelli’s own feelings on the subject of governance. It shows very obviously that Machiavelli feels that republics derive their power in a much more direct way from the people and as such, the people are much more willing to fight for their kingdom. Seeing as Machiavelli sees loyalty and strong military might as signs of stability, it would lead us to believe that Machiavelli, if not preferring republics to autocracies, at very least he had much respect for them and did not see them as less stable.This can be further supported as one goes on to chapter nine, Concerning A Civil Principality. Here, it is clear that Machiavelli prefers a government system based upon the will of the people, as can be seen in the following excerpt (Ch. 9, p.16).He who obtains sovereignty by the assistance of the nobles maintains himself with more difficulty than he who comes to it by the aid of the people…Even more so can this be seen a little further into this paragraph (Ch. 9, p. 16)….One cannot by fair dealing, and without injury to others, satisfy the nobles, but you can satisfy the people, for their object is more righteous than that of the nobles, the latter wishing to oppress, whilst the former only desire not to be oppressed. It is to be added also that a prince can never secure himself against a hostile people, because of their being too many, whilst from the nobles he can secure himself, as they are few in number.While this does not necessarily show a direct support for the republican system, it does however show a definite change from tradition autocratic ideology. Machiavelli applies the idea of government deriving power from the consent of the governed, a main point in the republic.The question of whether Machiavelli felt that autocracy was the best form of government, as it turns out, seems to be a definite no. It is apparent that Machiavelli felt that autocracy was a form of government, and albeit he felt it was a good one, if worked properly. However, it would seem by simply analyzing The Prince and how he speaks of the autocratic systems is respect to republics; it would seem that he stresses very well that a republic is just as, if not more, stable than an autocracy, and is a just as good, if not better, form of governance.* All Cited passages are from The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli, as translated by W.K. Mariott.
In The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli, the author, generally lays forth a system of ethics for rulers. Given the strength of Christianity at the time that he wrote this work, Machiavelli’s instructions to aspiring rulers are surprising. His definition of “goodness,” or “virtue,” seems to stray far from traditional Christian teachings. In his Summa Theologica II, for instance, Thomas Aquinas directly contradicts some of Machiavelli’s claims. Interestingly, however, Saint Augustine, author of The City of God, agrees with some of Machiavelli’s code of ethics.First, what is Machiavelli’s code of ethics for rulers? He speaks for the most part on three personality characteristics: generosity, compassion, and integrity. On all three he takes what seems at first glance to be a non-Christian stance.With regard to generosity, Machiavelli claims that it is best to be considered generous, but that it is dangerous to actually be generous. His case is simple:…a ruler who pursues a reputation for generosity will always end up wasting all his resources; and he will be obliged in the end, if he wants to preserve his reputation, to impose crushing taxes upon the people, to pursue every possible source of income, and to be preoccupied with maximizing his revenues. This will begin to make him hateful to his subjects, and will ensure no one thinks well of him, for no one admires poverty (The Prince, 49).When a ruler commits himself to spending income generously, Machiavelli argues, he also commits himself to creating new or enforcing old forms of revenue collecting. Machiavelli also argues that any positive reaction to the generosity will be far outweighed by the overwhelming negative response to harsh revenue collection. Hidden in this explanation of the dangers of generosity is a strangely perverted Christian idea: that of doing the greatest good to the greatest number of people, or utilitarianism. When a ruler is parsimonious instead of generous, Machiavelli states, “he will be thought to be generous towards all those whose income he does not tax, which is almost everybody, and stingy towards those who miss out on handouts, who are only a few” (The Prince, 49).Machiavelli has a similar opinion on rulers being compassionate. He argues that compassion is also a danger to a ruler and that “it is much safer to be feared than loved” (The Prince, 51). In regard to this characteristic, it is only good to be viewed as cruel rather than compassionate in one instance: when a ruler is addressing an army:When a ruler is at the head of his army and has a vast number of soldiers under his command, then it is absolutely essential to be prepared to be thought cruel; for it is impossible to keep an army united and ready for action without acquiring a reputation for cruelty (The Prince, 52).Troops will only stay committed to the causes of the ruler if they fear him and he appears cruel to them. In that case alone, it is best to be perceived as not compassionate; to the rest of society, though, an outward façade of compassion is necessary. Once again, Machiavelli uses the basic principle of utilitarianism to support his argument. It is best to be viewed as compassionate and actually act cruelly, “for it is more compassionate to impose harsh punishments on a few than, out of excessive compassion, to allow disorder to spread, which leads to murders or looting” (The Prince, 51).Finally, and more briefly, Machiavelli discusses integrity and honesty. He makes a similar argument, contending that it is best to appear honest while actually keeping one’s word only when absolutely necessary. A ruler should not “keep his word when doing so is to his disadvantage, and when the reasons that led him to promise to do so no longer apply” (The Prince, 54). In this, though, there is no pretense of utilitarianismMachiavelli makes a purely selfish argument for dishonesty.Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica II, makes no direct contradictions to Machiavelli’s assumptions on honesty or compassion, but instead attacks all three through a study of the Christian principle of charity. Charity, defined as “man’s love of God and his neighbor” (Oxford English Dictionary, “charity”), is a theological and divine virtue, according to Aquinas, and should therefore be practiced above all else. Charity, in a Christian sense, means less formally to treat others with respect, love, and kindness at all times. Therefore, Aquinas condemns Machiavelli’s conceptions of generosity, compassion, and honesty with one fell swoop. Because charity is to be practiced above all else, one should not be cruel or dishonest to one’s neighbor. Also, Aquinas contends, generosity is a virtue, not something to be despised the way Machiavelli declaresman was commanded by God to perform charity, and thus, generosity, before anything else.Saint Augustine, however, disagrees with Aquinas’ argument. Through convoluted language, Augustine explains that charity, more than anything else, is treating one’s neighbor as one’s self. Because of this, charity cannot ever really be practicedit is both selfish and altruistic at the same time:…they do not perform charitable actions even when they think they are doing so. For if they gave bread to a hungering Christian because he is a Christian, assuredly they would not deny to themselves the bread of righteousness, that is, Christ Himself; for God considers not the person to whom the gift is made, but the spirit in which it is made (The City of God, 806).As a result, if a truly selfless act of charity can never be performed, perhaps Machiavelli is simply performing another patently Christian act: treating others as he would have them treat him.The Machiavellian ruler, therefore, may actually be Christian in his moral beliefs. For the ruler never commits any act which he would not have performed on him; when he lies to the public, he would expect another ruler to lie to him as a member of that public. Maybe the Machiavellian ruler simply loves his neighbor as himself. Despite all appearances, Machiavelli’s principles, as laid out in The Prince may be Christian.
In social psychology, there is a well-known theory that explains why individuals show hatred for those of different races, religions, sexualities, sports teams, political parties, and other groupings. This is called the “social identity theory”. Those who share a common category, the ingroup, are more likely to bond, whereas people of the opposite or different category, the outgroup, are portrayed negatively and often stereotyped by the ingroup. In early human times, social identity theory protected humans from unknown threats. The human would see something in the woods and need to make a decision as to whether it was a friend or foe. In modern humans, social identity theory encourages unity by establishing an enemy. Peoples feel more connected to one another when there is a common outgroup. The Prince and Christopher Columbus: Extracts from Journal are excellent examples of how humans have retained their primal instincts and how such instincts can be used to benefit the nation or community. This paper will argue that having a mutual enemy, or outgroup, strengthens bonds among dissimilar peoples and helps a ruler consolidate power over his people.
In The Prince, Machiavelli argues that in order to unite people, the prince should declare and publicly condemn an enemy. Machiavelli explains that a successful prince will exaggerate the harm an enemy has inflicted upon the people and afterwards give “hope to his subjects that the ills they are enduring will not last long”. Machiavelli emphasizes the need for an outgroup, in this case the enemy. Not only is the prince supposed to create an outgroup, but he should also be encouraging “fear of the enemy’s cruelty”. Giving the people an enemy will unite them in both in spirit and in battle. Here, the prince is supposed to establish an outgroup so that the the prince himself will not become the enemy. Machiavelli warns that if the prince neglects this critical step, the people will revolt against him or simply not take arms when ordered unless he stops them, he should take “effective measures against those who are too outspoken”. Such individuals are known in the social identity theory as outgroup sympathizers. In some situations, the sympathizers can aid the nation, but here, Machiavelli argues that they can limit a nation’s growth and a prince’s power. Further, this behavior will make the prince more favorable to his people because it appears that he has the key to defeating the enemy. Once an enemy is established and the people are incited, the people are equally enraged and as a result more likely to fight as a group.
