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Sesame Street Goes Machiavellian

Sesame Street Goes Machiavellian

[OK, I could not resist the pic to the right.  I entered a search on Machiavellian wars and that is what popped up.  It actually fits one part of the books we are looking at this week.]

Despite the humor, we arrive at chapters 6-12 of The Prince.  We have seen that Machiavelli praises ambition of political rulers and action.  However, it is not they who has this ambition but he.  We should consider that it is he who also has great ambition:  he wants to remake political thought in his image.  He wants to establish new modes and orders himself!

Machiavelli is no reckless thinker of the propagation of evil.  He is for the mature and controlled use of infamy.  Chapter 8, for example, criticizes Agathocles for his recklessness, while praising the great crimes of Liverotto–who in a sort of mafia hit murders all his opposition, and potential enemies, at a stroke.

In chapter 6, we again are confronted with a theme that runs throughout the book–acquisition.  All men want to acquire, but only the great want to acquire a lot.  We learn in this chapter that the first great man was Moses.  At first, Machiavelli seems to say God provided Moses’ victories, but then he does something curious:  he invokes Cyrus and then says that people like Cyrus are “no different from Moses.”  If we are not paying attention, we might make nothing of the claim.  However, who was Cyrus?  A tyrant, and the subject of a book by Xenophon called the Cyropaedia, or, The Education of Cyrus.

Cyrus

Cyrus

Cyrus united a kingdom.  Xenophon appears to praise and admire Cyrus because of his feat.  It is difficult to create an empire, and rule over it with ease (that certainly appeals to Machiavelli).  But, Xenophon is subtly critical.  He examines how all those who came under Cyrus were essentially slaves.  And, he describes Cyrus as a man only concerned with power, material gain, and glory.  Cyrus may have stitched together a magnificent kingdom, but he corrupted the people along the way by appealing to their baser natures.  He conquered, and corrupted.  That is his legacy.  He had a certain totalitarian temptation, believing he knew what was good and evil.  Yet, he seemed little concerned to philosophize about it.

Is this Moses?  Is this what Moses taught?  But Machiavelli goes further to indict God as well.  In a bold and, he thinks, apposite passage, he levels a description of tyrant on them all–for praise not as denunciation.

The advice and simple instructive passages of Machiavelli appear easy to understand, and they are to an extent.  But Machiavelli has a much deeper goal in mind that even though he praises new modes and order, he does not explicitly share with us.  In other words, with all his elegance, he is a corrupter of a sort too, and most of the time without our realizing it.

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