Niccolio Machiavelli (Born May 3rd, 1469 – 1527 Florence, Italy.) His writings have been the source of dispute amongst scholars due to the ambiguity of his analogy of the ‘Nature of Politics” and the implication of morality. The Prince, has been criticised due to it’s seemingly amoral political suggestiveness, however after further scrutiny of other works such as The Discourses, one can argue that it was Machiavelli’s intention to infact imply a positive political morality. Therefore the question needs to be posed. Is Machiavelli a political amoralist? To successfully answer this it is essential to analyse his version of political structure to establish a possible bias. It would also be beneficial to discuss and compare another philosopher’s account to the nature of politics, and in this instance I have chosen the works of Plato in particular The Republic, establishing a comparison to define whom has the more convincing argument and why?
Machiavelli lived amidst a deteriorating, corrupt, totalitarian, 16th Century political infrastructure when The Prince was composed. It’s original intention was simply to influence Lorenzo The Magnificent son of Piero Di Medici in the hope for possible appointment within public office. The Prince is therefore merely suggestions on possible theories in terms of a governing policy.He does not infer that this account is the be all and end all of successful rule and acknowledges himself as a humble man who has taken the time to study the deeds of great men to form an ideology that can be taken by the reader, in this case Lorenzo Medici as he interprets it.He does not claim to have the answer to politics just a different perspective by way of analyses of the past and present. I have been unable to find among my possessions anything, which I hold so dear or esteem so highly as that knowledge of the deeds of great men, which I have acquired through a long experience of modern events and a constant study of the past. (Social and Political Philosophy. Somerville and Santoni p.101) It is from this initial examination of politics from a purely scientific and rational perspective that Machiavelli has been named the founder of analysing politics as a science. However his reputation has been unfairly appointed due to a misinterpretation of his work. If read in context The Prince is a dissection of reasoning in relation to the success or demise within a governing body (central power) and suggests potential strategies to insure a successful unified central power. It is essential prior to judgement on whether Machiavelli is a political amoralist or not to take into account The Discourses and the essence of their meaning. The Prince alone I grant can be mistaken for a how-to-be-a tyrant handbook with it’s absolute theories and some what lack of civility, where “the end justifies the means”. But it’s intention is assuming the political leader is already of moral standing and possess such qualities of integrity and virtue to be expected of one in the position of leadership. “Everybody sees what you appear to be,few feel what you are,and those few will not dare to oppose themselves to the many,who have the majesty of the state to defend them;and in the actions of men,and especially of princes,from which there is no appeal, the end justifies the means” “Thus it is well to seem merciful,faithful humane,sincere,religious and also to be so.” Effectively what seems as ruling with an iron fist is best expressed in terms of need. The 16th Century political unrest Machiavelli is influenced by would best be unified by such absolute power due to it’s degradation and lack of structure. So therefore it would not be seen as immoral with respect to it’s time. And looking at it from a wider more advanced perspective although the technique may appear rigid if it creates the desired unification of Italy and a situation where the people have stability and social, political and economical order, it is then just the process that has been judged as immoral but not the outcome. In the introduction of The Discourses writes, “Although the envious nature of men, so prompt to blame and so slow to praise, makes the discovery and introduction of any new principles and systems as dangerous almost as the exploration of unknown seas and continents, yet, animated by that desire which impels me to do what may prove for the common benefit of all, I have resolved to open a new route, which has not yet been followed by any one, and may prove difficult and troublesome, but may also bring me some reward in the approbation of those who will kindly appreciate my efforts.” Although Machiavelli once again shows his belief in the negative side of human nature as suggested here in “the envious nature of man” it is not as harshly stipulated as in The Prince where he views men in general to be bad and self-serving. The other differences “for the good of all” in The Prince absolute power is done to insure order and justified as merciful because the successful outcome for all is the intention of the rule, “the end justifies the means”. “A prince therefore, must not mind incurring the charge of cruelty for the purpose of keeping his subjects unified and faithful; for, with a very few examples, he will be more merciful than those who, from excess of tenderness allow disorders to arise.” He we see that the intention of Machiavelli’s nature of politics was one in view of morals. The Discourses were intended to educate young men to his theories so when they took on the role of leadership he could then take into account the concepts of The Prince and follow the procedures needed to defend and retain power.
Plato’s version of the nature of politics could be considered to be far-reaching and harder to achieve in reality. His ideology of Utopia, where all is done for the good of all, is structured in a way that leaves no room for politics as a science. It is more like the manipulation of politics to create what he saw as freedom. But at what personal cost to the individual? He believed in education of the people to insure a consistent harmonious existence, and in different levels of training depending on what class an individual was designated too. So at a glance you could assume that Plato’s theory had it’s foundation as in The Discourses of a free state – or a state of freedom. One without war within the community. It cannot be seen as a science when the education is stunted in such a way that new origins and a complete disregard for past history means education is limited to the time and for what the time represents. Plato’s version of political reform in The Republic although would achieve little need for war due to equal communities and no shortage of food or shelter, however it would nothing for progress or improvement of the community as a whole. The individual would become stagnant fixed within his/her preordained lifestyle and class system that would only insure a dampening of the spirit over time. This class system breeds inequality although that’s what the whole nature of the theory is ment to suggest (Equality for all. all for one and one for all.). Without room for humans to grow and expand, diverse their talents and socialise in different groups and acquire knowledge man would become ill at ease with his present time and not only question himself but also the system he is ruled by. Plato’s version insists that it is only possible in a good city, with a good man. I suggest it would only happen in an institution with bars and medication. Or where an individual has no ambition, assertiveness, opinions against the grain, low intelligence and absolutely no desire to better themselves, individuality and an intrigue for historical foundation – both religious and philosophical views Is happy through ignorance to be slotted into a structure not unlike that of a communist country and live a humble life with little reward – other than survival.
To determine whether Machiavelli’s argument is more convincing it is not a difficult task. All we need to is look at the potential for success in both political theories. From a modern perspective I believe Machiavelli’s The Prince can be best put into practise and the outcome to the people under it’s rule would solely rest on the morality of the ruler-he sets out the guidelines to be implemented however distorted the interpretation the actual process can be followed in today’s society. A bad example due to excess of evil within the leader would be that of Hitler’s Third Reich dictatorship. Although undoubtedly negative the process is more convincing an argument because the results can be achieved. But Plato’s Utopia traces could only be seen in ancient times such as Ancient Egypt and Inca societies. Because today’s people and people in general are have self worth, desires, ambition, EMOTION and COGNITIVE processes that instil in us the innate need to question and reason, feel, express our passions, fears, hopes, dreams and disappointments. We are individuals and need the room to grow and learn. Plato’s Utopia suppresses the individual from feeling or wanting and assumes that like animals in a herd we will follow suit.