Who decides what is virtue and what is vice?
A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savor of it. - Machiavelli
In Ch. 15 of The Prince he wrote:
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Since it is my intent to write something useful to whoever understands it, it has appeared to me more fitting to go directly to the effectual truth of things than to the imagination of it…many have imagined republics and principalities that have never been seen or known to exist in truth…he who lets go of what is done for what should be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation.
In modernity we are children of Machiavelli and Hobbes rather than Plato and Aristotle. Anthropomorphization (humanization) of lions and foxes in an aesopian allegory is the Elite illusion often used by Machiavelli to show that man is not just victorious through brute force, but with rule of law, cunning can be just as if not more powerful as brawn. Foxes rule by the power of the pen, lions through the power of the sword.
As Machiavelli observes, leaders tend to persist in using the means that have enabled them to succeed in the past, even when those means are no longer suited to the circumstances. The impetuous continue to forge ahead even when caution is warranted, and the cautious do not seize the opportunities that arise. In teaching his readers to be able not to be good and to use or not use that knowledge according to necessity, Machiavelli thus appears to be addressing two sorts of political actors: the good, who do not know how to be bad, but need to learn to be able to do so in order to be effective; and the bad, who do not know how to use (or not use) their ‘ability’ to establish a lasting regime.
Most human beings do not actually want to be virtuous or good. Regarded as individuals, human beings are weak and needy. By seeking to acquire ever more and to protect what we have already amassed, we naturally come into conflict. We thus join together to form political communities not only in order to acquire what we need but also to protect what we have acquired from the predations of others. But once such political communities are formed, their members also become divided by two mutually opposed ‘humors’ or ‘appetites’: the desire of ‘the great’ (or, as we might say today, the elite) to command and oppress the people, and the desire of the people not to be commanded and oppressed. It is an illusion to think that the leaders or ordinary citizens of a political community seek a ‘common good’ beyond defending that community from external predators. There will always be a more or less explicit conflict between those who want to rule and those who do not want to be ruled.
A leader should seek the support of the people rather than favoring his ‘great’ allies or partisans is that the ambitious ‘great’ regard themselves as his equals, and therefore wish to displace him. They will demand ever more offices and goods as the price of their continued support. Attempts to satisfy them will necessarily fail and, in failing, add to the leader’s enemies. A leader can satisfy his people, however, because ‘the end of the people is more decent (onesto) than that of the great, since the great want to oppress and the people want not to be oppressed’. There is strength in numbers: the people are much more numerous than the great. Machiavelli thus indicates that the ‘great’ are not different from the many by nature – human nature is the same in all. Because those granted high offices have more power and goods, they no longer feel as liable to oppression as the people merely subject to the government. Rather than desiring merely not to be oppressed, as a result of their relative positions the ‘great’ come to desire to acquire more by oppressing others. All human beings fundamentally desire to preserve themselves and, in trying to do so, strive to acquire ever more, Machiavelli tries in The Prince to persuade the politically ambitious that, however they acquire rule, the best way to keep themselves in office is to satisfy their people’s desire to have their lives, families and properties secured. Satisfying the desire of the people to be secure in their lives, families and property is and ought to be the end or purpose of government.
A political leader who depletes his own resources by generously granting offices, lands, titles and other emoluments to his aristocratic friends or partisans will lose their support when he needs it, unless that leader acquires new funds by taxing his people and so arousing their hatred. Rather than squander his capital by rewarding an ungrateful few, a political leader will prove himself to be truly liberal to the many by conserving his own resources so that he will be able to use them to defend himself and his government when needed. Machiavelli argues that political leaders have to use both force and fraud in order to acquire and maintain power. But he warns that they must always strive to appear to be full of mercy, faith, honesty, humility and religion – especially religion – even if they cannot be so in fact.A leader focuses on establishing and maintaining law and order, which is in the people’s interest as much as it is in the ruler’s. A leader acts to maintain a state that protects the lives and property of his subjects or fellow citizens from external aggression and domestic crime, they will believe him when he declares that he has been acting for the common good. In other words, people judge a leader’s character and words by the effects of his deeds.
