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Machiavelli Biography of Niccolo Machiavelli Niccolo Machiavelli was born in Florence on 3 May 1469 during a time of great political activity in Italy. His first role in political affairs came at the young age of twenty-nine when the ruling regime of Savonrola fell from power in his native city. Though he had no previous administrative background, Machiavelli was appointed to serve as second chancellor of the Florentine Republic under the new government. His nomination to this powerful diplomatic post was in large part due to the powerful influence of the Italian humanists who stressed the need for an education in the humane disciplines of Latin, rhetoric, classical studies, ancient history and moral philosophy subjects in which Machiavelli excelled as a student. The position of second chancellor included important responsibilities for the foreign and diplomatic relations of the republic and gave Machiavelli the opportunity to travel and observe first-hand the successes and failures of leaders throughout Europe.

It was from these experiences as a diplomat and ambassador that Machiavelli formed deep convictions about the methodology of effective leadership. Indeed, from his later writings it is evident that the foundation for much of his political philosophy rested upon the lessons he drew from the diplomatic and military events of his time. Machiavelli’s first assignment was on a mission to the court of Louis XII of France to appease the French leader after a disaster in their alliance against Pisa. He quickly learned that Florence’s sense of its own importance was clearly at odds with the realities of its military position and relative wealth. To anyone educated in the school of modern kingship, his native government appeared vacillating and weak. Machiavelli took this embarrassment to heart and later wrote powerfully about the political necessity of military strength, the dangers of procrastination, the folly of appearing irresolute, and the need for boldness, ferocity, and tangible power.

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A few years later, in October of 1502, Machiavelli was sent to meet with Cesare Borgia, the duke of Romagna and an audacious and threatening military power who later demanded a formal alliance with the Florentines. It was during this time of great political turmoil and upheaval in Italy that Machiavelli drew meaningful lessons from his observation and assessment of contemporary statecraft. He was greatly impressed by Borgia, a fearless and courageous leader who possessed undivided and autonomous power, operated under conditions of extreme secrecy, and acted with swift execution. The success of his leadership resulted from qualities of boldness, physical strength, and predatory instinct. Though he admired much of Borgia’s leadership style, Machiavelli was unimpressed by his seeming overconfidence.

When Borgia assumed that his maneuvering and posturing to ensure a loyal successor to the papacy would automatically result in a favorable situation, Machiavelli criticized the duke’s reliance on good luck. Indeed, Machiavelli often referred to Borgia in his writings as an example of irrational reliance on chance and good fortune a recurring theme in his later philosophical work. Machiavelli had learned that truly effective leadership required taming fortune and empowering oneself to be the master of one’s own destiny. The next influential leader with whom Machiavelli interacted was Julius II, the newly elected Pope. Though initially convinced that the warrior pope was destined for disaster, Machiavelli was later converted to Julius’s plan of reconquering the lost papal states.

The pope’s sheer audacity and authority and most importantly the absolute nature of his power gave great hope for unexpected victory. Machiavelli admired this ferocity, but noted in later writings that if times had come when he needed to proceed with caution, they would have brought about his downfall; for never would he have turned away from those methods to which his nature inclined him. For Machiavelli, a leader must adapt to changing circumstances and craft his strategy not merely according to his temperament, but in accordance with the most effectual course of action. Indeed, the primary weakness that each of these leaders shared was a disastrous inflexibility in the face of changing conditions. It was upon this basic premise of versatility and potency that Machiavelli founded his political philosophy. Unfortunately for Machiavelli, Julius’s ferocity prevailed, at least in the short run, and after his alliance with Ferdinand of Spain, the Medici’s re-entered Florence and the republic was dissolved in September of 1512. Machiavelli was formally dismissed from his post at the chancery, sentenced to imprisonment, and issued an enormous fine after being suspected of conspiring against the new Medicean government.

The next year, however, Julius II died, and his successor Leo X granted a general amnesty as part of the rejoicing, freeing Machiavelli to a premature retirement at his country home. Though he lived in constant hope of re-entering the political scene, the remainder of Machiavelli’s life was dedicated to writing and reflection. His lot from this time forward was to contemplate the political scene not as a participant, but as an analyst. Machiavelli became a prolific and diverse author, writing biography (Life of Castruccio Castracani), civic and social history (The History of Florence), and even what many consider to be the best Italian play of the century (Mandragola). Machiavelli is best remembered, however, for his works of political philosophy.

In Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli reflects systematically on his political and diplomatic experience, the lessons of history (both contemporary and ancient), and ultimately articulating what he supposed to be the rules of statecraft. In what is widely recognized as the most famous book on politics ever written, Machiavelli transformed the way in which many think about political life. The Prince establishes politics, in sharp contrast to the prevailing Christian view, as a realm of its own. Though it would be nice to find in a political leader all of those qualities to which Christians aspire, Machiavelli argues that human conditions do not permit it (62). What we ought to do, in a moral or abstract sense, is not nearly as effectual as what men actually do.