In addition to uniting as a nation, Machiavelli argues that an enemy also unites the people to and under the prince. This is a major benefit to the prince as it makes the people more willing to fight for the prince and no one else. When the enemy “of course burn and pillage” the people’s homes and cities, “so the prince has the less reason to worry”. The reason for the prince’s action is because once the people’s “enthusiasm has died down”, they may assume more power than they had before. The prince needs to keeps them focused on the people’s hatred of the outgroup. Now fighting for a common goal, the people “will identify themselves even more with their prince”. The leader of the ingroup, in Machiavelli’s opinion, not only has the right to incite the ingroup against the outgroup, but has the duty to do. He claims that once the prince gains the trust of the people, the people will be more willing to act as a group. This will make them easier to rule and more likely to blindly follow the prince. In this chapter of The Prince, Machiavelli emphasizes the need to have a common enemy by showing the reader how creating an outgroup can positively affect an ingroup. More importantly, creating a common enemy can help solidify a prince’s authority and control over his people.
To further his own assertions, Machiavelli also provides an example of when a prince does not successfully establish an enemy and how it divides the people. Machiavelli examines why Italy is not powerful and how the princes of Italy have let down their people. The first mistake the Italian princes made was dividing the nation “into several states” due to the war between the nobility, “each of these states became so small many citizens became a prince, but the townsmen had no experience in military matters” and could not establish or defeat a common enemy. Also, the nobility who were in control of the citizens were only concerned with fighting one another instead of actual external threats. This “led Italy into slavery and ignominy”. The ingroup, the Italians, became poor due to too many princes, each with their own agenda, lack of control over the citizens, and the lack of an outgroup. Machiavelli also condemns princes who incite the people against one another. He attributes the fall of the Italian empire to the “Church in order to increase its temporal authority, supported these revolts” who take the place of a prince. The Church had an ulterior motive to divide the people of Italy against one another and succeeded. However, as mentioned earlier, the citizens were not soldiers and so the Church hired foreign mercenaries to fight for them, who then created their own nations within Italy. The Church’s decision to fund rebellion within Italy led to the Church becoming less powerful and contributed to the decline of Italy’s reputation and power. Without a strong prince to lead them, the ingroup will suffer as they consume precious energy and resources fighting each other rather than a mutual, external enemy. A legitimate, foreign threat will see Italy as a collection of broken city-states that would be easily conquered by a strong enemy. The only way to reverse such intricate disorder is to choose a prince who represents all of the nations within a divided Italy. Machiavelli permits this prince to incite the people against a certain outgroup in order to protect the entirety of the nation. If a prince fails to pit the ingroup against a particular outgroup, the ingroup will suffer.
Christopher Columbus’ journal clearly shows that disparate people can be united under a banner of hatred for an outgroup, in this situation the Native American peoples. Traveling to the Americas for the first time, Columbus kept a travel log and frequently wrote about the people living on the “newly discovered” islands. His goal was to convince Ferdinand, the Spanish king, to finance and support another another expedition to America. To convince him, Columbus claimed that the native peoples “have no religion” and as a result “would very readily become Christian.” Columbus created an outgroup of godless heathens, clearly the opposite of the fervently Roman Catholic Spanish monarch. After Columbus establishes the enemy, he appeals to the king by stating his plan, “I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.” Conquering an outgroup, especially one from new lands, would not just benefit the nation financially, but also socially. Financially, Colombus’ people were at an advantage as they saw the gold and wealth the natives carried, “there is much gold, the inhabitants wearing it in bracelets upon their arms, legs, and necks, as well as in their ears and at their noses.” Columbus believes that once he returns to Spain with his ships full of gold and other treasure, the king will want to send more ships to the Americas, thereby accomplishing Columbus’ financial goal. Socially, once the land in America is conquered, the Spanish inhabitants will feel more united because they have defeated the outgroup. Columbus was well aware that having a common enemy would strengthen the group as a whole due to the wealth they carry and willingness to convert to a new religion. Columbus uses social identity theory to convince the king to send more aid and money to Columbus and his men.
