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Machiavellis view on morals and politics in his masterpiece the prince

Biography Relatively little is known for certain about Machiavelli's early life in comparison with many important figures of the Italian Renaissance the following section draws on Capponi 2010 and Vivanti 2013 He was born 3 May 1469 in Florence and at a young age became a pupil of a renowned Latin teacher, Paolo da Ronciglione.

It is speculated that he attended the University of Florence, and even a cursory glance at his corpus reveals that he received an excellent humanist education. It is only with his entrance into public view, with his appointment as the Second Chancellor of the Republic of Florence, however, that we begin to acquire a full and accurate picture of his life. We have letters, dispatches, and occasional writings that testify to his political assignments as well as to his acute talent for the analysis of personalities and institutions.

Florence had been under a republican government since 1494, when the leading Medici family and its supporters had been driven from power. During this time, Machiavelli thrived under the patronage of the Florentine gonfaloniere or chief administrator for lifePiero Soderini. In 1512, however, with the assistance of Spanish troops, the Medici defeated the republic's armed forces and dissolved the government.

Discuss Machiavelli's View On Morals And Politics In The Prince

Machiavelli was a direct victim of the regime change: His retirement thereafter to his farm outside of Florence afforded the occasion and the impetus for him to turn to literary pursuits.

The first of his writings in a more reflective vein was also ultimately the one most commonly associated with his name, The Prince. Written at the end of 1513 and perhaps early 1514but only formally published posthumously in 1532, The Prince was composed in great haste by an author who was, among other things, seeking to regain his status in the Florentine government.

Many of his colleagues in the republican government were quickly rehabilitated and returned to service under the Medici. Originally written for presentation to Giuliano de'Medici who may well have appreciated itthe dedication was changed, upon Giuliano's death, to Lorenzo de'Medici, who almost certainly did not read it when it came into his hands in 1516. Meanwhile, Machiavelli's enforced retirement led him to other literary activities. He wrote verse, plays, and short prose, penned a study of The Art of War published in 1521and produced biographical and historical sketches.

Most importantly, he composed his other major contribution to political thought, the Discourses on the Ten Books of Titus Livy, an exposition of the principles of republican rule masquerading as a commentary on the work of the famous historian of the Roman Republic.

Unlike The Prince, the Discourses was authored over a long period of time commencing perhaps in 1514 or 1515 and completed in 1518 or 1519, although again only published posthumously in 1531. The book may have been shaped by informal discussions attended by Machiavelli among some of the leading Florentine intellectual and political figures under the sponsorship of Cosimo Rucellai. Near the end of his life, and probably as a result of the aid of well-connected friends whom he never stopped badgering for intervention, Machiavellis view on morals and politics in his masterpiece the prince began to return to the favor of the Medici family.

In 1520, he was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de'Medici to compose a History of Florence, an assignment completed in 1525 and presented to the Cardinal, who had since ascended the papal throne as Clement VII, in Rome. Other small tasks were forthcoming from the Medici government, but before he could achieve a full rehabilitation, he died on 21 June 1527.

Analyzing Power It has been a common view among political philosophers that there exists a special relationship between moral goodness and legitimate authority. Many authors especially those who composed mirror-of-princes books or royal advice books during the Middle Ages and Renaissance believed that the use of political power was only rightful if it was exercised by a ruler whose personal moral character was strictly virtuous.

Thus rulers were counseled that if they wanted to succeed—that is, if they desired a long and peaceful reign and aimed to pass their office down to their offspring—they must be sure to behave in accordance with conventional standards of ethical goodness. In a sense, it was thought that rulers did well when they did good; they earned the right to be obeyed and respected inasmuch as they showed themselves to be virtuous and morally upright. It is precisely this moralistic view of authority that Machiavelli criticizes at length in his best-known treatise, The Prince.

For Machiavelli, there is no moral basis on which to judge the difference between legitimate and illegitimate uses of power. Rather, authority and power are essentially coequal: The Prince purports to reflect the self-conscious political realism of an author who is fully aware—on the basis of direct experience with the Florentine government—that goodness and right are not sufficient to win and maintain political office.

Niccolò Machiavelli

Machiavelli thus seeks to learn and teach the rules of political power. For Machiavelli, power characteristically defines political activity, and hence it is necessary for any successful ruler to know how power is to be used.

