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Machiavelli - Essay Example

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Machiavelli is one of the most visionary thinkers in the history of Western thought. Like any visionary, he made his mark on history by running counter to prevailing thoughts and attitudes, by being willing to say what he thought even at the risk of unpopularity. …
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Download file to see previous pages For hundreds of years, guidebooks had been written for rulers about how to govern; these usually focused on the lives and practices of laudable rulers who lived moral lives and tried to teach other rulers how to follow their example. Machiavelli chooses to break strikingly with this long standing and honored tradition, and write a different kind of guidebook for rulers. His guidebook did not tell rulers how to lead in an enlightened, moral way, but rather how to hold on to power, regardless of morality. This mentality was enshrined in his famous “the ends justify the means” attitude. Machiavelli’s choice to preclude moral discussions from his political analysis was bold, and had many benefits and drawbacks. Removing moral and ethical judgments from political analysis allowed Machiavelli to give a clearer guide to how to retain leadership, and differentiate traits that are praiseworthy in an individual from traits that are praiseworthy in a prince, but simultaneously perverted discussions of what the role of the ruler should be, focusing on how a ruler can help himself retain power rather than how to do the best thing for his subjects, necessarily. The first major benefit of Machiavelli’s choice to remove moral and ethical considerations from his political analysis is that it allows him to ask questions previous thinkers had not really been able to; instead of asking “what makes a good ruler?” he was able to ask “what makes a successful ruler?” or, put another way “what allows a ruler to achieve and to hold onto power?” This kind of thinking pervades Machiavelli’s texts – he writes that he intends his book to be a “practical text” (chapter XV), which, rather than following a line of moral absolutes, attempts to write something of “practical use to the inquirer” based on what actually happened to rulers who acted in one way or another (chapter XV). He insists that every action will lead to either “self-preservation” or “self-destruction” and that the primary goal of any ruler most be for all of his actions to be consistent with the former rather than the latter. Machiavelli, by eschewing moral questions, is able to focus on a completely different aspect of rulership than previous thinkers were able to. Focusing solely on how to achieve and hold on to power sounds a bit – well, Machiavellian for lack of a better term, selfish and disinterested with other’s wellbeing. Machiavelli’s focus on the maintenance of power is not, however, solely beneficial to the prince that takes his advice, but can also be of great benefit to the entire population. A ruler who behaves in a “self-destructive” way will surely be weak to attacks, and eventually others will try to attack his position and gain his princedom for their own. Such weak rulers who constantly have to spend time and energy defending their position always have less resources to put towards the public good, and the population suffers. Furthermore, weak rulers often invite anarchy, which can be much more damaging to a society than a slightly tyrannical leader. So, depending on the situation, Machiavelli’s admittedly cold advice could benefit not only the prince but also his population. Being able to ask and answer very different types of questions than previous thinkers had been able to was only one of the many benefit of Machiavelli’s amoral political analysis. Another major one was the ability to differentiate between qualities that are admirable in an individual versus qualities that are admirable or desirable in a leader. One of the prime examples Machiavelli uses to demonstrate the differences is the quality of generosity versus miserliness. Though generosity is obviously an excellent and admirable quality to have as an individual, Machiavelli ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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