Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli and The Prince (2nd installment)
What is The Prince About? (cont.)
Another part of The Prince was Machiavelli’s guide to conquest. It was sort of like a “How To Conquer and Maintain Control of Foreign Lands for Dummies” of that day and age. He thought that rulers should either completely wipeout and devastate the land and live there themselves or to place a government in the land loyal to his own power base. He did, however, warn that whoever is responsible for creating someone else’s system of power eventually saw their own demise. Once the assistant government gets strong enough it then sees itself as an equal and ultimately a challenger to the original ruler. The first example of this that comes to mind is Britain and America. King George placed a “loyal government” in the Americas to govern the people and we all know how that turned out. Eventually we realized we weren’t being treated fairly and that we could do for ourselves. We didn’t need King George anymore and we fought to gain our independence. This is the point Machiavelli was trying to make.
Machiavelli also thought a good ruler should make himself feared but not hated. Looking at our current political arena, our two past presidential candidates should have taken a few notes from The Prince.
Machiavelli suggested that a ruler should make it to where there is always a psychological dread of punishment. In order to do so execution, if properly justified, was sometimes a necessity as long as there was genuine reason for it. I feel like I’m starting to see why this man is viewed as such a malicious guy. But in the same token, I can see where his reasoning would come from. If your people are genuinely afraid of you and dread any punishment given by you, you’ve set a standard of obedience. And if a couple people have to die as an example, you’ve still got the power right? Hitler is a very good example of this idea. People were genuinely afraid of Hitler as a ruler, but at the beginning of his tyrannical reign he was not hated. He was loved and respected. I believe this is why he was able to get away with as much as he did while ruling Germany. His people loved him and what he said sounded good, but he had struck enough fear into their hearts they knew not to try to turn against him.
In The Prince, Machiavelli discusses the example of Agathocles the Sicilian to compare the ideas of the right and wrong kinds of cruelty. Agathocles arranged to have the entire senate of Syracuse killed one morning by his soldiers. Once they were all dead, he then took control of the government of Syracuse, kind of like one of those action movies where some foreign angry man plans to sabotage the American government and the fate of the country rests on the back of one secret service agent, except the foreign guys wins this time. Machiavelli’s thoughts were that an act like this would definitely win a prince power, but not glory, fame or superiority. Machiavelli then expounds on the idea that a prince has to distinguish between cruelty being used for good and cruelty being used for bad. When cruelty is used for good, to defend personal safety and for the good of all the citizens, then it is okay. However, when cruelty is used badly, continues to occur and grow with intensity with no specific goal, the line is crossed and it is not okay anymore. Machiavelli believes that whether Agathocles used good cruelty or bad cruelty in murdering the senate and seizing control of the country’s government depends on the actions that followed thereafter. If Agathocles as the new ruler brought success, wealth and happiness to the whole country of Syracuse, then it was good cruelty. If he brought failure and suffering, however, it was bad cruelty. In Machiavelli’s view, the end could very well justify the means.
This theme of the ends justifying the means comes up quite a bit in The Prince. Machiavelli touches on the idea of virtue in regards to the state. He defines virtues as qualities that are praised by others like generosity and compassion. He discusses how a prince should try hard to always appear virtuous to his subjects. However, he says that acting virtuous because you are actually a virtuous decent human being could be detrimental to the prince’s power in the long run. A prince should not avoid vices such as lying or being cruel as long as they are going to benefit the state. Vices such as lying or being cruel should not be done for the hell of it, just like being virtuous should not be done just because you are a decent human being. Virtues and vices should always be a means to the end. All the things a prince does must be taken in to consideration in regards to the state and not in regards to who the prince is as a person.
Another theme in The Prince was the idea of destiny and fate in regards to a “prince”. Machiavelli uses terms like “prowess” and “fortune” to describe two ways in which a prince can come to power in his book. “Prowess” refers to an individual’s talents, while “fortune” implies that individual’s chance or luck. One of Machiavelli’s goals in composing The Prince was to investigate how much of a prince’s or politician’s success or failure is caused by his own free will and how much is determined by nature or the environment in which he lives. Machiavelli applies this question specifically to the failure of past Italian princes.
Machiavelli discusses the role of fortune in determining human affairs. He attempts to compromise between free will and a mixture of chance and hard work by arguing that fortune controls half of human actions and leaves the other half to free will. However, Machiavelli also argues that through predicting what could possibly happen in the future -a quality that he emphasizes throughout the literary work- people can shield themselves against fortune’s ups and downs. So, Machiavelli can be described as confident in the power of human beings being able to shape their destinies to a degree, but he is equally confident that human control over the events in our lives is never absolute.
Links to my comments
Link to my first installment
Word Count: 1064