Political Ideas: Machiavelli

Machiavelli, This great author of the sixteenth century is distinguished by the description he established of the state, The Prince, named so because of his taste for absolutism.

Born in Florence, Machiavelli studied law and then held important political posts at a troubled time. Italy is the prey of foreign invasions that plunder and make it unstable; the country is indeed based on small, divided and unstable states.

In reaction against this instability, Machiavel would like to unify Italy in order to recover the peace and strength of the country.

Man, according to Machiavelli, always seeks to conquer the world; this conquest would be the foundation of society. Unlocal, this conquest shows that man is not sociable by nature, because his only goal is to advance while retaining (importance of the desire for conservation). Machiavelli considers the wicked man and starts from this postulate. Associable naturally, the man had to keep working with his fellow men, thus making them good.

Driven by a desire for conquest, the man who possesses power becomes a prince, whose modes of exercise of power differ according to the principalities:

If the principality is hereditary: established customs are based on reason and memory. This state does not know violence because it has been established for a long time.
If the principality is new, the power is still little established and anything can happen. The basics are not established.
In any case, the power must seek to maintain itself and preserve against external risks.

Unlike his contemporaries, Machiavelli does not describe the nature of government, but the means of conserving power. He opposes his vision to all those of the ancients in that he does not study the best regime which is for him only utopia; he prefers to consider man as he is and not as he should be. He considers that there exist in every republic two moods: one for the people and the other for the great, and that only their disunity leads to the creation of laws favorable to freedom. The people seek to attain freedom, not to be dominated; he does not like the idea that others than he might have power, and he therefore necessarily has a desire for revenge.

Montesquieu is wary of the people, because the latter does not possess either good or skills, he is dissatisfied with his fate and wants to reform the political order. On the other side, the owner is also worried because he is afraid of being dispossessed of his property; he too wishes to change the system; but this one has more power to modify it and will do it in its direction. There is a desire for acquisition everywhere, because its object is power.

He considers that the use of moral virtues would only lead the prince to his ruin; morality is out of the field of politics.

Machiavelli thus considers that the prince (the one who holds the political authority) must make use of all the necessary means to achieve his objectives: according to a sentence which is unjustly attributed to him, “the end justifies the means”. The prince must preserve power as much as he can; it can use force, cunning, violence or concealment to achieve it, the goal being to be effective in order to achieve its ends as quickly as possible. Evil is therefore a necessary instrument in politics.

Machiavelli considers this method just to the extent that any man enjoying power would act in the same way as the prince, men being wicked by nature. Morality is not applicable to the principle, which is placed above it and men.

The prince can also use religion to establish his power and to coerce the people. Machiavelli, however, does not see in religion the foundation of power (which comes from strength); it is only a means for the prince to appear just and legitimate. In order not to be hated, the prince must indeed satisfy certain necessities, and especially that of conforming to religion.

The state uses force, but in order to put in place laws for the good of the people. Machiavelli seeks to create strong power to ensure peace. He tries to determine how the prince can take power and then keep it. Politics is therefore only a strategy, everything being based on a balance of power, between power, rivalry and conquest. Like a war, the political game must be put in place with a certain skill.

The prince seeks to modify the old model of power in order to stabilize his, and, in time, become legitimate. It is a total modification of the system that must take place: the inhabitants will have to rebuild the destroyed cities and adapt.

The functioning of a state depends on:

The need: the nature of men and the world that leads to a particular course of events
Fortune: unpredictability of events
The virtu: the force engaged against the events
The rational mastery of social reality and human passions makes it possible to fight against the instability of events (fortune). The prince has thus upset the sociological reality; Machiavel thus creates a link between the sociological elements and the political conduct of a country.

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