Wednesday, March 24, 2010

241: Machiavelli

In contemporary vocabulary, the terms ‘machiavellian’ and ‘machiavellianism’ capture an understanding of politics as a domain that embraces naked self-interest, the maintenance of rulership at all costs, the utility of unethical behavior and the centrality of power as an end that justifies any means.

Machiavelli was born in Italy in 1469 and died in 1527. Maybe fortunate for him that he is dead, because I don't think that he would have been pleased with the prejudice about his political thinking.

Machiavelli was a man of the Renaissance. The moment in history, when mankind started its adventures in science and tried to free itself from the domination of religion and church.

In his days political philosophers held the view that there exists a special relationship between moral goodness and legitimate authority.

The ultimate authority came from God, who gave mankind natural law. The ruler should have a virtuous character to give him the right to use political power. He earned the right to be obeyed and respected because of his virtuous character.

Machiavelli was a man of practical politics. He had been a politician, had been imprisoned, tortured, released again and removed form power. He knew better.

Power isn't the result of moral virtue. Away with that! For Machiavelli, there is no moral basis on which to judge the difference between legitimate and illegitimate uses of power.

Rather, authority and power are essentially coequal: whoever has power has the right to command; but goodness does not ensure power and the good person has no more authority by virtue of being good.

That is the rule of political power. He is a realist. He himself had experienced that goodness and right are not sufficient to win and maintain political office.

Only by means of the proper application of power, Machiavelli believes, can individuals be brought to obey and will the ruler be able to maintain the state in safety and security.

For Machiavelli laws and good arms constitute the dual foundations of a well-ordered political system, but laws as such mean nothing. He says, “Since there cannot be good laws without good arms, I will not consider laws but speak of arms”

In other words, the legitimacy of law rests entirely upon the threat of coercive force, or to quote himself:"“one can say this in general of men: they are ungrateful, disloyal, insincere and deceitful, timid of danger and avid of profit….

Love is a bond of obligation which these miserable creatures break whenever it suits them to do so; but fear holds them fast by a dread of punishment that never passes”

Authority depends on the sheer possession of power. For Machiavelli, people are compelled to obey purely in deference to the superior power of the state. This power comes from arms not from God.

This doesn't mean that for Machiavelli the best state is one which is ruled by a violent, cruel and merciless tyrann. Almost on the contrary. The people plays an important role in his ideas.

Machiavelly did not only write "The Prince" (1514) but also the "Discourses on the Ten Books of Titus Livy" (1518), in which he takes antique Rome and its republican organization as example of a good city-state.

His highest political value is "liberta", freedom, not oppression of the people. The state exists to protect and defend the common good.

In the Discourses, he ascribes to the masses a quite extensive competence to judge and act for the public good in various settings, explicitly contrasting the “prudence and stability” of ordinary citizens with the unsound discretion of the prince. Simply stated, “A people is more prudent, more stable, and of better judgment than a prince”

In Machiavelli's opinion most beneficial to republican liberty is a government that combines ‘a prince, a nobility and the power of the people’ under the same constitution.

This was the case in ancient Rome, where the consuls, the senate and the tribunes maintained a tense equilibrium, and kept each other in check. And to make it complete Machiavelli insists that: ‘every free state ought to afford the people the opportunity of giving vent, so to say, to their ambition’

As you see, we end up with a completely different political philosophy than the standard view, with which we began, but I must admit, that Machiavelli allowed every action of the Prince, moral and immoral, to preserve the liberate of his people.

