Relationship Between Appearance Reality and Power in Machiavelli Essay

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Ethics and Morality -- Relationship between Appearance, Reality and Power in Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli's works, particularly the Prince, arose from his background and circumstances in the shifting political climate of 16th Century Italy. As a career politician, Machiavelli developed some unvarnished principles divorced from morality for a Prince's seizure and retention of power. For Machiavelli, reality included ignoble men and fickle/cruel Fortune and was about obtaining and retaining personal power. Simultaneously, appearance was about manipulation to convince others to give over their power to the Prince. The ability and willingness to do what was necessary to gain and keep power by both reality and appearance amounted to virtu. These aspects of Machiavelli's thought have made the Prince a widely-read work 500 years after its publication.

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Many of Niccolo Machiavelli's notions on appearance, reality and power are understandably based on his background and the time/place in which he lived. Born in 1469 in Florence, Italy, Machiavelli attained a humanistic education, and eventually rose to the political position of Second Chancellor of the Republic of Florence (Nederman, 2005). He held this political position for approximately 14 years, traveling to many cities in Italy and abroad to perform diplomatic/political assignments. In 1512, the Medici family and allied forces defeated and dissolved the Republic of Florence, which caused Machiavelli's loss of his position in 1512 (Unger, 2012, p. 1) and eventual imprisonment and torture in 1513 (Unger, 2012, p. 2). It was during this early 16th Century period of Italy's history that the country was divided into a number of nation-states and city-states with their own rulers and constantly shifting political alliances (Unger, 2012, p. 26). After his release from prison in 1513, he lived in political exile on the outskirts of Florence and wrote his most famous work, the Prince (Nederman, 2005). Though this work was first published posthumously in 1532 (Unger, 2012, p. 339), it was unofficially circulated during Machiavelli's life, eventually becoming the most famous of his several works (Unger, 2012, p. 8). Out of favor with the Medici Family during the time at which he wrote the Prince, Machiavelli eventually regained their favor at least to the extent that he received several assignments from key members of the Medici family (Nederman, 2005). However, by the time of his death in 1527, Machiavelli has not yet regained his prior political standing (Nederman, 2005). The ideas of appearance, reality and power arose from this career politician and writer living in politically shifting times.

Within the context of Machiavelli's experience and circumstances from birth to his political exile, he wrote the Prince (De Grazia, 1994, p. 23). For this career politician who had used and been used by shifting 16th Century Italian politics, a Prince should possess and develop virtu, which seems to be the ability and willingness to do what is necessary to obtain and retain power. Within this schema, reality was quite different from the ethical ideals espoused by Aristotle and known to 16th Century Italy (Unger, 2012, p. 239). In deliberately simple, straightforward language (De Grazia, 1994, p. 30), Machiavelli's book pragmatically dealt with "what is" rather than "what should be" and for Machiavelli, a Prince's reality was about obtaining personal power. This was no easy feat, for Machiavelli believed that in reality, "this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous…" (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 61) and those men tended to retain those ignoble qualities (Machiavelli, Discourses on the first decade of Titus Livius, 2007, p. 437). In addition to this jaundiced view of men, Machiavelli speaks often about Fortuna, active, illogical and perverse circumstances that Machiavelli describes in many ways, including: a sadistic goddess who grants a favor, then grabs it away; a river that tends to flood; a changeable woman; an eagle that soars beautifully but is cruel. Through all these analogies, Machiavelli describes his belief that fortune is also fickle and cruel. In the face of ignoble men and often cruel and fickle fortune, a Prince must somehow seize and keep power. In Machiavelli's world view, to be "merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright" and to always use them in the face of ignoble men and fickle/cruel fortune was "injurious" (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 64; (Machiavelli, Discourses on the first decade of Titus Livius, 2007, p. 33). Consequently, one of the striking characteristics of the Prince is its determination to divorce political reality from ethics/morality in order to explain how principalities could be acquired, maintained and lost by a Prince. In this context, a Prince who wanted to obtain and keep power may "overcome either by force or by fraud" (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 27) and should, in fact, "know how to do wrong" and use it when necessary (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 55). This advice to know and use "wrong" when necessary created no ethical dilemma in Machiavelli's political view, for he sharply distinguished between how a Prince ought to live and how a Prince actually lives with no apologies, saying,

"how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil" (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 55).

Even as Machiavelli espoused knowing and doing wrong when necessary, he also divorced reality from appearance in some respects. Machiavelli believed that a Prince should manipulate appearances in order to make other people give their power over to the Prince. The Prince's subjects gave their power to the Prince when he won and kept the hearts of the people. Enemies gave their power to the Prince when they left him to rule without attacking. The Prince's manipulation of appearances served those purposes. First, appearance could be important when seizing power. In order to obtain power over ignoble men, who are also quite simple and easily deceived (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 64), and despite fickle/cruel fortune, a prince who obtained power by inheritance had much of the initial work done for him by birth because he could chiefly follow in his father's footsteps to please his people and his armed forces (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 71). However, a prince who must wrest power by force "has always need of the goodwill of the natives" (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 5). Secondly, once the power is obtained, it must be retained over those same ignoble-yet-simple men and despite that same fickle/cruel fortune. In aid of obtaining and retaining such power, the Prince must necessarily and deceitfully appear noble: "to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite" (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 64). Clearly, to rule over the hearts of men, "it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them" because that appearance was so useful to deceive people for the Prince's purposes (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, pp. 64-5). To aid in this useful appearance, a Prince was to "take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious" (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 64).

Even as a Prince should appear to have those five virtuous qualities, he should also manipulate appearances in other aspects. Importantly, a Prince should also manipulate appearances to make his subjects fear him (De Grazia, 1994, p. 36). While it is ideal to be both loved and feared, if a Prince must choose between the two, it is much better to be feared. Fear makes a Prince more secure because those ignoble-yet-simple subjects are far less willing to turn on someone who is feared than on someone who is loved: "fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails" (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 61). Princes should also manipulate appearances depending on other circumstances: a new prince should appear "well established" because that will make his position more secure and established (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 86); a prince should also manipulate appearances when some "evil" has befallen his people, so the people will have hope that the evil will not last (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 40); a Prince might also manipulate appearances so his subjects will fear the cruelty of an enemy (Machiavelli, the Prince, 2009, p. 38; (Machiavelli, Discourses on the first decade of Titus Livius, 2007, p. 43); if the men being ruled by the Prince are too bold, then the Prince further manipulates appearances… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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