IR Folks from Times Past

IR Folks from Times Past

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Machiavelli Through the Ages

The following judgments of Machiavelli over the centuries form an illuminating history of political and international thought. They are drawn mostly from a very useful edition of the Prince edited by Jean-Pierre Barricelli in 1968, with the extracts comprising about a third of those collected by Barricelli.

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Innocent Gentillet: As for Machiavelli's assertion that the prince is feared according to his will and pleasure, this would be very well for him if it were true, since this way he would always be feared to the extent that no one would oppose his commands and wishes and everyone would simply obey and submit to his yoke. But experience shows us the contrary, and we are forced to see and recognize that the prince cannot maintain obedience if the commands he gives are disagreeable and found to be unjust by the people . . . Now concerning Machiavelli's utterance that it is very difficult for a prince to be both feared and loved simultaneously: this is completely erroneous, for there is nothing easier for a prince than to obtain them both, as sound reason will attest . . . Friendship ( said Cicero ) is the true bond of all human society and whosoever wishes to do away with good will among men ( as Machiavelli did among princes) will succeed in eliminating all the pleasure, consolation, contentment, and security that exists among men (Discourse . . . Against Machiavelli, 1576).
Jean Bodin: In a matter of State, it is seriously incongruous, and dangerous, to teach princes the rules of injustice in order to assure their power (The Republic, 1576).
Francis Bacon: We are much beholden to Machiavel and others, that write what men do, and not what they ought to do. For it is not possible to join serpentine wisdom with the columbine innocency, except men know exactly all the conditions of the serpent . . . For without this, virtue lieth open and unfenced. Nay, an honest man can do no good upon those that are wicked, to reclaim them, without the help of the knowledge of evil (On the Advancement of Learning, 1605).
Traiano Boccalini: All who understood matters of State knew that princes often were forced to engage in actions that were not praiseworthy in order to insure the peace and quiet of the kingdom; [therefore it was bad to open the people's eyes to these] necessary means (Report on Parnassus, 1612-13 ).
Ludovico Zuccolo: To teach ex professo the ways and means of operating by Reason of State in corrupt governments is the work not of honorable men but of iniquitous and impious writers, like Machiavelli and his followers (Moral and Political Considerations, 1621).

