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Machiavelli and the Republic
by Jack Wellman
2007-11-11 10:29:43
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The Merchants

The landscape was totally devastated. Dead, blotted human corpses littered the field and valley. It seemed the whole of Europe and Italy was ablaze. Everywhere one went, a death pall hung silently in the air, supported by the stench of rotting human flesh. At the climax of a great bloodbath in northern Italy, mercenaries had fled to the opponent's side, panicked by the uncertainty of the outcome. Again, the city-state had failed its citizens, who were left to mop up the morbid remains with tears and rags.

I am thoroughly fascinated by this European Genius, named Niccoli Machiavelli. In his book The Prince, he reveals the cause of the incessant wars in Europe. It is the merchants (the wealthy). Machiavelli was correct in his assessment that the political rulers of Venice, along with other Italian city-states, were responsible for blocking unity in face of the threat from France. In his Florentine Histories he examined the internal decision making of the city-states during wars and not simply at the battlefield results. He understood the necessities of human provinces as a means of self-survival. He could see no benefits of Italy’s fate being left in the hands of merchants.

Merchants motivated by wealth were as equally undependable as the candottieri (mercenaries) who thought nothing of fighting against them next time. Merchants in northern Italy city-states had histories of using their government offices for personal gain. The same Venice Machiavelli had contempt for later would, in due time, embrace his desire for a Republic.

Niccoli Machiavelli was a reference throughout European military history. The contributions of Machiavelli certainly have differing weights of importance. One of the greatest contributions was the idea of the republic, and one that would be self defending, self supporting and self governing. This did not include Venice’s expansionism which brought disaster. Merchants alone, he said, can not make the right choices for a republic because their motivation is money. And a republic must have a strong government for, without it, total freedom would bring decadence to all but the wealthy.

The Military

Machiavelli had tremendous insight in the nature of warfare perhaps from personal experience and observation. This experience would lay the groundwork for future military strategy. As a diplomat he observed French and German statecraft at work. For example, he saw the crucial need for leadership during the heat of the battle and not allowing events to dictate what they must do. He prepared strategy for the unexpected, and tried to anticipate the unexpected, even if it was the general panicking.

Sir Francis Bacon’s approach was directly influenced by Machiavelli, particularly the eliminative and induction process of acquiring knowledge. As a brilliant scientist, Bacon admired Machiavelli’s views. Part of this preparation involved the protectorate’s forced conscription which Machiavelli saw as the price a free society is obliged to pay. The actual conscription law drawn up by Machiavelli on December, 1505, included fifteen to fifty year old males, and formed an impressive militia of ten thousand. Machiavelli’s military philosophy, wrapped up in the Roman style, worried some Venice government officials. They wondered if his idealization of the Roman Empire was associated the Republic’s expansion.

Hate is not too strong a word for Machiavelli to use for the mercenaries. They were in it just to get paid. That was their only motivation and the same motivation as with the wealthy merchants. This was Machiavelli’s sticking point. Let the governed rule, from the bottom up. The council had to answer to the governed. Not only were the governed accountable for their decisions, the councils who make the decisions would share equally in their fortune or misfortune. That is, be a Republic.

Nicolli Machiavelli was also a historian, writing the classic Florentine Histories. When Spain took control of Italy over France, Machiavelli was exiled and his political career ended. It is fortunate for history that this occurred as his exile left him time to write down his histories and philosophies, including his theories of the republic. It is easy to completely trust Machiavelli’s writings, for he was careful not only in his use of sources but in revealing those sources. Most upper schools, universities and colleges use his premise even today. It is referred to as Citations or References or Works Cited.

The renowned historian and author, David Hume, living in a time where historiography was in its infancy, he classifies Machiavelli as one of four great modern historians. Machiavelli’s historical pattern was the one with which Hume patterned his own writing of history. He writing’s were popular reading throughout Europe in the 16th century. Machiavelli ranks with historians like David Hume, Thucydides, and Guiciardini.

