In The Prince, Machiavelli stresses the effectual truth, rather than ethical quality, of action. While this approach may appear ruthless to its audience, Machiavelli’s purpose is to urge individuals to attempt impacting outcome in a naturally inconsistent world. The philosopher conveys attitudes about human nature through the exploration of power-dynamics. The art of studying methodology rulers use to gain unconditional respect from their subjects offers insight about the way humans must deal with their fortune.
Machiavelli portrays humans as a unique species that attempts to manipulate their environment, which suggests a sense of freedom. According to Machiavelli, the laws of nature do not restrict freedom of choice. In chapter 25, Machiavelli suggests that adaptability empowers individuals to cure themselves of unfortunate circumstances that are potentially conquerable with appropriate action. Machiavelli starts the chapter with an outline of the hard deterministic attitude’s flaws. Determinism is the theory that every event is necessitated by antecedent conditions together with the laws of nature. The philosopher starts by introducing the objection that the divine is more powerful than the individual. Machiavelli acknowledges that the variability of events is so “great,” that it is perhaps untouchable by the human species (Machiavelli 98). Furthermore, certain occurrences are beyond human capability to explain because there is no proof that events are caused by reason. Machiavelli suggests that humans do not hold an influence that surpasses the divine. However, the actions people take can alter a situation’s current course, given that there was an original fortune. Machiavelli presents that there is an arbiter (absolute) power responsible for half our actions but that incomplete (imperfect) humans can still govern.
Furthermore, Machiavelli defines fortune as circumstances that can be overcome. The important component of fortune is that it contains events beyond human reason. However, the key is that it can be opposed based on the methodology humans use to respond to it. Machiavelli suggests that response to fortune makes it possible to change outcome. The philosopher also poses that humans can take proactive virtuous approaches that determine their fate. For example, Machiavelli views Italy as a weak state that is vulnerable to changes in circumstance and there is no resistance effort made by the inhabitants. However, if Italy had taken virtuous action, the subsequent consequences would not have followed. Perhaps, if this approach were adopted earlier, the unfortunate circumstances would not have been an issue at all.
Machiavelli disproves hard determinism by implying that humans hold the potential to overcome difficult situations. To be applied to modern day concerns, most alcoholics are born with an addictive personality that causes them to develop the disease. If everything was dominated by fortune, an alcoholic is a victim of his disease. However, this is false because some severe alcoholics are able to complete a recovery process that develops into long-term sobriety. These individuals are able to reverse a seemingly predetermined personality trait by developing new habits through consciously taking care of themselves. Machiavelli would argue that the work necessary for individuals to overcome addiction requires a substantial amount of discipline. The alcoholic suffers physical withdraw symptoms, as well as the emotional struggle restricting the temptation to relapse. This parallels the fear that a ruler instills in his subjects. Although the process is quite violent and may seem immoral, the vicious actions of an impetuous ruler are necessary. Therefore, both these examples show that people who don’t view themselves as victims of their fortune can improve their well-being.
Perhaps, Machiavelli claims that fortune is a result of materialism, the doctrine that nothing exists except for physical matter. Machiavelli proceeds to personify fortune, describing it as “enraged,” which assigns it a quality of intention (98). Therefore, human beings contain the capacity to redirect a given fortune if they act persistently enough with a passionate sense of vigor. Humans can manipulate fortune, just as they impact the physical world. The gruesome image of a woman getting physically beaten is Machiavelli’s method of suggesting that a strong person will reform the physical circumstances to meet their needs.
Throughout chapter 25, Machiavelli discusses the theme of change in fortune and the self. When people think that God directs fortune, it’s due to their inability to explain miraculous events and paradoxical truth. Machiavelli describes the issue of variability as a constantly changing quality of the universe that makes people think they can’t control anything. Machiavelli suggests that individuals who are willing to modify their character will experience maximum utility, as a strong and impetuous person makes adjustments instead of cautiously maintaining a single mode to be safe.
Machiavelli claims that when fortune varies and men remain inflexibly persistent in their modes, they are unhappy. The gruesome image of fortune as a physically abused woman illustrates the importance of humans’ self-understanding as one who is capable of vigor. Machiavelli uses this vulgar image to illustrate that unwillingness to alter strategy is just as bad as inaction. According to Machiavelli, A ruler needs to take whatever means necessary to establish his authority over subjects. Therefore, Machiavelli uses this image to empower people to attack misfortune with a strong sense of brevity. The individuals who are capable of overcoming unfortunate circumstances are those who act out of a strong self-image.
Furthermore, in chapter 17, Machiavelli attacks Christianity to make an argument against inaction. The Christian image of piety evokes pity and compassion. Machiavelli’s response is that when a person is cruel, he is actually more merciful because he doesn’t allow the flaws to continue. Machiavelli claims that effectual truth is derived from cruelty. So, Cesare Borgia is actually merciful. Christianity teaches that killing is wrong and the result of these politics makes people weak soldiers who don’t act when necessary. Mercy is therefore, the naïve hope that circumstances will settle themselves. This section shows that, although Machiavelli’s tone can appear quite immoral, the ideas conveyed serve a purpose. If people choose to not even try to exercise free will, it would certainly be impossible for them to make an impact on the course of events.
Machiavelli verifies that fortune doesn’t determine fate by addressing the specific case when a prince is not deserving of his success or failures. This is most clearly shown in the case given that “a prince be happy today and come to ruin tomorrow without having seen him change his nature or any quality” (99). Machiavelli explains that this is due to a person who becomes too dependent on his fortune. The individual’s condition is completely aligned with the alteration of his circumstances. Machiavelli explains that a person must adapt his strategy to address the “quality” of his circumstances. There ruler must be focused on response instead of working to effect fortune that is “beyond human conjecture” alone (98). Machiavelli uses the word “disaccord” to contrast adaptation (99). When an unsuccessful ruler is unwilling to alter his procedure, he stubbornly blames it on the misalignment between the fortune and his strategy.
