Machiavelli followed in the footsteps of Thrasymachus who was perhaps the first recorded Political realist to actually claim that when the stronger rule a city-state in their interest, such a political state is a just state. Plato immediately constructs a city of Logos, an ideal city, as an antidote to what both he and Socrates regarded as the poisonous argument that refers to the fact that in almost all of the regimes of the time the rule of the stronger was the status quo, implying that what is the case ought to be the case. Yet history has shown that only Aristotle and later Kant had the theoretical resources to undermine this argument with complex positions constituted of an understanding of the conceptual nature of ought, i.e. they realized that concepts are related to the possibilities of phenomena and therefore have a more complex relation to what is the case than either Thrasymachus or Machiavelli realized.
Machiavelli is a complex character, represented in the popular mind as the devil but perhaps represented in his own mind as an unarmed political philosopher and prophet, conjuring up in his imagination the times to come in Italy. He would not have qualified as an Aristotelian great-souled man partly because of his poverty and financial dependence upon others. He aspired to higher things every evening when he would dress in special clothes to read about ancient courts and statesmen, imagining himself discoursing with them about their times and the times to come.
Smith has this to say by way of introduction to his major work:
“The Prince is a deceptive book–especially from a man whose name has become synonymous with deception. We might think we already know what he knows. This is false. Machiavelli claims to have discovered new modes and a new order of things, a new world which will require the displacement of the one he writes in. The dominant form of organization had been the Christian Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, that succession to the older Roman Empire. Both of these Empires aspired to a kind of universality which was given good expression in Dante’s De Monarchia, a work about monarchy that sets out a model of a Universal Christian rule under a Christian ruler. Machiavelli rejected this and harked back to the model of a small autonomous republican state. Hr challenges his readers to go the effectual truth of things and claims that many before him have imagined Republics that are far from the truth. “He who thinks what should be instead of what is, learns his ruin rather than his preservation” Not for him any Platonic cities of speech or Augustinian cities of God. Here we have the essence of his political realism–in his appeal from the ought to the is.”
Machiavelli argues that the Republic requires a Prince who will dare to create their own authority. The Prince will be a prophet and a man of war. He will be “an armed prophet” Smith continues:
“It was the armed prophets that prospered and the unarmed prophets that were ruined. Politics, on this view, grows out the barrel of a gun.”
Both Thrasymachus and Machiavelli use consequentialist arguments for the justification of force in the state reminding us of the demand Glaucon made upon Socrates in the Republic to prove that justice was both a good in itself and something good in its consequences. Earlier in the dialogue, Socrates had dismissed an argument from Polemachus to the effect that Justice is doing good to one’s friends and harm to one’s enemies. Harming one’s enemies Socrates argued would have the consequences of making a bad man worse, thus dismissing violence as just action in any circumstances. Socrates also produced arguments in other dialogues in relation to the internal consequences of perhaps harming or even murdering an enemy: one would be forced to live oneself and might not be able to do so.
Machiavelli notwithstanding the arguments above is clearly a consequentialist:
“Children are brought up to believe that one should not do wrong even if good consequences follow. But virtue in its Latin root means manly self-assertion and in a man’s world calculated acts of cruelty achieves one’s end.”(Smith)
The end of a strong rule even if it requires violence, justifies the means. The Prince will be seeking to go to war because war brings with it prosperity. Machiavelli refers to Cesare Borgia and the ruthless execution of his cruel lieutenant to gratify and confuse the hoi polloi. The Prince will get his hands dirty and Machiavelli’s book is a deliberate attempt to teach the Prince not to be good:
“The Prince should cultivate the appearance of being religious, of being merciful, of being faithful and honest. The appearance of Religion is good whilst its practice is harmful.” (Smith)
Machiavelli says little about the ethical content of Religion which in itself had produced at least one decisive argument against consequentialism. Aquinas argued that Consequences rarely occur in isolation: consequences have consequences and it is perfectly conceivable that one consequence in the chain is good and the next evil. This would make the act behind the consequences both good and evil. This double effect, as Aquinas pointed out, is contradictory. An example of such an argument in the political context might be that of a Prince
attempting to kill the Nobles of a Principality and survivors return to depose the Prince.
