A Dsicussion Of Machiavelli

’s View Of Social Control Essay, Research Paper

In this essay I will first briefly discuss Machiavelli in the context of political thought as a whole, before giving an account of his life and the circumstances which caused to him to write ‘The Prince’, the most famous of his works. Secondly, I will examine the nature and importance of his ideas before deciding whether his views on morality deserve the degree of significance accorded to them by Berki. `Machiavelli lies outside the mainstream of European political thought for a number of reasons, and probably the main one is the fact that he broke away from methods used by medieval thinkers who believed that politics had its origins in theology. This can be explained by understanding the concept of eternal law, which was believed to be a divine system which determined the nature of the universe and its contents. Natural law was the subset of eternal law which related to human beings, concerning their nature and ultimate purpose given to them by God, and the system of politics was therefore seen as the way to implement it, rather than as an activity in its own right. Machiavelli’s work represents a major departure from this belief that politics should be a mere instrument in preserving this natural law, and he also revives a school of thought belonging to the ancient Roman republicans. In common with the Romans, Machiavelli believed that politics was worthy of study because the only way that the world could be made a better place was to accept the harsh realities and imperfections of life, and study the present situation in order to understand it, with assistance from the vast store of wisdom accumulated in human history. To this end, Machiavelli asked questions such as ‘How can governments be made strong?’ and ‘How can power be obtained and preserved most easily?’. It can be seen that his predecessors (and even some later political philosophers) were more concerned with defining abstract concepts such as the spiritual and temporal power, in order to ascertain man’s nature, rights and obligations under God. Machiavelli’s questions were about what he saw as the real world of politics, completely separated from previous ideals about man’s ultimate spiritual destiny, and this is why it can be argued that in the traditional sense he is not a political philosopher. Machiavelli has sometimes been referred to as a political scientist, primarily because his concern lies with facts rather than abstract concepts and he is interested in man’s present state as opposed to a religious ideal of what man should be. In addition to this, he supports his arguments with a large amount of historical data, something which distinguishes him from nearly all other political thinkers. However, it can also be stated that Machiavelli’s work is not scientific because he does not use the method of hypothesis formation and testing, and most of his conclusions can be attributed to the personal experience he gained from being in the service of the state rather than through dedicated scientific study. `Machiavelli was born in 1469 into an Italy which was probably less feudal than any other European country of the time. `It was politically divided into a number of city states such as Florence and Milan, and it can be seen that these states were given much greater allegiance by their citizens than the country as a whole. Many of these fluctuated between being dictatorships and republics, and this is illustrated by the history of Florence, where tyrannical rule was exercised between 1429 and 1494 by the Medici family before the restoration of democracy by Savonarola in the same year that the French invaded Italy. `The divisions which existed between these states were further exacerbated by the frequent presence of foreign military forces such as those belonging to France and Spain, who helped various factions against their rivals. In particular, it was the Spanish who returned the Medici to power in 1512 after invading Florence. `Machiavelli began his political career in 1494 aged twenty five, but did not achieve recognition until 1498 when he obtained a prestigious appointment to become secretary to the Council of Ten, an executive council second only in importance to the Signoria. Machiavelli’s work was largely diplomatic, and often involved missions abroad to see persons such as Caesar Borgia and the King of France, so it can be seen that the position was one of great importance to the state, and his political influence was increased even more by the appointment of his friend, Piero Soderini, as president of the Signoria. The return of the Medici, which I have already mentioned, meant unemployment for Machiavelli, and it was in this period of enforced retirement that he wrote the four books for which he would later become famous for. It can be seen that ‘The Prince’, written in 1513, was partly an attempt to curry favour with the Medici in order to regain Machiavelli his old job, and is concerned with the efficient exercise of princely rule. The book is partly modelled on Caesar Borgia, a political adventurer of the time, who possessed what Machiavelli believed to be desirable qualities for a ruler, namely ruthlessness, dedication to purpose, courage and lack of moral scruples. It will later become clear why Machiavelli saw these particular attributes as necessary when I discuss his attitude to morality in general. `One of Machiavelli’s first ‘insights’ is in the use he makes of history, and it is necessary to understand this before looking at his conception of politics in general. For Machiavelli, history is vitally important, and there are a number of reasons for this. The main one is the belief that human nature is constant, and that people find themselves in situations which have nearly always been experienced in the past by others. History thus provides innumerable examples of past behaviour, both successful and unsuccessful, and provides an invaluable source of wisdom to those who look to it. Man is therefore enabled to learn more than would otherwise be afforded to him through his personal experiences, and can profit by studying the mistakes and triumphs of others. In particular, history gives us a number of maxims, several of which become central tenets of Machiavellian theory, and I will firstly discuss his acceptance of evil within the political system. `I have already touched upon what could be termed Machiavelli’s realism, in that he believed that progress could only be achieved by accepting that the world was imperfect and understanding it as it is, rather than labouring in search of a religious ideal. For Machiavelli, the Christian virtues of compassion and humility were incompatible with the real world of politics, because although they may have been necessary for a man’s soul, they also represented a impractical constraint on effective behaviour to create and sustain a political society. It can be seen that throughout Machiavelli’s work, he is concerned with what makes a man a good citizen in relation to his community and society, as opposed to the moral qualities needed to make him a good individual. Machiavelli accepts that evil is sometimes necessary in political life; for example the death of Remus at the hands of Romulus was unpleasant, but he believes that the end was justified because the result was the creation of Rome. This use of unscrupulous means to achieve an end partly explains why Machiavelli has acquired something of a reputation for immorality over the past few centuries, because to most people the act of creating or sustaining a powerful state does not in itself justify the methods which Machiavelli sometimes advocates. It should be remembered, however, that he saw a strong state as a prerequisite of social order, as well as one of freedom. It is interesting to note that although ‘The Prince’ deals exclusively with monarchical rule, Machiavelli’s preference was for popular government whenever possible, something which is espoused in ‘The Discourses’. However, the realism which I have already mentioned shows through because he recognised that certain conditions such as widespread disrespect for law and order, and corruption of public officials and institutions, often mean that republics could not be run effectively. The virtue of being able to adapt to changing circumstances was one that Machiavelli had learnt through study of history, as well as through knowledge of the political conflict in the Italy of the time. As such, he accepted the rule of the Medici as inevitable at the time, because he felt that Italy had become so hopelessly corrupt that only a ruler who possessed the qualities outlined in ‘The Prince’ would be able to eventually create the necessary preconditions to re-establish republicanism. This would involve, amongst other things, ruthless action against individuals who would threaten the integrity of the state, consolidation of existing alliances, and the commanding of obedience and respect from subjects, and ‘The Prince’ was intended as a guide for the ruler who needed to do these things. Machiavelli believed that using traditional Christian moral values would make the above actions impossible, and that instead the legitimacy of the ruler’s actions would be judged according to whether they were successfully directed towards this goal I have mentioned above, and this is why Machiavelli believes that evil can be utilised to ultimately good ends. To conclude, I would say that R.N Berki is correct when he states that Machiavelli’s greatest insight is that the pursuit of moral actions presupposes the existence of an agency to which normal rules do not apply, although this needs some qualification. As I have already discussed, Machiavelli believed that the legitimacy of an action was governed by circumstances, and therefore certain actions which would otherwise be condemned were allowable in the interests of a strong state because the ends justified the means. Hence, what is wrong for most people most of the time, might occasionally be right for the few, the few being the prince, assembly or police force to which Berki refers.


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