The Discussion

[13:24] herman Bergson: well...this a rather long lecture ..:)
[13:24] herman Bergson: sorry for that ..
[13:24] herman Bergson: sometimes I get taken away by the subject...
[13:24] Repose Lionheart: Very interesting, though...
[13:24] herman Bergson: of power this time
[13:24] Gemma Cleanslate: not really
[13:24] Ganymede Blackburn: It's all good, if it had been shorter, I would have missed more of it. =)
[13:25] herman Bergson smiles
[13:25] herman Bergson: if you have questions or remarks..plz?
[13:25] Repose Lionheart: Those who founded the American republic must at least have read those who read Machiavelli
[13:25] Gemma Cleanslate: i read there are those who thought perhaps The Prince was sarcasm
[13:25] herman Bergson: defintely Repose
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: and his real beliefs were that the early roman empire model ws best
[13:26] herman Bergson: yes Gemma...there are different opinions
[13:26] herman Bergson: when you compare The Prince with the Discourse for instance
[13:26] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:27] Ganymede Blackburn: Even though these are two very contrasting views from Machiavelli, from Discorsi to Il Principe, they're not contradictory, are they?
[13:27] herman Bergson: it ilso is said that the Prince was written in pure opportunism
[13:27] herman Bergson: Actually, Ganymede I dont think
[13:28] herman Bergson: For a quintessential issue for Machiavelli is still the common good
[13:28] herman Bergson: not just simple power by force
[13:28] Ganymede Blackburn: the former is about what a government should be like, the other about what it takes to create one under real world conditions.
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: I think that whole florence era was so so insidious
[13:28] Gemma Cleanslate: in history
[13:29] herman Bergson: must have been at least an exciting time
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: scary lol
[13:29] Repose Lionheart: or...interesting
[13:29] Ganymede Blackburn: A curse: 'May you live in interesting times'
[13:29] herman Bergson: They were used to that in those days ㋡
[13:29] Gemma Cleanslate: if one was not poisoned
[13:30] herman Bergson: Related to the writings of Machiavelli was also thta he was very eager to get reinstalled in power
[13:30] Diatoma Clarity: What is the difference between today and yester years?
[13:30] Repose Lionheart: not much
[13:30] Diatoma Clarity: things today are done more under a disguise
[13:31] herman Bergson: Well...... I am not sure...
[13:31] Diatoma Clarity: my opinion!
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: in some countries yes for sure
[13:31] herman Bergson: Machiavelli had a rather limited interpretation of human only under fear...
[13:31] Repose Lionheart: yes
[13:32] herman Bergson: Is that realistic...
[13:32] Ganymede Blackburn: they were always concealed when necessary. Statecraft doesn't really change, though circumstances might.
[13:32] herman Bergson: For instance..for Machiavelli moral obligation as a value didnt exist
[13:33] herman Bergson: is that realistic?
[13:33] oola Neruda: i was listening to a discussion of the way things are in Juarez.. with the drug gangs being so prominent...
[13:33] Gemma Cleanslate: I hope not
[13:33] Repose Lionheart: then why did the feel promote the public good, Prof
[13:33] Zinzi Serevi: not realistic
[13:33] herman Bergson: While we have seen since the greek that political philosophy was closely linked with ethics...for Machiavelli this isnt the case
[13:33] oola Neruda: they said the major reason was that there was no law enforcement... or effective law enforcement
[13:34] oola Neruda: and predicted that poverty in the third world has the possibility of evolving much of society into that kind of situation
[13:34] herman Bergson: moment...
[13:34] Repose Lionheart: and yet "for M the quintessential issue is the common good"
[13:34] herman Bergson: two things...Repose and oola....
[13:34] herman Bergson: Why the common good?
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: yes, if he is so skeptical of it...
[13:35] herman Bergson: The common good and to prosper and do great things was the meaning of the state for Machiavelli
[13:35] Repose Lionheart: or of the good, at least
[13:36] herman Bergson: You might say that he was the first who came with sociological interpretations of society
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: so a good outcome rests on nonmoral and immoral acts and processes?
[13:36] herman Bergson: not with a philosophical antropology, but with a description of how it works
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: ahhh...
[13:36] Repose Lionheart: yes, i see that
[13:36] Gemma Cleanslate: i do not think a ruler can keep power if there is no common good or the people will uprise against the ruler and his controllers at least not SOME common good
[13:37] herman Bergson: Not by definition on immoral actions..only
[13:37] herman Bergson: the actions are the means to the end...the common good, prosperity...
[13:37] herman Bergson: whether moral or immoral isnt relevant for Machiavelli
[13:37] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:38] herman Bergson: Like keeping the people in control...
[13:38] Repose Lionheart: the lynch pin exposed for pulling there ㋡
[13:38] Diatoma Clarity: so his views was kill ten to save hundreds?
[13:38] herman Bergson: Like oola describes ..that you could say is a sociological phenomenon...
[13:38] Gemma Cleanslate: hmmm
[13:38] herman Bergson: if fact to some extend it proofs Machiavelli's point
[13:39] herman Bergson: They people in those regions deal in drugs because the state doesnt provide prosperity
[13:39] herman Bergson: so theese fgroups become classic city-states so to speak..we call it drug gangs
[13:40] Repose Lionheart: interesting
[13:40] herman Bergson: Almost like the North italian cities in 1500 were fighting each other al the time too
[13:40] Ganymede Blackburn: only then it was over the spice trade. =)
[13:41] Gemma Cleanslate: yes all the time
[13:41] herman Bergson: But what in Mexico is happening is without description from our perspective
[13:42] herman Bergson: But is looks like small states fighting each other to obtain prosperity, or all the profits
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: oh i think not
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: it is illegal cartels of drug runners
[13:43] herman Bergson: yes.... but social groups with their own rules
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: that are fighting to get control of distributing to the USA for moore money
[13:43] oola Neruda: the discussion i heard was exactly as herman describes...
