Practically nothing is known of Nicolo Machiavelli before he became a minorofficial in the Florentine Government. His youth, however, was passedduring some of the most tumultuous years in the history of Florence.
He wasborn the year that Lorenzo the Magnificent came to power, subverting thetraditional civil liberties of Florence while inaugurating a reign ofunrivaled luxury and of great brilliance for the arts. He was twenty-fiveat the time of Savonarolas attempt to establish a theocratic democracy,although, from the available evidence, he took no part in it. Yet throughhis family, he was closer to many of these events than many Florentinecitizens. The Machiavelli family for generations had held public office,and his father was a jurist and a minor official. Machiavelli himself,shortly after the execution of Savanarola, became Secretary of the SecondChancery, which was to make him widely known among his contemporaries as theFlorentine Secretary.
By virtue of his position Machiavelli served the Ten of Liberty and Peace,who sent their own ambassadors to foreign powers, transacted business withthe cities of the Florentine domain, and controlled the militaryestablishment of Florence. During the fourteen years he held office,Machiavelli was placed in charge of the diplomatic correspondence of hisbureau, served as Florentine representative on nearly thirty foreignmissions, and attempted to organize a citizen militia to replace themercenary troops. In his diplomatic capacity, which absorbed most of his energies, he dealtwith the various principalities into which Italy was divided at the time. His more important missions, however, gave him insight into the court of theKing of France, where he met the mightiest minister in Europe, Cardinal dAmboise. On this occasion he began the observation and analysis of nationalpolitical forces, which were to find expression in his diplomatic reports. His Report on France was written after he completed three assignments forhis office in that country; the Report on Germany was prepared as a resultof a mission to the court of Emperor Maximilian.
The most important mission, in view of his later development as a politicalwriter, was that to the camp of Cesare Borgia, Duke Valentino. Under theprotection of his father, Pope Alexander VI, Cesare was engaged inconsolidating the Papal States, and Machiavelli was in attendance upon himat the time of his greatest triumph. Machiavelli had served audiences withCesare and witnessed the intrigues culminating in the murder of hisdisaffected captains, which he carefully described in the Method Adopted byDuke Valentino to Murder Vitellozzo Vittli. As the Florentine Secretary,he was present a few month later in Rome when the end of Cesare came to passwith disgrace following the death of Alexander VI.
During his diplomatic career Machiavelli enjoyed one outstanding success. Largely through his efforts, Florence obtained the surrender of Pisa, whichhad revolted from Florentine rule and maintained its independence for years. Although he did not achieve any other diplomatic triumphs, he was esteemedfor the excellence of his reports and is known to have had the confidence ofthe president of Florence, the Gonfalonier, Piero Soderini. But with therestoration of the Medicis to power in 1512, Machiavellis public careercame to an abrupt end.
His attempts to prove his talents to the new rulerswere ineffectual. His appearance as a former gonfalonier man castsignificant doubt on his work and he was removed from office and exiled fromthe city for one year. He was imprisoned and tortured for allegedly beinginvolved in a conspiracy against the new government. His release requiredthe intervention of Giovanni de Medici himself, albeit after his ascensionto the papacy. On release from his dungeon, Machiavelli with his wife and children, retiredto a small farm not far from Florence.
Dividing his time between farmingand petty dispositions, he commented that, possessing nothing but theknowledge of the State, he had no occasion to use it. His only remaininglink the official world was through his longtime friend, the FlorentineAmbassador to the Pope, to whom he wrote of public affairs and, strangely,his more romantic encounters. His letters reveal the inner dichotomy ofthis man. He wrote, at the threshold I take off my workday clothes, filledwith the dirt and mud, and don royal and curial garments.
Worthily dressed,I enter in the ancient courts of the men of antiquity, where I am warmlyreceived. I feed on that which is my only food and which was meant for me. I am not ashamed to speak with them and ask them the reasons for theiractions, and they, because of their humility, answer me. Hours can pass,and I feel no weariness; my troubles forgotten, I neither fear poverty nordread death. I give myself over entirely to them. And since Dante saysthat there can be no science without retaining what has been understood, Ihave noted down the chief things in their conversations.
It was throughthese discussions that the concept of The Prince took form. Largely because of the fame he had acquired as a writer, Machiavelli wasasked by the Medici rulers to give advice on the government of Florence. Heused the occasion to re-state and defend republican principles. He was alsocommissioned to produce a history of the city, and did so in his FlorentineHistory.
