The Origins of Politics

The main tenets of ancient modern debate revolve around social, economic, and political issues. They deal with the acquisition of power, retention of power, and human control. Scholars like Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, and Plato have discussed the issues that even today continue shaping modern day politics. The initial belief of the ancient Greeks around the fifth century was that the gods controlled the world. That the fate of the army, leaders, and the society revolved around the gods. This is similar to the world of the Christians where according to their belief; there exists an eternal being who determines the fate of every individual king, subject, or slave. That it is the God who appoints leaders and Kings and he determines the fate of a kingdom. Greeks and Christians perception, God or the gods' control man, therefore God controls politics. Machiavelli disagrees with these perceptions and came up with two perceptions to counter these arguments. According to him, man and politics are because of two factors. The first factor is that of virtue. This is when leaders use ulterior ways to gain and retain power. This can either be by way of conquering using armies or colonies. The other factor is that of fortune or good luck. This is when leaders use situations to their advantage to establish kingdoms and rule over them. According to him, the gods do not have control over man and politics.

Machiavelli gives a detailed account of the “Origins” which by his account means principalities or republics and how they are acquired and retained. According to him, principalities are acquired in a number of ways. Principalities are either hereditary in which a long family line has ruled over the years or they are newly created through colonies or by arms. Hereditary principalities are easier to rule because the people are already used to the system of governance where the ruling family produces a prince to rule over them. The people see that this kind of governance is what their ancestors embraced and as such, it is taken to be their custom. Unless a prince deviates from what the people are accustomed to, he will have less trouble ruling over the principality. A hereditary prince has less or no reason to offend because he is more loved and his subjects are disposed to him naturally. Machiavelli gives as an example the Duke of Ferras who was able to disperse the attack of the Venetians and Pope Julius because he had been well established in his dominions (Machiavelli 4).

While it is easy to rule over a hereditary principality, difficulty arises in new principalities that have been acquired either when men change their rulers in the hope of a better future or by deception. Machiavelli indicates that to rule over new principalities, a new prince has to injure and burden the people who have submitted to him. However, this causes injury to those people who have been seized and those who helped the prince acquire the principality since he is not able to please them in a way they anticipated. At the same time, the prince cannot employ drastic measures against his friends because a bond has already been established when they assisted to acquire the new principality. However, that for a prince to rule over a new principality, he has to get the goodwill of the natives he found there regardless of how strong his army is. This was the case observed when Louis the Twelfth the King of France when he occupied Milan. He did not gain the goodwill of the natives who could not endure his ill-treatment and so they rejected him and he lost Milan (Machiavelli 5). Nevertheless, by use of force and injuring the delinquents who rebelled against him, he was able to take Milan the second time.

Another way that a Prince can retain new principalities is to make sure that his presence is felt among the natives of the conquered or created states are to go and reside there. By doing this, he cements his position making it more durable and secure. If he does not settle there, it would not be possible to spot dissidents when they pop up and hence becomes difficult to nib them. Lack of presence in the territory makes his subjects not to love him and not to fear him. The prince presence in the land also makes it hard for his officials to plunder the land.

If a prince is not in a position to reside in the country, then he can send colonies to one or more places. These colonies are to act as a gateway to that country. If he is not to send colonies, then the other option to retain his authority is to invest heavily in his army. This comes at a cost because the prince has to maintain the garrisons that mean much of the revenue generated by the state ends up in the army and the garrisons. This renders the acquisition of the land a loss for it injures the whole state. In turn, the natives of the acquired land become hostile for they are beaten whilst on their soil. They, therefore, become enemies and can overthrow the prince. Maintaining an army in those lands, therefore, becomes an exercise in futility. However, if a prince were to establish a colony it means that he spends less. The people that are hurt are the minority who he takes land from to give to his subjects, the new inhabitants. The minority who are the poor people are thus scattered and unable to do any harm. The remaining ones are afraid of him lest he takes away their land as well. By retaining the colonies a paradox arises where he is able to maintain his grip by crushing his subjects and at the same time treating them well. It is therefore important that a prince establish colonies other than armies in the country he has conquered. The prince should observe extreme caution especially towards his less powerful neighbors and even the more powerful ones. He should make sure to weaken the more powerful ones and as well keep the less powerful in their status quo lest through ambition they would want to overthrow him. To do this, he needs to maintain good relations with the natives of the land inhabited. This makes it easier for him to move over other colonies conquering them because the inhabitants of those colonies feel oppressed by their rulers and would gladly invite him to be their leader. The Romans used this strategy in every colony they established in Greece and other colonies (Machiavelli 6-7). This was unlike France under King Louis who when he conquered Italy instead of securing his friends took only those he could without considering their loyalty. To add to the mistake, he did not consider weakening his neighbors who were at the time stronger than he was. He instead gave more powers to the church through Pope Alexander, more powerful. By doing so, he made himself less powerful, deprived himself of friends, and eventually divided the kingdom with the King of Spain. According to Machiavelli, the error King Louis made were, he smashed the lesser powers, amplified the strength of the greater powers in Italy, brought in foreign powers, never settled in the country, never sent the colonies and the most considerate of all is that he strengthened the church. These five errors resulted in the loss of Lombardy through the Venetians (Machiavelli 9).

