“A prudent ruler cannot and must not honor his word”. Comment. (Machiavelli) - Sleepy Classes Skip to main content

“A prudent ruler cannot and must not honor his word”. Comment. (Machiavelli)

Ques. “A prudent ruler cannot and must not honor his word”. Comment. (Machiavelli)

Answer

  • Machiavelli lived in turbulent political times at the beginning of the Renaissance. As the power of the Church was being eroded by Renaissance humanism, city-states like Florence sought to assert their political power against Church.
  • Machiavelli breaks away from both his ancient and medieval predecessors like Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas in seeing how society/politics is rather than how it ought to be. Machiavelli treats politics not as a branch of moral philosophy or ethics, but rather in purely practical and realistic terms.
  • Unlike previous political thinkers, he does not see the purpose of the state as nurturing the morality/virtue of its citizens, but rather as ensuring their well-being and security. Rather than religious ethics, Plamentaz believes virtuosity in a Prince requires functional excellence including “ruthlessness, cunningness, deceitfulness, boldness and shrewdness along with unflinching will.
  • His analysis of politics is based on observation of human behaviour which he views as selfish, short-sighted, fickle, and easily deceived. The two key elements to transforming the undesirable, original human nature into a benevolent social nature are social organizationand what Machiavelli describes as “prudent” leadership.
  • An effective leader, argues Machiavelli, can harness the weaker traits of humanity in his people to great effect,in the same way that a sheepdog can manipulate a herd of sheep for example traits such as fickleness and credulity allow humans to be easily manipulated by a skilful leader to behave in a benevolent way.
  • Machiavelli advocates Christian virtues in day- to-day life, but when dealing with the actions of a ruler, he believes that morality must take second place to utility and the security of the state. Machiavelli’s opinion is that political efficacy requires the cruelty and violence of the lion and the cunning of the fox.
  • Machiavelli argues that Prince’s success as a ruler is judged by the consequences of his actions and their benefit to the state, not by his morality or ideology.
  • For this reason, Strauss regards him as being “teacher of evil” while Sabine labels him as being amoral. Pollock on the other hand attributes this to Machiavelli’s scientific indifference wherein he looks at rules of politics without judgment.
  • On the other hand, few readers have found no taint of immoralism in his thought whatsoever. Isiah Berlin contends that Machiavelli “calls the bluff not just of official morality—the hypocrisies of ordinary life—but of one of the foundations of the central Western philosophical tradition, the belief in the ultimate compatibility of all genuine values.”

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