The social identity theory is the basis of most disputes. It is something that we, as intelligent beings, cannot remove from our instincts. The key to overcoming it is to embrace it and understand the impact it has on our lives. Machiavelli explains how the people can be manipulated into believing an outgroup is more harmful than it truly is. Machiavelli shows that the people need an enemy in order to unite against and that having an enemy makes it easier to for a leader to govern and control his own people. Columbus argues a similar point that sometimes in order to get what you want, you need to convince the audience that you are a part of their ingroup. Columbus successfully does this when he writes the king to ask him for more aid in order to explore more of the Americas. He does this by mentioning the gold in the new land and establishing a new enemy: the native peoples. In both of the texts, the outgroup is used as a means to empower the ingroup, the result being that the ingroup will be more more willing to support their leader and fight against the enemy. The social identity theory is the key to unifying a nation.
Niccolò Machiavelli, an influential Italian politician, writer, and historian, wrote his political treatise The Prince during a politically unstable time in Italy. When the previously exiled Medici family returned to power in 1512, Machiavelli lost his position in Florentine politics. Although he was innocent, he was implicated in a conspiracy against Medici rule, so he was imprisoned, tortured, then confined to his home. In an attempt to regain a political position, Machiavelli wrote The Prince and dedicated it to the ruling Lorenzo II de’ Medici in hopes that Lorenzo would read it and give him employment. Although Machiavelli presented his work as a “mirror of princes,” a book meant to instruct and advise a ruler, there are some who see Machiavelli’s work as a satire, criticizing the principality as a form of government in favor of the republic. However, as he wrote The Prince intending for a prince to read it, any elements of satire or criticism would have to be cleverly concealed. Machiavelli uses the structure of his book to alter his arguments in order to subtly mock the principality.
Generally, Machiavelli structures the chapters of The Prince by presenting an initial argument about the nature of a prince’s power or the way a prince should rule, or by introducing and defining a concept. After this, he gives lengthy and detailed examples that prove or add to his initial argument. At times, these examples change his initial arguments or add new, unstated definitions of previously defined concepts. Two of the first concepts he discusses, which he later redefines using a deceptive example, are “virtue” and “fortune.” Machiavelli uses “virtue” in the same sense as the phrase “by virtue of…” or by one’s own means. He described the Romans as virtuous, saying they “did… what all wise princes should do” (Machiavelli 47), because when they “saw problems at a distance [the Romans] always remedied them” (47). This allowed them to “enjoy the benefit of their own virtue and prudence” (47). Using the Romans, he describes virtue as good leadership qualities. It involves being observant and careful to fix problems before they become threats. Here, and in other places, he uses the words “wisdom” and “prudence” together with virtue, showing that a strong and virtuous leader is wise and cautious. One who becomes a prince through virtue does so using his own arms rather than relying on others. While it is difficult to become a prince virtuously, it is easy to maintain the position. Machiavelli proves this point with the example of Hiero the Syracusan who “endured much labor in acquiring and little in maintaining [his principality]” (57). Hiero was elected as captain and used that power to become the ruler by eliminating and reforming the military, abandoning old alliances and forming new ones, and using his soldiers to create a foundation on which to build his rule. With this example, virtuous leaders are presented as strong and self reliant. Using Hiero, as well as the examples of Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus, virtuous rulers are shown as men who came to their positions through their own means and arms, and got nothing from “fortune” other than the opportunity to exercise their virtue.
Machiavelli defines fortune as chances or opportunities, things that can lead an man to a position of power that are out of his control. This complicates virtue’s definition. It is useless without fortune, because without the proper opportunity a virtuous man will not be able to exercise his virtue in a way that will gain him power. Cyrus’ fortune was finding “the Persians discontented under the empire of the Medes, and the Medes soft and effeminate because of their long peace” (56). Theseus’ fortune was that he “found the Athenians dispersed” (56). Without these opportune conditions, these men would not have been able to use their virtue to gain power. But Machiavelli also makes it clear that fortune is useless without accompanying virtue. Were Cyrus and Theseus not virtuous leaders, they would not have been able to do anything with the opportunities they were presented with.
