In all the kingdoms royal power grew at the expense of the competing institutions, whether nobility, parliaments, free cities, or clergy, and almost everywhere the eclipse of the medieval representative system was permanent. Only in England the comparatively brief duration of Tudor absolutism permitted the continuity of parliamentary history to be preserved.
The change, both in government and in ideas about government, was enormous. Political power , which had been largely dispersed among feudatories and corporations, was rapidly gathered into the hands of the king, who for the time being was the main beneficiary of increasing national unity.
The conception of a sovereign who is the fountain-head of all political power, which had been the possession of a few jurists under the influence of Roman imperial law and of the extreme papalists, who has transformed the same conception into a theory of papal divine right, became in the sixteenth century a common form of political thought .
These changes of political thought and practice reflected changes in the whole fabric of European society, which were everywhere similar though with innumerable local differences. By the end of the fifteenth century economic changes which had been going on for years produced an accumulation of effects that amounted to a revolutionary remodeling of medieval institutions.
These institutions, despite theories about the universal church and the universal empire, had depended on the fact that medieval society, in its effective economic and political organization, was almost wholly local. This was an inevitable consequence of limitations on the means of communication.
A large political territory was not governable except by a kind of federalism that left to local units a large amount of independence. Trade also was mainly local, or where it was more than that, it consisted of specified commodities that moved tn fixed routes, to monopolized ports and markets. Such a trade could be controlled by producers guilds, Which were municipal institutions; the unit of the medieval trading organization was the city. Neither freedom of movement nor the us, of money was very general in the fourteenth century.
Any considerable extension of the ease of communication was, totally incompatible with the continuance of a trade thus locally monopolized and controlled. Economic advantage passed to the side of freedom from fixed routes and monopolized markets. The greatest profits went to the merchant adventurer, who was prepared to take advantage of every market, who had capital to put into his business and who could trade in any commodity that offered large returns. Such a merchant, having the command of the markets, could more and more gain control over production also, and he was quite beyond the power .
of the guilds and the cities. In so far as trade was to be controlled, the quality of goods standardized, or prices and conditions of employment regulated, this had to be done by governments of larger size than the medieval municipality. All the royal governments of Europe undertook regulation of this sort. Moreover, in so far as extended trade was to be protected and encouraged, this also became a task wholly out of the power of local government. By the sixteenth century all the royal governments had adopted a conscious policy of exploiting national resources, of encouraging trade both at home and abroad, and of developing national power.
These economic changes had profound social and political consequences. For the first time since the Roman Empire European society included a considerable class of men who had both money and enterprise. For obvious reasons this class was the natural enemy of the nobility and of all the divisions and disorders which they fostered.
Their interests were on the side of strong government both at home; and abroad, and hence their natural political alliance was with the king. For the time being they were content to see his power increase at the expense of all the checks and limitations which had surrounded medieval monarchy.
Parliament they could not yet aspire to control against the influence of the nobility; hence they were willing to subordinate representative institutions to the monarchy. The nobility they were glad to see prevented from maintaining disorderly bands of hangers-on, who intimidated the courts and officers of the law and recruited the ranks of brigands.
From every point of view the bourgeoisie saw its advantage in concentrating military power and the administration of justice as much as possible in the hands of the king. On the whole the gain in orderly and efficient government was probably considerable. The king’s power, to be sure, became arbitrary and often oppressive, but royal government was better than any that the feudal nobility could give.
By the opening years of the sixteenth century, therefore, absolute monarchy either had become, or was rapidly becoming, the prevailing type of government in western Europe. Everywhere there was an enormous wreckage of medieval institutions, for the absolute monarchy was thing of blood and iron which rested in large part quite frankly on force.
How destructive it was is concealed only by the fact that, after the event, men were more prone to take pride in the national monarchies which it helped to found than to grieve for the medieval institutions which it destroyed. Absolute monarchy overturned feudal constitutionalism and the free city-states, on which medieval civilization had largely depended, just as nationalism later overturned the dynastic legitimacy to which absolute monarchy gave rise.
The church itself, the most characteristic of all medieval institutions, fell a prey to it, or to social forces upon which it depended. Weak and rich-a fatal combination in an age of blood and iron-the monasteries were expropriated by Protestant and Catholic monarchies alike, to provide the wealth of a new middle class which was the main strength of the monarchy.
Ecclesiastical rulers were everywhere subjected more and more to royal control, and in the end the church’s legal authority disappeared. The sacerdotium vanished as a power, and the church became-what it had never before been for Christian thought-either a voluntary association or a partner of national government.
