Machiavelli and Morality Essay
Machiavelli and Morality
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 suffer and 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 while leaving his noble people to act as they feel accordingly without worry of their lively hood. This is Machiavelli’s ultimate stroke of morality.
Before examining how the interaction of violence and politics lead to morality in the end, it is important to analyze exactly what Machiavelli demands of his Prince. First and foremost, Machiavelli harps upon the concept of fortune and virtue. By fortune, he means that everything is left to chance, while nothing will guarantee that a certain event will occur. Machiavelli writes that a “Great long standing Prince never rules with fortune. ” Through risk and chance, one leaves him open to failure; thus action should be withheld if an element of chance is involved. Machiavelli ties virtue very closely to that of prudence.
He defines virtue as acting exceptionally and draws a distinction between morality and virtue. In many respects Machiavelli defines virtue by prudence. If a ruler is able to balance his violence, keep his subjects appeased, and have a dire understanding of his threats, then in Machiavelli’s eyes the ruler has a strong virtue. What must be understood is that the throne is always in jeopardy and someone is always there to try to knock the prince off his pedestal. This is a prime understanding that a prince must have, and fuels the infamous argument by Machiavelli that it is better to be feared than loved.
Machiavelli explains that, for the most part, love is very subjective and eventually will subside unless further concessions are made to appease his subjects. In addition, people only care about their personal conveniences and a prince would have to overextend himself if he were to be loved by all. Fear, however, is not subjective and has a universal effect on all his people. Fear can be attained by sporadic violent acts. One must understand, however, that massive amounts of violence can not be done because it would portray the Prince as tyrant, and might stir up his people to revolt against him.
The acts must be calculated, concise, and serve a direct purpose not only to his benefit but to the people’s also. Despite what might be assumed, Machiavelli is really developing a principality based around the people, where the Prince’s actions are merely to save his own head from the chopping block. 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 significannot ly 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. As Prince, Machiavelli’s existence and power is constantly threatened. However, it is not simply a job or power that the Prince would lose if he is to be overthrown from his position. It is, in turn, his life that the Prince would lose if he were overtaken.
Therefore, it could be conceived that the Prince is acting and utilizing violence simply to save his own life. Saving a life, even it is your own, follows within the moral code. You could though look at the situation from a different perspective. Machiavelli argues that the only noteworthy position a moral person can assume is that of a martyr. However, I disagree with this statement because although one could be reveled as a martyr, the possible effects of a new prince’s statutes far outweigh the benefits of being a martyr.
As a martyr people simply become energized and support your cause. However, if a Prince is such martyr, that would mean a new Prince is in power and could instill far worse conditions upon the people. Therefore, with his subjects as the top priority, morality demands that the Prince must stay alive and allow the people to prosper under his free monarchy. 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, by sacrifices himself for the people, is indeed moral in the end.
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 23 November 2016
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