Machiavelli - Caressed or Crushed

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A critical assessment of Machiavelli's claim that 'people should be either caressed or crushed'. by Glen Thomson (11161340) for the course: Political Theory (200.215) Niccoló Machiavelli lived in violent times. He was an acute observer of the political realm and he read and studied the works of the great philosophers. Using these experiences he wrote a book called 'The Prince', in part to exhibit his ingenuity and knowledge, in part to try and secure employment of a political nature. In The Prince he makes the claim that 'people should be either caressed or crushed'(1). My personal view of this claim is one of admiration for its effectiveness but concern for its moral standpoint. I will attempt to share why am I so impressed with his insight and why I think he was content to disregard conventional morals when making this claim; I do believe he has some justification for his choices. Machiavelli was a realist and sought to illustrate what was done at the time rather than what might be preferable in the long term. He also lived during a period of political turmoil where brutality was commonplace, leading him to have a starker view of what was perhaps permissible. And finally, while he would have been delighted to know we were studying his work five hundred years on, his claim was intended for a future employer and therefore needed to offer as great a chance of success as possible; its effectiveness was its most important feature. To follow this through I will look at where the claim appears in The Prince, how it can be seen to be effective by example and then I will look at Machiavelli's life in relation to the violence of the time and review his likely intentions for the claim and the book. Finally I will consider two arguments against my assessment and what I would say in response to these. To begin then, I will start with the claim within the book The Prince. Machiavelli makes his claim in the midst of discussing what he calls mixed monarchies. This is were a prince, who already has a state of his own, invades another state and takes this too, thereby creating a mixed monarchy made up of the two states. Here he discusses two possibilities; either his new kingdom is right next door and everyone has similar language and customs to his or, the kingdom is far away and both the language and customs are very different. Machiavelli considers the latter example by far the more challenging. In this case he strongly recommends the prince moves to the new state himself or otherwise establishes a colony there. Using either of these methods the prince will stand the best chance of holding the new state. If the prince lives in the new state he will spot trouble before it gets away on him and if he establishes a colony, only a small portion of the people will be offended (read: brutally murdered) and the others will be unlikely to cause a fuss having seen the fate of their neighbours. Here Machiavelli asks us to note a general rule: 'people should be either caressed or crushed'. His justification is: if you only offend people in a minor way they will be bitter and still in good stead to get rid of you, however if you really come down on them they won't have the strength for revenge and will be too scared to act anyway. Furthermore, if you pamper people by giving them some land or perhaps some minor decision making power, they are highly likely to be pleased with their new deal and remain in your favour. I think his claim has some real merit, especially with regard to its effectiveness, and for now I'll put aside moral concerns to examine this. An example from a different context will help to clarify the concept a little. I have lived in Guatemala in the past and as with any developing country there are stray dogs here, there, and everywhere you go. If you give a stray dog a little food now and again, he will quickly become your friend and follow you around. If one of these dogs gets a little too aggressive, or too close for comfort, a...
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