There comes a time where a prince determined to instill his authority in new principalities first needs to humble them into ruins and then builds them up as new. This is when these principalities are accustomed to their own laws and customs. The first step is to burn them to the ground then to reside in them and lastly is by allowing them to live under their own laws but being answerable to him. This creates an oligarchy but which is friendly to the prince. For instance, the Romans in order to hold Capua, Numantia, and Carthage first dismantled them but never lost them. The principle ruins them then builds them from scratch to gain their loyalty such that they will always be afraid to take up arms.

Having gone through the origins according to Machiavelli, two factors arise in retaining the principalities. The first factor is Virtue. This is one of the notions that he used to consider the human conduct when discussing military and political affairs. In Italian, Virtu means virtue. This does not mean moral virtue; rather it means control, power, strength, ability to compel reality to obey your will, and the ability to impose your will to someone or something else. In essence, Virtu is the ability of a ruler to do whatever he has to do to achieve success. This can be through taking up of arms or deception. For instance, the Romans destroyed Carthage, Numantia, and Capua with the intention of rebuilding them up again to take control of them. They also used the tactics of establishing colonies through deception to gain trust from the natives of the lands they intended to inhabit. Virtue goes against the standards of morality. It is not to be used if it will harm the state or the prince. That is why a prince should weigh the options of either establishing colonies or establishing armies in the lands he has acquired. Before a virtuous action is taken, its efficiency must be carefully debated and consequences illustrated because they are only good if they achieve certain desired and defined ends. A prince should make people expect the worst for it is by doing so that he will show the virtue of bringing relief to the people. For it is better for the prince to be feared rather than loved or hated. While discussing the virtue of generosity and liberality, he notes that it would be beneficial for a prince to curtail lavish spending as this affects adversely the citizens of their state who might eventually rebel against him. Machiavelli however noted that cruelty is not supposed to be evoked for cruelties sake unless it brings a certain desired effect where the blame is removed from the prince and laid on one of his subjects or ministers, as was the case of Ramiro d’Orco who was executed to remove the virtue of cruelty from the Duke (Machiavelli 17). To sum it, Virtu is the principle where the prince executes all that is in his power to gain control, stability, and power over his dominions and can range from cruelty, selfless, generosity, and even deceit.

New virtu therefore is the process whereby a prince first undertakes to learn the behavior and customs of his new dominions and strategizes on the best recourse to take in order to gain control. It is different from one principality to another and thus is not tied to one concept alone. It is a learning process, undertaken at a specific time at different places. It is closely related to lady Fortuna which going with Machiavelli concepts means fortune. This is where a prince finds new principalities through fortune rather than through colonies or conquest. The first illustration of lady Fortuna is principalities acquired through hereditary means. In essence, the prince acquires the state because it is given to him by the virtue of his birthright. He can therefore use all the virtues on his disposal to quell dissidents and rebellions. Rather than inherited kingdoms, a prince can get or create new kingdoms through fortune, which is, in essence, an opportunity. For instance Moses rescued the people of Israel who were enslaved by the Egyptians, Romulus was exposed at birth, Cyrus found the Persians displeased with the rule of the Medes, and Theseus found the Athens dispersed and consolidated them (Machiavelli 13). These are famous founders who lady Fortuna smiled upon. She offered them an opportunity created out of necessity to create new kingdoms, which were not inherited goods. Such kingdoms remained to him and he owned everything in them. The virtues that the new princes possessed had enabled them to overcome dependence on inheritance, custom, nature, and good luck.