The growth of absolute monarchy, like that of the feudal constitutional monarchy, took place in almost every part of western Europe. In Spain the uniting of Aragon and Castile by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella began the formation of an absolute monarchy which made that country the greatest of European powers throughout the larger part of the sixteenth century.
In England the conclusion of the Wars of the Roses and the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509) began the period of Tudor absolutism, which extended through the reign of Henry VIII and much of that of Elizabeth. Though Henry VII owed his throne-to which he had hardly a shadow of hereditary title-to a combination of the nobility, his policy in general ran true to the forms of the period.
He could not succeed without attracting the support of the middle class; he was obliged to put down with all his strength the disorderly followers of the nobility who threatened the crown and the middle class alike; he established order and thus promoted trade; he encouraged maritime ventures; and his royal power quite eclipsed the House of Commons, in which the influence of the nobility upon elections was still too strong to be safe.
Germany, it is true, formed an apparent exception to the rule, for here the weakness of the empire both permitted anarchy and discouraged the growth of that national sentiment which had been the main support of Lewis the Bavarian In his controversy with the popes. But even in Germany the prevailing tendency was delayed rather than stopped, for the rise to sovereign power of Prussia and Austria was not unlike the change which took place earlier in Spain and England and France.
It is France, however, that furnishes the most typical example of the growth of highly centralized royal power. The beginnings of French national unity, already mentioned in connection with Philip the Fair, were largely lost during the Hundred Years War, But though this period of foreign and civil war was injurious to the monarchy, it was fatal to all the other medieval institutions-communal, feudal, and representative-which had threatened to overshadow the monarchy.
The second half of the fifteenth century brought a rapid consolidation of royal power which made France the most united, compact, and harmonious nation in Europe. The Ordinance of 1439 gathered the entire military force of the nation into the king’s hands and made his authority effective by granting him a national tax with which to support it. The success of the measure was startling and shows clearly enough why the rising nations were willing to support royal absolutism.
Within a few years a well-trained and well-equipped citizen army had been created and had expelled the English from the country. Before the end of the century the great feudatories-Burgundy, Brittany, and Anjou-had been reduced to subjection. In the meantime the Estates had lost forever their control over taxation and with it their, power to influence the king, and the latter had made good his power over the French church. From the early years of the sixteenth century down to the age of the Revolution, the king became almost the sole spokesman for the nation.
Catastrophic changes such as these, occurring throughout Europe, produced as a matter of course an equal change in political theory. And in the opening years of the sixteenth century this change was summed up in the difficult-almost the contradictory-figure of Machiavelli. No man of his age saw so Clearly the direction that political evolution was taking throughout Europe.
No man knew better than he the archaism of the institutions that were being displaced or accepted more readily the part that naked force was playing in the process. Yet no one in that age appreciated more highly the inchoate sense of national unity on which this force was obscurely based.
No One was more clearly aware of the moral and political corruption that went with the decay of long-accustomed loyalties and pieties, yet no one, perhaps, felt a keener nostalgia for a healthier social life, such as was typified in his mind by ancient Rome. Certainly no one knew Italy as Machiavelli did. And yet, writing on the eve of the Protestant Reformation, he was almost blind to the part that religion was to play in the politics of the next two centuries.
Indoctrinated as he was in the pagan revival in Italy, he was unable both by training and temperament to grasp the constitutional and the moral ideals that European politics would cray over from the Middle Ages. Clear and broad as his vision of politics was, Machiavelli was still in a peculiar sense an Italian of the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Had he written in any other time and place, his conception of politics must have been significantly different.
Italy and the Pope:-
In Italy the forces of a new commercial and industrial system had been especially destructive of older institutions, but for reasons implicit in the political situation, the constructive forces were peculiarly neutralized and retarded. The free cities of northern Italy, upon which the imperial projects of the Hohenstaufen had been wrecked, had become political and economic anachronisms, unable to cope with a situation which required concentrated power, a citizen-soldiery, and a larger and more vigorous foreign policy.
When Machiavelli wrote, Italy was divided among five larger states: the kingdom of Naples in the south, the duchy of Milan in the northwest, the aristocratic republic of Venice in the northeast, and the republic of Florence and the Papal State in the center.
The downfall of the Florentine republic in 1512-which produced in Machiavelli’s life the enforced period of idleness responsible for his political writing-illustrated the fate awaiting a form of government which was incapable of coping with the political forces of its day.
The tendency toward concentration was illustrated also in the recreating of the Papal State after its decay during the Schism. The popes of Machiavelli’s time, scoundrels and profligates though they often were, succeeded in making their state the best consolidated and the most permanent in Italy.
