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Niccolo Machiavelli (full name Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli) was a known Italian philosopher, diplomat, and writer of the Renaissance period. He is currently regarded to be the founder of modern political science. A remarkable fact of Machiavelli’s biography is that his service in both diplomatic and military spheres created a formidable background for building a strict view on an ideal political order. While remaining a senior official in the Florentine Republic, the politician devoted quite a lot of time to writing comedies, poetry, and carnival songs. One of his most recognized works is “The Prince,” a political treatise of the 16th-century Italy that is known to give the start to a direct conflict between the Catholic Church and scholarly doctrines. It is notable that the philosopher’s thoughts about “ends” and “means” leading to these “ends” find controversies among a lot of famous researchers and politicians. They, for instance, totally contradict Thomas Jefferson’s views of the two concepts, meaning that the means can never be justified by the ends.
Machiavelli’s Ends and Means
In “The Prince” Machiavelli states openly that the end one aims at is always accompanied by holding power and maintaining the order (“Niccolò Machiavelli”). He insisted on the need to imitate the political principles that existed in ancient Sparta and Rome. Strength and fear are the only factors to establish the desired level of obedience within a society. In fact, such a form of governance finds much of reflection in Nazi regimes of the 20th century. Thus, the principles Machiavelli is backing in his work cannot be accepted without a dissentient voice. Many of them contradict the very essence of democracy and intellectual freedom.
Machiavelli was convinced that the acquisition of power was the only concern for a ruler. As stated in the research, “only by means of the proper application of power, Machiavelli believes, can individuals be brought to obey and will the ruler be able to maintain the state in safety and security” (“Niccolò Machiavelli”). The philosopher’s theory was based on the suggestion that the notion of legitimacy should be excluded from consideration when making important political decisions. The force arrived as the key concept to concentrate one’s attention on since, as he believed, there could be no effective laws without arms. Machiavelli also claimed that deception, violence, and war were always superior to loyalty and legality in the matters of proper control establishment. He viewed human beings as insincere, disloyal, and ungrateful creatures that deserved nothing but harsh treatment. To make them more obedient, one was allowed to resort to all the available means including fear and terror.
Another concern Machiavelli defended was that the common good weighed more than an individual’s well-being (“Niccolò Machiavelli”). According to his judgments, the concept arrived as the only “end” worth striving for. As to individuals, they were simply viewed as pawns that could be sacrificed at any minute in order to achieve the desired outcomes. Eventually, such an opinion was majorly influenced by the situation that had arisen in the Republic of Florence during those times. The constant wars between the opposing states made Machiavelli believe that the force was the only advisor when it came to resolving violent civil unrest. The same reasons led the writer to the thought that “means” were always justified by “ends.”
Jefferson’s Justification of Rebellion
Regarding the Declaration of Independence and the rights it defended, one should stress that Thomas Jefferson was absolutely confident about the steps he was taking and the meaning they had for the American nation. Alongside the creation of a new state, the act was also justifying the rebellion and the terrors it was associated with. Jefferson, therefore, felt anxious about giving a philosophical assessment of this remarkable historical event. He, however, stated in the Declaration that when abuses of power and usurpations occurred, people had the right to throw off the government (Helo 127). In such a way he attempted to diminish the severity of events of the American Revolution and warn the nation of the possible consequences of rebellion for the entire humankind. He viewed humanity as a “part of nature in the sense that nature and divinity represent the two fundamental aspects of the cosmos and its equally twofold, naturalistic and moral, ordering” (Helo 128). Therefore, new revolutions were nothing but a tragedy in his understanding.
It is notable that after the end of the Revolution citizens of America did not disavow their right of rebellion. They, in fact, recognized it constitutionally. Thus, the powers of the government could be terminated if the endangering of public liberties was observed and proven (Helo 128). Both earlier and later constitutions codified Jefferson’s principles that all people were created equal and had the right of revolution, meaning that resistance was a legal response to unconstitutional acts of the government.
Thoughts about Rebellion Justifiability
Concerning Machiavelli’s statement that means are justified by ends, one can still argue with the claim since viewing people as instruments of reaching one’s goals is not the way to build a prosperous state in which citizens are satisfied with current political and economic situations. If a ruler resorts to tyranny and repressions in the matters of governance it is possible that his or her actions find a resistance, which, in the end, provokes civil disorder and multiple deaths. When attempting to reach the common good by means of war governments do nothing but lead their countries to ruin (Helo 128). History knows many examples of developed civilizations advocating tyranny that have become extinct. Roman and Macedonian empires are the most remarkable among their number. A more recent example is Nazi Germany, which was split into two parts, the GDR and the FRG, after the end of World War II. Historical facts bring enough evidence to the statement that Machiavelli’s theoretical concepts are erroneous and unacceptable to be used by modern political systems. In fact, they are currently treated as outlived forms of power.
Regarding the means a rebellion may use when fighting for human rights or independence, those can only be justified when there is no other way to shift a government resorting to anti-constitutional acts. A society that is led to absolute despair might stop at nothing to finally witness a long-anticipated change (Helo 128). One cannot say it is the right way to improve a political situation, however, it could be the only option to choose when the well-being of generations to come hangs in the balance. Although there is no way to approve such things as war, injustice, and death, it can sometimes be a matter of duty to resort to those to bring order to the state. There might be no other choice rather than justifying them after the struggle for independence is completed.
Jefferson and the Ends He Had in Mind
Naturally, Thomas Jefferson could not consider the ends he was striving to be justified by the means the American Revolution appealed to during the war years. The right of the revolution he codified in the Declaration of Independence carried the dual nature of his judgments unveiling the traces of both natural law and positive law (Helo 127). The bright example of his double standard judgments is tracked in the fact that despite Jefferson believed all people had their own rights and freedoms, he did not abolish slavery and could not leave the thoughts about possible rebellions in the days to come. Thus, he clearly realized that “ends” were not always achieved through humanistic “means.”
As to the way Jefferson would regard Machiavelli’s advice to use force as the main instrument of power, he would definitely treat it negatively. It is evident that Thomas Jefferson believed in humanity and approved people’s desire to be free, while Niccolo Machiavelli insisted that human beings were totally untrustworthy. As an example of Machiavelli’s thoughts, one can bring the statement from philosopher’s work, in which he stresses that “politics can only coherently be defined in terms of the supremacy of coercive power” (“Niccolò Machiavelli”). Thus, the principles, by which the two historical figures were guided in their decisions, were polar opposite. Supposedly, their direct encounter would lead to the occurrence of an open conflict with both parties showing no intention to listen to each others’ opinions.
In closing, one needs to admit that the thoughts of Machiavelli and Jefferson about the way a ruler implements power within a state are totally contradictory. Machiavelli is a supporter of the method of force, while Jefferson is an adherer of a more humanistic political system. Their views would not go hand-in-hand in the maters of state policy implementation since opposing opinions always lead to confrontations resulting in civil disorders and even deaths of citizens participating in a conflict.
Helo, Ari. “Thomas Jefferson: Uncovering His Unique Philosophy and Vision. By M. Andrew Holowchak. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. 2014. 365 p. £19.99 (hb). ISBN 978‐61614‐952‐9.” Journal for Eighteenth‐Century Studies, vol. 40, no. 1, 2017, pp. 127-128.
“Niccolò Machiavelli.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2014, Web.