Sometimes lady Fortuna stares at somebody but with a twist of wickedness to acquire a kingdom or a principality. This is to say that for a prince to acquire a kingdom he must overthrow the previous prince by employing devious ways including the assassination of the current prince together with his lieutenants. Like in the case of Agathocles the Sicilian. He was the son of a porter but through fortune, he joined the military and rose through the ranks to become Praetor of Syracuse. After rising through the ranks, he made it his life mission to become the prince regardless the means he would use. He had no obligation to other people. To do this, however, he needed an ally so he courted Amilcar a Carthaginian who was also a soldier in Sicily. One day he tricked the people together with the Senate as if he wanted to discuss matters of public interest. He had prearrangement with his soldiers that on a given signal, they were to arise and kill all the senators together with all the rich people of the republic, which they did. By doing this in front of the people, he instilled fear in them and they were not able to call for civil commotion (Machiavelli 19). He was able to defend his prince hood twice because he had the army and even went ahead to conquer part of Africa. The same situation was in the case of Oliverotto who was an orphan since his childhood days. His uncle Giovanni raised him and when he reached of age he joined the military and was sent to fight under general Pagolo. He rose through the ranks because he was strong bodied so when Pagolo died he succeeded him. Having worked in the army for so long and having gained the trust of many soldiers, he tricked Giovanni into accommodating him in his house. One day Oliverooto threw a party in Giovanni house where he invited Giovanni and all his chiefs in Fermo. After the party, he told them that there were private matters he wanted to discuss with them and they moved to a separate room whereupon a given signal, his secret soldiers descended on the guests together with the chiefs and killed them thereby acquiring the kingdom. After the scene, he rode on his horse and besieged the chief magistrate. This act caused the people to fear him and obey him. He made sure that all his deemed enemies were slaughtered thereafter.

The biggest challenge that a new prince struggles with is the question of how the people will view him after taking over the principality. If he does not struggle with the fact that the people will fear him more than they respect him, then he will not mind the ways that he uses to become a prince. But if he were to command respect other than fear, he will not use devious ways of trickery and assassinations to become a prince (Machiavelli 21). An ideal prince should live among his people in such a way that his principles whether good or bad are such that people expect less of him than how he acquired the kingdom. If he acquired it through wicked ways, the people do not expect him to change his ways during his reign because that is how they know him. The opposite is equally true.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an English philosopher well known for his political thought. The vision he held for the world is still relevant in modern day politics. His arguments surround the debate on the problem of political and social order that is how human beings can live in peace and avoid fear and dangers of general conflict. Hobbes was a scholar and his aim was to put politics on a scientific footing. He, therefore, used stringent and logical approach to his work. On the other hand, Machiavelli was a civil servant who drew conclusions by observing how people behaved rather on how they ought to behave in a hypothetical environment. This difference in approach and methodology raises the differences in political beliefs between Machiavelli and Hobbes. Hobbes designed his work in a way that viewed politics more scientifically. His belief was that if politics is analyzed scientifically, it could lead to an everlasting state of peace. He presented his views on human nature, physics, mathematics, geometry, and philosophical methods thereby universalizing Machiavelli insights though disagreeing with many of them.

Hobbes tenets of power are divided into four categories. The first is natural power. He defined this as the ability to secure a personal advantage or a well-being in order to obtain some good in future. This power comes from internal qualities such as intellect, eloquence, body strength, humility, love, jealousy, prudence, and envy. The second one is instrumental power. This kind of power has its sole purpose of acquiring more power. It includes wealth, influential friends, and reputation. He noted that the quest for power is a quest for command over other powers so if one can get another one’s power he adds that power to his arsenal. Putting it simply people buy compliance and loyalty from others. The other kind of power is relative power. According to Hobbes, he noted that power is relative meaning if one has less power than another does; they are in perpetual power struggle each vying for a greater power and to acquire the power of others. Because of this, he noted that some people will never find enough power and they seek to use others rather than live in accord with them. The last kind of power is ceding power. He found out that many people find a balance in life by gaining power only sufficient to them. People tend to co-operate and share power rather than being antagonists. He noted that the most effective way to use personal power is to surrender it to a central authority that will use this power without question on the people who gave him the power. What this meant is that it effectively leads to elected monarchies and commonwealth, which he described as the Leviathan (Lloyd 297). Hobbes and Machiavelli view human nature differently in that in the Prince, Machiavelli divides human nature between rulers and servants. He does not trust people and believed that the secular form of government to be the best.

Works cited

Machiavelli, Nicolo. Prince, The. Infomotions, Inc., 2000.

Lloyd, S. A. Ideals As Interests In Hobbes's Leviathan: The Power Of Mind Over Matter.            Cambridge University Press, 1992.

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