The Prince, Machiavelli, argues shall pay more heed to the people of the Republic than the Nobles whom he shall murder if they stand in his way. But heeding the people does not mean that one is the tool of their expression, rather it means that one should manipulate and deceive them too in order to keep their faith. This is an ambivalent message considering the fact that the people will obviously be less likely to trust Princes after reading Machiavelli’s work. This could be another example of double effect theory. Indeed Kenny in his New History of Western Philosophy refers to how a Prince should utterly destroy any city in which the populace had been accustomed for a long period to living freely in order to counteract memories of living freely with the terror of terrible consequences. Without the understanding of such possible consequences, the Prince would be merely inviting rebellion and revolution.
Smith ends lecture 11 by asking:
“What did Machiavelli achieve?Did he found his new world, his new political continent? He preached that one must use religion and not be used by it and men have to learn how to use their passions. Politics, he argued, must be worldly and autonomous and not guided by any transcendental moral code. He introduced a new kind of populism, he was a proto-democrat who sought to create a new kind of Republic. When he imagines this new kind of Republic he imagines a city at war, armed with expansive ambitions–feeding on conquest–an imperialistic republic–the USA? Has the USA become Machiavelli’s republic?”
This is a surprizing claim but there is one thread of argument which might support such a position. American pragmatism and instrumentalism do appear to support consequentialism in the ethical and political spheres of philosophical discourse. Another thread, perhaps connected to the first relates to the GERM(Global Educational Reform Movement) which interestingly in the name of freedom as a reaction to authoritarian teaching allows young children to explore the domain of knowledge unfettered by the conceptual understanding their teachers may bring to the process in order to school their students understanding. The consequences of this kind of teaching were apparently unacceptable because all the parts of the mind should be free from the reign of the other parts. The understanding limited the operation of the imagination and emotions and this was somehow an unnatural unwanted consequence. Progressive education was consequentialist through and through attempting to speculate on the internal consequences of a traditional Machiavellian educational system. We in Europe have experienced the consequences of this consequentialist educational system and they have not been good.
Machiavelli’s thought might have played a part in the growing criticism of the universal intentions of Religion which conceived of the world as united in one city of God or Holy Roman Empire. As we know the wars in the 1600’s played a significant role in the Treaty of Westphalia which sought a guarantee for the nation-state’s sovereignty from such universalist intentions. Religious universalism was merely an antithetical response on one level to the military universalism of the kind begun by Alexander the Great and continued by the Romans. But the question is whether an abandonment of the idea of a united world is not fundamentally a result of the consequentialist arguments that have been skeptically undermining the cosmopolitan intentions of ethics and political Philosophy that people intuitively embrace on the grounds that a world divided against itself will always produce war. Did the consequences of Westphalia take three hundred years to play themselves out, in the two world wars of the last century the dropping of two atomic bombs on civilian populations and a cold war which almost ended in nuclear disaster? Did the treaty of Westphalia unleash a wave of consequences which we almost failed to control? The Philosophy of Kant was both non-consequentialist and cosmopolitanism, identifying war as the natural and inevitable consequence of a world that cannot live under a common commitment to law and human rights. According to Kant, if humanity does not destroy itself it will continue on its hundred thousand year-long journey to the promised cosmopolitan world in which human rights and the law would be more important than power and deception. The Kantian argument then demands that we register with approval everything that takes us further along the road of progress. We may not have any great-souled cities or nations but perhaps a prior condition to these cities or nations existing is the building of an international educational system with cosmopolitan intentions. Plato once thought that we are destined for ruin and destruction unless philosophers become kings or kings become philosophers. Aristotle thought that the virtues must be embodied in a large middle class for a city to prosper and education was, of course, one of the instrumental means to achieve such a city-state. Certainly a reflective and critical knowledge of ourselves, ethical Philosophy and Political Philosophy would inevitably have to be a part of that education but unti it is we may have to satisfy ourselves with mass-demonstrations aagainstwars and weapons of mass desruction.