Machiavelli emphasizes that there are different methods that power can be attained to prompt people to recognize their freedom of choice. Machiavelli states, “in the things that lead men to the end that each has before him, glories and riches, they proceed variously” (99). Just because there is a coexistence of these different methods, it doesn’t indicate that they contradict each other. It’s more about a ruler’s ability to adopt the approach that is best fitting to their specific difficulties presented. For example, Machiavelli states that rulers who come into power by bloodline succession in a fortunate circumstance don’t need to take as much forceful action. In contrast, other rulers who acquire power after a revolution need to kill off the old elites in order to establish new order. Even though the strategies are different from each other, both were the correct approaches given the two different fortunes. Therefore, the most optimal ruler is a dynamic individual who recognizes the current conditions the nation faces and foresees the potential problems that may arise. The ruler who can compose and act on a theory that addresses obstacles inflicted by fortune will be successful.
The benefits of action are awarded to those who are willing to adjust their initial reactions to the given conditions. The variability of a human determines his ability to harmonize with constantly changing uncontrollable conditions. Utility is therefore based on human accordance with fortune, not fortune itself. In the case of Pope Julius II, it wasn’t the impetuous strategy that needs to be admired, but rather, his recognition of the need to conform to his given fortune. This move made the opponents “stand still in suspense,” suggesting a mentality of lacking control (100). Additionally, there was a “fear” of Pope Julius II because of his ability to harmonize with the divine (100). Machiavelli suggests that when a person is in accordance with the controllers of fortune, it can potentially place the ruler on the same level. For example, Moses did not necessarily gain power because of his own wisdom. Instead, the prophet just emphasized his connection with the divine to his people. Therefore, Moses worked to align his virtue with the circumstances God gave him. Through this, the followers were able to differentiate Moses from the divine so that Moses was not blamed for unfortunate events that occurred.
Instead, the philosopher paints the image of energetic children who proceed with deliberateness to fight for what they want. Children act “audaciously,” without acknowledgement of restriction. Therefore, they are free. Pope Julius II serves as the epitome of Machiavelli’s ideals because his impetuous style is an expression of his natural vigor. Departing from Rome was a rash action that was a proactive solution to the fortune Julius was given. While this strategy served Julius well, Machiavelli makes the point that the reason success followed was because the circumstances were in accord with the impetuous approach. This is true because Machiavelli argues that if Julius were placed into power during a situation where he needed to proceed with caution, a failure to deviate from original strategy would lead to turmoil.
The individual who holds admiration from his people, derived from a pre-constructed fearful love, is no longer concerned with power because it is already certainly attained. Although it is not a morally ideal methodology, which bothers Machiavelli throughout the text, it is necessary to carry out immoral action to rid of all uncertainty. The purpose of using gruesome techniques to attain power is so that the ruler can feel completely secure. Machiavelli’s realistic approach to fear makes it easier to understand why he supports forceful operation. The philosopher explains that it’s much safer to be feared than loved if a person can’t be both. Fear is more sustainable because it is held by potential for punishment. In contrast, love is reliant on obligation, which is more likely to be deceived. If a person depends on love, the individual relies on gratitude because of ways they benefitted in the past. As people feel safe, they start to relax. If a person loves someone but is unsure of the reciprocity, the person is attentive motivated by fear of losing the other. It comes down to an issue of respect, which although Machiavelli takes ruthless means to acquire, his theory guarantees that it will be established.
The most optimal case is when fear and love coexist. Perhaps people fear what is untouchable or when they feel inferior to anything. Although, the admiration that a person feels for a feared individual is a form of love. In chapter 25, Machiavelli asserts multiple times that impetuosity is the procedure for rulers to resort to when there are legitimate reasons to be cautious and pressing issues that support combat. With this claim, Machiavelli addresses that people who don’t know how to respond to often resort to one of the extremes. The practice of labeling emotions is unnatural and is in discordance with the sensory objective quality of human emotion. Machiavelli painted the gruesome image of a woman being abused to portray the severity and overwhelming quality of human emotion that drives us to try and define it. Machiavelli proceeds to explain that she allows for it to continue in the case that the perpetrator is impetuous. This shows that the degree of severity is what causes the woman to mistake that there’s an aspect of love in the action, while in reality it is actually completely unhealthy because the actor’s original intention was to “hold her down” (101). Machiavelli proceeds to contrast the woman to children and associates them together as “friends” (101). This suggests that, even though the woman is older than children, they are on an equal level. Perhaps, this is due to the admiration she feels for the children because kids are less cautious and are more emotionally in tune. Children respond to emotions free of thought. In so far as they act completely out of instinct, Machiavelli suggests that children respond to stimuli with more authenticity.
Machiavelli’s larger implication that a divine God doesn’t exist emerges out of these two examples. Labeling fortune as events dictated by divine energy is the same mistake as classifying emotion. Rather, the methods people use to cope with emotions determine their ability to attain well-being. In fact, Machiavelli claims that when people assert that there is a God, they “judge” that inaction is the best response (98). Furthermore, in the first sentence of the chapter, Machiavelli connects fortune and God with “and” to convey their independence from each other (98). Therefore, causes that necessitate effects don’t need to be concerned with fortune’s relation to human affairs.
On my Honor, I have neither given nor received any unauthorized aid on this essay.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 2nd edition, translation Harvey C. Mansfield (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).