  • And the Discourses points out that republics have their own intrinsic limitation in regard to the flexibility of response needed to conquer fortune;
  • Paul Rahe 2008 argues for a similar set of influences, but with an intellectual substance and significance different than Pocock;
  • Machiavelli is confident that citizens will always fight for their liberty—against internal as well as external oppressors;
  • This does not mean that Machiavelli's confidence in the capacity of republican government to redress the political shortcomings of human character was unbridled.

Only by means of the proper application of power, Machiavelli believes, can individuals be brought to obey and will the ruler be able to maintain the state in safety and security. Machiavelli's political theory, then, represents a concerted effort to exclude issues of authority and legitimacy from consideration in the discussion of political decision-making and political judgement.

Nowhere does this come out more clearly than in his treatment of the relationship between law and force.

Machiavelli acknowledges that good laws and good arms constitute the dual foundations of a well-ordered political system. But he immediately adds that since coercion creates legality, he will concentrate his attention on force. In other words, the legitimacy of law rests entirely upon the threat of coercive force; authority is impossible for Machiavelli as a right apart from the power to enforce it.

Consequently, Machiavelli is led to conclude that fear is always preferable to affection in subjects, just as violence and deception are superior to legality in effectively controlling them.

As a result, Machiavelli cannot really be said to have a theory of obligation separate from the imposition of power; people obey only because they fear the consequences of not doing so, whether the loss of life or of privileges. And of course, power alone cannot obligate one, inasmuch as obligation assumes that one cannot meaningfully do otherwise.

Concomitantly, a Machiavellian perspective directly attacks the notion of any grounding for authority independent of the sheer possession of power. For Machiavelli, people are compelled to obey purely in deference to the superior power of the state.

If I think that I should not obey a particular law, what eventually leads me to submit to that law will be either a fear of the power of the state or the actual exercise of that power. It is power which in the final instance is necessary for the enforcement of conflicting views of what I ought to do; I can only choose not to obey if I possess the power to resist the demands of the state or if I am willing to accept the consequences of the state's superiority of coercive force.

Machiavelli's argument in The Prince is designed to demonstrate that politics can only coherently be defined in terms of the supremacy of coercive power; authority as a right to command has no independent status. He substantiates this assertion by reference to the observable realities of political affairs and public life as well as by arguments revealing the self-interested nature of all human conduct.

For Machiavelli it is meaningless and futile to speak of any claim to authority and the right to command which is detached from the possession of superior political power. The ruler who lives by his rights alone will surely wither and die by those same rights, because in the rough-and-tumble of political conflict those who prefer power to authority are more likely to succeed. Without exception the authority of states and their laws will never be acknowledged when they are not supported by a show of power which renders obedience inescapable.

The methods for achieving obedience are varied, and depend heavily upon the foresight that the prince exercises.

Hence, the successful ruler needs special training. For the circumstances of political rule are such that moral viciousness can never be excluded from the realm of possible actions in which the prince may have to engage.

Machiavelli sees politics to be a sort of a battlefield on a different scale. Fortuna is the enemy of political order, the ultimate threat to the safety and security of the state. Machiavelli's use of the concept has been widely debated without a very satisfactory resolution. Where conventional representations treated Fortuna as a mostly benign, if fickle, goddess, who is the source of human goods as well as evils, Machiavelli's fortune is a malevolent and uncompromising fount of human misery, affliction, and disaster.

While human Fortuna may be responsible for such success as human beings achieve, no man can act effectively when directly opposed by the goddess Machiavelli 1965, 407—408. Machiavelli's most famous discussion of Fortuna machiavellis view on morals and politics in his masterpiece the prince in Chapter 25 of The Prince, in which he proposes two analogies for understanding the human situation in the face of events.

Machiavelli reinforces the association of Fortuna with the blind strength of nature by explaining that political success depends upon appreciation of the operational principles of Fortuna. Machiavelli's remarks point toward several salient conclusions about Fortuna and her place in his intellectual universe. Throughout his corpus, Fortuna is depicted as a primal source of violence especially as directed against humanity and as antithetical to reason.

Thus, Machiavelli realizes that only preparation to pose an extreme response to the vicissitudes of Fortuna will ensure victory against her. The main source of dispute concerned Machiavelli's attitude toward conventional moral and religious standards of human conduct, mainly in connection with The Prince. For many, his teaching adopts the stance of immoralism or, at least, amoralism. Moral values have no place in the sorts of decisions that political leaders must make, and it is a category error of the gravest sort to think otherwise.