He was finally appointed by Pope Clement VII to organize a citymilitia, such as he had defended in previous writings, but the lack ofassistance from men with whom he was assigned the task led to littleproductivity. Finally, his efforts bore no fruit when the troops of EmperorCharles V sacked Rome. Shortly before Macheavellis death, the Republic was re-created in Florence. Although he had never been able to regain public office in Florence underthe Medicis, he still seemed to close to them to be acceptable to the newrepublican government. His request to be reinstated to his previousposition was denied, and he died a few days later on Jun 20, 1527.
For over 500 years past his end, Machiavelli has influenced how many peopleperceive the idea of the end justifies the means. While much of the textof the Prince at first reading seems heatless and, judging by the receptionthe work received in the 1500s, extreme, many of the tenets were applicableuntil recent years. The question of modern times is whether, against thebackdrop of national interests and the concepts of principalities mentionedso often in this work, has globalization and the decrease in the sovereigntyof definitive countries and governments made obsolete the personal traitsreferred to in the Prince? As Socrates stated, the study of philosophy isno less an important matter than how we ought to live, so then this work ofMachiavelli would seem to be a matter of how man should govern. Central to the theme in this work is the belief that a leaders personalityranks as prominently as his capability. The issues of liberality andmeanness, cruelty and clemency, integrity, and whether the leader shouldaspire to be hated by his subjects are debated and questioned as to theirimpact on the population. It was this frank attempt to discuss the mostefficient means of ruling a principality that led to the idea of hisinsensitivity to the concerns of the population.
In reality, the Princeprovided a clear and objective historical perspective on actions thatalready were implemented by governments and rulers for many generations. AsMachiavelli wrote in chapter XV, It remains now to see what ought to be therules of conduct for a prince towards subject and friends. And as I knowthat many have written on this point, I expect I shall be consideredpresumptuous in mentioning it again, especially as in discussing it I shalldepart from the methods of other people. But, it being my intention towrite a thing which shall be useful to him who apprehends it, it appears tome more appropriate to follow up the real truth of a matter than theimagination of it; for many have pictured republics and principalities whichin fact have never been known or seen, because how one lives is so fardistant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done forwhat ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for aman who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meetsevil with what destroys him among so much that is evil. This work was thenconsidered one of the definitive essays on the successful ruling of anation.
The negative image of Machiavelli as a person who advocates anyaction that creates a successful outcome is skewered from the premise thatall possible actions have already been undertaken in all possiblesituations. Even in what was considered modern times, namelypost-renaissance Europe through the beginning of the 1950s, the concept ofa ruler operating unabated in the confines of his own country was acceptedas the norm. Machiavelli wrote diligently about the need for this ruler to possesscertain traits, as well as their contradictory qualities. And that is wasthrough this combination of vices and virtues that the well-being of anation rested.
He wrote specifically of liberality, cruelty, faith, renown,and being despised. His detractors mention often that on the subject ofliberality versus meanness Machiavelli showed his true form and penchant forany action that promotes the proper outcome. He wrote that any incident ofliberality, from spending public monies on specific areas to the maintenanceof the army, should be noted and treated as a memory in the peoples conceptof their leader. He believed that any act of liberality not associated withthe leader is a wasted opportunity and begets more suffering in the future.
For example, Machiavelli stated in his works liberality exercised in a waythat does not bring you the reputation for it, injures you; for if oneexercises it honestly and as it should be exercised, it may not becomeknown, and you not avoid the reproach of its opposite. While this may notbe considered the Judeo-Christian methodology of how best to live oneslife, the similarities between these words and what the population at largein many countries saw on a daily basis is barely discernable. He goesfurther to dictate that a ruler who acts out of avariciousness will berecognized for this, and any actions will be viewed through the prism ofthis characteristic. Therefore, this person will be loved by all from whomhe does not take, because he does not squander his resources, and onlyregarded hostilely by those few from whom he takes, who do not have thenumbers to rise against him. On the subject of cruelty and clemency Machiavelli advocates that allrulers should strive to be considered clement, but not at the expense oflosing their control of the realm. With many examples throughout history torefer he paints a picture of how leaders considered malevolent and viciouswere able to unite large groups of very different people.
