Term Paper: Plato and Machiavelli

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[. . .] Machiavelli further recognizes the importance of arms and an army to protect the kingdom. Machiavelli admonishes the prince to prepare well for his role, and part of this process is to have a standing army to preserve order:

We have seen above how necessary it is for a prince to have his foundations well laid, otherwise it follows of necessity he will go to ruin. The chief foundations of all states, new as well as old or composite, are good laws and good arms; and as there cannot be good laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that where they are well armed they have good laws. I shall leave the laws out of the discussion and shall speak of the arms (Prince, Chapter 12).

Machiavelli classifies the arms utilized by the prince-based say, therefore, that the arms with which a prince defends his state based on their source -- they are either his own arms, they are mercenaries, they are auxiliaries, or they are a mixed army. How effective each will be also depends on the source:

Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious, and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy (Prince, Chapter 12).

The proper army for the prince and for the protection of the realm is a citizen army, people who act out of loyalty to their homeland if not their leader. Machiavelli suggests "when arms have to be resorted to, either by a prince or a republic, then the prince ought to go in person and perform the duty of a captain" (Prince, Chapter 12). The army he should command consists of his citizenry, for "the republic has to send its citizens, and when one is sent who does not turn out satisfactorily, it ought to recall him, and when one is worthy, to hold him by the laws so that he does not leave the command" (Prince, Chapter 12).

Machiavelli also rejects auxiliaries, and he offers reasons for this when he writes,

Therefore, let him who has no desire to conquer make use of these arms, for they are much more hazardous than mercenaries, because with them the ruin is ready made; they are all united, all yield obedience to others; but with mercenaries, when they have conquered, more time and better opportunities are needed to injure you; they are not all of one community, they are found and paid by you, and a third party, which you have made their head, is not able all at once to assume enough authority to injure you (Prince, Chapter 13).

Of course, Plato is also assuming that his soldiers are also loyal to their city-state and that mercenaries and the like would not be, but he still holds that a professionally trained class is preferable to a citizen army conscripted to serve. Machiavelli believes that the prince can protect himself only with an army of his own making:

conclude, therefore, that no principality is secure without having its own forces; on the contrary, it is entirely dependent on good fortune, not having the valour which in adversity would defend it. And it has always been the opinion and judgment of wise men that nothing can be so uncertain or unstable as fame or power not founded on its own strength. And one's own forces are those which are composed either of subjects, citizens, or dependents; all others are mercenaries or auxiliaries (Prince, Chapter 13).

Machiavelli elevate the art of war to a high degree in the life of the prince. He writes, A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank (Prince, Chapter 14).

The prince who does not keep arms is despised by those around him and subject to attack from a number of quarters:

And therefore a prince who does not understand the art of war, over and above the other misfortunes already mentioned, cannot be respected by his soldiers, nor can he rely on them. He ought never, therefore, to have out of his thoughts this subject of war, and in peace he should addict himself more to its exercise than in war; this he can do in two ways, the one by action, the other by study (Prince, Chapter 14).

For Machiavelli, then, it is not good enough to have a professional army that is fully trained -- he must be fully trained himself and be ready at all times to assume direct command of his forces. Machiavelli derives his ideas about the prince and the behavior of the prince from a study of history, so it is not surprising that he suggests that the prince do the same thing:

But to exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former; and above all do as an illustrious man did, who took as an exemplar one who had been praised and famous before him, and whose achievements and deeds he always kept in his mind, as it is said Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, Caesar Alexander, Scipio Cyrus (Prince, Chapter 14).

Both Plato and Machiavelli analyze history and come to conclusions about the state, its relationship to the citizen, the art of war, and the role of the military. Machiavelli wants to determine what works best for the ruler, while Plato seeks an ideal and finds it by linking the individual and the state. Socrates speaks of the relationship between the individual human soul and the society of which the individual is a part, intending to make a moral statement about the nature of the state and its relationship to the individual. Socrates says at the outset that it is necessary to admit that the elements that make up the state have to exist in the individuals who compose that state, for they have to come from somewhere, and the human population is the only possible source. Socrates has already noted that the state has three natural constituents, wisdom, courage, and self-discipline, and he then shows that these same three forces are to be found in the human soul. Thus the three parts of the mind identified by Socrates are shown to correspond exactly to the three classes of the state. Socrates shows that the state is just when its three components are in harmony and when each of its classes performs its assigned tasks without interfering with the other classes, just as in the individual, the same thing would be true of the soul. The goal for Plato is harmony, and a professional army class assures the maintenance of that harmony.

Works Cited

Plato. The Republic (tr.: Desmond Lee). New York: Penguin, 1987.

Machiavelli, Nicolo.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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