Cruelties, however, should be swiftly administered—hence the logic of shock and awe—while benefits should be distributed slowly so that they may be tasted better. - Machiavelli
The republic requires widespread civic virtue, i.e., the active engagement of citizens united by a concern for the common good. The virtues of citizenship are in turn developed and enhanced by being exercised in upholding republican political and legal institutions and making them work by being involved in their operation. Republican life is then thought to be formative of the public spirit on which it rests. Republican freedom depends on constant civic activity. The polity is taken to cohere by means of the common acceptance of standards of justice that are more than procedural rules. The purpose of the commonwealth is the realization of human potentiality, encouraging the flowering of all forms of creativity and ingenuity insofar as they contribute to public welfare. The republic is the necessary medium of self-realization, not merely the condition of possibility of private endeavors. There is a link furthermore between the freedom of the citizen and the independence of the republic. Citizen armies and the right to bear arms are therefore common postulates of republican theory. civic humanism must be considered the response to a crisis amounting to what Machiavelli would call an occasione, a moment of disorder that gives scope to the formative activity of a new beginning that nevertheless looks to the past in order to guide its future.
In both of his works, Machiavelli acknowledges the existence within every community of two inherently incompatible classes: the grandi (nobles) and the popolo (masses). The nobles seek to dominate those beneath them; the masses desire only to be free from domination. He clearly believes that these two parties can never be brought together in a peaceful fashion. Their interests are simply incommensurable. So, Machiavelli’s dilemma is how to avoid the nobles and the masses from warring against one another. He provides two possibilities.
In Il principe, he remarks that a prince who wishes to maintain his power must curb the aspirations of the nobility, to the extent that a ruler may reasonably consider cold-blooded murder as one of his tools. The people, by contrast, should be treated mildly. Indeed, Machiavelli insists that if a prince must choose to side with one or the other class, he should always take up the cause of the masses. Why? First, because their numbers are so much greater than those of the nobles that they are bound to prevail. Second, because the popolo are so distant from the machinery of government headed by the prince that they are unable to observe the sometimes vicious means by which he must rule. Third, because they, being uneducated, are easily led by appearances and are unable to apprehend the truth that the prince seeks to conceal.
The Discorsi treats class conflict in an entirely different way, namely, as a positive or productive feature of a well-developed republican system. Machiavelli’s epitome of an ideal republic is ancient Rome, in which tumult was rife. According to him, by permitting rather than suppressing the collision between these two sets of interests, Rome succeeded in actualizing and maintaining the paramount value of liberty. In a republic of the Roman sort, the nobility (via the Senate) has the main responsibility for governing, but the people check that power by means of countervailing offices (such as the tribunes) and popular dissent. The struggle between them actually generates the liberty of the whole, both in terms of self-government un-beholden to either external forces or to tyranny and by assuring that the people’s desire not to be dominated is achieved.
Philosophy can be used to conquer fortune (chance, luck, nature). - Machiavelli
The enlightenment begins with Machiavelli. He used propaganda and the unarmed ways of Jesus to convince people that to become a prince that shapes societies is the ultimate goal. One should lower their standards and realize that the means justify the ends to ensure safety from foreign invaders, rule of law and prosperity. Machiavelli convinced men to seek glory rather than virtue.
Enlightenment thinkers argued against the ancients. Questioned all, loved science, did not believe in a priori knowledge, they were deists, and they thought that all should be accomplished in the here and now with no regard for the past or the future.
Plato left the door open by suggesting an impractical utopian vision. Machiavelli stepped through the door delivering a treatise on how to actually operate in society. Pragmatism over Utopianism. Particulars over forms.
Machiavelli states that there is something fundamentally wrong with an approach to politics which culminates in a utopia, in the description of a best regime whose actualization is highly improbable. Let us then seek to take our bearings not by virtue, the highest objective which a Society might choose; but let us begin to take our bearings by the objectives which we actually pursue in all societies. Machiavelli consciously lowers the standards of social action. His lowering of the standards is meant to lead to a higher probability of actualization of that scheme which is constructed in accordance with the lowered standards. Thus, the dependence on chances reduced: chance will be conquered.