Machiavelli starts chapter seven of The Prince by arguing that those who become princes through fortune alone come into the position easily but face difficulty when trying to maintain their position. In this situation, he explicitly defines fortune as “when a state is granted to someone for money, or by the grace of whoever concedes it” (58). If a man came to power through fortune, he may not have had the virtue required to gain the position on his own. Once in power, the prince will have to “lay… the foundations that others lay in advance of becoming princes” (58) which, if the prince is not virtuous, will not be possible. However, if the prince does have virtue, he will be able to do this and maintain his position. After this argument, considering what was emphasized the most, readers would expect to see examples of men who became princes through fortune and either lost power due to lack of virtue or kept power because of virtue. However, his example of Cesare Borgia, which takes up the rest of the chapter, opposes his original argument. Borgia was a man who gained his position through fortune, yet was very virtuous as a leader, and still lost his position. By providing this example that at first seems in line with his original argument but actually opposes it, he is able to subtly change his argument and give new unstated definitions to the concepts of virtue and fortune. It is possible that Machiavelli does this to criticize the concept of a principality, as well as the Medici family who rule over him.
The initial argument itself warns against the failures princes who take advantage of fortune without having any virtue, and says that princes who take advantage of fortune but have virtue as leaders can be successful. However, the example presents a third argument: No matter how virtuous a prince is, if he relied on fortune to become a prince, a change in fortune can take his position away. Cesare Borgia was fortunate in that his father was Pope Alexander VI, and that his father raised him to a position of power. Though he became a prince through fortune, he “took every care, and did all those things that ought to have been done by a prudent and virtuous man to put down roots in those states that [fortune] had granted him” (59). Machiavelli presents a long list of the things Borgia did while in power, which all agree with his previous definitions and examples of the traits and actions of a virtuous leader. After deciding not to rely on his father anymore, he went about weakening and eliminating political factions and gaining favor for himself. To subjugate an unruly region, he gave power to Remirro de Orco, described as “cruel and expeditious” (61). After the region was made peaceful and he saw that de Orco’s cruelty may have caused feelings of hate toward Borgia, he had de Orco publicly executed. Machiavelli described Borgia as “very powerful and… secure against present dangers, since he was armed in his own way and had eliminated those arms which… might have harmed him” (62) showing him as a prudent leader who was careful to solidify his power. Borgia is cunning, able to use deceit when necessary to destroy factions. Borgia is also presented as cunning when he has a man killed, whom he had previously appointed, to improve his citizens’ opinions of him. Cunning and prudence are both attributes that Machiavelli had defined as virtuous. Above all, these are things that Borgia did by his own arms, showing Borgia to be a virtuous leader. At first, this seems to be in line with Machiavelli’s argument that “those who, through fortune alone, pass from being private persons to being princes do so with little labor, but they maintain themselves with a great deal of labor” (58) in that Borgia rose to power because his father gave him that position, but was able to maintain it by working to solidify his power and avoid having his people hate him. Machiavelli argues that new states such as these fall apart quickly unless the men “who have unexpectedly become princes, are of such virtue that they know right away how to prepare themselves to keep what fortune has placed in their laps” (58) and lay foundations for the continuation of their power. This is what he shows Borgia to have done. Considering this, the reader would expect Machiavelli to be making the argument that virtuous leaders will be able to maintain positions they gained through fortune. It is not until the last part of his example that Machiavelli presents the idea that fortune can harm a ruler as well. Borgia only became a prince because he was give the position by his powerful father. When Pope Alexander VI died and a new pope was appointed, Borgia was unable to maintain his position, despite his great virtue.
This example gives a second definition of fortune that Machiavelli does not directly state. While fortune was previously seen as something good, as opportunities or chances that can lead to power, it is now seen as something unpredictable and potentially harmful. Virtue can now be seen from a new perspective. Virtue and fortune were previously seen as meaningless without the other; virtue does not matter without the opportunity to express it, and fortune does not matter without the virtue to properly take advantage of it. Chapter seven’s argument said that a leader who gained power through fortune would not be able to keep it without virtue. But this example gives a new definition to the interplay of virtue and fortune: fortune can change regardless of virtue, so if a prince gains power through fortune alone, fortune’s changes can actually make virtue meaningless. This alters Machiavelli’s argument presented at the beginning of this chapter. While he seems to be arguing that a man who becomes a prince through fortune can keep his position through virtue, all he truly states is that a man who becomes a prince through fortune can lay the foundation for his continued rule through virtue. That does not necessarily mean that he will be able to maintain his position. In reality, Machiavelli is arguing that if a man becomes a prince through fortune, a change in fortune can just as easily take him out of power. Though he can lay the foundations of his power through virtue, a change in fortune may dethrone the prince regardless of whether he had laid foundations to solidify his power or not.