Nothing perhaps is more significant of the change in European politics than this, which transformed the pope into one Italian ruler among others. The old ambition to stand as arbiter of all the quarrels of Christendom had dwindled to the more practicable, but more worldly, ambition to retain the sovereignty of central Italy.
But though consolidation had begun, it could not be completed, and this left Italy, as Machiavelli saw it, in a state of arrested political development. In Italy no power appeared great enough to unite the whole peninsula, Italians suffered all the degradation and oppression of tyranny with few of its compensations, and divisions among thy wants left the land a prey to the French, the Spanish, and the Germans.
Like most Italians of his day, Machiavelli held the church to be peculiarly responsible for this state of affairs. Too weak to unite Italy, himself, the pore was still strong enough to prevent any other ruler, from doing so, while his international relationships made him a leader, in the vicious policy of inviting foreign intervention. This is the reason for the bitter irony with which Machiavelli so frequently assails thy church.
We Italians then owe to the Church of Rome and to he; priests our having become irreligious and bad; but we owe he a still greater debt, and one that will be the cause of our ruin, namely, that the Church has kept and still keeps our country divided. And certainly a country can never be united and happy,except when it obeys wholly one government, whether a republic or a monarchy, as is the case in France and in Spain; and the Sole cause why Italy is not in the same condition, and is not governed by either one republic or one sovereign, is the Church. The Church, then, not having been powerful enough to be able to master all Italy, nor having permitted any other power to do so, has been the cause why Italy has never been able to unite under one head, but has always remained under a number of princes and lords, which occasioned her so many dissensions and so much weakness that she became a prey not only to the powerful barbarians, but of whoever chose to assail her.
Italian society and politics, as Machiavelli conceived them and as historians have for the most part agreed to picture them, were peculiarly illustrative of a state of institutional decay. It was a society intellectually brilliant and artistically creative, more emancipated than any in Europe from the trammels of authority, and prepared to face the world in a coolly rational and empirical spirit, yet it was a prey to the worst political corruption and moral degradation.
The older civic institutions were dead; medieval ideas like the church and the empire which, in Dante’s day, could still awaken a noble enthusiasm, were no longer even memories. Cruelty and murder had become normal agencies of government; good faith and truthfulness had become childish scruples to which an enlightened man would hardly give lip service; force and craft had become the keys to success; profligacy and debauchery had become too frequent to need comment and selfishness naked and unadorned, need only succeed in order supply its own justification. It was a period truly called the age of bastards and adventurers, a society created as if to illustrate Aristotle saying that man, when separated from law and Justice, is the worst of all animals.
Machiavelli is, therefore, in a peculiar sense, the political theorist of the master-less man, of a society in which the individual stands alone, with no motives and no interests except those supplied by his own egoism. In this he represents a phase of all modern society, but he represents it in the exaggerated form appropriate to Italy in the sixteenth century.
Niccolo Machiavelli’s Interest:-
His most important political works were the Prince and the Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, both begun and largely finished in 1513. The treatment of government in the two books is significantly different, some writers, following Rousseau, have believed them to be inconsistent with each other. In fact, this seems not to he the case, especially if the circumstances attending the composition of the Prince be taken into account, but it is unfortunate that most readers have known Machiavelli through this work.
Both books present aspects of the same subject-the causes of the rise and decline of states and the means by which statesmen can make them permanent. The Prince deals with monarchies or absolute governments, and the Discourses mainly with the expansion of the Roman Republic. This corresponds to the twofold classification of states which Machiavelli makes at the beginning of the Prince.
The Prince was a selection of the author’s views for a special purpose and was occasioned, it is true, by a desire to obtain employment under the Medici, but the latter fact did not produce the opinions expressed in it. As Villari says, anyone acquainted with the Discourses and knowing the author’s special purpose could have forecast nearly everything in the Prince.
Both books show equally the qualities for which Machiavelli has been especially known, such as indifference to the use of immoral means for political purposes and the belief that government depends largely on force and craft. What does not appear in the Prince is his genuine enthusiasm for popular government of the sort exemplified in the Roman Republic, but which he believed to be impracticable in Italy when he wrote.
Machiavelli’s political writings belong less to political theory than to the class of diplomatic literature, of which a great volume was produced by Italian writers of his age. Never has the game of diplomacy been played more fiercely than in the relations between the Italian states of Machiavelli’s day. Never have the shifts and turns of negotiations counted for more than between these rulers-adventurers all who relied for their success about equally-upon skillful gambling and the crassest force.
