There are few figures in the world history and philosophy, estimates of which would differ so contradictory. Machiavelli’s works, for instance, for over five centuries, have been analyzed and interpreted by a variety of researchers from different generations. Many of the major thinkers have criticized his writings. Among the advantages The Prince and The Discourses, one can note their connection with the practical experience. The author did not create the ideal models of the state but only offered certain useful tips to restore order in the states of the existing ones. Machiavelli’s task was not to think of something new. Therefore, it is not easy to argue about the meaning of the face value of his books, as his political views are difficult to reduce to any single concept. In Machiavelli’s perspective, the image of a true sovereign is essentially collective and the state itself is irreducible to a single component. The latter is the interaction of three principles, including the monarchical, aristocratic and democratic. This paper assesses the question of whether Machiavelli’s principle should be taken at face value or not. Since the human mind has been designed to have infinite capability on the endless concepts of the world, Machiavelli’s principle can be viable to an extent and also denied in other situations.
Undoubtedly, there are reasons why commentators are endlessly terrified, and their interpretations are so controversial. To clarify whether The Prince should be taken at its face value, the essay analyzes the ethical position of Machiavelli and considers the influence of the author on the assessments of his ideas, considered by Strauss. One can claim that the main idea behind the facade of the works of Machiavelli is not the intransigence of policy and morality.
Machiavelli is traditionally ascribed to the formula of “the end justifies the means.” Nonetheless, it can be argued that he never meant it to be applied in such a broad sense. In The Prince, the author wrote that “the princes who have done great things are those who have taken little account of faith and have known how to get around men’s brains with their astuteness.” Here, the main principle held is that if one stays true to all promises, this will lead to defeat. Politics, unfortunately, involve many people with their hands being far from clean. However, Machiavelli is not to blame. At the same time, a certain proportion of immoralism, inherent in a sovereign, does not imply a right to terror for the sake of a “bright future.” Breaking a promise and destroying one’s subjects for ideological reasons are not the same things. Thus, Machiavelli did not portray an unprincipled tyrant, which is what is sometimes implied under the term “sovereign.” Instead, he developed a guide for a wise politician, to whom nothing human is alien. Moreover, some researchers, including Dan, argued that for Machiavelli, the glory of the state did not mean the same as the glory of the sovereign. One can make an empire by killing citizens of its own, but this decision would hardly make a ruler glorious. The glory, thus, is related to the moral choice.
Machiavelli asserts that a prince must “appear merciful, faithful, humane, honest, and religious . It is important to note that by giving a warrant to the use of emergency measures as necessary does not mean that Machiavelli gives go-ahead for the application of a large-scale terror. Machiavelli highlighted that, in keeping one’s subjects united and faithful, a prince “should not care about the infamy of cruelty.” In fact, he “will be more merciful than those who for the sake of too much mercy allow disorders to continue”. Moreover, the writer clearly separated good cruelties from the bad ones: “those cruelties are badly used which, though few in the beginning, rather grow with time than are eliminated”.
In the political philosophy of Machiavelli, the very emergence of human society, the state, and morality is explained by the natural course of historical development. The very concept of good is determined by the humanistic criterion of benefit. In general, one can add that Machiavelli approached morality as a means. His moral considerations always come subordinate to the objectives of policy.
The thinker specifically described the genesis of human ideas about good, evil, and justice. In The Discourses, Machiavelli compared people in the natural state to wild “beasts” who had to learn the means to defend themselves by choosing a leader among them who was “more robust and of greater heart”. Men learned about the evil of ungratefulness that could harm a benefactor and the same damage that could be inflicted on all of them. To this end, they developed laws and learned the notion of justice.
Discussing the nature of Machiavelli’s notion of morals, it should be noted that it is very closely linked with the law. According to the author, it is important to combine good orders with good laws. Moreover, various types of orders have different meaning depending on whether a city is good or corrupt. For when the citizens have become morally degrade, what was previously considered a good order “becomes the worst, for only the powerful propose laws, not for the common freedom but for their own power”. Viroli argued that Machiavelli was a founder of a theory of political liberty, known as classic republicanism, which is understood as an essential alternative to the participatory democracy. It “considers citizens’ participation in sovereign deliberation necessary to the defence of liberty only when it remains within well-defined boundaries.” Machiavelli developed the idea of liberty that was achieved through a collective sense that established itself in the laws.
Therefore, the basis of The Prince cannot be understood literally. Machiavelli was in favor of high morals. He praised the generosity, charity, piety, sincerity, and other virtues on the condition that they will benefit the homeland. If they become an obstacle in its development, the author would dismiss them. Moreover, of a particular interest is the fact that the misreading and the misconceptions of Machiavelli’s works and ideas gave birth to the term “Machiavellianism.” It can be argued that, widely applied in philosophy and political science, it represents the view of the author’s writings at their face value. In short, the politicians that interpreted his ideas at different times have had their own understanding of ethics, morals, ends, and means.
Strauss opened his Thoughts on Machiavelli with the characterization of the latter as “a teacher of evil” and an expert of “private and public gangsterism” maxims. Although, according to Strauss himself, this opinion sounds a bit old-fashioned, it is difficult to avoid it when discussing a person who taught lessons such as the one that a person may extract from The Prince. After all, according to Machiavelli, it is not virtue but its prudent use that can lead politicians to happiness.
According to Strauss, Machiavelli was not the first author to express the kind of convictions that one may find in The Prince. Nonetheless, Machiavelli is granted so much importance because of the mode of actions that has become associated exclusively with his name. Machiavelli is notorious as a master of dishonest political behaviour. The ancient Sophistry thinkers formulated a similar political doctrine, but they did it in a latent form. Strauss asserts that Machiavelli was different from antique writers. He publicly stated his teaching about the deception, whereas, earlier, it could only be discussed with a necessary demonstration of disgust.