When it is considered that the prince who Machiavelli dedicated this book to was part of a hereditary principality, appointed to his position because of his family, it can be said that Lorenzo II de’ Medici came to his position through fortune, not through virtue. In this way, Lorenzo II is similar to Cesare Borgia. When considering his initial argument in chapter seven, it could be argued that Machiavelli is warning Lorenzo, as a man who became a prince through fortune alone, to be sure to act wisely and prudently. Earlier in The Prince, Machiavelli argues that hereditary principalities are easier to govern than new ones, so he is not threatening Lorenzo with the idea of imminent loss of power. But by presenting the idea that no matter how virtuous a prince in his situation is, he may lose his position through a simple change in his fortune, he appears to be mocking Lorenzo, the Medici family, and the idea of principalities. Also, the way he emphasizes new principalities and the positive qualities of men who go from being private citizens to princes through their own virtue, in a book directed toward a hereditary prince who did nothing at all to get to his position, he may be mocking Lorenzo and hinting that he is not a legitimate or adequate leader. Machiavelli is also the author of Discourses on Livy, a political treatise about republics, which many believe he favors over principalities. The way he changes his arguments and conceptual definitions using deceptive examples, such as that of Borgia, make him seem to be mocking the idea of principalities, which would confirm the idea that he favors a republican form of government.
Ernst Cassirer states in his book The Myth of the State that “The Prince is neither a moral nor an immoral book: it is simply a technical book. In a technical book we do not seek for rules of ethical conduct, of good and evil. It is enough if we are told what is useful and useless” Machiavelli’s treatise The Prince certainly seems to follow a more technical path rather than a moralistic one. This can be seen from the language and tone that is used throughout the book, but also when compared with Christian writers such as Thomas Aquinas. This essay will try to survey how Machiavelli’s principles align with Aquinas’ in regards to the ultimate political good but also, how they deviate and take a different shape when considering human nature in a comprehensive form and when God is taken out of the equation and given a lesser importance. We will use as a contrast the different attributes that a king should have in each author’s point of view and the implications of different concepts such as war and peace.
Machiavelli’s technical approach can be seen through the fact that he is merely presenting existent notions and not endorsing them through a personal lens. He begins his first chapter by laying out the facts: “All the states and Governments […] are either Republics or Princedoms. Princedoms are hereditary, […] or they are new.” He is approaching all of the aspects of a princedom from an objective point of view, while stating both the advantages and the disadvantages of each example, “[…] hereditary States, […] are maintained with far less difficulty than new States, since all that is required is that the Prince shall not depart from the usage of his ancestors.” More than that, even though Machiavelli is taking a secular stance in regards to Princedoms, he does acknowledge the existence of “Ecclesiastical Princedoms,” and comments briefly on them “they are acquired by merit or good fortune, but are maintained without either; being upheld by the venerable ordinances of Religion.” But while Machiavelli gives an all-rounded view of Princedoms and rulers, Thomas Aquinas takes a moralistic, non-secular stance, commenting only on the “Ecclesiastical Princedom ,” which in his view is the only valid type of princedom. “But if the government is in the rule of one man alone, it is appropriate to call him king. So, the Lord said in [the book of] Ezekiel, ‘My servant David will be king all over, and there will be one shepherd over them all’” Thus, Aquinas’ concept of king derives its meaning and authority from God. More than that he clearly states that a king is a representation of God “This kind of rule belongs to the king, who is both God and man.” This contrast between the two writers allows us to categorize Machiavelli as leaning towards a technical side and Aquinas as endorsing a moralistic, God-driven point of view.
Religion, the core difference notable in the works of Aquinas and Machiavelli, gives rise to another conflict present in their ideologies concerning the absolute political good – namely the contrast between peace and war. Aquinas states that “The welfare of any organized group is based on the preservation of its unity in what we call peace.” Thus, it is the task of the king to ensure that there is peace in his kingdom. Furthermore, he suggests that the sole purpose of a king is to maintain the peace within his realm “there is no reason for a ruler to question whether he should maintain the peace of the community under him.” It is clear for Aquinas that as an agent of God, the king must strive to achieve a “common good” for his people. Aquinas is also concerned more with the means rather than the end. Thus, we could say that he is valuing the Aristotelian intermediary rather than the final result, “No one should debate about the end of an action but the appropriate means.” In his view, there is a direct correlation between the means and the end, as reflected in “Thus the more effective a government in promoting unity in peace, the more useful it will be. We say more useful, because it leads more directly to its end.” The intermediary and the end should be the same so that it maximizes the chances of success, the case at hand being of peace.
Machiavelli, on the other hand, states that a government should have “good laws and good arms.” He places a great emphasis on war “A Prince, therefore, should have no care or thought but for war.” Here we can note that there is no morality ascribed to war, instead it is simply regarded as a necessity. Machiavelli gives a different account of the “common good,” his version being concerned more with the result rather than the intermediary state. His explanation is very logical in that it suggests that even if one kingdom were to be interested solely in peace, and in keeping peace, there would always be neighboring kingdoms that do not have the same intentions. Thus, one can remain unarmed and preach peace, while the enemy is armed and ready to conquer. “Between an armed and an unarmed man no proportion holds.” This suggests that Machiavelli has a very practical approach that is not concerned with the good or the bad, rather with the survival of the state. His perspective takes into consideration the intricacies of human nature and applies them to different instances, one of them being war. Machiavelli’s model would be better suited in a real-life situation, simply because while like Aquinas, one may want peace to be both the means and the result, but at the same time one would not be able to anticipate the direction of the thoughts of the other person, or in this hand the other kingdoms. Aquinas himself states that “it is natural for man to live in association with his fellows,” an association that does not always entail peaceful thoughts. Humans’ social nature and interactions demand a larger perspective and the “common good” could depend on it. Furthermore, when judging a ruler, Machiavelli is more concerned with the result, stating that “in the actions of all men, and most of all of Princes, where there is no tribunal to which we can appeal, we look at results.” Thus, a ruler can have very strict measures, but as long as the common good is the result, then the ruler would be deemed as good. It is very interesting to note that while both writers are concerned with the common good, they have extremely different ways in which it can be achieved.
While the addition of religion in Aquinas’ arguments seems to bear a lot of weight when comparing them to Machiavelli’s, there is also a point on which they agree – the ability of the ruler. Aquinas states that “he has been given the use of his reason to secure all these things by the work of his hands,” which suggests that even though a ruler has the favor of God, he has to have “reason” in order to obtain his position and eventually keep it. This is strikingly similar to Machiavelli’s own position, as he writes that “the difficulty of maintaining possession varies with the greater or less ability of him who acquires possession.” More than that, Aquinas’ God takes the form of Fortune in Machiavelli’s argument. But while Machiavelli does not attribute too much importance to Fortune or God he does state that “Fortune is mistress of one half of our actions, and yet leaves the control of the other half, or a little less, to ourselves.” Thus, ability plays a very big role in both the arguments of Aquinas and Machiavelli and seems to be the pathway to the absolute political good.
While both Thomas Aquinas and Niccolo Machiavelli seem to be arguing for political good, the difference in their perspectives comes down to one question. What motivates them? For Thomas Aquinas, the driving force is God, and this can be seen from the fact that he takes on a very moralistic perspective which is implied from the fact that the means and the end have to be the same – the common good; and that the means help fortify the end. This illustrates the limit of reconciling religion with empiricism, as the premises of religion denounce human observation in favor of the absolute knowledge that is God. On the other hand, since Machiavelli is not very concerned with the importance of God, or even Fortune, his perspective takes on a more realistic and technical front, thus giving more weight to human nature and its inherent implications. But even though the two ideologies stem from different inclinations, they seem to reconcile in terms of meritocracy, giving political thought a form of continuity.
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