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The Skill of Running a State
Among the most widely read of the Renaissance thinkers was Niccolo Machiavelli. Born in Florence, Italy in 1469, he became a politician who retired from public service and devoted the proceeding years to writing about history, political philosophy, and even plays. His political philosophy’s concentrated on the skills required for successfully running a state. Machiavelli focused on the way things are, rather than the way things ought to be. In 1513, Machiavelli wrote his best known work, “The Prince”. The underlying theme states that a successful prince must demonstrate virtues, such as strength and skill, in favorable and adverse situations. Thus, Machiavelli proposes that a ruler must obtain a good reputation by resorting to any means necessary given the circumstances. Although, it is desirable to be both loved and feared by one’s subjects, Machiavelli declares it is far safer for the ruler to be feared. Therefore, in “The Prince”, Machiavelli argues the significance of a prince to be feared and avoid being hated by his subjects, which can be achieved through deceit and corruption, in order to maintain the stability of the state.
“The Prince” is one of the first examinations of politics and science from a purely scientific and rational perspective. Machiavelli theorizes that the state is only created if the people cooperate and work to maintain it. The state is also one of man s greatest endeavors, and the state takes precedence over everything else. The state should be one s primary focus, and maintaining the sovereignty of the state is one s most vital concern. The state is founded on the power of its military. Therefore, a strong military is vital to maintaining the state. Machiavelli believes that men respect power, but they will take advantage of kindness. He believes that when given the opportunity, one must destroy completely, because if one does not, he will certainly be destroyed. The prince should lead the military, and he has to be intelligent. An effective politician can make quick and intelligent choices about the problems that constantly arise before him. He must also have virtue, which means he is strong, confident, talented, as well as smart. A prince cannot be uncertain, because uncertainty is a sign of weakness. Fortune controls half of human s actions, and Man will control the other half. Virtue is the best defense for fortune, and virtue must be used in order to keep fortune in check. The prince must take advantage of situations based solely on if it is best for the state. He should choose his decisions based on contemporary and historical examples. A prince cannot consider whether his acts are moral or immoral, and he instead must act in an unbiased manner for the state. Moreover, it does not matter how the state achieves its goals, as long as these goals are achieved
Machiavelli further concludes that it is difficult to be loved and feared simultaneously. According to Machiavelli, the answer is that it would be desirable to be both, but since that is difficult, it is much safer to be feared than loved. The problem with being loved is that it will not necessarily keep you from getting trampled. Indeed, if people are afraid of their prince, then they will be loyal. If the people fear their ruler, than they would not even contemplate about conspiring against him. Therefore, “fear is sustained by a dread of punishment that never forsakes you”. Men will hesitate to offend a ruler that has made himself feared. It is only a natural part of human nature to not willingly contest someone that they are afraid of. Being feared and not despised is a reliable mechanism that a prince should utilize. As long as the prince abstains from confiscating his citizen’s property and women, he can best avoid being overthrown. Moreover, if it is deemed necessary to execute someone, it should follow through only if there is an obvious and just cause. For all the people will ever ask of their ruler is for him to maintain their best interests in all-important matters.
Machiavelli also explains that the sovereign must take whatever action is necessary to maintain order in society. In time this will result in the most compassionate choice too. Machiavelli explains that, Cesare Borgia, by using cruelty was able to achieve order and obedience in Romangna. This contrast with the inaction of the Florentines, who allowed internal conflict to develop in Pistoia, resulted in devastation of the city. Therefore, a number of highly visible executions can be very effective in controlling the people and preventing a major outbreak of violence and murder. Machiavelli also cites the tremendous military successes of Hannibal. Even though Hannibal led an army of different races over foreign soil, he never had any dissension because of his reputation of extreme cruelty.
Machiavelli talks consistently about the Roman Empire and its rulers. Particularly, he stresses the importance of having a strong army and popular support by the army and the people. The Roman emperors proved to us many times that a ruler who is perceived to be weak is the most vulnerable to attack. Alexander Severus was controlled by his mother and considered feminine by his troops. He was a good ruler, but it was this appearance of weakness that led his troops to kill him. Antonius Caracalla is another example of an erroneous ruler. He was a very strong military leader who was a great fighter. Unfortunately, he became an incredibly cruel and harsh ruler over time, and hence, he was killed by a centurion. Machiavelli also includes the country of Italy into much of his writings. He hopes to reclaim the land, which has been taken away from them. He feels that Italian princes have lost their states because they have not had armed people. Machiavelli tells us that an “armed population is a stable population”.