The Republic

Machiavelli felt strongly that the prince, as he referred to the rulers, must understand human nature and its selfish tendencies. Prepare a society for such citizens and make the rulers accountable for their actions. Freedom comes through strength (inscription). The governed of the city-state must be involved in the arming of the people. However, Machiavelli feels a key ingredient is still missing from the republic. The sole road to freedom must be walked upon virtue for a republic to thrive.

Even today, Italy’s constitutional form of government still has its roots in the Machiavellian Republic model. The present Italian government, along with most of the developed world, agree that a government has the right to punish offenders that harm society. This may sound reasonable in our day, but in the Middle Ages and medieval period, this was not always the case. Laws were in the hands of feudal land nobles, wealthy merchants or local villages and so Machiavelli’s view on criminal punishment was ahead of it’s time for societies. This was no small accomplishment. It stabilized society.

Sir Francis Bacon was a lifelong disciple of Niccoli Machiavelli in that the state must use the means of total war and that resources alone were not enough to win war, but the will of the people was the most necessary element. Bacon also admired Machiavelli’s anticipating the unexpected. It could also be argued that Machiavelli’s love of the Roman way produced a weakness in his political philosophies but it must be argued that the Roman Empire‘s conquered people live in great stability and peace.

Just like the Roman Empire, there would be forced conscription, strict governance and strong force if necessary. Historians today feel that Machiavelli’s republic had the important role of a force holding society from flying into chaos, especially with unexpected events. To be fair to Machiavelli, he was not a social scientist or a military strategist necessarily. He was concerned with the survival of the state. The republic must be prepared for the unexpected from the enemy, it must make preparations for the unanticipated, and the republic itself must bear the cost of this preparation. The elimination of the private, professional soldier must be replaced with a republic’s own citizens. With the citizen lay the greatest price of this Republic, yet this same citizen would also be its greatest beneficiary.

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Emanuel Paparella2007-11-11 11:30:50
Jack, while acknowledging the great influence Niccolò Macchiavelli has had on historiography and political science, I am no fan of his. Let me tell you why beginning with an historical anecdote. Shortly before World War II Mussolini was being driven by his chauffer in Rome. Suddenly a child jumped in front of the car and was killed. Mussolini did not even get out of the car, but simply told his chauffer to proceed since “ragion di Stato” necessitated that he be a certain place at a certain time. That expression, reasons of State, is lifted directly from Machiavelli’s Prince.. Which is to say, the State is above morality, it has its own reasons and while its means may be immoral but the end justifies those means. Unfortunately, in the last three five hundred years or so, the policies of most Western States have been Machiavellian. The results have been colonialism, imperialism, innumerable wars, rabid xenophobic nationalism, pogroms, massacres, genocides. Just survey the historical record.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-11 11:32:10
(continued from above)
Henry V had three books by his bed: the Bible, Baldassare Castiglione Il Cortegiano and Machiavelli’s The Prince. So Mussolini felt that he was in that august tradition and resurrected the myth of the Italians as descendants of the Romans and the new Roman Empire. We know quite well the results of that misguided credence. All that Mussolini would have had to do was to consult Guicciardini comment to Machiavelli’s Prince’s: “to compare the present Italians to the ancient Romans is like comparing a noble horse to an ass.” As a Christian, I know that the end does not justify the means and that when the means are corrupt the end eventually is also corrupted. Obviously that was not part of the Roman ethos but then the Romans while having exalted notions of civil freedom, maintained slavery, so did the Greeks, with all due reference to Plato’s Republic. We Christians are not pagans. We ought to know better than think Machiavellically. We ought to know that our rights are inalienable not because the State declares them so and defends them with power (the Machiavellian view), but because we are all (with no exception) equal children of the same Father. If that is not the case, then one’s rights are not inalienable and depend, alas, on the ability of the State to defend them. Modern history shows that more often than not the State violates them, even in our post-modern times.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-11 12:16:22
To answer the question on the cover, a better way of phrasing the question would be: are the powerful really the reason for war? Machiavelli would be the first one to tell us that no wealthy person would start a war unless he also had political power to go with it. And that is an important distinction. The Renaissance was made possible in Florence by the wealth of the Medici family which provided the infrastructure for the ensuing growth in every sector of the society. On the other hand, had the Medici only been interested in banking and war, which is to say had they not been the patrons of the arts and letters in Florence, nobody would even bother to discuss today the great banking system of the Medici in Florence. While the infrastructure was important, it would have been meaningless without the humanists who prepared the way, the neo-Platonic philosophers (Masrsilio Ficino), the innumerable painters, architects, poets, composers of which Florence, a small town of 60,000 people with 100% literacy however, supplied in abundance. Perhaps there is a lesson there for the EU. To think of a common bank as the cultural glue that will hold a diverse people together is misguided at best. It is like building on sand. What the EU needs are visionaries aware of their heritage. There were plenty of those in the 50s when it originated. Where are they now?