Machiavellian intention has an impact matching its purpose. The purpose may not be good; it does what it says on the box. A para-Machiavellian intention has an impact not matching its purpose. These ideas can be quite dangerous. (Many, of course, are mostly harmless; some are even beneficial.) A pseudo-Machiavellian intention has no impact: it is thymotic pornography. It engages political instincts without changing the real world—like being a sports fan.
Although the envious nature of men has always made it no less dangerous to find new modes and orders than to seek unknown waters and lands, because men are more ready to blame than to praise the actions of others, nonetheless, driven by that natural desire that has always been in me to work, without any respect, for those things I believe will bring common benefit to everyone, I have decided to take a path as yet untrodden by anyone, and if it brings me trouble and difficulty, it could also bring me reward through those who consider humanely the end of these labors of mine. - Machiavelli
In The Advancement of Learning, Bacon outlines the present state of the sciences, prior to his articulation of his method, as detailed in his later work, the New Organon. In Book 2, Chapter 5, Section 3, he states that he will correct for the present state of the sciences through an application of Machiavelli’s political thought:
Is not the ground, which Machiavel wisely and largely discourseth concerning governments, that the way to establish and preserve them, is to reduce them ad principia [to their beginnings], a rule in religion and nature, as well as in civil administration?…Neither are these [comparisons like the one above] only similitudes, as men of narrow observation may conceive them to be, but the same footsteps of nature, treading or printing upon several subjects or matters. This science, therefore, as I understand it, I may justly report as deficient: for I see sometimes the profounder sort of wits in handling some particular argument will now and then draw a bucket of water of this well for their present use; but the spring-head thereof seemeth to me not to have been visited; being of so excellent use both for the disclosing of nature and the abridgement of art.
Bacon is referring to a passage from Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy, Book 3, Chapter 1, where he writes:
It is a very true thing that all worldly things have a limit to their life; but generally those go the whole course that is ordered for them by heaven, that do not disorder their body but keep it ordered so that either it does not alter or, if it alters, it is for its safety and not to its harm. Because I am speaking of mixed bodies, such as republics and sects, I say that those alterations are for safety that lead them back toward their beginnings. So those are better ordered and have longer life that by means of their orders can often be renewed or indeed that through some accident outside the said order come to the said renewal. And it is a thing clearer than light that these bodies do not last if they do not renew themselves.
The mode of renewing them is, as was said, to lead them back toward their beginnings. For all the beginnings of sects, republics, and kingdoms must have some goodness in them, by means of which they may regain their first reputation and their first increase. Because in the process of time that goodness is corrupted, unless something intervenes to lead it back to the mark, it of necessity kills that body. Speaking of the bodies of men, these doctors of medicine say “that daily something is added that at some time needs cure.” Speaking of republics, this return toward the beginning is done through either extrinsic accident or intrinsic prudence.
As for evil arts, if a man would set down for himself that principle of Machiavel, that a man seek not to attain virtue itself, but the appearance only thereof; because the credit of virtue is a help, but the use of it is cumber: or that other of his principles, that he presuppose, that men are not fitly to be wrought otherwise but by fear; and therefore that he seek to have every man obnoxious, low, and in strait, which the Italians call seminar spine, to sow thorns…[then] certainly with these dispensations from the laws of charity and integrity, the pressing of a man’s fortune may be more hasty and compendious. But it is in life as it is in ways, the shortest way is commonly the foulest, and surely the fairer way is not much about.
Bacon has in mind the following passages from The Prince, Chapter 15:
It has appeared to me more fitting to go directly to the effectual truth of the thing than to the imagination of it. And many have imagined republics and principalities that have never been seen or known to exist in truth; for it is so far from how one lives to how one should live that he who lets go of what is done for what should be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation.