Indeed, in a society dominated by evil deeds, virtue means letting go of what should be done for what is done in order to triumph. Indeed, Machiavelli’s virtue is essentially control over one’s fortune and destiny, regardless of the means. Machiavelli outlines his strategic study of history, asserting that informed choices will lead to desired ends. His is a calculus of causes and effects — a study of political necessity in order to make successful decisions in a variety of circumstances. Machiavelli focuses on attaining power, security, and honor. Though the path to this position of control, constancy, and credibility is filled with obstacles and dangers, leaders must overcome them with virtue (25).

For Machiavelli, human nature dictates political reality and necessity. What Machiavelli views as necessary in any given situation turns out to be the means to political stability and power. Since men are naturally evil, effective governance often requires harsh measures. By equating virtue and power, and justifying cruelty as a necessary means to political stability and power, Machiavelli establishes a new system of morality. Actions and intentions are no longer inherently good or bad, but are judged according to their usefulness in attaining certain ends.

Machiavelli seeks to redefine what we ought to consider acceptable. Machiavelli’s skillful redefinition of principles represents a shift from the classical notion of virtue taught by religion to a system of self-interest justified by secularism. In this conception, ideals are judged according to their utility. Indeed, in his acceptance of all effectual means to political power, Machiavelli grants a certain kind of approval for what were previously held to be evil acts. It is for this reason that Machiavelli is perhaps the most famous as well as the most infamous of political philosophers. Machiavelli and Plato: virtue vs. justice Like other Western philosophers, Machiavelli was influenced by the early Greek philosophers, especially Plato.

However, in many cases Machiavelli seems to be arguing against Platonic philosophy. Plato believed in just rulers, who ruled via moral virtue. Machiavelli believed in Virtu’, whatever was best for the State was Virtu’. In Plato’s time, man served the state. According to Monarch notes on The Republic: The basic idea referred to is the view that ethics and politics are the same, or at least co-terminous (overlapping in essential features). There was no distinction between private life and public life, as there is today.

There was no such concept as the invasion of privacy, perhaps because no Athenian felt that he had a private life that was to be kept distinct from his public life. However, in Machiavelli’s time, as it is today, the States whole reason for being was to serve the citizens, not vice versa. Machiavelli believed the only purpose for a ruler was to make war, and protect its citizens from attacks by other states. The ruler, therefore, is justified in doing whatever is necessary to maintain the country, even if it is unjust. Plato argues a ruler can never be unjust.

Plato argues against the type of ruler, who rules solely by might in The Republic. The argument stands as a defense against Machiavellian society: In practicing a skill, we do not aim to go beyond, but only to hit the right point. Virtue is a kind of skill, and this requires a knowledge of what is the right measure. The unjust man, therefore, is not exercising much of a skill, is he? Nor is the tyrant doing much of a job at ruling. One cannot claim to play a higher F-sharp than anyone else – since we all know that F-sharp is F-sharp, and there cannot be higher or lower F-sharp’s.

It is the just man who knows the proper note; it is the unjust man who exceeds it and goes out of tune in his life. It is injustice, then, that is the fool’s game. It destroys individuals, as it destroys states.(Plato, The Republic. 349E, P. 35-36) In spite of the fact, Machiavelli is greatly influenced by the Greek and Latin classics, and by the bible, he takes a critical stance in dealing with the idea of morality. A Prince’s main duty is the preservation of his country and the protection of his subjects.

A Prince, therefore should have no care or thought but for war, and the regulations and training it requires, and should apply himself exclusively to this as his peculiar province; for war is the sole art looked for in one who rules (Machiavelli, P. 70). This is not far from what we look for in Republican societies. Machiavelli believes a good leader’s main responsibility is to preserve his country first. According to Salmon: Machiavelli says that rulers should be truthful, keep promises, and the like when doing so will not harm the state, and that they should generally appear to have the traditional virtues. But since the goal of the ruler is to conquer and preserve the state, he should not shrink from wrongdoing when the preservation of the state requires this.

Thus, the classical concept of civic virtue, which is a moral code applicable to rulers and subjects alike, is critically transformed in Machiavelli’s concept of virtu’, which pertains to rulers of states and can be at odds with moral virtue. (Salmon, Merrilee H, Landmarks in Critical Thinking Series: Machiavelli’s The Prince ) Machiavelli’s idea of virtu’ is not of moral character then, but of what is best or the utilitarian needs of the country. For Machiavelli virtu’ out weighs virtue in times of need while Plato believes a just ruler must behave the same all the time. Salmon says: Machiavelli critically analyzes the crucial characteristics of successful rulers, distinguishing, for example, between standards of discipline appropriate for military campaigns and for rulers when they are not commanding armies. Similarly, when Machiavelli discusses the concepts of cruelty and mercy, he presents examples to show that actions which might seem at first glance to be cruel are merciful in the circumstances, and vice versa. Machiavelli is naive, and in many ways promotes violence, if it justifies the ends to a means, virtu.