Diplomatic writing, and Machiavelli’s works as well, has characteristic merits and defects. There is the shrewdest insight. into points of weakness and strength in a political situation, the clear., est and coolest judgment of the resources and temperament of an opponent, the most objective estimate of the limitations of a policy, the soundest common sense in forecasting the logic of events and the outcome of a course of action. it is such qualities as these, possessed in a superlative degree, that made Machiavelli a favorite writer for diplomats from his own day to the present. But diplomatic writing is peculiarly likely to exaggerate the importance of the game for its own sake and to minimize the purposes for which the game is presumably played. It naturally assumes that politics is an end in itself:
This is Machiavelli’s most conspicuous quality. He writes almost wholly of the mechanics of government, of the means by which states may be made strong, of the policies by which they can expand their power, and of the errors that lead to their decay or overthrow.
Political and military measures are almost the sole objects of his interest, and he divorces these almost wholly from religious, moral, and social considerations, except as the latter affect political expedients. The purpose of politics is to preserve and increase political power itself, and the standard by which he judges it is its success in doing this.
Whether a policy is cruel or faithless or lawless he treats for the most part as a matter of indifference, though he is well aware that such qualities may react upon its political success. He often discusses the advantages of immorality skillfully used to gain a ruler’s ends, and it is this which is mainly responsible for his evil repute. But for the most part he is not so much immoral as non-moral. He simply abstracts politics from other considerations and writes of it as if it were an end in itself.
The closest analogue to Machiavelli’s separation of political expedience from morality is probably to be found in some parts of Aristotle’s Politics, where Aristotle considers the preservation of states without reference to their goodness or badness. It is not at all certain, however, that Machiavelli took these passages as his model. It is not likely that he was conscious of following anyone, though there may possibly have been a connection between his secularism and the naturalistic Aristotelian-ism that produced the Defensor pacis two centuries before.
Apart from a common hatred of the papacy as the cause of Italian disunion, which Machiavelli shared with Marsilio , the two men had substantially similar ideas about the political utility which religion ought to have as its secular consequence. Machiavelli’s secularism, however, goes much beyond Marsilio’s and is free from all the sophistication’s imposed by the twofold truth. Marsilio defended the autonomy of reason by making Christian morals otherworldly; Machiavelli condemns them because they are otherworldly. The Christian virtues he believed to be servile in their effects on character and he contrasted Christianity unfavorably in this respect with the more virile religions of antiquity.
Our religion places the supreme happiness in humility, lowliness, and a contempt for wordly object, whilst the other, on the contrary, places the supreme good in grandeur of soul, strength of body, and all such other qualities as render men formidable.These principles seem to me to have made men feeble, and caused them to become an easy prey to evil-minded men, who can control them more securely, seeing that the great body of men, for the sake of gaining Paradise, are more disposed to endure injuries than to avenge them.
As this passage suggests, Machiavelli was not indifferent to that effects which morals and religion, in the masses of mankind, have upon social and political life. He sanctioned the use of immoral means by rulers to gain an end, but he never doubted that moral corruption in a people makes good government impossible.
He had nothing but admiration for the civic virtues of the ancient Romans and of the Swiss in his own day, and he believed that these grew out of purity in the family, independence and sturdiness in private life, simplicity and frugality of manners, and loyalty and trustworthiness in performing public duties. But this does not mean that the ruler must believe in the religion of his subjects or practice their virtues. Machiavelli was by no means blind to imponderable forces in politics, but the imponderables were still for him merely forces. An army fights with morale as truly as with guns, and the wise ruler sees that both are of the best quality.
Machiavelli offers an extreme example of a double standard of morals, one for the ruler and another for the private citizen. The first is judged by success in keeping and increasing his power; the second, by the strength which his conduct imparts to the social group. Since the ruler is outside the group, or at least in a very special relation to it, he is above the morality to be enforced within the group.
Machiavelli’s indifference to morality has sometimes been described as an example of scientific detachment, but this account of the matter seems far-fetched. Machiavelli was not detached; he was merely interested in a single end, political power, and indifferent to all others. He never hesitated to express sweeping Judgments of rulers who allowed their states to grow weak. Moreover, he was in no de, finite sense scientific, though his judgment was formed empirically, by the observation of rulers that he had himself known or by studying historical examples.
But his empiricism was that of common sense or of shrewd practical foresight rather than an inductive empiricism controlled by the wish to test theories or general principles. In the same way it is misleading to say, as has been done, that Machiavelli followed an historical method, because his examples were often drawn from the past. He used history exactly as he used his own observation to illustrate or support a conclusion that he had reached quite without reference to history. In one sense he was very unhistorical.
He asserted explicitly that human nature is always and everywhere the same, and for this reason he took examples where he found them. His method, in so far as he had one, was observation guided by shrewdness and common sense. The most telling description of his accomplishment is that given by Janet, that he translated politics into the vernacular.