However, when a prince is with his armies and has a vast number of soldiers serving his government, “then it is above all necessary not to care about a name for cruelty”. This is due to the fact that armies are never kept united, nor are they put together unless their leader is harsh. Although not all subjects can be armed, those who receive the special treatment and are armed become obligated to the prince and will hence be faithful. But when a prince disarms them, they may get offended and feel as if they are distrusted, which would generate feelings of hatred. The best possible safety net for a prince is to keep his subjects happy, armed and faithful. Not to be disliked by your people is the best possible fortress that a prince hopes to achieve.
In addition, Machiavelli believes that a wise ruler should appear to have the virtue of mercy but in reality, practice cruelty. Yet the degrees of cruelty may vary. For instance, a prince may choose to be severe in the beginning of his ruling and then be moderate after some time. Machiavelli suggests that a prince must always exhibit five virtues in particular: mercy, honesty, humanness, uprightness, and religiousness. It is vital that all of the rulers seem devout because people will blindly see the side of the ruler that he projects and wants them to see. For “men in general judge more by their eyes than hands, because seeing is given to everyone, touching to few”. Machiavelli goes on to say that hatred is acquired through the acts of good and bad deeds. Hence it is necessary for a prince, if he wants to maintain himself, to learn to be able not to be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity. Dealing with the religious aspects of the above written virtues, Machiavelli explains that the great princes of the past accomplished great things without taking faith into account. Yet, a prince has to be cunning and appear to have faith.
Furthermore, Machiavelli’s analogy of the fox and the lion complies with the notion that a prince must know when to deceive his people. The fox represents the type of animal that is cunning and the lion signifies a feared animal. Therefore, it is important for a prince to know when to bring out these qualities and how to balance their effects. He believes that people are already eager and ready to be deceived, and that “men are so simple and so obedient to present necessities that he who deceives will always find someone who will let themselves be deceived”. From this it appears that people will not consciously seek the truth in order to avoid confusion and conflict. Evidently, a ruler that encompasses the mere essence of all of these virtues, when faced with a variation of fortune, is not bided by those qualities. He will be able to resort to evil measures when forced by necessity. Indeed, to have that form of leverage is important for the success of the state.
Moreover, Machiavelli strongly argues that the generosity of a prince will harm him in the long run. If a prince is sincerely generous, he has to be liberal, which entails the qualities of lavishness and extravagance. As a result, the ruler will “consume all his resources in such deeds”. In order to continue his liberality he will be forced to be rigorous with taxes. Due to this aspect the prince will be hated by his subjects, and since he will be poverty- stricken, he will hence be held with little regard. There is nothing that is more self-consuming as generosity; the more it is practiced, the less it will be able to continue to be practiced. The ruler will be despised and poor that will make him truly hated. Above all, a ruler must guard against being hated. So, it is better to cultivate a reputation for meanness. If the people consider their ruler to be mean, they will still fear him because of that quality, but not hate him.
Another downfall from a generous prince comes from the fact that men are pretentious, frivolous, “ungrateful, fickle, pretenders and dissemblers, evaders of danger, eager for gain”. A prince that has founded himself based on friendships with other men is ruined. For friendships can be traded for other promises, when acquired by money and prove to be very unreliable when they are needed. Men will not be reluctant to offend a ruler that is generous and attempts to make him loved. Regardless, a wise ruler should rely on what is under his control and capabilities.
Machiavelli has wonderfully depicted the skills a successful ruler must learn to preserve solidity in his state. Even if a prince has to use immoral measures to ensure the state’s well being, Machiavelli finds this justifiable in the realm of politics. For this is a key element that Machiavelli portrays in “The Prince”. Nobody wants to help a weak person without benefiting from his or her services, that is human nature’s way of thinking. Thus, Machiavelli stresses that it is imperative that a ruler be feared and gain this reputation through his own actions. Nonetheless, Machiavelli states his points on why a prince should avoid being hated if he plans to continue to rule even if he has to be deceitful and corrupt.
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