Our Faith…

In The Flying Muse on September 2, 2010 at 2:51 pm

“Return to the earth now if your mind is troubled and your heart is uncertain. For it is by returning to the beginining that we can clearly see the path to freedom.”

The Problem of The Prince – Machiavelli and his Discontents

Annual McKeever Lecture at St. John’s University – 02/15/03


Julius Caesar opens the book in which he describes his conquest of Gaul (France) with the famous sentence: “All Gaul is divided into three parts.”  The major problem in understanding The Prince is the determination of the extent to which Machiavelli really was or was not a proponent of evil.  It has been said that it takes a lot of gall to talk about Machiavelli.  In an attempt to conform to such a Caesarean sensibility I will divide my gall into three main parts.  In part 1 I will consider some significant aspects of The Prince in the context of Machiavelli’s life, time, and other works.  In part 2 I will visit the issue of Machiavelli’s vast influence upon posterity, an influence which is split right down the middle between disciples and discontents.  Finally, in part 3, I will briefly examine one of the myriad interpretations of The Prince, transposing it however into a slightly unusual key.  I shall then close with a farewell toast.


Niccolò Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469 and died on June 21, 1527.  Biographers of Machiavelli, such as Ridolfi and Viroli, record a dream that the dying Machiavelli is reputed to have told to his friends.  It seems to be a reinterpretation of the famous dream of Scipio as reported by Cicero in his treatise on the republic.  Machiavelli claims that he would rather spend an intellectually invigorating eternity in hell discussing affairs of state with the great political thinkers of history than be bored to tears in paradise by the saints.   It is interesting to note that, despite his lifelong disregard for Christianity, Machiavelli ended his life by availing himself of the sacrament of confession.  Since that time many interpreters have tried to put the problem of The Prince to rest, but to no avail.  Machiavelli continues to bury his undertakers.

Some Major Works:

1)      The Prince – was mostly written in 1513, but published for public consumption in 1532.

2)      Discourses –  This work was put aside in 1513 to write The Prince.  Its subject concerns the Republican form of government.  J.  Pocock argues in The Machiavellian Moment that Machiavelli’s republicanism constitutes the core of his contribution to political thought.  Machiavelli holds republican Rome up as a model for his times, and professes  a profound contempt for tyranny in the Discourses.  He claims that liberty can only flourish in a republic.  With liberty the population will grow, which in turn leads to more potential citizens to safeguard the state.  Machiavelli is critical of the Florentine dependence upon soldiers of fortune, which is also a major problem addressed in The Prince. (e.g. ch. 13, David’s use of his own slingshot to defeat Goliath.) It should be noted however that Machiavelli’s analysis of the superiority of the republican form of government over tyranny is still highly expedient.  Tyranny leads to a greater possibility of corruption, republicanism to greater wealth and stability.  In Book 1, ch. 47 of the Discourses Machiavelli asserts that the masses possess more collective wisdom than the prince.  On the contrary, as Bertrand Russell once pointed out in the last century, most people would rather die than think.

3)      La Mandragola (Mandrake Root) – (1518 – performed 1520); a popular comedy in which Machiavelli presents an allegory of the need for Florence to adopt his scheme for a standing or home grown army.  The play adapts the traditional story of the mandrake root which, according to legend, will induce pregnancy.  Nicia, a foolish lawyer, tries to trick Callimaco into sleeping with his beautiful wife, Lucrezia, because the next man to sleep with her after she has consumed a potion made from the root will die, thus sapping the poison of its potency.  Callimaco survives since, with the help of a local priest, he himself has hatched the entire plot so that he can both sleep with Lucrezia and procure her husband’s blessing.  The Machiavellian moral here is don’t ask a stranger to do what you should be doing yourself, such as sleeping with your own wife or defending one’s homeland with locals rather than with hired guns.  The original audience would have been aware that “Machiavelli’s army” performed disgracefully in being routed by the Spanish at the battle of Prato in 1512.  This brought the Florentine republic to an end.  The Medici family was thus able to resume power after a hiatus of almost 20 years.  This failure effectively ended Machiavelli’s active career as a trusted high level diplomat and analyst of “foreign affairs.”  He would write most of The Prince in the following year (1513) in part as an overture to the ruling Medici to consider him for future high level political posts.  Another theme in the play is the corruption of the Church, as it involves a priest, Timoteo, whose services are for sale.  A few years earlier, in 1509, Erasmus had published In Praise of Folly, with the motive of reforming the corruption of the Church from within, while  in 1517 Luther will affix his ninety five theses to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, thus firing the opening salvo of the Protestant Reformation.

4)      Art of War (1521) –  For Machiavelli, the art of war should be the foundation of civil life.

The virtues of war (discipline, courage, cultivation of strength, love of citizens for each other) are reminiscent of W. James’ essay entitled “The Moral Equivalent of War.”  Machiavelli reveals a distrust of both cavalry and artillery.  In his works he is often wrong about the historical performance of mercenary troops.  For him, fighting for one’s patria was a symbol of civic virtue, which would instill civic pride in the young.

After World War I a number of post-war poets emerged whose subject matter was the degradation of war.  Wilfred Owen, for example, borrows a line from the Roman poet Horace to illustrate how British propaganda about the glories of war was fallacious.  His  poem entitled “Dulce et Decorum est” begins with several stanzas which present the attractions and pageantry of war, and concludes with the grim reality of a young life destroyed in a far off killing field.  Owen writes: “Who would tell to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie/ dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.” Such wartime realism in poetry was a far cry from Owen’s contemporary Rupert Brooke’s highly idealistic paean to patriotism:

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England.

5)      Florentine Histories (1525) – Written to inform citizens of a potential Florentine Republic how to avoid the terrible consequences of factionalism, a topic dealt with, for example, in the tenth of the Federalist Papers by James Madison.  In this work, as well as in Discourse Upon Our Language, Machiavelli entertains the possibility that language is the ultimate weapon.  In The Prince both the language of deceit as well as the force of arms are put forward as necessary conditions for the long term preservation of power, with the latter being perhaps a little more necessary than the former.

Historical Context:

In 1494 Piero de’ Medici is “dethroned” in the aftermath of the invasion of Italy by King Charles VIII of France.  Italy will not be free of foreign rule for nearly four centuries to come.  A Republic is established in Florence.  The Medici had ruled Florence since 1434. Italian cities had enjoyed relative independence from the Holy Roman Empire — which according to Voltaire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire,  as well as from each other.  In 1453 Constantinople was sacked by the Turks.  This shut down the silk route from China. Italian cities like Venice, Milan, and Florence tried to compensate for lost revenue by annexing neighboring Italian cities.  Venice, for example, needed land for mulberry trees to feed the silkworm.  Meanwhile, the kings of France and Spain were becoming more powerful and wealthy.  Italian cities would now need to seek help from other Christian states outside Italy.  At other times they would need protection from their former foreign allies. This led to changing sets of alliances.  Italy was disunited, politically fluid, and subject to foreign domination.  The leading powers in Italy during Machiavelli’s time were the Venetian Republic, Florence, the Papal States, the duchy of Milan, and the Kingdom of Naples.

The Florentine Republic was run until 1498 by religious reformer Girolamo Savonarola under the general guidance of the chief lawmaking body – the Great Council.  Savonarola condemned corruption and preached repentance.  From 1502-1512 the Republic would be led by a permanent gonfalonier – a kind of permanent commander in chief of military matters for Florence.  This was Pietro Soderini.  From 1498-1512 Machiavelli served the Republic as Secretary of the Second Chancery.  This meant that he was an analyst for both military and foreign affairs.  In addition, from 1502 onwards Machiavelli’s affiliation with Soderini increased his de facto involvement in affairs of state, especially in relation to military strategy. During this time, Machiavelli teamed up with Leonardo da Vinci on a massive engineering project intended to both divert the river Arno away from Pisa, as well as to extend it to the sea, so that Florence could possess the military and financial advantages of a port city.  The project failed miserably.  The recent book entitled Fortune is a River suggests that the water in the background of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa may be a depiction of what both Leonardo and Machiavelli had in mind for the Arno.

In 1512 the Florentine Republic comes to an end.  Machiavelli’s standing army is routed  at the battle of Prato. Machiavelli blames Soderini for the fall of the Florentine Republic.  According to Machiavelli, Soderini’s virtues as a man were also his vices as a political leader. The Medici return to power in Florence.  This power is extended with the Medici occupation of the Papacy.  The Medici will not be overthrown again until 1527, at which time the Republic will be restored.  During this Medicean interlude two family members will occupy the throne of St. Peter as pope: Giovanni de Medici as Leo X from 1513 – 1521, and Giulio de Medici as Clement VII, who is elected pope in 1523 after the brief papacy of Adrian VI. It is the Medicean joint control of both the central Italian papal states and Florence that inspires Machiavelli with the idea that the entire Italian peninsula can be brought under Italian control.  A central nexus of power could then begin to expand its sphere of influence so as to encompass the entire peninsula.  This opportunity had also occurred a little over a decade earlier when Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli’s ruthless model for The Prince, had swept through Italy while his father Alexander VI sat in Peter’s chair.