Machiavelli’s political theories were not developed in a systematic manner, but in the form of remarks upon particular situations. Behind them, or implicit in them, however, there often was a consistent point of view, which might be developed into a political theory and in fact was so developed after his time. Machiavelli was not much | interested in philosophy and not much inclined to generalize beyond maxims useful to a statesman. He sometimes merely stated his principles, often merely took them for granted; practically never did he try to give any proof of them. At the risk of giving a more unified impression than his works warrant, it will be useful to draw his scattered generalizations together, especially since later thinkers did erect into a systematic theory suggestions drawn from him.
Behind nearly everything that Machiavelli said about political policy was the assumption that human nature is essentially selfish, and that the effective motives on which a statesman must rely are egoistic, such as the desire for security in the masses and the desire for power in rulers. Government is really founded upon the weakness and insufficiency of the individual, who is unable to protect himself against the aggression of other individuals unless supported by the power of the state. Human nature, moreover, is profoundly aggressive and acquisitive; men aim to keep what they have and to acquire more.
Neither in power nor in possessions is there any normal limit to human desires, while both power and possessions are always in fact limited by natural scarcity. Accordingly, men are always in a condition of strife and competition which threatens open anarchy unless restrained by the force behind the law, while the power of the ruler is built upon the very imminence of anarchy and the fact that security is possible only when government is strong. Machiavelli constantly takes this conception of government for granted, though he nowhere develops it into a general psychological theory of behavior.
He frequently remarks, however, that men are in general bad and that the wise ruler will construct his policies on this assumption. In particular he insists that successful government must aim at security of property and of life before everything else, since these are the most universal desires inhuman nature. Hence his cynical remark that a man more readily forgives the murder of his father than the confiscation of his patrimony. The prudent ruler may kill but he will not plunder. When completed by a systematic psychology to explain and justify it, this phase of Machiavelli became .the political philosophy of Hobbes.
Machiavelli, however, is not so much concerned with badness or egoism as a general human motive as with its prevalence in Italy as a symptom of social decadence. Italy stands to him as the example of a corrupt society, with no such partial mitigation as: the monarchy brings in France and Spain.
In fact it is vain to look for anything good from those countries which we see nowadays so corrupt, as is the case above all others with Italy. France and Spain also have their share of corruption, and if we do not see so many disorders and troubles in those countries as is the case daily in Italy, it is not so much owing to the goodness of their people as for the fact that they have each a king who keeps them united.
The problem in Italy, then, is to found a state in a corrupt society, and Machiavelli was convinced that, in such circumstances, no effective government was possible except absolute monarchy. This explains why he was at once an enthusiastic admirer of the Roman Republic d an advocate of despotism. By corruption Machiavelli means in general that decay of private virtue and civic probity and devotion renders popular government impossible.
It includes all sorts of license and violence, great inequalities of wealth and power, the destruction of peace and justice, the growth of disorderly ambition, disillusion, lawlessness, dishonesty, and contempt for religion. A republican form of government he believed still to be possible In Switzerland and some parts of Germany, where a vigorous civic life had been preserved, but not in Italy. When the necessary virtues have decayed, there is no possibility either of restoring them or of carrying on orderly government without them, except by despotic power.
Apart from moral corruption, however, the natural aggressiveness of human nature makes struggle and competitor a normal feature of every society. This explains, on the one hand, the defeat that dogs the steps of every government: Men always commit the error of not knowing when to limit their hopes. But on the other hand, it explains also the stability of a healthy society in which opposing interests are held in equilibrium. The rivalry of patricians and plebeians in Rome Machiavelli regarded as the secret of Roman strength. From it was born the independence and sturdiness of character that supported the greatness of Rome.
When directed by wise rulers, having great but lawful authority, the virility that made turbulence possible became a chief reason why the Romans were a war-like, conquering people. For this reason Machiavelli stated again the ancient theory of the mixed or balanced constitution.
Not very appropriately, it must be confessed, he reproduced at the beginning of the Discourses almost word for word the theory of the constitutional cycle from the sixth book of Polybius’s Histories. The balance which he had in mind, however, was not political but social or economic-an equilibrium of competing interests held in check by a powerful sovereign. In this respect also a systematic statement of Machiavelli’s philosophy needed the conception of sovereign power with Bodin and Hobbes added to it.
The Omnipotent Legislator:-
A second general principle that is continually assumed by Machiavelli is the supreme importance in society of the lawgiver. A successful state must be founded by a single man, and the laws and government which he creates determine the national character of his people. Moral and civic virtue grows out of law, and when a society has become corrupt, it can never reform itself but must be taken in hand by one lawgiver, who can restore it to the healthy principles set up by its founder.
