Machiavelli argues in another major work that the purpose of politics is to promote a “common good.” How does this statement relate to the ideas Machiavelli presents in The Prince?
The fact that two of Machiavelli’s greatest and most famous works on political power came into being thanks to the downfall of his own political career is quite ironic. More ironic however is the way he contradicts his statements in each book about the purpose of political power. As previously stated, one of Machiavelli’s major works, referring directly to The Discourses on Livy (1517), argues that the purpose of political power is to promote a “common good”. Meanwhile, The Prince presents a ruler less worried about the “common good” and more concerned about maintaining and expanding political power at all costs.
“Laws make men good,” states Machiavelli in book one of the discourses, after a long explanation about how men created politics to create order. At first men searched for the strongest and bravest among them to mold him into a leader they could obey. Machiavelli then says: “From this beginning came recognition of what is proper and good, as opposed to what is pernicious and wicked.” However, as time went on, the people became harder to satisfy and politics became more complicated.
New forms of government and laws were created in order to keep the people in order because as he states in The Discourses: “men will never be good, except by necessity”. Simple leaders became the tyrants he promotes in The Prince. They sought to be feared by their people in order to be obeyed and maintain power. In The Prince the leader is no longer the strongest and the bravest, but the prudent, more astute. The leader is one that can predict things such as treachery and conspiracy and end it before it can cause further problems in his government.
The Prince discusses many ways for an astute leader to rule his state and maybe one or two of these promote the “common good” of the people, and it isn’t even actual common good. In The prince, the appearance of a common good is more important than having it as a reality. A ruler must appear to be honest and good but doesn’t necessarily have to be. I believe the relation between Machiavelli’s two texts on the purpose of political power is that one describes what politics were made to be while the other discusses what they have actually come to be and how to keep them that way.
Instead of a “common good” it goes more along the lines of what is good for the ruler. While the statements contradict each other more than once, I believe the texts to be somewhat complementary in the sense that alone, they each give a different side or view of what politics actually are, while reading them both gives the reader an expanded, more complete understanding, not only on what politics are and how to maintain that political power, but also on why it has to be that way “for the good of the people.”
Courtney from Study Moose
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