Audrey’s Thoughts on Machiavelli

Here is a post written by Audrey.  I hope this will be the first of many. It’s our ambition here to make this a forum for our kids and  some other young friends to share  their good insights on their literature assignments.  It’s our hope that some comments will be generated  and that we can improve our ability to think about the world from a Christian perspective.

Concerning New Principalities

‘A wise man ought to always follow the

paths beaten by great men,  and imitate their ways, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, he will at least savour it.’

The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter VI

Niccolo Machiavelli was  an Italian realist and political thinker during the early 1500’s who has maintained an infamous reputation throughout history for his  teachings on Political conduct, and for The Prince, a book he wrote as a practical guide for ruling in 1513. Machiavelli thoroughly studied great rulers of old and described their different ruling tactics. He wrote The Prince as a tool  aspiring rulers might use to learn  to govern effectively. The tactics he describes in his book have been used by many rulers throughout history, and have earned the title “Machiavellian”described by the Old English Dictionary as  “the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct”.

Machiavelli put great emphasis on was the importance of following previous ruler’s by example. In one way or another, we all have individuals whom we imitate and strive to measure up to. Machiavelli wrote that rulers should do the same. He said that a man should follow in the foot steps of a great ruler of history, so that if that man’s ability does not fully measure up to his ideal’s, he will still grasp it to some degree.

Machiavelli refers to several historical figures and one of the most prominent of these is Alexander the Great. Alexander was merciless as a conquerer, but when he had successfully conquered the Persians, he allowed them to live in the manner to which they were accustomed. This  type of strategy is exactly what Machiavelli recommends. He writes that a ruler should be ruthless at the beginning, in order to show the people that he will not tolerate rebellion, and that he should adjust to the peoples way of life, so that they would not have a reason to rebel.

Another ruler who used this tactic was Charlemagne. Although he was not mentioned by Machiavelli, he used the same strategy as Alexander the Great.

When he conquered the Saxons, he forced them to convert to Christianity, and brutally tortured and killed those who did not. When he had gained their complete compliance, he worked hard to make sure all the people were treated well and followed the laws accordingly.

Rulers throughout history used Machiavellian tactics. Another more modern example is Adolf Hitler who was a ruthless combatant, killing millions of people in order to achieve his goal. One quote from him elucidates this perfectly:

‘I have given orders to my Death Units to exterminate

without mercy men, women, and children belonging to

the Polish speaking race. It is only in this manner that

we can acquire the vital territory which we need. After

all, who remembers today the extermination of the  Armenians?

This is almost exactly what Machiavelli encourages in his book.

Though Machiavelli’s teachings are generally deemed violent and extreme, he does have some ideas that we can use for good. He writes that a ruler should adjust to the comforts of the people, rather than have them adjust to his. His teachings in chapter VI, on following the example of an ideal, can also be used when as Christians, we  apply this to ourselves by striving to imitate Jesus Christ.   Even though we can not possibly reach his standards, we can set an example for fellow and non-Christians. By imitating him, we set a goal for ourselves to walk with Christ and Glorify him in all things.

So though Machiavelli’s ideas were corrupt, we can still, with caution and wisdom, apply some of them to our lives. God uses even the greatest evil to bring Glory to himself and to teach us to do the same.

Spenser, Milton, Melville and Machiavelli

Just after lunch today, I read aloud from Canto One of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. The boys were super leary of this selection before we started reading it.  But they  warmed up as we go into it.

Then I lost Helen at the point in the fight with the dragon where the Red Cross Knight finally gets the upper hand.  Here is what caused her to nearly lose her lunch:

“Therewith she spewd out of her filthy maw
A floud of poyson horrible and blacke,
Full of great lumpes of flesh and gobbets raw,
Which stunck so vildly, that it forst him slacke
His grasping hold, and from her turne him backe:
Her vomit full of bookes and papers was,
With loathly frogs and toades, which eyes did lacke,
And creeping sought way in the weedy gras:
Her filthy parbreake all the place defiled has.”

So, sweet dear Helen (who was  perched on the edge of her seat waiting for those little fairies to trot out in poetic beauty) immediately recoiled in horror.

Daniel, meanwhile, perked right up and engaged with this piece of poetry in a way quite unique for him.  Leaning forward whispering “yeah, man yeah…”.

Canto Two after Monday lunch.

I am reading Paradise Lost, myself.  The introduction alone was worth the price of the book.  Amazing to learn that Milton’s own doctrinal statements, found over 200 years after his death, refute the Nicene council’s statements on Christ’s divinity.  And that once orthodox theologians began to understand Milton’s ideas in this matter, their acceptance of Paradise Lost as commendable Christian poetry and a  theological work of art came to an end.  Even though these ideas  are nowhere to be seen in Paradise Lost.  He is seen to be in grave error,  his work now considered heretical, even though it was once much beloved and quoted form pulpits of well educated reformed ministers.  How the mighty are fallen…..

Meanwhile, I have a couple of kids who are reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, and I expect I’ll send one up here for a little discussion of the book next week.

And I am, FINALLY, reading Moby Dick aloud to the whole bunch of kids.  So far, they love it.    I believe this is my my fifth reading of Moby Dick…..And that first appearance of Queequay the harpooner is funny every time.