But we must assume, as a general rule, that it never or rarely happens that a republic or monarchy is well constituted, or its old institutions entirely reformed, unless It is done by only one Individual; it is even necessary that he whose mind has conceived such a constitution should be alone in carrying it into effect.
Machiavelli was not thinking only, or even mainly, of political organization, but of the whole moral and social constitution of a people, which he conceived to grow out of the law and from the wisdom and foresight of the lawgiver. There is practically no limit to what a statesman can do, provided he understands the rules of his art. He can tear down old states and build new, change forms of government, transplant populations, and build new virtues into the characters of his subjects. If a ruler lacks soldiers, he says, he need blame no one but himself, for he should have adopted measures to correct the cowardice and effeminacy of his people. The lawgiver is the architect not only of the state but of society as well, with all its moral, religious, and economic institutions.
This exaggerated notion of what a ruler and a state can do had several causes. In part it merely reproduced the ancient myth of the lawgiver which Machiavelli found in writers like Cicero and Polybius . In part it reflected his understanding of the problem that confronted a ruler amid the corruption of sixteenth-century Italy. By sheer political genius a successful ruler had to create a military power strong enough to overcome the disorderly little cities and principalities and in the end to evolve a new public spirit and civic loyalty.
All the circumstances of his time conspired to make him see in an absolute ruler the arbiter of a nation’s fate. But beside these historical circumstances, the logic of his own political philosophy weighed heavily in the same direction. For if human individuals are by nature radically egoistic, the state and the force behind the law must be the only power that holds society together: moral obligations must in the end be derived from law and government. In this respect also it was Hobbes who gave a systematic Statement of what Machiavelli suggested.
From this point of view it is easier to understand the double Standard of conduct for the statesman and the private citizen which forms the main connotation of what is called Machiavellism. The ruler, as the creator of the state, is not only outside the law, but if law enacts morals, he is outside morality as well. There is no standard to judge his acts except the success of his political expedients for enlarging and perpetuating the power of his state.
The frankness with which Machiavelli accepted this conclusion and included it in his vice to rulers is the chief reason for the evil reputation of the Prince, though the Discourses were really no better. He openly sanctioned the se of cruelty, perfidy, murder, or any other means, provided only they re used with sufficient intelligence and secrecy to reach their ends,
It is well that, when the act accuses him, the result should excuse him; and when the result is good, as in the case of Romulus his murder of his brother, it will always absolve him from blame. For he is to be reprehended who commits violence fop the purpose of destroying, and not he who employs it for beneficent purpose.
For the manner in which men live is so different from the way in which they ought to live, that he who leaves the common course for that which he ought to follow will find that it leads him to ruin rather than to safety. A prince therefore who desires to maintain himself must learn to be not always good, but to be so or not as necessity may require. Nor need he care about incurring censure for such vices, without which the preservation of his state may be difficult. For, all things considered, it will be found that some things that seem like virtue will lead you to ruin if you follow them; whilst others that apparently are vices, will, if followed, result in your safety and well-being.
Machiavelli’s prince, the perfect embodiment of shrewdness and self-control, who makes capital alike of his virtues and his vices, was little more than an idealized picture of the Italian tyrant of the sixteenth century. He is a true, if exaggerated, picture of the kind of man that the age of the despots threw into the forefront of political life. Though the most extreme examples occurred in Italy, Ferdinand of Spain, Louis XI of France, and Henry VII of England were of the same type.
There is no doubt that Machiavelli had a temperamental admiration for the resourceful, if unscrupulous, type of ruler and a deep distrust of half-way measures in politics, which he rightly believed to be due to weakness more often than to scruple. His admiration for this type sometimes betrayed him into serious superficiality of judgment, as when he held up the unspeakable Cesare Borgia as the model of a wise prince and asserted that his political failure was due to nothing but unavoidable accident.
Machiavelli never erected his belief in the omnipotent lawgiver into a general theory of political absolutism, as Hobbes did later. His judgment was swayed by two administrations for the resourceful despot and for the free, self-governing people-which were not consistent.
He patched the two together, rather precariously, as the theories respectively of founding a state and of preserving it after it is founded. In more modern terms it might be said that he had one theory for revolutions and another for government. Hence he recommended despotism only in two somewhat special cases, the making of a state and the reforming of a corrupt state.
Once founded, a state can be made permanent only if the people are admitted to some share in the government and if the prince conducts the ordinary business of the state in accordance with law and with a due regard for the property and rights of his subjects. Despotic violence is a powerful political medicine, needed in corrupt states and for special contingencies in all states, but still a poison which must be used with the greatest caution.
