Saturday, November 23, 2019

On The Viability of Political Virtues

Machiavelli, in The Prince (Chapter 15), accepts that liberalism, compassion, honor, bravery, justness, humanity, affability, straightforwardness, prudence, religiousness, and so forth are some of the virtues that a prince (or political leader) can display. But he notes that virtuous politics can be successful only when men in the country are good. In case men are not good, it will be futile to hope that they should become good. When the national character is corrupt, virtuous politics will have a negative impact—the nation’s enemies may see virtuous politics as a sign of the government’s weakness and they may try to foment a rebellion. The prince should take his people as he finds them and seek to bring improvements along possible, and not impossible, lines. Machiavelli ends the chapter with these lines:

“And I know that every one will confess that it would be most praiseworthy in a prince to exhibit all the above qualities that are considered good; but because they can neither be entirely possessed nor observed, for human conditions do not permit it, it is necessary for him to be sufficiently prudent that he may know how to avoid the reproach of those vices which would lose him his state; and also to keep himself, if it be possible, from those which would not lose him it; but this not being possible, he may with less hesitation abandon himself to them. And again, he need not make himself uneasy at incurring a reproach for those vices without which the state can only be saved with difficulty, for if everything is considered carefully, it will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed, would be his ruin; whilst something else, which looks like vice, yet followed brings him security and prosperity.”

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