Tutorial Portfolio Paper 2
ĎCan the methods of state craft which Machiavelli advocates ever be the foundation of an orderly state?í
29 October 1998
Fundamental Concepts and Notions
The question posed contained two core concepts - statescraft and the orderly state.
Statescraft is the art of running a state - Machiavelli advocated methods at variance with traditional morality - lying, cheating and subterfuge (acting like a fox) and pre-emptive strikes upon potential opponents (acting like a lion). A lion easily falls into a trap; a fox does not have great physical strength. Machiavelli believed a successful leader must know how and when to act like either.
Machiavelliís orderly state was one were citizens obeyed the leader - the only means of securing obedience is fear. It is advantageous for the people to love their prince - but crucial that they fear him. Due to this, the principalities in The Prince are often regarded as models of totalitarian government.
Areas of Disagreement and Controversy
The tutorial was organised as a debate, exposing differing positions. The argument revolved around the potential stability of Machiavellian governments. Both sides looked to Eastern Europe for evidence to back their claims - Machiavelliís opponents pointed to the collapse of the Soviet bloc, while his supporters argued that the Soviet empire collapsed precisely because itís leaders abandoned Machiavellian methods. They pointed out the survival of states like China and Cuba as examples where the leaders maintained their control because they did not Ďgo softí.
Machiavelliís opponents attacked his dependence on luck. No matter how assiduously one follows Machiavelliís plan, eventually everyoneís luck runs out, especially if Fortuna is a lady in constant need of excitement by a daring young man - no-one stays young forever. However, Machiavelliís supporters pointed out that while nothing mitigates totally against fate, that does not mean that one doesnít use all means possible to insulate oneself from itís worst effects - one has a much bigger chance of riding oneís luck following Machiavelliís advice than ignoring it.
What Ideas Might have been Discussed More Fully?
Machiavelli is often presented as a manifesto for seeking power for itís own sake. However, in the Epilogue to The Prince, Machiavelli outlines his reasons for writing The Prince. He makes a passionate call for a prince to liberate the Italian people from foreign oppression. The dichotomy between the callousness and selfishness Machiavelli advocates, and the claimed higher purpose behind the book are difficult to reconcile. This did not come up in discussion.
Further, some feel that Machiavelli never saw The Prince as a serious political work. Some scholars see The Prince as, in part, a satire of Ďprincely mirrorsí, books written to advise future rulers how to behave like a Christian king. Another motivation for The Prince was to improve Machiavelliís standing with Medicis. We might have discussed these, or it detract from the validity of Machiavelliís work even if they were true.
Contemporary Relevance of Platoís Ideas
In a democratic context, Machiavelliís relevance depends the motivation for involvement in public life. Machiavelliís methods of government are inimical to the great contemporary philosophies. If one politicians wish to advance a set of beliefs, using Machiavellian methods will often undermine those very beliefs.
On the other hand, if one is in politics for power, or the Ďthrill of the chaseí, or if one is a sincere adherent of some totalitarian philosophies, Machiavelliís tactics are useful weapons in any political armoury. Many of Machiavelliís ideas are based on assessments of human nature, and this has not changed since Machiavelliís day.
Machiavelliís advice does not, however, deal with two the advent of mass media. A modern prince needs to know the art of the soundbite as well as the poison dagger in the night. Nazi Germany and Stalinís USSR particularly recognised the power of the media. I have little doubt that Machiavelli, were he alive today, would do likewise.
Moreover, for Western European states at least, war is now a rarity. Machiavelliís advice has less relevance in a Europe at peace for 50 years.
Persuasiveness of Platoís Ideas
I find Machiavelliís ideas morally disgusting. That, does not mean that they are not useful means of political control.
There is something persuasive about The Prince, as Machiavelliís ideas are rooted in the real world. The side of ourselves presented in The Prince is all too familiar. However, I think Machiavelli underestimates our morality and our intelligence. Someday, The Prince will try to fool the people once too often. At that point the prince might find out that not only do the people have some morality, but that no reign has ever survived permanently.
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