Republicanism and Nationalism:-
There was nothing in Machiavelli’s account of the absolute monarchy corresponding to his obviously sincere enthusiasm for the liberty and self-government of the Roman Republic. The preservation of the state, as distinct from its founding, depends upon excellence of its law, for this is the source of all the civic virtues of its citizens. Even in a monarchy the prime condition of stable government is that it should be regulated by law.
Thus Machiavelli insisted upon the need for legal remedies against official abuses in order to prevent illegal violence and pointed out the political dangers of lawlessness in rulers and the folly of vexatious and harassing policies. In particular, the prudent ruler will abstain from the property and the women of his subjects, since these are the matters on which men are most easily stirred to resistance.
He favored a gentle rule wherever possible and the use of severity only in moderation. He said explicitly that government is more stable where it is shared by the many and he preferred election to heredity as a mode of choosing rulers.
He spoke for a general freedom to propose measures for the public good and far liberty of discussion, in order that both sides of every question may be heard before a decision is reached. He believed that the people must be independent and strong, because there is no way to make them warlike without giving them the means of rebellion. Finally, he had a high opinion both of the virtue and the judgment of an none-corrupted people as compared with those of the Prince.
They are unfitted to take a long view of intricate policies, but in matters that fall within their understanding, such as estimating the character of a magistrate, they are both more prudent and more sound in their judgment than a prince. Despite the cynicism of Machiavelli’s political judgments, there is no mistaking his esteem for liberal and lawful government. It is this which explains the admiration for him felt by a constitutionalist like Harrington.
Closely related to his favorable judgment of popular government where possible, and of monarchy where necessary, is his exceedingly low opinion of aristocracy and the nobility. More than any other thinker of his time he perceived that the interests of the nobility are antagonistic both to those of the monarchy and of the middle class, and that orderly government required their suppression or extirpation, These gentlemen, who live idly on the proceeds of their wealth without giving any useful service, are everywhere enemies of all civil government.
The only way to establish any kind of order there is to found a monarchical government; for where the body of the people is so thoroughly corrupt that the laws are powerless for restraint; it becomes necessary to establish some superior power which, with a royal hand, and with full and absolute powers, may put a curb upon the excessive ambition and corruption of the powerful.
The only thing which gave plausibility to Machiavelli’s admiration for Cesare Borgia is the fact that, despite all his crimes, Cesare did give better government to the Romana than the horde of robber barons whom he displaced. Machiavelli set his prince the task of fighting the devil with fire, but there was at least a largeness of aim and breadth of political conception in the prince’s villainy which were lacking in the equal villainy of the prince’s opponents.
Side by side with Machiavelli’s dislike of the nobility stands his hatred of mercenary soldiers. Here again he had in view one of the most serious causes of lawlessness in Italy, the bands of hired ruffians who were ready to fight for whosoever would offer the largest pay, who were faithful to no one, and who were often more dangerous to their employer than to his enemies.
Such professional soldiers had almost wholly displaced the older citizen-soldiers of the free cities, and while they were able to terrorize Italy, they had proved their incompetence against better organized and more loyal troops from France. Machiavelli had a clear perception of the advantage which France gained from nationalizing her army and consequently he was never tired of urging that the training and equipment of a citizen-army is the first need of a state. As he knew from his own observation, mercenary troops and foreign auxiliaries are alike ruinous to the ruler who must depend upon them.
They exhaust his treasury and almost invariably fail him in a pinch. The art of war is therefore the primary concern of a rule, the condition of success in all his ventures. Before everything else he must aim to possess a strong force of his own citizens, well equipped and well disciplined, and attached to his interests by ties of loyalty to the state. Machiavelli would have all able-bodied citizens between the ages of seventeen and forty subject to military training. With such a force the ruler can maintain his power and extend the limits of the state; without it he becomes a prey to civil strife within and to the ambition of neighboring princes.
Behind Machiavelli’s belief in a citizen-army and his hatred of the nobility stood the one sentiment which mitigated the cynicism of his political opinions. This was national patriotism and a desire for the unification of Italy and her preservation from internal disorders and foreign invaders. He was perfectly frank in asserting that duty to one’s country overrides all other duties and all scruples.
For where the very safety of the country depends upon the resolution to be taken, no considerations of justice or injustice, humanity or cruelty, nor of glory or of shame, should be allowed to prevail. But putting all other considerations aside, the only question should be, What course will save the life and liberty of the country.
This was the sentiment behind his idealization of absolute and ruthless power, as appears in the eloquent chapter which concludes the Prince. Machiavelli hoped that somewhere among the tyrants of Italy, perhaps in the house of Medici, there might arise a prince with a vision broad enough to see a united Italy and bold enough to make the vision real.