Sand2007-11-11 13:39:34
"Visionaries" is such a wild variable that it is not particularly sensible to use that a a character to admire. The Khomeini who started the current Iran regime and the absolute maniac who is leading the Lord's Resistance Army which deals in random murder and rape and kidnapping in the Congo as well as Jim Jones who led the suicides in Guyana are undoubtedly not only visionaries but religious visionaries as well.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-11 13:50:17
True to form, ignoring the topic of the article and the points made in the comments Mr. Sand as self-proclaimed intellectual pooper scooper and guardian of the gates of political correctness (Machiavelly would approve) does what he is good at: bash religion via a biased tunnel vision. Bizarre indeed. Aside from its comedic effects, I keep wondering how many people in this forum actually take those antics seriously.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-11 13:56:10
P.S. Since you obviously don't seem to know, the political visionaries I was referring to are people such as Shumann, Aidenauer, De Gasperi, Monnet, i.e., the founding fathers of the EU.

Sand2007-11-11 14:31:13
Since you obviously take great joy in being vague you needed my nudge to become clear. Be absolutely clear about this instance. I was not bashing religion, I was merely assisting you in elementary communication, a skill you seem not to have developed.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-11 15:32:33
Spoken as a Great Communicator, but in reality I and most readers know what you self-proclaimed function is in your comments since they only include those that don't agree with your viewpoint. So much for objectivity and reason!

Sand2007-11-11 15:41:29
Up to your usual standard, your vague reference is to a huge fictional audience in your support. But I am not contending with popularity, yours or mine. I am trying to puzzle out how a man could be processed by an educational system and end up totally at odds with reality.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-11 18:50:02
It appears that the feeling is mutual. I came from an education background that emphasizes the humanities and the liberal arts as taught at one of the best universities in the world (Yale University). Under the light of that education I view people who speak of communication but haven’t the foggiest about dialoguing people with a truncated education. I communicate with my computer, my computer communicates with another computer, but I dialogue with friends and colleagues and readers. As C.P. Snow has well demonstrated in his The Two Worlds the two worlds remain apart. All the more why is it urgent to bridge them. The relationship with my computer and other phenomena of nature is an I-it relationship, the one with other human being is an I-Thou relationship. The rationalist does not distinguish the two and invariably ends up as clever by half. As mentioned before, there is a paradox at work here: you are the only one who keeps complaining that you don’t understand what I write, but at the same time you are the only one who thinks he has understood it so well that it needs to be expunged from the magazine by whatever means. Funny, to say the least, and not logical either. One has to suspect that some other agenda is at work, for it is not that of dialoguing and searching for the truth.

Jack2007-11-11 18:59:25
The main point to this article is that when there is a strong government or unity of city-states, there is more stability and peace, however no guarantee with this. Rather than have the few, wealthy merchants being in power and making decisions in their interest, the citizen is either the victim or it's greatest beneficiaries of a government(s). I see civic rule from the bottom up more in the interests of the citizens, rather than a wealth-motivated oligarchy rule from their own self-interests. The road to true democracy must not only be paved with at least a minimum of virtue (i.e., respect for human life, personal property, human rights, etc.) but must be paved by the citizens themselves.