From the timeperiods of Cesar Borgia to the modern examples of Tito in Yugoslavia, rulershave relied on this belief to insure their survival. The crux of the issuein Macheavellis writings centers on the belief that somewhat heartless andmalevolent rulers are preferred by their people more so than a mercifulleader who fails to provide the domestic tranquility necessary for a goodlife in the realm. Again it is the overt style of this writing that causesreaders to cringe with the apprehension typically associated with thePrince, not the information itself. Even in our modern world we seeexamples of cold-heartedness in this allegedly free society of America,always at the cry of insuring better opportunities and lifestyles for themasses.
Worse yet is the stated belief of the author that people areungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, and covetous. And owing to thiscynical mindset of humanity, it is only natural for one to prefer the stickto the carrot. The author touches on the subject of whether it is advantageous for aleader to be hated and despised by his subjects. He addresses with manyexamples, the fate of rulers who, upon finding their land threatened byexternal forces, seek to rely on the capabilities of the citizenry. It isin this light that the need to maintain the goodwill of the masses is mostevident.
Whereby a leader establishes good and sound laws then maintainsthose laws upon the entire populous, this leader will be loved and adored byhis subjects, and may seek their aid in times of strife. But, having provided a workable background for this mans work, I seek todiscover whether the laws of the past on the rule of kingdoms still holds tothe test, or whether it has been replaced, either for good or for temporarytenure. In the early 1950s the nations of the world banded together anddeveloped a forum in which each, great or small, could voice theirparticular grievances and expect to be heard. This organization, the UnitedNations, still stands as testimony to the belief that the closest definitionof violence is the breakdown of communication. But it has morphed into thevery international enigma Machiavelli warned. Almost to a fault the beliefof Machiavelli was each ruler could and should provide the best means ofgovernance for his country.
It is the advent of globalization and theuni-polar mechanisms put in place by non-accountable unions such as theWorld Bank, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, theWorld Health Organization, and the U. N. Security Council that constantlydevalues the leeway and options of each countries populace. The SecurityCouncil smacks of the worst in Orwellian more equalism. Every country hasa seat at the table, but only some, those with the power to utterly destroyneighbors, may have a special seat. Then when other countries seek the samerecognition, India and Pakistan, the rules are changed by the status quo.
The World Bank establishes objective ratings for the credit and solvencyof nation-states, but has anyone seen a global decision in the last 50 yearswithout political considerations? The people of Austria chose a leader in ademocratic, open election, followed by the threat of economic constraints bythe remainder of the EU because of the fear of radical idealism. NATOdropped bombs on a sovereign country in an effort to stop a self-definedethnic cleansing, which turns out to be a euphemism for the same migrationof people from a dangerous situation that has gone on since man began towage war. It is in this fray of differing logic and changing reasoning for armedintervention that Macheavellis teachings seem so distant from the world inwhich we live. Even in this seemingly endless string of examples andreferences, a question remains unanswered.
Will the end result of thissingle super power era, with the support of its allies and followers, theeconomic stranglehold wrapping itself around the globe, and the culturaloneness of the developing young men and women lead to the emergence of asolid, almost utopian world where everyone must resort to debate andcompromise to overcome differences? So many foundations of conventionalwisdom lead us to remember that nature abhors a vacuum, and that each risingpower has met the same familiar fate. On the upswing of the national growthand development, one can always find the antithesis of the selected country. This implied struggle lays the groundwork for a national unity, a unity ofconsciousness against an enemy of the state. And where this enemy lacks,either internally or externally, groups of others form together as raindropscreating a river, to right the scales that have been human existence. Inthis context, the writings of Machiavelli dictate the pendulum will returnafter a time, and all will be as it was.
However, each of the pillars ofpossible change is currently owned by either the great superpower, again weare reminded that this power operates on the premise of republican idealsnot individual leader characteristics, or a conglomerate of leadingnation-states determined to preserve their status in the internationalarena. Politically, culturally, and economically, saving only the continuedfragmentation of religious beliefs on the planet, we have witnessed theamalgamation of these pillars into the new world order. We are left toponder the significance of our ascendancy. Does the nature of man, and thedesire for one to live his or her life by separate concepts of civilizationand the cultural identity this allows, force us to eventually tear apartthese artificial binds with one another? Or have we reached the turningpoint in our discovery that human life, regardless of the differences seenby the eye, will be the defining characteristic, and the artificiality ofnationalism and borders will fade into the history as feudalism and thepre-Copernicus understanding of the solar system? Will Machiavelli beproved timeless, or time spent?References and cited works:Words/ Pages : 2,717 / 24