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Against the Machiavellian Principles of Politics Essay

According to Machiavelli, the affairs of the state reside in the power of the prince. It is the prince which determines, directs, and unifies the components of the state. The prince therefore should act to preserve, strengthen, and protect his position from danger, whether external or internal, without due moral consideration. In short, with the preservation of the state in mind, the prince should act with political diligence to promote it, regardless of the means.

According to Machiavelli, “he who considers what ought to be done rather what is done will rather find himself in a state of ruin than preservation” (Machiavelli, 29). Political action free from any moral consideration is based from three assumptions: 1) Human nature is corrupt and selfish. It is impossible for the prince to satisfy all the needs of the people without injuring the welfare of others. The people is always eager to overthrow their government, to mock the instruments of the state, and to criticize the actions of the prince, whenever their interests (whether political or economic) are affected.

According to Machiavelli, “Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you” (Machiavelli, 29); 2) Morality and religion only limit the actions of the prince. In fact, when fortune fades away, the prince may become unable to defend himself from disconcerting threats.

It is therefore important, according to Machiavelli, for the prince to “guard himself as from a rock; and he should endeavour to show in his actions greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude; and in his private dealings with his subjects let him show that his judgments are irrevocable, and maintain himself in such reputation that no one can hope either to deceive him or to get round him” (Machiavelli, 32). The prince should endeavour to show himself as the bearer of righteousness, fidelity, and religion, without endangering his own power. This impression is only used to preserve the power of the state.

Only in this way can religion and morality be twisted for the benefit of the prince; 3) The success of a prince is never solely dependent on law, morality, or religion. Sometimes, political success is achieved by political deception, alteration of political favors, and in general by arms. It is therefore necessary for the prince to use these instruments to preserve the instruments of the state. It is this condition that the position of a prince who took the state by arms is much more endangered than that of a prince appointed by the people or the Church.

To preserve his power, the prince must take moral considerations and religion as only instruments of that purpose. General Critique In order to provide a more comprehensive criticism against Machiavellian politics, there is a need to draw important propositions from different thinkers and theories. Some of the selected philosophers and social theorists are as follows: St. Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant, Rousseau, and Montesquieu. According to Aquinas, morality and religion are necessary instruments for the governance of the state.

In his book “De Regnum” (On Kinship), Aquinas argued that it is always necessary for the ruler to take the precedents of moral and religious obligations as a means to please Divine justice (Curtis, 431). For Aquinas, the foundation of the state is divine in orientation. It is founded by the grace of the Divine Being (who willed the creation of the state after man’s fall). A prince who disregards the religion and morality disregards the Creator. Aquinas here does not disregard the necessity of preserving the power of the state. What Aquinas emphasized is the excesses of unscrupulous rule – a condition which would be punished by God.

For Aquinas, a good prince ‘will always be favored by God’ (and preserve his base of power). Rousseau argued that morality is borne out of the so-called ‘social contract. ’ The people gathered to appoint a ruler who would promote their interests. The ruler has the following obligations: 1) to protect the people from threats, 2) to maintain peace and order, 3) to promote solidarity and good governance, and 4) to relinquish power whenever the people chooses a new ruler. A ruler who fails to accomplish these tasks would lose his position.

The state, however, would remain intact because the instrument of power resides not in the prince but in the people. According to Rousseau, a prince who put all the instruments of power in his hands is more likely to fall than a prince who measure his authority based on public will. Montesquieu offered a more critical and comprehensive understanding of the position of the prince. According to him, an unruly rebellion of the people is tantamount to political disobedience – a violation of the law of the land. This instance applies only if two conditions are met. First, the ruler does not show any violation of the law.

And second, the people unlawfully breaks the social contract and sought to depose a good government. In short, according to Montesquieu, there is no need for a ruler to follow the Machiavellian principles because the law is the manifestation of social and moral obligation, the codec of ethics (Curtis, 613). Here, one may infer that the actions of the ruler should be based solely on this criterion. A ruler who follows the law would never fall in disgrace. Using Kant’s universal moral standards (in his book “Prolegomena”), one can create a set of moral standards which would be used in judging the actions of a ruler.

First, one should determine whether the consequence and intensity of political actions. If a political decision disfranchises a significant portion of the population, such decision is illegitimate (not morally neutral). Second, one may determine the means by which decisions are carried out. Here, legality is an important factor. Third, one may determine whether the actions of the state are in congruent with accepted international standards of morality. Here, an external standard is added in order to ensure the moral efficacy of the state in all levels.

The proper enforcement of these external standards is either left to the disposition of international agencies or to the efficacy of treaties. In short, internal political standards of morality are enforced by the state (the people serve as the watch guard of the state). Machiavellian concepts of political deception and moral neutrality have no standing in this type of political set-up. Works Cited Curtis, Michael. The Great Political Theories. New York: Avon Books, 1981. Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. by W. K. Marriott. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1995.


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