Machiavelli's point: Survival of the states ought to be in the hands of the people and not professional, non-citizen proffessionals and not under sway of a few but powerful wealthy decision makers. And that if you don't prepare for the unexpected, then the unexpected leaves the citizenry unprepared for such events.

Sand2007-11-11 19:42:19
It had been assumed that a citizenry that knew its problems and had the power to choose the rulers that would see to it that those problems were solved to the benefit of the citizenry would make acceptable government. But a citizenry that is poorly educated and poorly informed and full of superstitious nonsense is simply not equipped to function properly in a democracy. And, of course, it is very beneficial that a citizenry can be badly informed and therefor coerced to vote into office whoever those who control information felt might be especially beneficial to them. So it goes.

Sand2007-11-11 19:49:07
Paparella, I'm sure Yale made its best shot but there are some materials so stubborn, so resistant to the formative forces of even the best experts that failure is inevitable. I suppose there is some sort of victory to be claimed in resisting the best educative efforts of a renown educational institution and who knows, it might even permit some sort of perverse egress into the Guinness Book of Records. I can only wish you success in that alternate effort.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-11 20:51:36
Obviously, as per your usual condesending mode, you wish to create the impression that you are very knowledgeable as to what exactly is being taught at Yale University to know what, if anything, I may be resisting; or perhaps that kind of information was relayed to you from some of my former professors who surely are in touch with the eminent alumni from Pratt Instiute of Industrial Design lending luster to their alma mater by the advocacy of the world of I-it and the search for a bridge to the world of I-Thou. Good luck to you too in that kind of advocacy, albeit a misguided one in my opinion. I am afraid that your cynical sarcasm simply reinforces my conviction that your opposition has precious little to do with the serach for objective truth and a dialogue that makes it possible.

Sand2007-11-11 21:02:46
One capability that Yale seems to have failed spectacularly to install is a sense of humor. Life is pretty dull without it.

Sand2007-11-11 21:29:35
Insofar as your particular search for truth is concerned I am fond of Robert Heinlein's viewpoint.

Theology is never any help; it is searching in a dark cellar at midnight for a black cat that isn't there. Theologians can persuade themselves of anything.
Robert A. Heinlein

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-11 21:47:28
Jack, as I attempted to elaborate in my above comment, all that wonderful populism on the part of Niccolò Machiavelli is vitiated by his idea that the State is above morality and pretty much do anything to retain power. That is not my idea of democracy. Moreover, as a Christian I cannot assent to the idea that the end justifies any means and that the State grants or witholds human inalienable rights which are integral part of every human being exactly because he is equally a son and daughter of the same Father. The atheist of course has to rely on the good luck of belonging to a State that protects those rights, but he still retains them because despite his denial he remains a creature created by a Creator.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-11 21:51:47
Sand, Pope John XXIII used to say "beware of laughting with fools." Some mistook that for a lack of humor but if you read his biography you'll discover that he had a wonderful sense of humor which included what the rationalist usually lacks: a sende of the ambiguities and absurdities of life.

Sand2007-11-11 23:18:34
But of course. Anybody who remains in charge of millions of people gullible enough to swallow all of the impossible idiocies required to accept religious belief must have a huge sense of humor.
But you...that seems to be something else again.

Emanuel Paparella2007-11-12 18:23:08
Of course!

Sergio2012-04-18 23:59:34
Wellman needs to re-read The Prince. Machiavelli avoided the 15th century papists' pompous posturing - he merely recounted what history had taught and what he himself saw around him. His judgement was of effective-or-ineffective, not of right-or-wrong. (He strayed from this only briefly, when he cast aspersions on Oliverotto who killed his stepfather.) Read the book, think on the situation today in Afghanistan, and measure how effective would be Machiavelli's well-advised prince against the series of mistakes the US and Europe have made there costing 2.800 dead plus an estimated 37.000 Afghans.

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