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Essay: Discourses on Livy and The Prince

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I will examine two of Machiavelli’s main texts, Niccolò Machiavelli Discourses on Livy and Machiavelli’s The Prince. Throughout this essay I will examine his many views on the relationship between the state and society, and will provide analysis exploring Machiavelli’s key thoughts and views.

Machiavelli has a strong viewpoint on the concept of human nature. He believes humans are essentially evil and human nature is changeless. Machiavelli believes humanity’s main characteristics involve insatiable desires, unlimited ambition and we are too focused on the immediate reward. However Machiavelli still believes social co – operation is still possible. One of Machiavelli’s key views is that humans are fundamentally bad, but we are able to co – operate and our nature can be moulded through socialisation. Furthermore Machiavelli also believes that the state does not have a spiritual purpose and outlined his thoughts on what makes a successful government. Machiavelli believes a successful government requires a strong military,and believes in the idea that life,family and property of each person must be free government interference. Machiavelli also believes that economic growth is important and should be regulated for an effective government. But at the core of Machiavelli’s ideas for a successful government is an impartial law system which can guarantee equality for all citizens and can also enforce all laws quickly and firmly. In essence Machiavelli’s main views are humans are fundamentally bad, but can co – operate and our nature can be moulded through socialisation. Machiavelli also believes the best way to guide humans is through the state, and the ‘end justifies the means’ in the distinction between morality and politics.

Niccolo Machiavelli produced two works of text which are still relevant and engage with modern political theorists to this day. Machiavelli’s first piece of work which was written and completed by 1513 was titled The Prince, Machiavelli’s guide on how to hold and seize power. After completing The Prince, Machiavelli spent his spare time between 1514 and 1519 in writing his other main text, Discourses on Livy’s history of Rome. This text was Machiavelli’s reflections on the traits which bring governments to greatness and why they collapse. Machivelli had experienced and witnessed many republican and princely regimes which provide the basis of his views and support his arguments.

The Prince, Machiavelli’s first main text was more controversial than Discourses on Livy and resulted in Machiavelli being branded as the murderous Machiavel.Machiavelli wrote The Prince due to the new Medicine rulers of Florence, and The Prince was written as a guide for how princes should act and how they should achieve their goals. The traditional views of a prince is they are honourable, righteous and the pride of their state. Machiavelli agreed with these conventional views, and believed princes should use their position to win honour for themselves and the security of the state. However Machiavelli disputed and disagreed with the “princely virtues” which focused on princes needing to be liberal, rather than selfish,kind rather than cruel and above all else willing to honour their word. Machiavelli makes it clear in The Prince that he rejects these “Christian Virtues” and said that “ I fear I may be thought to be presumptuous, for what I have to say differs from the precepts offered by others, especially on this matter of princely virtue ( The Prince, Chapter XV, pg. 54). Why does Machiavelli reject the “Christian virtues” ? because Machiavelli believes too much compassion creates an atmosphere of disorder and some cruelty is needed to maintain order. However, a prince should balance his cruelty to avoid being hated by his people. Machiavelli believes “an action can look cruel when it is really a kindness” ( The Prince, Ch XVII, PG. 58 – 59). Machiavelli believes rulers are surrounded by the corrupt and deceitful and if the are to always act honorably their collapse is inevitable. This is why Machieavelli states “ a ruler who wishes to maintain his power must be prepared to act immorally when this becomes necessary” (CH, XV, PG. 54 – 55). What you can learn from this is that Machiavelli believes cruelty and fear is important as fear is the only thing a prince can control. Without fear the Prince is in risk of his regime collapsing due to the deceitful and corrupt. However Machiavelli also believes that a prince must balance his cruelty and compassion to avoid the hatred of his people. Machiavelli believes rulers must appear to be kind and try to act as kind as possible, but should avoid following traditional ideas of morality. A princes main focus should be on which actions can maintain their power and do what is required by necessity, not virtue.

Machiavelli’s other main text was Discourses on Livy, which provides Machiavelli’s advice on founding, structuring and governing a republic. Machiavelli believes republics are more secure than principalities and believes “ a people is more prudent, stable and of better judgement than a prince”. Machiavelli views a republic as a government that can represent all important sectors of society and Machiavelli’s purpose is not to press for democracy, but to recommend the best form of republican government which is practical. Machiavelli believes conflict among groups in society as fundamental and needed to create the best form of government. Machiavelli thinks this because he sees conflict and the tension surrounding it as essential and necessary for a smooth operational republic because it reflects the true nature of humans who Machiavelli beliefs are inherently evil. I do not agree with Machiavelli’s point of conflict between groups being necessary for a smooth operational republic. I do not agree with this point because America in its current state is not a smooth running operation of a republic and many groups in America are in conflict and split on many decisions which affect the way the country is run. The country was in conflict over the appointment of Donald Trump and president and this has affected the republic in America with many groups of society asking for the president to be impeached. The conflict between groups in America over the appointment of Donald Trump has not created a good form of government and has left the republic in a worse situation.

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