Pierre Bayle: It is the princes who taught Machiavelli what he wrote. It is the study of the world, the observation of what takes place there, and not an empty studio meditation, that were Machiavelli's teachers . . . Through an unfortunate and lamentable necessity, politics must rise above morality . . . The maxims of this author are very bad: the public is so convinced of them that Machiavelism and the art of ruling tyrannically are synonymous (Critical and Historical Dictionary, article "Machiavel," 1697, 1738 ed.).
Frederick the Great: Machiavelli's The Prince is to matters of morality what Spinoza's works are to matters of faith. Spinoza sapped the foundation of faith, stopping at nothing short of overturning the whole edifice of religion, while Machiavelli corrupted politics, thereby hoping to destroy the very precepts of sound morality . . . I venture now to take up the defense of humanity against this monster who wants to destroy it; with reason and justice I dare oppose sophistry and crime (The Anti-Machiavel, 1740).
Jean-Jacques Rousseau: In pretending to give lessons to kings, he gave great lessons to peoples. The Prince . . . is the book of republicans (The Social Contract, 1762 ).
Giuseppe Baretti: Being such a big, desperate republican is what induced him to write the book of the "Prince," through which his fame became so soiled and his name made par excellence the designation of every evil man. With that book, if we knew the whole story, he perhaps thought to kill two birds with one stone, as it were: on the one hand he presented his Florentines, as pure and natural, a charged and monstrous portrait of an absolute sovereign, that they might resolve never to have one like him; on the other hand, he tried insidiously to draw the Medici into such a style of rule, following his fraudulent precepts . . . laid down in that confounded work of his, so that they might hang themselves (Preface to All the Works of Machiavelli, 1772 ).
Denis Diderot: It's as if he had told his fellow-citizens: "Read this work well. If you ever accept a master, he will be as I describe him to you: there's the wild beast to which you will abandon yourselves." So it was the fault of his contemporaries if they misunderstood his purpose: they mistook satire for encomium (Encyclopedia, article "Machiavelism," 1773 ed. )
Johann Gottfried von Herder: [The Prince] is neither a satire nor a moral treatise, nor is it something in between; it is a masterpiece of pure politics for the Italian princes of that time, written according to their tastes and principles with the purpose . . . of liberating Italy from the barbarians (and also surely from the inept apprentices of the art of government who afflicted Italy with their unruliness). This he did without passion or hatred, without adulation or blame. Inasmuch as he considered all History the exposition of humanity's natural phenomena, so here he describes even the prince as a creature of a particular species, according to those tendencies, instincts, and habits which are his (Letters for the Promotion of Humanity, 1795)
Ugo Foscolo: [My conclusions are: ] 1) That the bad idea we have of Machiavelli derived from and was maintained by religious parties, though great men of every period honored Machiavelli's genius and soul . . . 2) That the life of Machiavelli and his character . . . are in manifest contradiction with The Prince's maxims, which shows that he did not write them obliquely [with ulterior motives in mind]. 3) . . . that he aimed at freeing the cities of Italy, especially Florence, his homeland, from the yoke of the little princes and the arrogance of the Church which pressed and supported them. 4) That given the character of the time, one sees the impossibility of having a new prince occupy and govern independently all of Italy (Of the Homeland, Life, Writings, and Fame of Niccolo Machiavelli, 1811 ).
Friedrich Schlegel: It's not Machiavelli's [patriotism] that strikes us the most, nor his often debated maxim that ends justify means; it's the fact that he taught modern Christian Europe politics, as if Christianity or a Divinity or divine justice did not exist (History of Ancient and Modern Literature, 1815).
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel: This book has often been cast away with horror . . .; but Machiavelli, highly cognizant of the necessity of a State's formation, showed the principles by which States could be formed under the circumstances. The single Signori and Signorie had to be overthrown, and if we cannot reconcile our idea of liberty with the means he offers us as the only and perfectly justified ones . . we still must recognize that the dynasts that had to be overthrown could only be fought this way, given their uncontrollable lack of conscience and complete abjectness (Philosophy of History, 1837/40).
Edgar Quinet: What gives him immortality . . is his intrepid view into the abyss of good and evil, is his dauntless mind amid desperate affairs, is his conscience of the general laws of States . . . We have only seen the fox in Machiavelli; now let's see the lion in him. Of all the authors of the XVIth century, he is the only one who understands heroism. He abhors Christian resignation and expects everything from human strength. He believes that intelligence and courage combined can save all. He leaves nothing to Fate. He arms man as if he were alone in the world, without the protection and the fear of the gods (The Revolutions of Italy, 1852).
Alessandro Manzoni: Machiavelli did not want injustice, either shrewd or violent, as the first or sole means to his goal. He wanted utility, and wanted it whether with justice or with injustice, according to the case. We cannot doubt that his soul inclined toward the former . . . Such an ugly mixture in the writings of such a great genius stemmed from nothing more than his having put utility in the supreme position which belongs to justice (Observations on Catholic Morality, 1854).
Giuseppe Mazzini: The great work of that illustrious man spreads over us all the veil of his dissolving analysis, which begins with science and ends with negation and discomfort, and that kind of science becomes, in mediocre intellects (who are the majority), a wretched habit of petty calculation, which is the opposite of any magnanimous undertaking (The Situation, 1857).
Pasquale Villari: [The] prince always appeared to him in the likeness of Cesare Borgia, as a strong and intelligent will, capable of organizing and disorganizing, making and unmaking nations at his pleasure. This incarnated will-power is almost a natural force . . . It was in this way that the mind of Machiavelli gradually wrought out its conception of the organic unity of the State, and it was in the same way that the modern State afterwards took shape in real history. This demonstrates the great value of his conception, and explains the singular fascination it has exercised, all calumnies notwithstanding, on the minds of thinkers and politicians. It was the scientific character of the work that led the author to examine with equal indifference both the virtuous and the wicked prince, and offer to either the counsels suited to the achievement of his end . . . [But] at the close of The Prince, Machiavelli's patriotism is vented with an eloquence bordering on sublimity. In such moments his character gains elevation in our eyes, his figure assumes heroic proportions, and still more so when we remember that his patriotism not only inspired his intellect, but guided the conduct of his entire life (Niccolò Machiavelli and his Times, 1877-82).
Giuseppe Toffanin: Situated between the rhetoric of the humanists and the desperate nihilism of the lords, he redeems himself in a new study of history . . . He discovers that every finalism in politics has collapsed, that the myths of papal and imperial universalisms, which in effect died two centuries before, are dying even in form, that the world is getting ready to abandon them, leaving standing only one naked reality, one sole reality: the "State": the State as an end in itself, the pre-Christian State. The man who will reveal the new age will be the one who has the courage and the strength to give all of this a concrete expression (Machiavelli and Tacitism, 1921).
Benito Mussolini: The question is raised: at a distance of four centuries, what is still alive in The Prince? Could Machiavelli's advice be of any use even to the heads of modern States? Is the value of The Prince's political system limited to the period in which the volume was written . . . or is it universal and current? . . . I maintain that Machiavelli's doctrine is more alive today than four centuries ago, for if the exterior aspects of our life have changed greatly, there have not been profound alterations in the spirit of individuals and peoples . . . The antithesis between prince and people, between State and individual, is fated in Machiavelli's concept . . . While individuals, pushed by their egoisms, tend toward social atomization, the State represents an organization and a limitation . . . There exists immanently, then, a variance between the organized force of the State and the fragmentism of the single persons or groups. Exclusively consensual regimes have never existed, do not exist, and probably never will (Prelude to The Prince, 1924 ).
T. S. Eliot: Machiavelli has been called a cynic; but there could be no stronger inspiration to `cynicism' than the history of Machiavelli's reputation. No history could illustrate better than that of the reputation of Machiavelli the triviality and irrelevance of influence ("Niccolò Machiavelli," in Times Literary Supplement, June 16, 1927).
Richard Lodge: I imagine a destructive critic maintaining that the Principe . . . reveals a scheme so chimerical in itself, and proved to be so chimerical by subsequent events, that it can never have been seriously put forward by a man with such an acute intellect and so much practical experience as Machiavelli possessed. I do not accept the conclusion. Machiavelli very probably underestimated certain difficulties, but, even if he had been less sanguine, he would not be the first advocate of a great cause who believed that it would be more advanced by unsuccessful effort than by passive acquiescence ( "Machiavelli's Il principe," 1930).
Jacques Maritain: Machiavellianism is an illusion, because it rests upon the power of evil, and because, metaphysically, evil as such has no power as a cause of being; practically, evil has no power as a cause of any lasting achievement . . . As a rule, Machiavellianism and political injustice, if they gain immediate success, lead states and nations to misfortune or catastrophe in the long run; in cases where they seem to succeed even in the long run, this is not by virtue of evil and political injustice but by virtue of some inner principle of misfortune already binding [its] victim to submission, even if the latter did not have to face such iniquitous enemies. “The End of Machiavellianism,” 1942
George P. Gooch: However lofty our political ideals, however firm our moral principles, we cannot shirk the rude challenge of The Prince. Can rulers, must rulers, invariably attempt to apply the moral law . . . Or is the art of government, to borrow a phrase of Nietzsche, beyond good and evil? . . . I believe that Machiavelli is unfair to mankind. The professed realist only saw a limited portion of the vast field of experience . . . With a longer and wider experience than Machiavelli, we have learned to recognize the solid core of truth in the old adage that honesty is the best policy . . . The great Italian completely ignored the ultimate potency of moral forces. (Studies in Diplomacy and Statecraft, 1942).
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One of the best commentaries on Machiavelli, omitted by Baricelli, is that of David Hume. The passage, from his essay "Of Civil Liberty," discloses a profound gap between Renaissance and Enlightenment:

