Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Niccolo Machiavelli and Morality

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When reading Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, one can’t help but grasp Machiavelli’s argument that morality and politics can not exist in the same forum. However, when examining Machiavelli’s various concepts in depth, one can conclude that perhaps his suggested violence and evil is fueled by a moral end of sorts. First and foremost, one must have the understanding that this book is aimed solely at the Prince or Emperor with the express purpose of aiding him in maintaining power. Therefore, it is essential to grasp his concepts of fortune and virtue. These two contrary concepts reflect the manner in which a Prince should govern while minimizing all chance and uncertainty. This kind of governing demands violence to be taken, however this is only done for the strict purpose of maintaining his throne, and generating both fear and admiration from his people. In all cases of violence, Machiavelli limits the amount of violence that needs to be taken down to the minimum, and most cases the victims of these acts are enemies of the people. Behind the violence, the prince is essentially taking the role of the villain and assuming all “bad” acts so that his people do not have to commit the acts themselves. In addition, all the Prince asks for is to not threaten his power and to respect it. In the 16th Century, this request is feeble compared to those of other hierarchical Monarchies. In the end, Machiavelli’s Prince assumes all the burden of violence so his people may not worry of their lively hood. This is Machiavelli’s ultimate stroke of morality.


In essence, Machiavelli’s ideal principality sustains a genuine sense of morality behind the violence that “must be subjected in order to maintain stability.” Looking at his plans subjectively, Machiavelli could very easily have broken down the subjects in a hierarchical fashion or forced upon them large sum taxes and duties. He does not do this, instead opting simply for the respect of the people and the lack of treachery in affairs regarding his power. The people in his kingdom can live with tranquility, and pursue whatever they so desire. This freedom of the people and ability to act as they feel is more than a simple convenience. Personal pursuit of happiness of all is given by the Prince but at his expense. All that the people must do is respect and not threaten the Prince’s power. On the contrary, the Prince sacrifices his own motives, morals, and personal happiness so that his subjects may have them. Essentially, Machiavelli paints the Prince as a Christ figure. It is the Prince who takes away the sins of the world, so to speak. He gives up his morals so that other may keep and cherish theirs. Machiavelli firmly insists that politics and morality can not co-exist. The main reason is that moral behavior is consistent and can be predictable. Consistency and predictability are significantly weak components of a ruler, and could be exploited by his enemies. When a pattern of action is established, conspirators can conspire and plan an overthrow. These conspirators would then plunder and pillage as they came to power; therefore worsening the situation in the kingdom. The people then would become the victims, and anarchy would soon break out creating all kinds of disorder. So, although the intentions of moral political actions are good, in the end they will lead to immoral acts. The actions he takes are not just violent tyrannical activities rather they are sacrifices. He is the one who must live with the guilt of sin, not his constitutes. In terms of morality, the Prince does not demand any unmoral action from his subjects. He shoulders it all. It is also the Prince who, although it is also for his personal safety, eliminates the tyrants that not only threaten his throne but also his people. Along the same lines as halting anarchy or riots, the elimination of other power hungry individuals evaporates the threat of oppression on the people from another exterior source. One thing that remains consistent in his principality is that people maintain their honor and esteem, and this unselfish sacrifice is what makes the Prince’s actions in actuality quite moral.


Another aspect that one can not help but ignore is that fact the Prince assumes the position of ruler at the costs and expectations. For being a Prince, he must at times be prudent and aware of his position with the people. Machiavelli writes “the Prince must be seen as moral by the people.” The fact underlies the importance of morality for Machiavelli. Without morality and without the notion of morality in a Prince, civil disorder will occur. Morality, with its uncertainties, provides at the very least a common non-violent base in which subjects have a set of rules could live by. What makes morality important to the Prince is that it also allows him a statute of sorts. For example, if people operate by their morals than the Prince has not to worry such problems as stealing, killing and other immoral actions. Therefore, just by appearing to be moral, morality can be used as a tool to control and harness the people below him.


Machiavelli’s Prince is a book in which Machiavelli outlines the actions a Prince must take to hold and maintain power in a principality. Within the context of the book, Machiavelli brings forth the notion that prudent violence must be done in order to maintain the throne. In addition, he strongly expresses the ideology that a Prince can not be both moral and political. However, behind this argument lays the foundation of morality. The Prince’s evil actions although not moral seem to sustain morality for the subjects within his principality. The Prince assumes all immoral behaviors and thus, sacrifices himself for the people, is moral in the end.


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