Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
Love Part 15: Machiavelli
If Hobbes and Machiavelli agree on one thing, it's the "baseness of men," that humans are nasty little creatures (Hobbes: "I put for a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restlesse desire for Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death"). Machiavelli always keeps this in mind.
Machiavelli isn’t best described as a moral thinker, and many of his ideas, to put it bluntly, are actually immoral. Completely opposite of Socrates, he is not interested in issues of good and evil or right and wrong. In fact, he is sick of talking about it; he doesn’t think talking about it has helped humanity, especially because all the talk assumes that people are good. When you assume that people are good, government fails. Interestingly, this is not too far from how our American government was formed, based on the idea that, given human nature, we need several “check and balances” and laws which constantly check human nature. Machiavelli was a military genius, writing while in political exile, trying to help out his government gain the power back that it had. His hero, the “prince,” is not the virtuous “Sage” of the Tao te Ching, but he does trick his people into thinking he is! His startling claims, his brutal views about human nature (realistic he would probably say), and his coldly rational political tactics must always be looked at in this lens, I suppose.
Love Fails, Fear Wins
Compared to the fear of punishment, love is weak. It’s important to remember that Machiavelli is talking about how a “prince,” or leader, should act, not necessary of normal person; however, he does make some starting claims about humans in general. A prince should try to be both feared and loved, but especially feared:
“because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous…and that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined…men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who if feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
But a ruler should steer clear of hatred: “Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred.” Killing people for just cause, he says, is even better than taking their property away from them. People really hate that. He applauds Hannibal, in a sense, for keeping people afraid of him through his “inhumane cruelty.”
Machiavelli also adopts the idea of friendship into the character of his "prince." To other nations, a prince should either be a loyal friend or a bitter enemy--but, like Dodge, never neutral: “A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend [to another state] or a downright enemy.” Laissez faire is not a good foreign policy. Why? Because “it will always happen that he who is not your friend will demand your neutrality, whilst he who is your friend will entreat you to declare yourself with arms.” If they win, you win too; and if they lose, they will try to “shelter you” from the winner.
Love Part 1: Platonic Love
Love Part 2: Aristotle
Love Part 3: Epictetus and stoic love
Love Part 4: Marcus Aurelius
Love Part 5: Plotinus
Love Part 6: the Buddha
Love Part 7: Christian Love
Love Part 8: Augustine
Love Part 9: Martin Luther King, Jr
Love Part 10: Aquinas
Love Part 11: Dante
Love Part 12: a Real Love Letter
Love Part 13: Chaucer
Love Part 14: Hobbes