Lorenzo de Medici (Duke of Urbino), the grandson of il Magnifico and the nephew of Pope Leo X, becomes the operative “prince” of Florence in 1513.  The Dedicatory Epistle to The Prince is addressed to Lorenzo, although at first Machiavelli intended to dedicate the work to Giuliano de Medici.   Machiavelli is seeking the favor of the “new prince,” and offers as his resume a plan for how a new prince can consolidate and maintain power, and in so doing unify Italy and free her from foreign domination.  The Prince, written in Italian with Latin chapter titles, consists of a Dedicatory Epistle to Lorenzo de Medici followed by 26 short chapters.  It is less than 100 pages long.  Harvey Mansfield in Machiavelli’s Virtue only half jokingly suggests that this brevity could have been due to the fact that Lorenzo, like the cutthroat and busy corporate executive of today, could spare but very little time to read.   The bulk of The Prince was written in 1513.  The dedicatory epistle to Lorenzo de Medici was probably added in 1515-1516. Despite the brevity of The Prince Lorenzo barely glanced at it. Machiavelli, however, needed to get back into his good graces. The Medici distrusted Machiavelli.  He was a commoner, a former underling of Soderini, and a suspect in a failed anti-Medici conspiracy.  The Prince was first published posthumously in 1532, but had been in circulation in manuscript form for years.  Along with Machiavelli’s other works, The Prince will be placed upon the Index of Prohibited Books in 1559.  But this anathema had effect only in Italy and Spain.  Whereas the central concern of the Discourses will be Florentine domestic affairs, based upon an imitation of lessons to be learned from Roman history, The Prince focuses primarily upon external affairs, and the examples are geared more to his own contemporary situation than in the DiscoursesThe Prince evolves out of Machiavelli’s epistolary exchanges with his friend Francesco Vettori, which occur during the former’s unintentional retirement to Sant’ Andrea, his country estate.  These letters show that while their chief topic was war, their main concern was peace.  Chapter 26, like the dedicatory epistle, was also a later appendage to the original text.  It is an exhortation to Lorenzo to free Italy from what he calls barbarian rule.    While the preceding chapters are predominantly analytical, ch. 26 is highly rhetorical. It reminds some scholars of Isocrates’ exhortation to Philip.  It reminds me of the much later Inno de Garibaldi, the famous fighting song of the Italian Risorgimento, which goes:  “Si scopron le tombe, si levano i morti/ i martiri nostri son tutti risorti!/ Le spade nel pugno, gli allori alle chiome,/ la fiamma ed il nome d’Italia nel cor….”

The Prince:

In The Prince the seeds of a new political/ethical order can be gleaned from the study of history and current events.  One might argue that Machiavelli is not only intending to address Lorenzo and the other potential Italian rulers of his time, but everyone, everywhere, at every time.  This is debatable.  The renaissance represented a renewal of interest in Greek and Roman antiquity.  This interest manifested itself in a mimetic movement which took hold in art, science, philosophy, and literature.  Machiavelli wants to extend this enchantment with the past to the model of Roman republican government.  Just as Columbus and others during his time were discovering new worlds that had always been there, Machiavelli invites the politically savvy intelligentsia of his day to rediscover republican Rome.

