The Prince ends with the notion that Italy needs a new Moses - an armed prophet that would unite the peninsula and go on to dominate Europe. The prophet part of the equation is vital. Agathocles had power, but was despicable. Cesare Borgia had power and glory, which is why he was virtuous, despite all the despicable things he did.

How do you acquire and keep power? Three things. An independent citizen militia is the foundation of your authority (mercenaries are cowards, auxiliaries are untrustworthy). Next, you must ensure that the populace do not hate you. They provide the manpower for your armies, so their support is crucial. What they desire most is liberty, so if you do not violate their property and women, they will tolerate your rule. Low taxes, which encourage investment, is also good policy. Finally, the rich are your rivals. What they desire most is dominion, and so they have to be managed. You must be prepared to eliminate and replace entire ruling families, even when loyal, if necessary.

How do you acquire glory? Morality is nothing more than censure and praise (see the discussion in the Discourses below). It can be manipulated. Ciceronian virtues are not always prudent. Generosity means high taxes: you win over the ambitious few whilst alienating the many who serve in your army. Compassion means disorder: again favouring your friends will make you the enemy of the populace. Your army respects cruelty and a disciplinarian attitude. The love you buy with favours is fickle: people's affections shift with their interests. Fear, on the other hand, is a constant restraint.

Forget Cicero's integrity. You need to use any means necessary to hold power, assemble an army, and win wars. This is what true 'virtue' is. Virtuous actions are determined by results, and so by circumstances. Good rulers are able to adjust their character to the character of the times. However, few can dissemble so well. In which case, fortune favours the brave: constant military activity and daring is more likely to secure success. It keeps people guessing, and makes you impressive. Remember: charisma stupefies people, and success carries its own legitimacy. You can get away with anything if you are successful and charismatic, if you have power and glory, if you are an armed prophet.

But what's the likelihood of a man as virtuous (in Machiavelli's sense) as Moses turning up in Italy? We turn to the Discourses to answer that question.

As men multiply and form groups, they pick strong and courageous leaders to defend them against invasion. Life in society gradually creates morality through sympathy (recreating the positive or negative experiences of others using your imagination). This morality becomes enforceable through laws and punishments, and a notion of justice is created. Subsequently, when communities have to pick leaders, their criteria shift from strength (defence) to prudence (justice).

If power is inherited, it will eventually be assumed by incompetent or corrupt people. Such rules inspire resentment, which encourages further tyranny. The result is conspiracy and revolution. If the revolutionaries also make their authority hereditary, the cycle will continue. However, the revolutionaries could also create a democracy. However, empowering the people leads to license and anarchy, until another revolution reinstalls hereditary rule. The community is weak during the revolutions, and revolutionaries often call in outside powers to help their cause, risking foreign subjection and dissolution.

Thus the riddle of politics is to ensure a stable constitution that provides a constant succession of virtuous rulers without the license found in democratic societies. The answer is a mixed government with balanced powers.

The populace should be allowed to express their grievances through institutions. This will reduce the threat of conspiracy, disorder, and appeals to foreign powers. However, people also need to be controlled by laws, although censorship and religion are perhaps even more important. The latter replaces fear of the prince with fear of the gods, ensures that men keep their oaths, and boosts discipline and morale in the army. Ritual and ceremony is there to be manipulated. Religion should serve the interests of the community: rather than Christian humility, it should encourage ferocity and patriotism.

Although individuals may be better at constructing laws and constitutions, the people are better at preserving them. They are wiser, more dispassionate and more constant than princes. They can be persuaded by the arguments of the wise. Dictators can be elected to deal with abnormal situations. A prince cannot change his nature easily, while republics can call on a diverse range of human natures to deal with each problem. They are more adaptable to changing circumstances, and so are more successful.

In both books, the aim of political activity is power and glory. Why? Machiavelli repeatedly insists that men are wicked. Human appetites are insatiable, people are perpetually discontented, ambition drives all industry. In some respects, Machiavelli's view of history is circular: evil is a constant, empires rise and fall. But in other respects it is linear: nature purges weak regimes and replaces them with better alternatives. Machiavelli's project is to design institutions that will regulate men's wicked, ambitious natures so that society remains viable and long-lasting.

The rich are dangerous because their ambitions are turned inwards, towards dominating the poor. Princes and elected rulers alike must protect the interests of the people, channel their ambitions through the militia, and direct their desire for glory outward. For Machiavelli, liberty and harmony can only be created when all antisocial tendencies are put in the service of imperialism. Power and glory is the aim because this is what makes society possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment