Prince And Discourses Essay Research Paper Although

Prince And Discourses Essay, Research Paper

Although many of the same ideas are contained in both The Prince and the

Discourses, these two works differ significantly in emphasis because they

discuss two different types of political systems. The Prince, is one of the

first examinations of politics and science from a purely scientific and rational

perspective. In The Prince, Machiavelli was concerned with a principality, a

state in which one ruler or a small elite governs a mass of subjects who have no

active political life. Machiavelli addresses a monarchical ruler, the Medici,

and offered advice designed to keep that ruler in power. He recommended policies

that would discourage mass political activism and channel the subjects energies

into private pursuits. Machiavelli’s aim was to persuade the monarch that he

could best preserve his power by using violence carefully and economically, by

respecting the persons, property, and traditions of his subjects, and by

promoting material prosperity. The ruling Prince should be the sole authority

determining every aspect of the state and put in effect policies which serves

his best interests. These interests were gaining, maintaining, and expanding his

political. However, Machiavelli did not feel that a Prince should mistreat his

citizens. This suggestion is once again to serve the Prince’s best interests. If

a prince can not be both feared and loved, Machiavelli suggests, it would be

better for him to be feared by the citizens within his own principality. He

makes the generalization that men are, "…ungrateful, fickle, liars, and

deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well

they are yours". He characterizes men as being self centered and not

willing to act in the best interest of the state,"[and when the prince] is

in danger they turn against [him]". Machiavelli reinforces the prince’s

need to be feared by stating: "Men worry less about doing an injury to one

who makes himself loved than to one who makes himself feared. The bond of love

is one which men, wretched creatures they are, break when it is to their

advantage to do so; but fear is strengthened by a dread of punishment which is

always effective". In order to win honor, Machiavelli suggests that a

prince must be readily willing to deceive the citizens. One way is to

"…show his esteem for talent actively encouraging the able and honoring

those who excel in their professions…so that they can go peaceably about their

business". By encouraging citizens to excel at their professions he would

also be encouraging them to "…increase the prosperity of the their

state". These measures, though carried out in deception, would bring the

prince honor and trust amongst the citizens, especially those who were in the

best positions to oppose him. Machiavelli actively promoted a secular form of

politics. He laid aside the medieval conception "of the state as a

necessary creation for humankind’s spiritual, material, and social well

being". In such a state,"[a] ruler was justified in his exercise of

political power only if it contributed to the common good of the people he

served, [and] the ethical side of a prince’s activity…ought to [be] based on

Christian moral principles…." Machiavelli believed a secular form of

government to be a more realistic type. His views were to the benefit of the

prince, in helping him maintain power rather than to serve to the well being of

the citizens. Machiavelli promoted his belief by stating: "The fact is that

a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among

those who are not virtuous. Therefore, if a prince wants to maintain his rule he

must learn not to be so virtuous, and to make use of this or not according to

need". While The Prince is Machiavelli’s best known work, it is The

Discourses, which portray the most about him. The Prince was just a pamphlet

dashed off to gain influence with the Medici, but in The Discourses he sought to

include his entire system of politics. In the Discourses, Machiavelli was mainly

concerned with a republic, a state collectively controlled by a politically

active citizenry. Depending on their institutional arrangements, republics could

be either aristocratic or democratic. Machiavelli advocated a democratic

constitution modeled after ancient Rome. In the Discourses his concern was to

preserve the liberty and independence of a self-governing citizenry. He

emphasized the idea that a republic needed to foster a spirit of patriotism and

civic virtue among its citizens if it were to survive. In addition Machiavelli

rejected the traditional republican theory that social harmony and unity were

essential to political liberty. He argued that factions and class divisions were

inevitable in human society and that republics could be strengthened by the

conflicts generated through open and widespread political participation and

debate. Machiavelli discusses six types of governments in The Discourses, three

of them good, and three of them bad. The good Republics are democracies,

aristocracies, and principalities and the bad are oligarchies, tyrannies, and

anarchy. Machiavelli states that the three good governments are similar to its

bad counterpart since they can easily jump from one form to another. "A

democracy is converted into anarchy with no difficulty". Hence when a

founder of a city organizes one of these three governments in a city, he

organizes it for only a brief period of time, since no precautions can prevent

it from slipping into its contrary. The only solution is to implement a mixed

government, such as ancient Rome. "Thus, those who were prudent in

establishing laws recognized this fact, and avoiding each of these forms in

themselves, chose one that combined all, judging such a government to be

steadier and more stable, for when there is in the same city-state a

principality, an aristocracy, and a democracy, one form keeps watch over the

other." In general, the basic idea of The Discourses is the superiority of

the democratic republic and the ultimate reliance of even the most despotic

regimes on the mass consent of the people. Machiavelli did not construct an

abstract and unified philosophical system. Rather, his orientation was

practical, and his method was empirical and impressionistic. His political

writings contain a series of generalizations taken from ancient and contemporary

history about the possibilities and limitations of various courses of political

action. One of the most distinctive and controversial characteristics of

Machiavelli’s thought is that he did not devote much attention to the values

that define the ends of political action. Instead he concentrated on

distinguishing those circumstances in which a political act will have morally

justified consequences from those circumstances in which it will not. In his

view, political actions, much more than the activities of private life, have

consequences that cannot be foreseen or fully controlled. Therefore, political

life cannot be governed by a single set of moral (or religious) absolutes, and

the political agent may sometimes be excused for performing acts of violence and

deception that would be ethically indefensible in private life. Partly because

Machiavelli’s subtle and ironic view of the relationship between ethics and

politics has been widely misinterpreted, Machiavelli is sometimes perceived as

one who manipulates others in an opportunistic and deceptive manner.


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