In Chapter one of The Prince Machiavelli provides the reader with a classification of the different types of principalities.  Chapters 3-24 deal primarily with the political and military expression of Roman virtu, which for Machiavelli is the exercise of freedom whereby a man of energetic will can achieve and maintain dominance over a principality with his own arms.  Machiavelli calls for a new ethics in chapter 15, an ethics which is to be at the disposal of purely political goals.  This inverts the Christian conception of the proper relation between ethics and politics in which moral norms ought to serve as constructive principles for political society.  Machiavelli never refers to the notion of Natural Law in any of his known writings.  At first blush, from a Christian perspective the answer to the question of whether Machiavelli is a teacher of evil must be yes, since the prospective prince is instructed that it is acceptable in principle to sacrifice anyone except himself.  Christian moral theory sometimes calls upon people to give witness to the faith at the cost of their lives. Christian morality does not subscribe to the notion of Dirty Hands, a term which stems from a J.P. Sartre play of the same name, wherein a person can intentionally choose a lesser wrong in order to avoid a greater evil.  But of course the unspoken reference is to Pontius Pilate, who could wash but still not clean his hands in delivering Christ up to his enemies. When such dilemmas are posed in contemporary ethical literature in relation to political life the decision maker is usually limited to the two alternatives of bad and worse (e.g. Michael Walzer’s seminal article “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands,” 1973).  If Christian participation in political life is ethically possible, then the dilemma of Dirty Hands as customarily presented must be a false dichotomy.  No other conclusion is consistent with a strict observance of Christian ethics which disallows the knowing commission of any evil, even a lesser evil, in pursuit of a greater good or avoidance of a greater evil.  Such strict observance presents the flip side, so to speak, of Barry Goldwater’s famous claim that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”  In real life there often exists the logical possibility of escaping between the horns of this lesser evil/greater evil dilemma, as other choices which may be very costly to oneself are often available.  Moreover, if one abstains from choosing at all the result may be worse than if one had chosen the lesser evil, but Christian ethics does countenance such a removal of oneself from the responsibility of choice.  For Christian ethics, no morally evil choice can ever be sanctioned as politically justifiable?

For Machiavelli, such an approach to ethical problems is overly simplistic and completely unrealistic.  In the Discourses (Book I, ch. 26) he has the following to say in regard to the use of cruel methods. “These methods are most cruel and are inimical to any body politic, not only to a Christian one but to any human one, and every man should avoid them and should prefer to live as a private citizen rather than as a king who does so much damage to mankind; nevertheless, anyone who does not wish to choose this first humane course of action must, if he wishes to maintain himself, enter into this evil one.  But men choose middle ways which are very damaging and, in so doing, are unable to be entirely good or bad.”  I would now invite you to consider where you stand in regard to the following well known suggestions. In John’s Gospel (18:14) Caiphas asserts that “it was expedient that one man should die for the people.”  Lenin, in a 1920 letter to Leon Trotsky, writes that “if it must be so, then let thousands die as a result, but the country must be saved.”  Finally, a Churchillian quote: “Bolshevism should have been strangled in its cradle.”  Machiavelli would surely have responded with a smile to each of these suggestions, for he was a man, as he says in a letter to Francesco Guicciardini, who loved his country more than his soul.  It goes without saying that it is difficult to view each of these examples with complete objectivity and without the clouding of emotion.  Let me ask you a question.  If you had been Churchill, would you have allowed Coventry to be bombed in order to prevent the Nazi’s from realizing that the English had cracked their secret codes?

From Ch. 15.

“Because how one ought to live is so far removed from how one lives that he who lets go of what is done for that which one ought to do sooner learns ruin than his own preservation: because a man who might want to make a show of goodness in all things necessarily comes to ruin among so many who are not good.  Because of this it is necessary to a prince, wanting to maintain himself, to learn how to be able to be not good and to use this and  not use it according to necessity….let him not care about incurring infamy for those vices without which he might hardly save the state; because, if one considers everything well, one will find that something that appears a virtue, if followed, would be his ruin, and that some other thing that appears a vice, if followed, results in his security and well-being.”

The view that the playing field upon which power politics is played should be exempted from the customary norms of moral behavior was not entirely new with Machiavelli. In his Ricordi Machiavelli’s contemporary Francesco Guicciardini says things which are equally as shocking, but his writing style is pedantic and not nearly as inflammatory as that of Machiavelli. Thucydides, in the fifth book of his History of the Peloponnesian War, in the famous dialogue between the Athenians and the Melians, comes off as sounding quite Machiavellian.  And Euripides follows suit in his Phoenician Maidens: “If wrong may e’er be right, for a throne’s sake were wrong most right.”  Cicero in De officiis (Book III, ch. II) and Tacitus in the Annals (Book XIV, ch. XLIV) both expressed the belief that the violation of the moral law is permitted if it promotes the public welfare (utilitas rei publicae).  This leverage of an ultimate end trumping customary morality was even entertained in the Middle Ages by canon lawyers who looked for circumstantial loopholes in order to safeguard the prerogatives of the city of God on earth.  This however is a little misleading since what this meant, in the battle between Church and State, was that the laws of the state could be superseded in principle by the qualitatively higher laws of God.  What was new with Machiavelli  was the breakthrough that such loopholes could be weaved together into what the French encyclopedist Diderot would call an art of tyranny, a description which fits well given the aesthetic mindset of Renaissance culture.

