Machiavelli-Ideals of the Renaissance: an Analysis of Machiavelli's Principles

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 221
  • Published : April 26, 2007
Open Document
Text Preview
Machiavelli-Ideals of the Renaissance:
An Analysis of Machiavelli's principles
It has been the general outlook among political philosophers that there is a particular association between moral goodness and legitimate authority. Many authors believed that the use of political power was only correct if it was employed by a ruler whose personal moral character was strictly virtuous. Therefore, rulers were advised that if they wanted to be a successful ruler, they must behave according to the conventional standards of ethical goodness. It was thought that rulers did good when they did well; they earned the privilege to be obeyed and respected when they showed themselves to be virtuous and morally decent. It is this moralistic view of authority that Machiavelli criticizes in his best-known dissertation, The Prince. For Machiavelli, there is no moral foundation on which to judge the difference between legitimate and illegitimate uses of power. Rather, authority and power are fundamentally equal: whoever has power has the right to rule; but goodness does not guarantee power and the good person has no more influence by virtue of being good. In direct conflict to a moralistic theory of politics, Machiavelli says that the only real concern of the political ruler is the acquisition and maintenance of power; although he talks less about power than about "maintaining the state." Machiavelli presents a incisive criticism of the concept of authority by arguing that the legitimate rights of reigning adds nothing to the genuine possession of power. The Prince claims to reflect the unpleasant political realism of an author who is aware that decency and entitlement are not enough to win and maintain political office based on direct experience with the Florentine government. For Machiavelli, power typically defines political activity, and it is necessary for any successful ruler to know how power is to be used. Machiavelli believes that only by means of the appropriate use of power can individuals be lead to obey. Thus, the ruler is able to maintain the state in safety and security. Machiavelli's political theory embodies a concentrated effort to exclude issues of authority and legitimacy from deliberation in the exchange of political decision-making and political judgment. Nowhere does this come out more clearly than in his argument on the relationship between law and force. Machiavelli concedes that good laws and good arms make up the dual foundations of a well-ordered political system. But he adds that since coercion creates legality, he will concentrate his attention on force. He says, "Since there cannot be good laws without good arms, I will not consider laws but speak of arms" (Machiavelli 1965, 47). In other words, the legitimacy of law relies entirely upon the threat of coercive force. Consequently, Machiavelli is led to conclude that fear is always preferable to affection in subjects to effectively control them. Machiavelli remarks that "one can say this in general of men: they are ungrateful, disloyal, insincere and deceitful, timid of danger and avid of profit…. Love is a bond of obligation which these miserable creatures break whenever it suits them to do so; but fear holds them fast by a dread of punishment that never passes" (Machiavelli 1965, 62; translation altered). As a result, Machiavelli cannot be said to have a theory of obligation separate from the burden of power; people obey because they fear the consequences of not doing so, whether the loss of life or of privileges. In tandem, a Machiavellian perspective unequivocally tackles the notion of any grounding for authority independent of the possession of power. To Machiavelli, people are bound to obey with regard to the power of the state. If I feel that I should not obey a law, what eventually compels me to submit to that law will be either a fear of the power of the state or the actual use of that power. I can only decide not to obey if I possess the power to resist...
tracking img