The Value in Machiavellian Rulers Essay Example
|📌Category:||Philosophers, Philosophical Works, Philosophy|
|📌Published:||30 April 2022|
Living and dying in the Republic of Florence during the Renaissance, Niccolò Machiavelli was a political theorist and author in the late 1400s. During this period of thinkers and writers, the old traditions and previously accepted theories were suddenly compared to all-new, all-different concepts in an attempt to understand the human condition in a political context. Known best for his political theory, Machiavelli has become the name associated with predatory practices and manipulative behaviors, becoming the namesake of the word “Machiavellian.” This image of Machiavelli was the product of his own text titled The Prince, a short work about how to obtain, retain, and use power over others. In this text Machiavelli stated that a ruler (which he refers to as a prince) ought to take as much power as he can hold for as long as possible, and that this should be his goal above all else. To do this he described practices such as manipulation, deceit, and theft in order to preserve this power. While unsavory practices ought to be frowned upon for being immoral, obtaining this power is integral to maintaining the safety of both the ruler and the state, and because of this it is important that a ruler’s primary goal be to retain his power. Without this position, he is in no position to protect his state and thus his people.
In all things a man’s motive is, by nature, to protect himself; self-preservation is the highest of all ends in the world. By extension, there are a few things man seeks which may promote this end. As said by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa, wealth, honor, power, and pleasure are the ends which man frequently seeks . Aquinas describes them in relation to the void of God, but they are also the primary goals of men who hunger for earthly success. Hunger, human enemies, or natural occurrences are the most common of these evils which a man seeks to avoid. Hunger can be avoided by seeking wealth, as wealth allows a man to purchase as much food as he needs, and also allows him to seek shelter from any natural events which may harm him. By obtaining power or honor, a man may give himself more allies, protecting himself from any enemies which may attempt to kill him. In procuring this power, the man may often find himself in a position over the state. In his efforts to secure his own safety, he is now responsible for the safety of a nation. This is evident in the creation of a state itself. States do not form out of nothing, but out of a desire to keep peace, to be protected by a governing authority. As John Locke said in his Second Treatise on Government, “Though in the state of nature he has an unrestricted right to his possessions, he is far from assured that he will be able to get the use of them, because they are constantly exposed to invasion by others.” Using this statement, Locke went on to describe that this causes men to form a state, and that this state must be used to protect the possessions of the individual. From this it is clear that the ruler, when he has obtained power, is to protect his people, because this is the only reason he has power in the first place.
However, to protect the safety of his state the ruler must, be necessity, maintain the position of power he is in. If he were not to maintain this power, he would be removed, either by his own subjects or an opposed nation, and would lose his seat of authority. In losing this seat, he naturally forfeits the ability to protect his people. Thus, it is the most important duty for a ruler to maintain his power so he might more effectively maintain his state’s safety.
While this claim is supported by Machiavelli, Locke, and others, it does not explain what one is to do with power once he has it. Knowing this would dictate what the ruler does when he holds his authority. According to The Prince, Machiavelli allowed and encouraged rulers to do this by any means necessary. This position of power allows the ruler to protect his kingdom and his position. This means keeping the power by maintaining a positive image with your people. When describing the way a prince ought to act, he said this:
“Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. […] to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.”
In other words, a prince, when necessary, ought to be as good as possible, but it is unnecessary for him to maintain this virtue at all times, but he must also know when to stop being good. This would be beneficial to the prince because it would allow him to continue ruling safely, which is in his own interest, and by extent, the state’s. As long as the people he rules over believe him to be benevolent and “merciful, faithful, humane, religious, and upright,” they would have no reason to overthrow him, which was Machiavelli’s main concern with an unhappy population. Machiavelli’s line of thought continues the theory from earlier, that the ruler’s duty is to continue to stay in power and nothing more. He outlines a few other ways to retain his authority, which directly suit the ruler’s stay in power and indirectly protect the people he rules, such as supplying men with weapons, keeping the peace, making firm decisions, and staying current with the times. In outlining these tricks and others, Machiavelli ensures the prince’s safety by keeping the subjects happy, which maintains his hold on power. The secondary result is the actual response of the people, who are now well-defended and wealthy. This clearly demonstrates the positive effect of an authority attempting to maintain his authority.
In addition, the decision to make the state religious and humane is demonstrated by Machiavelli’s ability to be so. The people, as followers of the head of state, will tend to be as their leader is, whether naturally or by law. If the prince came to power slowly and naturally, he was likely put there by the people, who would be reflective of his religion and morals, which creates a greater harmony within the nation. If he arose suddenly, whether laws were passed or if people came to reflect him naturally, the people would assume the same state. This has been evident throughout much of European history, such as certain times in Spain, France, and England, where the ruling class tended to have powerful religious and cultural views that extended to most of the people. The only trouble arose within these nations when there came a sudden influx of opposed religions or values, which gave rise to violent conflicts. Until unnatural changes, though, the people’s unity rose from their ruler.
This is not the only path to rulers, however. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates came to the conclusion that a state should be divided into three classes: the common folk, the knights, and the philosophers. He said that society should be ruled by philosopher kings, in order to create the moral standards for his society. His logic was that to be ruled by the wisest of the people would do good for everyone else, and create a utopia. This idea does not pursue power in the same way Machiavelli does after gaining it, but it would still require constant effort to keep the power, which Plato would apparently call good. A philosopher king would constantly have to pursue knowledge to maintain his place of authority, or else he would be replaced by another, or be of no use to his people. By Plato’s logic, this would be a bad thing, because if only the wisest are to rule, and there are none wiser than the ruler, then whoever it was that might attempt to take his place would be a worse ruler, and thus not have as great interests in the people he might have ruled. Because of this, even Plato’s philosopher kings must constantly be in pursuit of their own power, and, indeed, more, because if this king was as virtuous as he claimed, he ought to share that with as many people as possible, thus expanding his kingdom and his power. In the end, even Plato obeys Machiavelli’s rule.
Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920
John Locke. Second Treatise of Government, edited by C. B. Macpherson. Cambridge, MA: Hackett Publishing. 1980.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince, trans. W. K. Marriott, 1988.