In chapter 17, in an infamous passage, Machiavelli considers the relative advantages of whether it is better to be loved than feared.

“I say that each prince must desire to be considered merciful and not cruel.  Nonetheless, he must be wary not to use this mercy badly.  Consequently,   a prince must not care about the infamy of cruelty in order to keep his subjects united and faithful….From this springs a dispute: whether it is better to be loved than feared or the reverse.  It is answered that one would want to be both; but, because it is difficult to force them together whenever one has to do without either of the two, it is much more secure to be feared than to be loved.”

In this passage Machiavelli draws upon his conviction concerning the unchanging uniformity of human nature. Inciting terror in the people might engender hatred but guarantees fear.  Thus the assurance that people will try to avoid pain can serve as a predictive measure for the control of their behavior.  On the other hand, when a prince tries to inculcate his people with love for him, all he can know for sure is their pretense of endearment.  Machiavelli then continues.

“Nonetheless, the prince must make himself feared in such a way that, if he does not obtain love, he may escape hatred; because being feared and not hated can go together well; which he will do always when he keeps himself from his citizens’ and his subjects possessions, and from their women…but, above all, he should abstain from other people’s things; because men sooner forget the death of the father than they do the loss of patrimony.”

Machiavelli sprinkles The Prince with liberal examples of cruelty in action drawn both from antiquity as well as from his own time (e.g. ch. 7 – Cesare Borgia; ch 8 – Agathocles; ch. 17 – Hannibal).  Cesare Borgia’s cruelty brought peace to the region of Romagna.  But what Machiavelli finds unpardonable in a politician or prince is not his crimes, but his mistakes.  Despite his admiration for Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli will take him to task for allowing the election of his enemy, Julius II, to the throne of St. Peter.

Machiavelli establishes a partial reconfiguration of virtue in chapter 18 with his metaphors of the lion and the fox.   The metaphor of the cunning fox is Machiavelli’s version of the cardinal virtue of prudence, which Aquinas, following Aristotle, calls right reason in action (STh II-II, 47, 2).  The Greeks had learned from Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound what happens when power and knowledge are severed, as when Prometheus, symbolizing knowledge, is chained to an outcropping of rock by Zeus, symbolizing strength and power, for the sin of giving mankind the gift of fire. Machiavelli likewise recognizes that even a non-Christian moral system must be systematic and symbiotic, the virtues of the lion and the fox must coexist and feed off each other in the person of the prince.

“You must know there are two kinds of fighting: the one with laws, the other with force: the first is proper to man, the second to beasts: but because many times the first does not suffice, it is expedient to recur to the second.  Therefore, it is necessary for a prince to know well how to use the beast and the man.”

“Therefore, since a prince is constrained by necessity to know well how to use the beast, among the beasts he must choose the fox and the lion; because the lion does not defend itself from traps, the fox does not defend itself from wolves.  One therefore needs to be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to dismay the wolves.”

In chapter 25 Machiavelli switches gears from virtu to Fortuna, the goddess of fate.  For Machiavelli, there is no divine providence or wrath with which to contend; neither is Fortuna blind.  Fortune, for Machiavelli, is not an implacable deity, but a woman to be mastered by a man of Machiavellian virtue. If human nature is predictable, then despite its depravity, Machiavelli is optimistic that this knowledge can be used to advantage, for an astute prince will be able to mold the future based upon having learned the lessons of the past.  Thus the Christian virtue of hope is recast as the possibility that certain individuals can  control their destinies if they possess the knowledge and wherewithal to recognize and respond to the contingency of history.

In the Mirror of Princes Literature throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages princes were viewed as the ideal embodiment of human nature.  Machiavelli undermines this view.  Princes are not to be the paradigm of classical or Christian virtues, but to have the pragmatic skills that lead to success (survival, power, glory). (e.g. Xenophon – The Education of Cyrus; Erasmus – Institution of a Christian Prince, 1515)   For Machiavelli, laws backed up by force (good arms) are the best laws.  Recall the line of Robert Frost:  “Good fences make good neighbors.” The army, for Machiavelli, is the foundation of political power. Yet as the founder of a “new order” Machiavelli intends to rival Jesus.  Even though Machiavelli, like Jesus,  is armed with words, both were unarmed in the military sense.  Machiavelli cites OT passages, but never the NT.  For Machiavelli, language, in keeping with the humanistic revolt against the stylistic barbarism of scholastic logic, is a weapon of persuasion.  For example, he collapses the distinction between doing well and doing good (bene) in The Prince. Hence Machiavelli would have loved G.K Chesterton’s quip that anything worth doing is worth doing badly.   Machiavelli is thus self-consciously at odds with Dante who viewed language to be the product of a well crafted reason.   For Machiavelli, the eradication of enemies and changing the way people think are analogous modes of behavior.   While weapons may be preferable to words as the ultimate foundation of power, still they must function in tandem much like the virtues of the lion and the fox.

