Prophylactic Power

This article is part of a series entitled Machiavelli in Society. See also:

  1. Sex: Machiavelli on Seduction
  2. Empathy: Calculated Empathy
  3. Society: Prophylactic Power

“For men commit injuries either through fear or through hate.” — The Prince, Ch. VII

Niccolò Machiavelli, in the blunt words of scholar Max Lerner, “taught the world to think in terms of cold political power” [1]. To the fifteenth-century Florentine’s credit, much of his political writing – including the famous political manual The Prince, as well as the longer, more thorough treatise The Discourses – explores merely esoteric matters, from “The events that caused the creation of tribunes in Rome” to “How the Samnites resorted to religion as an extreme remedy for their desperate condition.” One chapter is titled simply “How easily men may be corrupted.” [1]

Machiavelli did, though, also instruct in the ways of pure power (see, for example, certain portions of The Prince), and Lerner’s statement rings true. Machavelli’s lessons in power – and, more broadly, the philosophical paradigm introduced by his cold, realist realpolitik – have contributed most of all to the writer’s fame.

Power-chasing reminds us of dangerous things: of Raskolnikov’s infatuation with the Men of Bronze, and his subsequent torment; of Nietzsche’s eerie overman and Zarathustra’s flight to the mountains; or of, according to certain readings of Christianity, the devil himself. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes, “Pride… has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. … It comes direct from Hell” [2].

But the study of social competency can also promote equality. Continue reading

Calculated Empathy

This article is part of a series entitled Machiavelli in Society. See also:

  1. Sex: Machiavelli on Seduction
  2. Empathy: Calculated Empathy
  3. Society: Prophylactic Power

Perhaps last among the things we associate with care, love, and respect for others is calculativeness, of the sort that once led Machiavelli to famously write, “And a prince ought, above all things, always endeavor in every action to gain for himself the reputation of being a great and remarkable man.” [1] Machiavelli finishes this chapter with a claim with which we’re perhaps more disposed to agree. “[I]f everything is considered carefully,” he argues, “it will be found that something… which looks like vice, yet followed brings him security and prosperity.” [1]

I’ll take Machiavelli at his word. I’ll argue that calculativeness, in the abstract, can help us attain diverse and positive ends, like empathy — in the simple sense that, well, empathy can be worked on. Why can’t we train our cognitive and emotional apparatus towards the deepening of our immersion into other peoples’ lives?

Continue reading

Machiavelli on Seduction

This article is part of a series entitled Machiavelli in Society. See also:

  1. Sex: Machiavelli on Seduction
  2. Empathy: Calculated Empathy
  3. Society: Prophylactic Power

“For how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation.” – The Prince, XV (1)

Image

Sixteenth-century Italian writer Niccolò Machiavelli wrote The Prince, an emotionless instruction manual for calculated political domination. He also, however, wrote plays for the stage, including the wild and rousing La Mandragola (The Mandrake Root), a wild tale of trickery and seduction! Might we find, in the Mandragola, traces of the same cold political manipulation immortalized by The Prince? Let’s find out. Below, I offer quotes from the Prince alongside their (according to me) correspondents in the Mandragola. I end with a discussion of consequentialist and deontological ethical theories.

Continue reading