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What kind of characteristics does Machiavelli argue a ruler should have? Is his argument amoral?

What kind of characteristics does Machiavelli argue a ruler should have? Is his argument amoral?

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This essay offers a tentative defence of Machiavelli's theories regarding the best method of rule for a leader, as outlined in The Prince. It argues that while The Prince may not champion the kind of morality upheld and encouraged by a Church-lead society, it does nonetheless offer a morality of its own, which cannot be dismissed as entirely invalid.
This essay offers a tentative defence of Machiavelli's theories regarding the best method of rule for a leader, as outlined in The Prince. It argues that while The Prince may not champion the kind of morality upheld and encouraged by a Church-lead society, it does nonetheless offer a morality of its own, which cannot be dismissed as entirely invalid.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
What kind of characteristics does Machiavelli argue a ruler should have? Is hisargument amoral?
In
The Prince,
 Niccoló Machiavelli outlines a method of rule which has caused greatcontroversy in the five hundred years since it was written. The reason for this controversy can be attributed to Machiavelli’s dramatic departure from the orthodox Christian morality whichis, and has been, all-pervasive in Europe. However, despite the common accusation thatMachiavelli’s text is amoral (or immoral, from the point of view of the Christian discourse)
The Prince
is imbued with a very strong and definite morality, albeit an alternative,somewhat unorthodox one. The primary tenet of this morality is that protection and preservation of the state is good, both for a ruler and for the state’s population. It will beshown to be strongly upheld by many of the arguments in
The Prince
for which Machiavellihas been vilified.Machiavelli’s ideas in
The Prince
can be roughly divided into two groups: he deals with the(primarily military) technicalities of becoming and remaining a ruler, and he examines thevarious individual qualities a ruler should possess. For the purposes of outliningMachiavelli’s alternative morality, the latter group proves more fruitful. Althoughcontroversial, two basic theories found here will justify to some extent Machiavelli’smorality. The first and more contentious of these is that it is acceptable, even expedient, for aruler to deliberately separate his actions from appearances. By claiming that ‘the gul between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects whatis actually done for what should be done moves towards self-destruction rather than self- preservation’, (Machiavelli 50) Machiavelli diverges sharply from conventional Christianmorality, where reputation and appearances were expected to be grounded in fact. Nevertheless, this claim does uphold Machiavelli’s own morality of protecting and preserving
 
the state. Three particular examples of how a ruler should create a false reputation are particularly telling.Firstly, and arguably most controversially, Machiavelli argues that a ruler is not bound tokeep his word of honour. Furthermore, he can even be obliged to break it. This assertion is astriking departure from the norm in a Europe which grew up around the culture of thechivalric code. Although in fact many European rulers were not unfamiliar with shadydealings, the bluntness and shock-value of Machiavelli’s denunciation of the word of honour is undeniable. However, he ignores this shock-value, matter-of-factly justifying it in terms of his own version of morality. He cites the example of Ferdinand of Aragon: ‘A certaincontemporary ruler… never preaches anything except peace and good faith… and if he hadever honoured either of them he would have lost either his standing or his state many timesover’ (Machiavelli 58). The salient point is that a willingness to lie and deceive are necessarynot solely for the self-focused prolongation of a ruler’s reign (although this is undeniably afactor) but also for the maintenance and protection of the state. While departing from theconventional moral position that one should keep one’s word and be truthful, Machiavellidemonstrates that behaving in the opposite manner is equally valid.The second example of how reputation should deviate from fact concerns the idea of generosity. As a character trait, generosity is conventionally considered praise-worthy andvaluable. This again is grounded in Christian discourse, where strong emphasis is placed onsharing and where greed is considered the reason for a lack of generosity. However,Machiavelli subverts conventional approaches to generosity. He argues that the miser ‘will berecognised as being essentially a generous man, seeing that because of his parsimony hisexisting revenues are enough for him, he can defend himself [and implicitly his state] againstan aggressor, and he can embark on campaigns without burdening the people’ (Machiavelli52). In this way, Machiavelli demonstrates that a reputation for miserliness belies a more
 
deep-rooted, less superficial generosity. Instead of aimlessly squandering away a state’sincome in order to temporarily enrich the lives of the populace and flatter them into winningtheir affection, Machiavelli instead promotes the prudent saving of assets until such a time asthe state needs them in order to protect itself. By doing this, the state’s ruler has a profoundimpact on the quality of life enjoyed by the populace: they can be certain of a high level of security and protection from outside threats of invasion, without the concern that hightaxation will be imposed.Thirdly, Machiavelli explores how a ruler should approach the issue of mercy andcompassion, and the extent to which he should have a reputation as a merciful man. Again,there is an opposition between what is commonly held as the correct moral position andMachiavelli’s own view of the issue. In short, Machiavelli believes that cruelty brings morelong-term benefits than does compassion. Machiavelli sees cruelty as an unfortunate butunavoidable tag given to those rulers who, like Cesare Borgia, are determined to bring unity,and restore order and obedience. He specifically mentions ‘murder and rapineas theconsequences which can be the result of too compassionate a ruler, clarifying the moral benefit which arises from ‘making an example or two’. Citing Borgia’s reputation as a cruelman as an example of his standpoint, Machiavelli claims that ‘there was more compassion inCesare than in the Florentine people, who, to escape being called cruel, allowed Pistoia to bedevastated’ (Machiavelli, 53).However, it is important to note that Machiavelli does specify that cruelty is not to be used toexcess. The thinking behind this introduces the second basic theory which lies behindMachiavelli’s alternative morality: that it is vital for a ruler not to be hated by his people.This theory is nuanced by an important caveat, however, as Machiavelli asserts that there is asharp difference between fear and hate. He explains at some length the necessity of beingfeared rather than loved (if such a choice has to be made) in order to efficiently rule a state,

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