21
Mar

What Machiavelli Can Teach Us Today

Written on March 21, 2013 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Culture & Society, Foreign Policy

Machiavelli’s Virtue

By Robert Kaplan

Niccolo Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

What is modernity? Is it skyscrapers, smart phones, wonder drugs, atomic bombs? You’re not even close. Modernity, at least in the West, is the journey away from religious virtue toward secular self-interest. Religious virtue is fine for one’s family and the world of private morality. But the state — that defining political structure of modern times — requires something colder, more chilling. For the state must organize the lives of millions of strangers and protect their need to selfishly acquire material possessions. If everyone stole from everyone else there would be anarchy. So the state monopolizes the use of force, taking it away from criminals. The state appeals not to God, but to individual selfishness. Thus, it clears the path for progress.

Thomas Hobbes conceived of the modern state in his Leviathan, published in 1651. Hobbes is known wrongly as a gloomy philosopher because of his emphasis on anarchy. Hobbes was actually a liberal optimist, who saw the state as the solution to anarchy, allowing people to procure possessions and build a community. Hobbes knew that in the path toward a better world, order first has to be established. Only later can humankind set about making such order non-tyrannical.

But what did Hobbes’ philosophy ultimately build on? It built on the first of the moderns, the early 16th century Florentine Niccolo Machiavelli, whose masterpiece, The Prince, was written 500 years ago in 1513. Here is an anniversary as important as the 500th anniversary of Columbus discovering America, celebrated in 1992.

By taking politics away from the narrowing fatalism of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, Machiavelli created the very secular politics from which Hobbes could conceive of the idea of the state.The Prince may be less a work of cynicism than an instructional guide to overcome fate — the fatalism of the Roman Catholic Church at that time. Thus, Machiavelli, more than Michelangelo perhaps, was the true inventor of the Renaissance. The founders of the American Republic, who conceived of a polity in which church and state were separate and in which government existed to lay the rules for individuals to compete freely in the struggle to acquire wealth, owed much to Machiavelli and Hobbes. Read more…

Robert D. Kaplan is Chief Geopolitical Analyst at Stratfor, a geopolitical analysis firm, and author of the bestselling new book The Revenge of Geography.

As published in www.realclearworld.com on March 21, 2013 (originally published by Stratfor on March 20, 2013).

Comments

gtownrestorationscdc.org February 9, 2014 - 12:53 pm

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