POLITICAL THEORY Niccolò Machiavelli – Free Ebook

We’re often appalled by how sly and dishonest many politicians are, but we shouldn’t be. In moods like this we need to remember and read the works of Niccolo Machiavelli. A late 15th century political advisor and political theorist who argued that we shouldn’t think that politicians are imoral and simply bad for lying and dissembling and maneuvering. A good politician, in Machiavelli’s remarkable view, isn’t one who’s friendly and honest and kind. It’s someone, however occasionally dark and underhand they might be, who knows how to defend, enrich and bring honor to the state, which is also an extremely important goal. Being nice may well be a virtue in general, but what citizens most need from their rulers is effectiveness, which may well call upon some darker arts. Once we understand this basic requirement, we stand to be less disappointed and clearer about what we want from our politicians. Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence in 1469. His father was a lawyer And so Machiavelli received an extensive formal education and got his first job as secretary for the city of florence But, soon after his appointment Florence exploded politically And expelled the Medici family who’d ruled it for 60 years And suffered decades of political instability and turmoil As a consequence, Machiavelli experienced a series of carrier reversals. Over just a few decades, he went from being an important diplomat to a semi-successful general, to an enemy of the state – tortured and then exiled when he Medici returned to power. Although Machiavelli was rather a failed politician, he can be remembered as a truly great man because of the two works – THE PRINCE, and THE DISCOURSES. In them he addressed a central problem of politics: it is almost impossible to be both a good politician and a good person in a traditional christian sense. Machiavelli proposed that the overwhelming responsibility of a good prince is to defend the state from external and internal threats. To stable governance. This means, he must know how to fight but more importantly he must know about the reputation and the management of those around him. People should neither think he is soft and easy to disobey. Nor should they find him so cruel that he disgust his society. He should seem unapproachably strict ,but reasonable. When Machiavelli turned to the question of whether is was better for a Prince to be loved or feared? He wrote that while it ‘ll be theoretically wonderful for a leader to be both loved and obeyed. a Prince should always err on the side of inspiring terror. For this is ultimately what keeps people in check. Machiavelli christian contemporaries had suggested that princes should be merciful, peaceful, generous, and tolerant. They thought that being a good politician was. in short, the same as being a good christian. But Machiavelli argued differently. He asked his readers to dwell on the incompatibility between Christian ethics and good governance And particularly referred to the case of Girolamo Savonorola. Savonorola was a dominican friar , a fervent idealistic christian, who’d briefly come to be the ruler of Florence in 1494. He’d come to power promising the city of God on earth.He preached against the excesses and tyranny of Medici government. and even managed to rule Florence as a peaceful, democratic, and relatively honest state. However, Savonorola success couldn’t last because,in Machiavelli’s view, itwas based on the weakness that always attends being good in a christian sense. it was not long before his regime became threat to the corrupt Pope Alexander. whose henchman captured and tortured Savonarola. Hung him in the center of Florence and burnt the body before the eyes of a vengeful citizenry. This, in Machiavelli eyes, is what tends to happen to the nice guys in politics. Rather than follow this unfortunate christian example, Machiavelli suggested that a leader would do well to make judicious use of what the called virtu (VIRTUE). Machiavelli concept of virtu for politicians involves wisdom, strategy, strength, bravery, and when necessary, ruthlessness. In fact at one point Machiavelli uses the deliciously paradoxical phrase ‘ Criminal Virtue’ to describe the necessary ability of leaders to be cruel in the name of the state , and yet, still good as leaders. Machiavelli provided some criteria for what constitutes the right occasion for bit of criminal virtue. Any violence must be strictly necessary for the security of the state. ; it must be done swiftly, often at night – counsel Machiavelli, and it should be repeated too often lest the reputation for mindless brutality builds up. Machiavelli gave the example of his contemporary, Cesare Borgia, Whom he admired as someone who knew how to be tough, but not too tough that we might question the criteria Machiavelli used. when Cesare conquered the city of Cesena, he ordered one of his mercenary, ramirida okow, to bring order to the region which ramiro did through swift and brutal ways – Men were beheaded in front of their wives and children; property was ceased; traitors were castrated. Cesare then turned onto okow himself and had him sliced in half and placed in public square. just to remind the town’s people who the true boss was. but then, as Machiavelli approvingly noted, that was enough blood shed. Cesare moved on to cut taxes,imported cheap grain, build a theater, and organized a series of beautiful festival to keep people from dwelling on unfortunate memories. The catholic church banned Machiavelli work for 200 years because of the force with which he had argued that being a good christian was was incompatible with being a good leader. but even for atheist and those of us not politicians, Machiavelli’s insights are important he writes that we can’t be good at (or for) all things Not only because of our limited ability and resources but also because of conflicts within moral codes. some of the fields we choose; if not politics then perhaps business or, family life may require what we evasively called ‘difficult decisions’. By which we really mean ‘ethical trade-offs’. we may have to sacrifice neo-christian visions of kindness for the sake of practical effectiveness. We may have to lie in order to keep or relationship afloat. We may have to ignore the feeling of certain employees to keep a business going. And that, insists Machiavelli, is the price of dealing with the world as it is, and not as we feel it should be. The world has continued to love and hate Machiavelli in equal measure for insisting on focusing our attention on the uncomfortable tension between two things we love and always want to have together but perhaps can’t – effectiveness and kindness. And Niceness.

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