Concentrating on the claim in The Prince that a head of state ought to do good if he can, but must be prepared to commit evil if he must Machiavelli 1965, 58Skinner argues that Machiavelli prefers conformity to moral virtue ceteris paribus. In direct contrast, some of Machiavelli's readers have found no taint of immoralism in his thought whatsoever. Jean-Jacques Rousseau long ago held that the real lesson of The Prince is to teach the people the truth about how princes behave and thus to expose, rather than celebrate, the immorality at the core of one-man rule.

Various versions of this thesis have been disseminated more recently. Some scholars, such as Garrett Mattingly 1958have pronounced Machiavelli the supreme satirist, pointing out the foibles of princes and their advisors.

The fact that Machiavelli later wrote biting popular stage comedies is cited as evidence in support of his strong satirical bent. Thus, we should take nothing Machiavelli says about moral conduct at face value, but instead should understood his remarks as sharply humorous commentary on public affairs. A similar range of opinions exists in connection with Machiavelli's attitude toward religion in general, and Christianity in particular.

Machiavelli was no friend of the institutionalized Christian Church as he knew it. The Discourses makes clear that conventional Christianity saps from human beings the vigor required for active civil life Machiavelli 1965, 228—229, 330—331. And The Prince speaks with equal parts disdain and admiration about the contemporary condition of the Church and its Pope Machiavelli 1965, 29, 44—46, 65, 91—91.

Anthony Parel 1992 argues that Machiavelli's cosmos, governed by the movements of the stars and the balance of the humors, takes on an essentially pagan and pre-Christian cast. For others, Machiavelli may best be described as a man of conventional, if unenthusiastic, piety, prepared to bow to the externalities of worship but not deeply devoted in either soul or mind to the tenets of Christian faith.

A few dissenting voices, most notably Sebastian de Grazia 1989 and Maurizio Viroli 2010have attempted to rescue Machiavelli's reputation from those who view him as hostile or indifferent to Christianity. Cary Nederman 1999 extends and systematizes Grazia's insights by showing how such central Christian theological doctrines as grace and free will form important elements of Machiavelli's conceptual structure. Viroli considers, by contrast, the historical attitudes toward the Christian religion as manifested in the Florentine republic of Machiavelli's day.

The State and the Prince: Certainly, the term lo stato appears widely in Machiavelli's writings, especially in The Prince, in connection with the acquisition and application of power in a coercive sense, which renders its meaning distinct from the Latin term status condition or station from which it is derived. Machiavelli's name and doctrines were widely invoked to justify the priority of the interests of the state in the age of absolutism.

Yet, as Harvey Mansfield 1996 has shown, a careful reading of Machiavelli's use of lo stato in The Prince and elsewhere does not support this interpretation. Machiavelli is at best a transitional figure in the process by which the language of the state emerged in early modern Europe, as Mansfield concludes.

Thus, the Machiavellian prince can count on no pre-existing structures of legitimation, as discussed above. This is a precarious position, since Machiavelli insists that the throes of fortune and the conspiracies of other men render the prince constantly vulnerable to the loss of his state.

The idea of a stable constitutional regime that reflects the tenor of modern political thought and practice machiavellis view on morals and politics in his masterpiece the prince nowhere to be seen in Machiavelli's conception of princely government.

Yet Machiavelli himself apparently harbored severe doubts about whether human beings were psychologically capable of generating such flexible dispositions within themselves.

Machiavelli's evaluation of the chances for creating a new, psychologically flexible type of character is extremely guarded, and tends to be worded in conditional form and in the subjective mood: The Discourses on Livy: Liberty and Conflict While The Prince is doubtless the most widely read of his works, the Discourses on the Ten Books of Titus Livy perhaps most honestly expresses Machiavelli's personal political beliefs and commitments, in particular, his republican sympathies.

The Discourses certainly draw upon the same reservoir of language and concepts that fed The Prince, but the former treatise leads us to draw conclusions quite different from—many scholars have said contradictory to—the latter. A minimal constitutional order is one in which subjects live securely vivere sicuroruled by a strong government which holds in check the aspirations of both nobility and people, but is in turn balanced by other legal and institutional mechanisms.

In a fully constitutional regime, however, the goal of the political order is the freedom of the community vivere liberocreated by the active participation of, and contention between, the nobility and the people. As Quentin Skinner 202, 189—212 has argued, liberty forms a value that anchors Machiavelli's political theory and guides his evaluations of the worthiness of different types of regimes.

Only in a republic, for which Machiavelli expresses a distinct preference, may this goal be attained. Machiavelli adopted this position on both pragmatic and principled grounds.