MACHIAVEL was certainly a great genius; but having confined his study to the furious and tyrannical governments of ancient times, or to the little disorderly principalities of ITALY, his reasonings especially upon monarchical government, have been found extremely defective; and there scarcely is any maxim in his Prince, which subsequent experience has not entirely refuted. A weak prince, says he, is incapable of receiving good counsel; for if he consult with several, he will not be able to choose among their different counsels. If he abandon himself to one, that minister may, perhaps, have capacity; but he will not long be a minister: He will be sure to dispossess his master, and place himself and his family upon the throne. I mention this, among many instances of the errors of that politician, proceeding, in a great measure, from his having lived in too early an age of the world, to be a good judge of political truth. Almost all the princes of EUROPE are at present governed by their ministers; and have been so for near two centuries; and yet no such event has ever happened, or can possibly happen. SEJANUS [of the praetorian guard] might project dethroning the CÆSARS; but FLEURY [a French minister of the 18th century], though ever so vicious, could not, while in his senses, entertain the least hopes of dispossessing the BOURBONS.
Trade was never esteemed an affair of state till the last century; and there scarcely is any ancient writer on politics, who has made mention of it. Even the ITALIANS have kept a profound silence with regard to it, though it has now engaged the chief attention, as well of ministers of state, as of speculative reasoners. The great opulence, grandeur, and military achievements of the two maritime powers [Holland and England] seem first to have instructed mankind in the importance of an extensive commerce.
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Machiavelli’s The Prince: Text and Commentary, Presentation and Analysis of the Treatise on Power Politics, ed., Jean-Pierre Barricelli (Barron’s Educational Series, 1968), pp. 278-311.

David Hume, Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, “Of Civil Liberty,” Miller, ed., 88-89.