Friday, June 3, 2011

Machivellian interpretation of humanism

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Machiavelli’s work The Prince is a contradiction of the political philosophy of his time. Machiavelli’s philosophy is to put all political power in the hands of a single person, who would make decisions for all of society, while above all serving in the best interests of himself. These interests included gaining, maintaining, and expanding his political power. Machiavelli promotes a secular society where morality is unnecessary, and stood in the way of an effectively governed principality. Although Machiavelli’s theories seem very authoritarian and against representative government it is important to note that during his lifetime in Italy there was a very unstable and deteriorating political state of affairs. His solution seems harsh and very risky; however he describes this Prince as a savior from the turmoil of his times.

During Machiavelli’s time in Florence, Italy was politically divided into a number of city states; these states were given greater allegiance by their citizens than the country as a whole. The governments of these city-states often changed

between dictatorships and republics, and this is illustrated by the history of Florence, where tyrannical rule was exercised by the Medici family from the middle to late lth century before the restoration of democracy by Savonarola. The divisions which existed between these states were further aggravated by the frequent presence of foreign military forces such as France and Spain, who helped many factions gain power against their rivals. In particular, it was the Spanish who returned the Medici family to power in 151 after invading Florence.

Although humanists of his time believed that an individual had many attributes to offer the state, Machiavelli was quick to disregard and even mock human nature. He generally distrusted citizens, stating in The Prince that “…in times of adversity, when the state is in need of its citizens there are few to be found”. Machevelli even had doubts about the loyalty of citizens, explaining that these people would not keep their word. Nevertheless, Machevelli insisted that the Prince never mistreat the citizens of the principality, based on the notion that this would also be in the Prince’s best interests. Furthermore, if a Prince can not be feared and loved at the same time, it is better to be feared, because according to human nature men are “...ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit…”. Machevelli believes men are self-centered and not willing to act in the best interest of the state and when the Prince “...is in danger they turn against him…” To win honor from the citizens Machevelli believes that the Prince must deceive them. By encouraging and honoring professionals these people would mind their own business while silently “...increas[ing] the prosperity of their state”. Through this deception, the Prince would achieve and maintain honor and trust amongst the citizens, especially those that were in the best position to oppose him. The Prince must also deceive those who attempt to flatter him with their political ideas, while pretending to take many opinions into account, the Prince realizes that men are only out for self-interests; therefore the Prince must act on his own accord, and none other.

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Machiavelli believed a secular form of government would be the most realistic in benefiting the Prince while maintaining power and serving his own purposes. The Prince was Machiavelli’a only solution to Italy’s unstable government. Although it was the cultural, intellectual and artistic center of the Renaissance, Machiavelli did not believe these qualities would secure Italy’s political future. Accordingly, Italy required a leader that could command complete control over citizens and institutions. A secular government would achieve these ends, because, according to Machiavelli, men generally worked for their best interests and not the well being of society. This being the case, there was no room for them in politics. Machiavelli doubted that this form of government could outlast tyrannical rule, nevertheless, it was established years after his had penned The Prince, thus Machiavelli must be regarded as the founder of modern day secular government.

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