Strauss admitted that there was a more subtle view that approached Machiavelli as a passionate patriot. He was convinced that he was not mistaken in the old-fashioned look at Machiavelli. First, Machiavelli was a patriot of a special kind: he was busy saving his country rather than the soul. Consequently, his patriotism was expressed in a comprehensive reflection on the status of his home state. Thus, to justify Machiavelli with his patriotism means to be blind to what stands behind it. Secondly, the version that Machiavelli was a scholar is also wrong. However, he set out a number of rules and regulations required for the compliance. These statements have the nature of advice; they are tips to the young prince to retain power in the state. Therefore, the main objective of Machiavelli was not the description of the facts of political life, but the provision of recommendations.
The main thesis of Strauss concerning the political philosophy of Machiavelli is that his teaching was immoral and anti-religious. However, many scientists are still satisfied with a simple argument that Machiavelli stressed the usefulness and necessity of religion. According to Strauss, however, Machiavelli’s praises were focused only on the utility of religion. Furthermore, Strauss said that modern scholars used to treat religion as an element of the society that was at the root of all errors.
Modern scientists are not capable of making proper judgments about the real attitude of Machiavelli towards religion and morality. Diabolical thoughts of the philosopher were not available to them because they were deceived by Machiavelli. According to Strauss, to see the true nature of the mind of the teacher of evil, it is necessary to free one’s mind from such influence. Therefore, to make judgments about Machiavelli, one must look at his works in the future perspective rather than in the retrospect. Many scientists mistakenly regard the teachings of philosophers through the prism of the accumulated knowledge. It is a mistake because Machiavelli could not know what would come after him. Strauss compared Machiavelli with the devil but reminded readers that, in the past, the devil also was an angel.
One of the most important achievements of Machiavelli is the separation of politics of an independent science. The latter is a symbol of human faith. To this end, it should hold a dominant position in the outlook. Moreover, based on the requirements of his time, Machiavelli formulated an important historic task, namely to create a single unitary Italian state. In the course of his works, the author comes to the conclusion that only be sovereign can lead the people to build a new state. In other words, he devoted his research to solving the question about what a sovereign should be to be able to perform a historic task of building a new state. He also derived from real life experiences and tried to build his own theoretical constructs on a foundation of the available political knowledge.
The contemporaries of the author or historical figures appear in The Prince and The Discourses to prove or disprove a particular point. The choice of names, events, places, and battles are of no accident. The outline of The Prince is somewhat unusual for the scientific works of the time. This is not the form of treatises, but a style of a man of action, and the one who wants to inspire changes. Therefore, Machiavelli’s works serve as an expression of the person who wants to interfere in the politics and history of his country. Moreover, he perceived and revealed the main trends of his era and its main demands and aspirations.
Chapter IX “Of the Civil Principality” is highly significant here. Here, Machiavelli revealed the relationship between the sovereign, the nobles, and the people, as well as their interests and goals. The power is acquired by the support of the people or the nobility. The latter wants to oppress the people, and the people do not want to be oppressed. As a result, either the noblemen nominate one of their own to rule or the people assign the title to their handpicked leader. The power derived from the people Machiavelli considers a much more robust, as a sovereign is capable of protecting himself against the nobility. However, he cannot be safe against the hostility of his people. Convincingly, Machiavelli advised a prince to never incur the anger and hatred of the people. Thus, the alignment of class forces, the structure of political power form the strategy and tactics of all participants in the political life of the state.
According to Berlin, the main point behind the face value of the works of the author is the discovery that when people suggest two ideals to be compatible. Machiavelli made his choice. It seems that he was not worried about partying with the traditional Western morality, although, of course, it is unlikely that he was aware of this issue.
Therefore, Berlin suggested that the main merit of Machiavelli is in founding an unsolvable dilemma. It is planting the eternal question mark on the way of the future generations. It is a consequence of the fundamental recognition of the fact that the goals, which are equally finite and equally sacred, may contradict each other, and the entire systems of values may be in conflict. The occurrences may happen not just under exceptional circumstances but rather is a part of a normal human reality.
One can claim that the content of The Prince is the basic core of the philosophy of Machiavelli. His writings, being the highest point of the development of political thought of the late Renaissance, played a great role in the history of political and ideological development of many countries in Europe. The political attitudes of Machiavelli rest on the fundamental social principles.
Machiavelli discovered yet another abyss. Since the inception of the philosophy, different thinkers believed that human beings are not much different from each other. In other words, the human nature is the same; hence, a perfect social order that will suit all people is possible. After Machiavelli, the Enlightenment philosophers were trying to find the basic principles of the human nature and a kind of the society, in which these principles could be implemented. A striking example is the United States’ Constitution. The science-based attempts to create such a harmonious society have been adopted in Marxism and various socialist movements. Indeed, the belief that people can all live together in peace, love, and harmony, was alive until the 1960s and beyond.
However, a few centuries earlier, Machiavelli claimed the impossibility of such projects. In The Prince, he talked about the contradiction between the government and the moral way of life. Here, to manage the state properly, the governor should forget about morality. If morality and political science are incompatible, one simply lacks the measurements to approach the issue. It means that Germany run by Hitler was no worse than the British Parliament of the time.
All this reality is very regretful. However, the starting point, hiding behind the face value of the Machiavelli’s works is that the human psychology is neither rational nor consistent. Contrarily, any system of morality or government must work this way. Thus, it is imperative noting that an individual and the society are in a state of contradiction. Machiavelli was the first to say the bitter truth about humanity. He was not a great philosopher, just a realistic politician. However, his thoughts put humanity in the face of a fundamental problem, which is hardly amenable to any solution.