Thursday, 1 March 2018

Cicero Versus Machiavelli

Machiavelli; Cicero
During the Renaissance, the humanist philosophers preached that the princes ought to keep their word and eschew force and fraud. They ritualistically repeated Cicero’s injunction in De officiis: ‘‘wrong may be done in either of two ways, that is, by force or by fraud; both are bestial: fraud seems to belong to the cunning fox, force to the lion; both are wholly unworthy of man.’’

But Renaissance scholar Niccolò Machiavelli countered Cicero's philosophy with his own dictum which he presented in The Prince: ‘‘rulers who have done great things have set little store by keeping their word, being skillful rather in cunningly deceiving men.’’ Machiavelli concludes with biting satire that a ruler must, after all, ‘‘know well how to imitate beasts . . . he should imitate both the fox and the lion.’’

The humanists used to preach that it is better to be loved than feared, and that cruelty can never profit a prince. But Machiavelli preferred the governance model of Cesare Borgia. He said that Borgia ‘‘was considered cruel,’’ but that his ‘‘harsh measures restored order to the Romagna, unifying it and rendering it peaceful and loyal." He asserts in The Prince that for a prince it is ‘‘it is much safer to be feared than loved..."

(Based on Eric Nelson’s essay, “The Problem of The Prince”; Chapter 17; The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Philosophy)

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