However, in so doing, he also exposes Monarchy as a fraud, and offers a way of separating morality or religion from politics. Politics is a cruel game, and sometimes politicians must lie in order to ensure the utilitarian good. Machiavelli warns that total honesty is not always what a good Prince needs to hear, but is a type of flattery that should be shunned. He writes: For there is no way to guard against flattery but by letting it be seen that you take no offence in hearing the truth: but when every one is free to tell you the truth, respect falls short. Wherefore a prudent Prince should follow a middle course, by choosing certain discreet men from among his subjects, and allowing them alone free leave to speak their minds on any matter on which he asks their opinion, and on none other.

But he ought to ask their opinion on everything, and after hearing what they have to say, should reflect and judge for himself. (Machiavelli, The Prince. The Rennaissance Man, Edited by Daniel Fader, Gorlier: New York P. 113) Machiavelli greatly admires the works of Plato and other sophists. Machiavelli employs the conditional patterns of argumentation developed by the Stoic logicians. He frequently uses the dilemma form since this is useful for presenting alternative courses of action along with their consequences.

He skillfully avoids being caught in false dilemmas, however. For example, when considering whether it is better to be loved or feared, he first points out that it is desirable–though not easy–to be both loved and feared. Plato believed that the ruler without moral virtue was unjust. A true ruler was just regardless of the circumstances. By doing evil to those evil men, are we not adding to their evil, making them more evil? It follows that justice involves the actual creation of evil.

Yet no art can deliberately aim at a negative result. The death of a patient is not a triumph of medicine but a failure. The creation of evil is not an accomplishment of justice, but a failure of justice. (335 D, P. 15-16) Therefore, according to Plato, a just ruler should not seek war, because war is unjust.

War is evil, and The creation of evil is not an accomplishment of justice, but a failure of justice. For Plato, a just ruler, an ideal ruler would be just. He does address war, and feels the Republic should have a standing Army of trained soldiers in order to defend the Republic. Machiavelli believes the state exists to make war, and a good ruler exists for only one purpose to make war, this is his only concern. Machiavelli are writing in two different eras. In Plato’s era, man based philosophy on utopian ideals and principles.

They were concerned with how things should be, not how they were. If we all behave this way, we will have a perfect society. Machiavelli, however, was a realist. He was concerned with how things were in reality, not how things could be if the world was perfect. He was greatly influenced by his failures in public life. He had served as head of the second chancery of the Florentine republic, but was dismissed after it fell in 1512. The Medici family was again ruling Florence, and a Medici also sat on the papal throne in Rome.

The Prince was an attempt to prevent form those failures being repeated in the future. Machiavelli tried unsuccessfully to use this treatise to gain an advisory appointment either to the papacy or the court of the Duke. He was not concerned with moral virtue, if it meant the destruction and defeat of his state POLICY OF TERROR AND WESTERN VIRTUE IN EUROPEAN INSECURITY By Anssi K. Kullberg, August, 2000 ‘Terror’ means extreme use of horror and fear, ultimately backed by violence or threat of violence, in order to force one’s action or opinion upon others – merely by coercion, without legitimacy by the consent of the subjects of this power. ‘Terrorism’, thereby, is defined as an ideology or pattern of political behaviour, the ultimate goal of which is to generate fear, horror, violence or disorder, in order to pressure others to give in to the will of the terrorist.

If we agree on these basic objective definitions of what terror and terrorism really are, it will be possible for us to discuss how terror and terrorism influence in today’s world. There is also of course a demagogic interpretation of the concepts ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’, highly prevalent in certain countries where the word ‘terrorism’ is simply used as a synonym of any dissidentism or disobedience towards the centre’s rule, or aspiration to achieve larger autonomy, or national liberation, or decolonisation. If we, however, adopt such an interpretation of the concepts, we will inevitably fail in discussing the problem of terror in an international context. The failure is inevitable because a certain type of regime generally and traditionally prefers to use the word ‘terrorism’ in a rather Orwellian sense: implicating that all those who disagree with, let alone disobey or even directly oppose, their power, should be named terrorists. Used as a justification for various violent means to impose coercion and tyranny upon the dissidents or opposition or a distinct group of people, this implication is already a basis of terror, and as noticed, it can be found generally characteristic for a certain type of regime – tyrannical or otherwise highly illegitimate regime that can henceforth be called a ‘terror regime’. The general pattern of the political behaviour of such a regime can be described as ‘terrorism’.

In an objective view, it should make no difference, whether the regime is ruling an internationally recognised nation-state, an empire, or a separatist republic. There are many various ways, in which both a regime of a state and an interest group within a state may proceed in order to defend their existence – their liberty as the theorists of the late Medieval and Renaissance Italy preferred to say – or in order to destroy an opponent polity’s liberty, and ultimately the existence of a rival polity. A classic, describing the variety of these means, is of course Niccol Machiavelli. We might distinguish the polities practising the full variety of Machiavellian methods for fulfilling their ends, whatever they were, in terms of whether the polity in question is an aggressor or a defender, a conqueror or a victim of conquest. But as this particular lecture aims at r …


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