Machiavelli by no means wishes to overestimate the role of cruelty.  Cruelty is not his main concern.  Although a “Machiavellian virtue”, Scipio did very well for Republican Rome during the Spanish campaigns without it.  Cruelty is just a tool.  Machiavelli does not want to exalt cruelty in The Prince as much as he wants to degrade the classical and Christian conception of virtue. The central teaching of The Prince is the following: If inhuman cruelty and animal cunning are verified by experience to be necessary conditions of political success, then conventional morality is false.  The Prince is an attempt to wholly discredit Christian virtue as well as the entire post-Platonic tradition of enshrining morality as an ideal.   Shakespeare’s Brutus says that his participation in the slaying of Caesar was due, not to the fact that he loved Caesar less, but because he loved Rome more.  One might argue that Machiavelli preaches cruelty not because he loved morality less but because he cherished a free and unified Italy even more.  Machiavelli begins ch. 19 with a parody of Aristotle’s ethical conception of the golden mean.  He tries to show, mockingly, how his own table of virtues are a mean between extremes of excess and deficiency.  Interestingly, Machiavelli does not explicitly refer to either Plato or Aristotle.  But one should read The Prince in light of what Aristotle has to say about tyrants in the Politics (Book 5, ch. 10 ff.)

Lest one think The Prince is devoid of republican sentiments in applauding the attributes of the successful prince, keep in mind how democratically based governments might come into existence in the first place: a) by Force; or b) by Vote.  Can one “justify” or bootstrap a democracy by force, which seems contradictory, or by a majority vote, which seems self-justifying?  Furthermore, without an ultimate recourse to force, what good is the result of legislative or judicial prerogatives?  In a disunited Italy and unstable Florence, the political skills of Machiavelli’s prince are intended as a necessary first step in the restitution of republican rule.  And in Book 1, ch. 9 of the Discourses Machiavelli asserts that new republics must be founded by just one person.  Machiavelli’s world is of course much different than our own, for neither he nor his contemporaries could count long periods of domestic peace as part of their first hand experience.  In Machiavelli’s Italy a leader who fell out of favor would often find himself torn in two.  Nowadays a former leader is more likely to find himself or herself courted by think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute than drawn and quartered in the town square for all to see.

Machiavelli will not dedicate the Discourses to a prince, but to commoner friends.  He    points out in a letter that only those who know how to govern are worthy of being prince, not those who can govern a kingdom without knowing.  Being a prince is not an entitlement of blood, but a station open to anyone who possesses the merits of the office.  Thus it is a position of upward mobility.  Power is  not something that you earn by birth, it is something that you take because it does not exceed your grasp.  Machiavelli is of course one who himself has been held back by a system which pays more attention to one’s genealogy than to one’s genes.

Machiavelli merits being called the earliest exponent of realpolitik, a style of statecraft based upon a cynical view of human motives, and devoted to advancing the interests of a state without regard for moral or religious strictures.  Such a view does not square with that of T.S. Eliot who, for reasons I cannot fathom, characterizes Machiavelli as possessing an innocence of soul completely devoid of cynicism.  Machiavelli viewed Christianity as the paradigmatic case of fraud in politics.  Much of its political strength and success was, he contended, the result of the sword wielded by Christian princes, contrary to Christian values.  Christianity, according to Machiavelli, could not deliver on its own promises of eternal rewards and punishments, although the expectation of these could and did often serve to constrain the behavior of individuals, and of states who would threaten the authority of the Church (e.g. Julius II at the hands of Baglioni in Perugia – Discourses Book 1, ch. 27).  One can easily see then how Machiavelli has the institution of the Church very much in mind in the development of his blueprint for the complete secularization of political life.  Like a good chef who will not discard even the scraps, Machiavelli has a place for forgiveness in his scheme for political life.  In the Discourses (Book 3, ch. 47) he says that good citizens should forget injuries for the love of their city.  In (Book 1, ch. 26) he would have a new prince behave like Robin Hood, making the rich poor and the poor rich, by purloining a line from Luke’s Magnificat (1:53).  “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”


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