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"...the gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation." (Machiavelli). Discuss.

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Introduction

"...the gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation." (Machiavelli). Discuss. The quote given in the essay title refers to Machiavelli's belief that politics, unlike our personal relationships, is not based on an ethical need to act in a just fashion. This essay will set out Machiavelli's beliefs and then examine them to see if he successfully justifies his method of governing. Machiavelli's The Prince was based on similar works that had been written at the time, all of which purported to advise the rulers of the Principalities as to the methods by which they should rule. These other works generally recommended compassion, generosity and a need to be loved by the people as the main factors for being a successful ruler. Machiavelli disagreed. He looked at politics and took it exactly as he saw it: a world of deceit and corruption, in which even your closest friend could not be trusted to keep his promises to you. According to Machiavelli, "Everybody recognises how praiseworthy it is for a ruler to keep his word and live a life of integrity, without relying on craftiness. ...read more.

Middle

He thus thought that combining aspects of all three types of government after the style of the Romans, and with stable institutions, was the surest way of maintaining a republic at the height of its powers. Just as in The Prince, Machiavelli condones any means in order to keep the republic from degenerating back to anarchy; indeed, The Discourses cover many similar topics to The Prince, but apply them to a republic. Ultimately, whatever style of government Machiavelli is discussing, he comes to the same conclusions: that the ruler must do what he can to maintain the security of the state, no matter what the cost - "...a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction..." The political thought of Machiavelli is challenging in many ways: it goes against everything which was generally accepted at the time of its publishing, and even today it is at odds with the acceptable methods of government. The most obvious starting point in criticism of Machiavelli is his claim that the ruler may take any action to preserve the security of the state and to prevent the state from passing its peak on the wheel of fortune. This concept means that there are no absolute moral standards when governing a Machiavellian state - his contextual ethic means that there is no wrong action to take, indeed anything is permissible, provided it can be said to be for the good of the state. ...read more.

Conclusion

Thus, the reliance on a fixed concept of human nature, a fixed concept of history, and a potentially suspect source of evidence all lead to the conclusion that Machiavelli fails to satisfactorily justify the need for violence to maintain the state. In conclusion, while Machiavelli, through emphasising the need for security and stability, makes a good case for the use of violence to maintain the state, he ultimately fails to justify his theory satisfactorily. By arguing that a constitutional limit on this power would undermine the ability of the ruler to react in context to the situation, Machiavelli leaves the state in a situation where it is protected at any cost by a ruler who must be trusted to do no more than necessary to protect the state, yet who has been advised by Machiavelli to merely act as if he were trustworthy. And the emphasis on the concept of history as a cycle, and on historical examples that are more likely than not biased, gives the argument that the ruler needs these special powers in order to maintain a state at its peak a very weak basis indeed. McClelland says "There has always been a feeling that Machiavelli is hard to pin down in that shadowy ground that lies between politics and ethics." (McClelland, 1996, p154). Machiavelli's ideas are very interesting, and certainly contain many elements that can still be seen in politics today, but without limits and without convincing justification, the implications are simply too fearsome to condone. ...read more.

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