And if, it was necessary for the purpose of displaying the virtue of Moses that the people of Israel should be held in bondage in Egypt; and that the Persians should be oppressed by the Medes, so as to bring to light the greatness and courage of Cyrus; and that the Athenians should be dispersed for the purpose of illustrating the excellence of Theseus; so at present, for the purpose of making manifest the virtues of one Italian spirit, it was necessary that Italy should have been brought to her present condition of being in a worse bondage than that of the Jews, more enslaved than the Persians, more scattered than the Athenians, without a head, without order, vanquished and despoiled, lacerated, overrun by her enemies, and subjected to every kind of devastation.
But while the hope of peace and unity for Italy was a real motive of Machiavelli’s thought, it was with him rather a sentiment than a definite plan. Aside from the belief that it must come under the leadership of an absolute monarch, as he saw national unity being achieved in France and Spain, he had nothing that could be called a policy for Italian unification. He thought of it rather as a distant hope, without which the happiness and prosperity of the country could never be attained; he never really conceived government on a national scale.
The government which evoked his sincerest enthusiasm was an expanding city-state such as Rome, a city-state which, to be sure, should follow a far-sighted policy in attracting and retaining the support of its allies, but which in Machiavelli’s conception never rose to the height of establishing a nation-wide citizenship. Thus it happens that the concluding chapter of the Prince, though doubtless sincere, is the exception rather than the rule in his usually sordid advice to princes.
Insight and Deficiencies:-
The character of Machiavelli and the true meaning of his philosophy have been one of the enigmas of modern history. He has been represented as an utter cynic, an impassioned patriot, an ardent nationalist, a political Jesuit, a convinced democrat, and an unscrupulous seeker after the favor of despots. In each of these views, incompatible as they are, there is probably an element of truth. What is emphatically not true is that any one of them gives a complete picture either of Machiavelli or his thought.
His thought was that of a true empiric, the result of a wide range of political observation and a still wider range of reading in political history; it has in it no general system to which he tried to relate all his observations. In the same way his character must have been complex. His writings show, it is true, a surprising concentration of interest. He writes about nothing and thinks about nothing except politics, statecraft, and the art of war.
For deeper-lying social questions, economic or religious, he had no interest except as they bore upon politics. He was perhaps too practical to be philosophically profound, but in politics pure and simple he had of ail his contemporaries the greatest breadth of view and the clearest in sight into the general tendency of European evolution.
Living at a time when the old political order in Europe was collapsing and new problems both in state and in society were arising with dazzling rapidity, he endeavored to interpret the logical meaning of events, to forecast the inevitable issues, and to elicit and formulate the rules which, destined henceforth to dominate political action, were then taking shape among the fresh-forming conditions of national life.
Niccolo Machiavelli more than any other political thinker created the meaning that has been attached to the state in modern political usage. Even the word itself, as the name of a sovereign political body, appears to have been made current in the modern languages largely by his writings. The state as an organized force, supreme in its own territory and pursuing a conscious policy of aggrandizement in its relations with other states, became not only the typical modern political institution but increasingly the most powerful institution in modern society.
To it more and more fell the right and the obligation to regulate and control all the other institutions of society, and to direct them on lines overtly set by the interests of the state itself. The part that the state, thus conceived, has played in modern politics is an index of the clearness with which Machiavelli grasped the drift of political evolution.
Yet it would be hard to say whether the intense brilliance that his genius cast on the statecraft of the despots and of the national states which followed them did not hide at much as it revealed. A philosophy which attributes the successes and failures of politics chiefly to the astuteness or the ineptitude of statesmen is bound to be superficial.
Niccolo Machiavelli thought of moral, religious, and economic factors in society as forces which a clever politician can turn to the advantage of the state, or which he can even produce for the sake of the state, and this not only reverses a sane order of values but also the usual order of causal efficacy. At all events it is certain that Machiavelli misrepresented completely the state of European thought at the beginning of the sixteenth century, except among a few disillusioned Italians.
His two books were written within ten years of the day on which Martin Luther nailed his theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, and it was the effect of the Protestant Reformation to involve politics and political thought more closely with religion and with differences of religious faith than had been the case during most of the Middle Ages.
Machiavelli’s indifference to the truth of religion became in the end a common characteristic of modern thought, but it was emphatically not true of the two centuries after he wrote. In this sense his philosophy was both narrowly local and narrowly dated.
Had he written in any country except Italy, or had he written in Italy after the beginning of the Reformation, and still more after the beginning of the Counter Reformation in the Roman church, it is impossible to suppose that he would have treated religion as he did.
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