As well as the following from Chapter 17:
One can say this generally of men: that they are ungrateful, fickle, pretenders and dissemblers, evaders of danger, eager for gain. While you do them good, they are yours, offering you their blood, property, lives, and children, as I said above, when the need for them is far away; but when it is close to you, they revolt.
Elsewhere in The Prince, Machiavelli makes similar statements, which Bacon may well have had in mind, as well. This Machiavellian principle is explicitly at work in Bacon’s instructions for gathering a natural history:
Accept into this history, first, the commonest things which one might think it superfluous to put into writing because they are so familiar; then mean things, illiberal, disgusting (for all things are pure to the pure, and if the tax receipts from urine smelt good, much more so is the light and information we may get from any source); also, trivial, childish things (and no wonder, for we must become again as children, utterly); finally, things which seem to be excessively subtle, because they are of no use in themselves.
Just as a prince must be willing to accomplish vicious deeds, if he is to preserve himself, so must the natural scientist be willing to look into the base and disgusting. Both, too, appeal to fear, so as to create a sense of urgency in their audiences to improve their fortunes.
The form of writing which of all others is fittest for this variable argument of negotiation and occasions is that which Machiavel chose wisely and aptly for government; namely, discourse upon histories or examples. For knowledge drawn freshly, and in our view, out of particulars, knoweth the way best to particulars again; and it hath much greater life for practice when the discourse attendeth upon the example, than when the example attendenth upon the discourse.
Note, again, that the second part of Bacon’s restoration of the sciences is to give us the new organon, that is, the new logic of inductive reasoning; the third part is the compilation of a natural history, which will supply the particulars. Bacon’s remark here is a reflection on Machiavelli’s procedure throughout The Prince and the Discourses on Livy, but he may also have in mind programmatic statements like the following: “I have found nothing in my belongings that I care so much for and esteem so greatly as the knowledge of the actions of great men, learned by me from long experience with modern things and a continuous reading of ancient ones.”
Bacon’s application of Machiavelli’s method may also have found some inspiration from the following remark in The Prince, Chapter 14. Machiavelli starts this chapter by asserting that “a prince should have no other object, nor any other thought, nor take anything else as his art but that of war and its orders and discipline.” In support of this claim, he argues that a prince should learn the nature of sites, and recognize how mountains rise, how valleys open up, how plains lie, and understand the nature of rivers and marshes—and in this invest the greatest care. This knowledge is useful in two modes. First one learns to know one’s own country, and one can better understand its defense; then, through the knowledge of and experience with those sites, one can comprehend with ease every other site that it may be necessary to explore as new. For the hills, the valleys, the plains, the rivers, and the marshes that are in Tuscany, for example, have a certain similarity to those of other provinces, so that from the knowledge of a site in one province one can easily come to the knowledge of others.
Turn to the beginnings or principles, that is, to the process by which a thing comes to be such as it is, with particular attention to this process as a key to preserving the thing; second, they are both willing to consider the low, the base, even the disgusting, when looking to history, be that history political or natural, toward the end of discovering such processes as described in the first point; third, both aggregate and study their respective histories and, through a process of inductive reasoning, attempt to give accounts of the formal aspects of those processes, that is, to derive precise general rules of how to effect a particular outcome; fourth, in both we find an appeal to their audience’s fear and so an attempt to induce in them a yearning for acquisition, so as to improve their lot; and, fifth, in Machiavelli we even see something like an anticipation of the necessity of some sort of understanding of physical nature for effective political action, though the extent of that is uncertain.
The lack of a true aim renders one useless. Aimlessness is antithetical to the restlessness that made our country the beacon for all others to follow. A man, like his country, needs an ambition. A man, like his country, needs struggle. A man, like his country, needs victory.
A man needs to embody what Machiavelli called virtu, a manly drive to infinitely progress. Only then can a man truly prevail. If one is not invigorated by the infinite progress of nature, then one has no motivation to succeed. This then, insults ones ancestors and degrades ones decedents. In short, a man needs respect for the past, a determination to survive and thrive, and inspiration for the future. STRIVE FOR HIGHER THINGS AND DOMINATE COMPETITORS.
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