30 January 2013
The Justification of Cruelty in Machiavelli’s “The Prince” Throughout his work “The Prince,” Machiavelli explores the characteristics of an ideal leader and offers practical advice on a variety of matters associated with one’s rise to power. Characteristically, his arguments are straightforward and rational and he frequently employs historical evidence to strengthen them. One profound hypothesis presents itself in Chapter VIII of this political discourse in which Machiavelli focuses on the necessary evil of cruelty in a position of leadership. Machiavelli quickly acknowledges the necessity of cruelty in establishing a successful state with a powerful leader. Although cruelty can breed malevolence and infamy, Machiavelli asserts that it simultaneously has the capacity to be used to ultimately foster the well being of the citizenry. Accordingly, he gives “a prince” concrete guidelines to the proper usage of cruelty in leadership. He states that cruel actions should be performed all in “one stroke” at the very onset of a prince's rule and thereafter only employed in self-defense or for the greater good of the subjects. In other words, he does not advise moderation in the degree of cruelty exercised, but rather in the duration of the cruelty; if injuries are inflicted all at once, they are “tasted less” and thus “offend less.” With this approach, anger and resentment amongst the subjects will fade as they begin to appreciate the benevolence of their leader's rule (Chapter 8). Machiavelli places a large emphasis on historical examples throughout “The Prince” and many of his other works. Unlike his predecessor Plato who uses examples to arrive at a conclusion, Machiavelli employs notable historical references to support his already fabricated hypotheses. The main story Machiavelli utilizes to demonstrate his assertions about the concept of cruelty is that of Agathocles. This ancient ruler rose to power on a path of extreme...
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