[13:43] Gemma Cleanslate: that is true oola
[13:43] oola Neruda: but it is also as gemma says... the gangs are the city states
[13:44] Repose Lionheart: Gemma makes a good point at 13:36. And for M, the good is simply anomolous, and can not be accounted for in his political theories.
[13:44] herman Bergson: and the main line with Machivelli's ideas...power is enforced by arms
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: if the usa would only legalize the drugs and control them this would stop also
[13:44] herman Bergson: oh yes...would be the same in europe
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[13:45] herman Bergson: But dont forget....
[13:45] Diatoma Clarity: no
[13:45] herman Bergson: with legalisation not only the drug dealers loose their job!
[13:45] Diatoma Clarity: exactly
[13:45] herman Bergson: And THAT is the real problem perhaps
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: true
[13:46] Liza Deischer: :-)
[13:46] Zinzi Serevi: i agree
[13:46] Zinzi's translator: i agree
[13:46] Liza Deischer: who is really in control
[13:46] Diatoma Clarity: ...the creation of something else illegal will occur.. yes I agree
[13:46] herman Bergson: Well…so you see …Machiavelli is still alive...
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: that is always true
[13:46] Repose Lionheart: hehe
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: lol
[13:47] Repose Lionheart: yes!
[13:47] herman Bergson: what fascinates me in him is how he deals with the concept of power...
[13:47] herman Bergson: he has a clear view on how it emerges
[13:47] herman Bergson: Maybe this concept will be our next focus...
[13:48] herman Bergson: the power of the state...
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: hmmm....
[13:48] herman Bergson: very interesting if you link it to the new HealthCare bill ㋡
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: ganymede why are you hiding in the wall
[13:48] Zinzi Serevi: lol
[13:48] Zinzi's translator: lol
[13:48] Ganymede Blackburn: I came in late and didn't want to disturb...
[13:49] Diatoma Clarity: which is unfair to the poor!
[13:49] Ganymede Blackburn: Also, *I'm not myself today...
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: wellyou are very disturbing in the wall
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: lolol
[13:49] Ganymede Blackburn: sorry
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: lololol
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: not really just kidding
[13:49] Zinzi Serevi: was het zo dat voor Machiavelli het doel alle middelen heiligde?
[13:49] Zinzi's translator: Machiavelli was so that the end justifies the means sanctified?
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: i knew you were here somewhere just saw where
[13:49] herman Bergson: For me she is just sitting there
[13:50] herman Bergson: You could say that Zinzi
[13:50] herman Bergson: yes
[13:50] Zinzi Serevi: ok
[13:50] Zinzi's translator: ok
[13:50] Zinzi Serevi: tot hoever ging hij daarin?
[13:50] Zinzi's translator: how far it went?
[13:50] herman Bergson: All the way
[13:50] Zinzi Serevi: ok
[13:50] Zinzi's translator: ok
[13:50] Gemma Cleanslate: sounded just like the bush white house to me
[13:50] Diatoma Clarity: lol
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: as the first statement ws read
[13:51] herman Bergson grins
[13:51] Diatoma Clarity: right
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: or written
[13:51] Ganymede Blackburn: well, Bush didn't inherit a deadlocked dog eat dog situation that he could use as justification...
[13:51] oola Neruda: yes.. especially cheny
[13:51] herman Bergson: Well...I think whenI find good material we'll discuss the phenomenon of power next time
[13:51] Gemma Cleanslate: n contemporary vocabulary, the terms ‘machiavellian’ and ‘machiavellianism’ capture an understanding of politics as a domain that embraces naked self-interest, the maintenance of rulership at all costs, the utility of unethical behaviour and the centrality of power as an end that justif
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: the means
[13:52] Diatoma Clarity: how come he didn't?
[13:52] Diatoma Clarity: 9/11
[13:52] Diatoma Clarity: was that not unethical?
[13:53] herman Bergson: You see...this contemporary view is as such meaningfull, but in my opinion not the deduction from Machiavelli's ideas
[13:53] Diatoma Clarity: yes!
[13:53] herman Bergson: centrality of power as end in itself was never his idea
[13:53] Ganymede Blackburn: What I'm saying is, he used the means, but didn't have much in the way of ends that I can see...
[13:54] Repose Lionheart: the common good was...
[13:54] Ganymede Blackburn: but that's a digression
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:54] Ganymede Blackburn: Order?
[13:54] Liza Deischer: hmm, but I get a weird feeling about common good in this perspective
[13:54] herman Bergson: well..I guess the same as the Greek meant... the welfare and wellbeing of everyone in the state
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: thursday will continue Machiavelli?
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: or another view
[13:55] herman Bergson: I think on the concept of power (of the state) and its backgrounds
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: ah ok
[13:55] Zinzi Serevi: interesting
[13:55] Zinzi's translator: interesting
[13:56] Repose Lionheart: weak goals would be a problem in a clearly consequentialist political ethic, huh?
[13:56] herman Bergson: especially related to the ideas of Machiavelli...
[13:56] Diatoma Clarity: what time does the discussion starts professor?
[13:56] herman Bergson: Always at 1 PM PST
[13:56] Diatoma Clarity: ok
[13:56] Ganymede Blackburn: It's ironic how any politician who's taken Machiavelli's works to heart would never admit to having read him?
[13:56] Diatoma Clarity: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:57] Repose Lionheart: hehehe
[13:57] Repose Lionheart: yeah
[13:57] Sartre Placebo: thx herman
[13:57] Repose Lionheart: they dare not
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: lolo maybe it is just natural to them
[13:57] Sartre Placebo: night everyone
[[13:57] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your participation.... ㋡
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: bye sartre
[13:57] Zinzi Serevi: bye sartre
[13:57] Zinzi's translator: bye Sartre
[13:57] Ganymede Blackburn: Like no career-conscious economist will admit to having studied Marx...
[13:57] Gemma Cleanslate: and all see you !
[13:57] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor ㋡
[13:58] Repose Lionheart: hehe

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