July 28th, 2012 Machiavelli
Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy. He eventually became a man who lived his life for politics and patriotism. Right now, however, he is associated with corrupt, totalitarian government. The reason for this is a small pamphlet he wrote called "The Prince" to gain influence with the ruling Medici family in Florence. The political genius of Niccolo Machiavelli was overshadowed by the reputation that was unfairly given to him because of a misunderstanding of his views on politics.
Machiavelli's life was very interesting. He lived a nondescript childhood in Florence, and his main political experience in his youth was watching Savanarola from afar. Soon after Savanarola was executed, Machiavelli entered the Florentine government as a secretary. His position quickly rose, however, and was soon engaging in diplomatic missions. He met many of the important politicians of the day, such as the Pope and the King of France, but none had more impact on him than a prince of the Papal States, Cesare Borgia. Borgia was a cunning, cruel man, very much like the one portrayed in "The Prince". Machiavelli did not truly like Borgia's policies, but he thought that with a ruler like Borgia the Florentines could unite Italy, which was Machiavelli's goal throughout his life. Unfortunately for Machiavelli, he was dismissed from office when the Medici came to rule Florence and the Republic was overthrown. The lack of a job forced him to switch to writing about politics instead of being active. His diplomatic missions were his last official government positions.
When Machiavelli lost his office, he desperately wanted to return to politics. He tried to gain the favor of the Medici by writing a book of what he thought were the Medici's goals and dedicating it to them. And so "The Prince" was written for that purpose. Unfortunately, the Medici didn't agree with what the book said, so he was out of a job. But when the public saw the book, they were outraged. The people wondered how cruel a man could be to think evil thoughts like the ones in The Prince, and this would come back to haunt him when he was alive and dead. However, if the people wanted to know what Machiavelli really stood for, they should have read his "Discourses on Livy", which explain his full political philosophy. But not enough people had and have, and so the legacy of The Prince continues to define Machiavelli to the general public.
A few years later the Medici were kicked out of Florence. The republic was re-established, and Machiavelli ran to retake the office he had left so many years ago. But the reputation that The Prince had established made people think his philosophy was like the Medici, so he was not elected. And here the sharp downhill of his life began. His health began to fail him, and he died months later, in 1527.
Machiavelli had been unfairly attacked all of his life because of a bad reputation. But it only got worse after he died. He was continually blasted for his "support" of corrupt ruling. In fact, Machiavellian now means corrupt government. Only recently has his true personality come to light. The world must change it's vision of the cold, uncaring Machiavelli to the correct view of a patriot and a political genius.
Works of Machiavelli
The Prince (Il Principe)
The Prince's contribution to the history of political thought is the fundamental break between political Realism and political Idealism. Niccollo Machiavelli's best-known book exposits and describes the arts with which a ruling Prince can maintain control of his realm. It concentrates on the New Prince, under the presumption that an Hereditary Prince has an easier task in ruling, since the people are accustomed to him. To retain power, the Hereditary Prince must carefully maintain the socio-political institutions to which the people are accustomed; whereas the New Prince has the more difficult task in ruling, since he must first stabilize his new-found power in order to build an enduring political structure. That requires the Prince being a public figure above reproach, whilst privately acting immorally to achieve State goals. The examples are those princes who most successfully obtain and maintain power, drawn from his observations as a Florentine diplomat, and his ancient history readings; thus, the Latin phrases and Classic examples.
The Prince does not dismiss morality, instead, it politically defines "Morality" as in the criteria for acceptable cruel action it must be decisive: swift, effective, and short-lived. Machiavelli is aware of the irony of good results coming from evil actions; notwithstanding some mitigating themes, the Catholic Church proscribed "The Prince", registering it to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, moreover, the Humanists also viewed the book negatively, among them, Erasmus of Rotterdam. As a treatise, its primary intellectual contribution to the history of political thought is the fundamental break between political Realism and political Idealism thus, The Prince is a manual to acquiring and keeping political power. In contrast with Plato and Aristotle, a Classical ideal society is not the aim of the Prince's will to power. As a political scientist, Machiavelli emphasises necessary, methodic exercise of brute force punishment-and-reward (patronage, clientelism, et cetera) to preserve the status quo.
Etymologically, his sixteenth-century contemporaries adopted and used the adjective Machiavellian (elaborately cunning), often in the introductions of political tracts offering more than government by "Reasons of State" most notably those of Jean Bodin and Giovanni Botero; while contemporary, pejorative usage of Machiavellian (anti-Machiavellism in the 16th C.) is a misnomer describing someone who deceives and manipulates others for gain; (personal or not, the gain is immaterial, only action matters, insofar as it effects results). The Prince hasn't the moderating themes of his other works; politically, Machiavelli denotes someone of politically-extreme perspective; however Machiavellianism remains a popular speech and journalism usage; while in psychology, it denotes a personality type.
Discourses on Livy (Discorsi)
The Discourse on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy comprises the early history of Rome, it is a series of lessons on how a republic should be started and structured, including the concept of checks and balances, the strength of a tri-partite political structure, and the superiority of a republic over a principality.
From The Discourses
In fact, when there is combined under the same constitution a prince, a nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocally in check. Book I, Chapter II
Doubtless these means [of attaining power] are cruel and destructive of all civilized life, and neither Christian, nor even human, and should be avoided by every one. In fact, the life of a private citizen would be preferable to that of a king at the expense of the ruin of so many human beings. Book I, Chapter XXVI
Now, in a well-ordered republic, it should never be necessary to resort to extra-constitutional measures. Book I, Chapter XXXIV
The governments of the people are better than those of princes. Book I, Chapter LVIII
If we compare the faults of a people with those of princes, as well as their respective good qualities, we shall find the people vastly superior in all that is good and glorious. Book I, Chapter LVIII
For government consists mainly in so keeping your subjects that they shall be neither able, nor disposed to injure you. . . . Book II, Chapter XXIII
No prince is ever benefited by making himself hated. Book III, Chapter XIX
Let not princes complain of the faults committed by the people subjected to their authority, for they result entirely from their own negligence or bad example. Book III, Chapter XXIX