Consider Virtue If Necessary

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Consider virtue if necessary
Renaissance, tied to the metaphor of rebirth, is a watershed in Europe development, from suppression of thoughts to prevalence of humanism, and from decline in feudalism to incline in democracy. During this period, some people, such as Francesco Petrarch and Leonardo Bruni, put forward their political theories, which are mainly based on virtues, to help a ruler not only maintain his state, but also build up his reputation. Such theories are accepted as representational thoughts by many contemporary rulers and humanists. However, some scholars, such as Niccolo Machiavelli, the author of The Prince, argue that the virtue is not the most efficient way for a prince to govern his state. Such ideas are different from, or, in other words, subvert the mainstream of political thoughts like ideas of Petrarch and Bruni in Renaissance. When arguing virtue is important for a ruler, Petrarch thinks a virtuous prince should be friendly, generous, faithful and pacific, but Machiavelli presents that a ruler only considers virtues if necessary, and proves that Petrarch’s views are wrong. The most obvious difference between these two theories is a ruler’s attitude towards his citizens. One is a prince love his citizens, a thought that Petrarch supports widely accepted at that time, while another is the citizens fear their prince, which Machiavelli presents. Petrarch states, “ you ought to love your citizens as you do your children, or rather ( if I may put it this way) as a member of your own body or as a part of your soul” ( Petrarch, 46). This proves that, in Petrarch’s opinion, a ruler loves not only himself and his family, but also his people. Petrarch argues that a ruler should not let his people fear him, as, in his words, “fear is opposed both to longevity in office and security in life” (42). This suggests that if people fear their ruler, which means a ruler is cruel, or evil, people will rebel against his power, a result that every ruler doesn’t want to have. Thus, Petrarch suggests the prince should love his citizens. On the contrary, Machiavelli holds a totally different opinion that a prince should be feared by his people. In The Prince, Machiavelli argues that since human beings are self-interest, they break the friendly relationship with their prince, when they think they can’t get benefits from him. However, people fear punishments, so they never rebel against the ruler. (59) In Machiavelli’s words, “a wise ruler should reply on what is under his own control, not on what is under the control of others.” (61) This strongly supports that if a ruler loves his citizens, he cannot do what he wants to maintain his state, since he needs to consider more about interests of his citizens. In this condition, a prince is a nominal ruler, who doesn’t have absolute rights to govern his state, because people revolt if the prince doesn’t satisfy their desires. Machiavelli’s ideas are quite different from Petrarch’s theories. Although Machiavelli’s ideas that a ruler is feared by his people don’t make sense in modern society, it is easy for a contemporary ruler to maintain his state, because, afraid of punishments, people only focus on their work and life rather than concern what they can get from the prince. Thus, in Machiavelli’s opinion, a ruler should be feared by his people, a theory against the widely accepted thought from Petrarch, which a ruler should love his citizens and be virtuous. Since Petrarch thinks that a ruler is virtuous, he suggests that a ruler should be generous, but, in Machiavelli’s opinion, a ruler is mean rather than generous. This is another difference. In Petrarch’s words, “even if the head of a state cannot benefit individual subjects, he may at least benefit the entire population.”(49) This reflects that, in Petrarch’s mind, what is the most important for a ruler to consider is not his benefit, but interests of all the people. Illustrating the example of Epaminondas, Petrarch argues...
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