Lesson 11: Politics, Realism and Power


11.1The Machiavellian Lies

Machiavelli is considered to be the founder of modern political philosophy. (See Leo Strauss What Is Political Philosophy New York: Free Press, 1959 and "The Three Waves of Modernity." In Political Philosophy: Six Essays by Leo Strauss, ed. Hildail Gilden, pp. 81-98. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.) In The Prince Machiavelli seeks to over turn the principles of ancient and medieval political philosophy by an accusation of foolish idealism. He says that they studied man as he ought to be, imagined republics, and failed to see what man really is and actual regimes and behavior. This is one of the great Machiavellian lies. He also says that the man who is not willing to practice evil will be ruined by those who are so willing. Thus the prince must know how to do evil and also the prince must practice hypocrisy appearing to be a man of honor, justice and faith, but knowing how to be the opposite as the situation and necessity demand. Maritain charges that the Machiavellian lies are two-fold: 1. the just man must be weak and 2. the successful man must practice evil and deceit. Maritain criticizes Machiavelli in Man and the State under the issue of "means." He refers the reader to a more elaborate critique entitled "The End of Machiavellianism" which appeared in his book The Range of Reason (New York: Scribners, 1968); this essay is available on line at the Maritain Center web site. See also Schall, James V., Jacques Maritain: The Philosopher in Society (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefleld, 1998), chapter 1.

11.2 Maritain Critique

Maritain's critique is based on an empirical or historical claim. The just man can be strong; and that the doers of evil prosper for the span of life of a man, but not for the extent of a regime. That is he looks to the actual history of regimes and especially the struggle of regimes in the twentieth century. Both Hitler and Stalin claimed to learn from Machiavelli and be practitioners of his art. Maritain refers to this as the artistic or technical view of politics. Mastery is simply an art of manipulating men and materials to achieve one's goals. Rationality is nothing but technical rationality. To such a view he contrasts the moral or internal view of politics -- in this view politics is a matter of virtue or character. It requires prudence defined in the ancient sense -- a thoughtful regard for what is possible in the light of principle and as conditioned by the good character of the statesman. The artistic view leads to immediate success or the success of life span, but it is dubious if the doers evil can actually sustain a regime over many generations. In 1950 Maritain predicted that great totalitarian power in the Soviet Union would collapse of its own internal rot. He called it a huge Machiavellian robot which possessed vast external power but lacked the internal power of truth and virtue. Ultimately the strength of the free democratic regime will be the very free initiatives and open government that provide a ceaseless flow of energy throughout the social body and political regime. It depends upon the People's means of control over the power of the state. So we must now turn to Simon's consideration of the democratic transformation of the state.

Chart 11.1 The Machiavellian Lies

Let us not be deceived, moreover, by the Machiavellian Sophistry: they say that justice and respect for moral values spell weakness and doom, and that strength is strong only if raised to the supreme standard of political existence. That is a lie. Not only, as we have seen, is evil incapable of succeeding in the long run, and not only does strength without justice weaken in the long run; but here and now strength can exist together with justice, and the power of nations struggling for freedom can be even greater than that of nations struggling for enslavement. The Second World War was a proof of that. Yet the strength itself of a democratic body politic supposes justice, because it uses human energies as energies of free men, not of slaves. Nay more: a supreme effort of all the energies of freedom, in their own spiritual realm, is needed to compensate for the momentary increase in physical strength that is given Machiavellian powers by their determination to use any means whatsoever. As such a supreme effort cannot arise if the body politic ignores moral values and standards. In reality strength is supremely strong only if not strength, but justice, is the supreme standard.

Maritain Man and the State, pp. 60-61

11.3 Simon on Transformation of the State (119,123,137,141)

Yves Simon does not directly confront the issue of Machiavellianism. But he does discuss the various instruments of the state and the principles of correct use and abuse. The fundamental instruments of government include coercion and persuasion. Democracy does indeed favor persuasion but that does not eliminate the need for coercion and the pedagogy of law. Hence, we must note the limits of virtue and the need for law (see PDG p110 and the note commenting upon ST I-lI 95.1). Simon like Maritain finds the real strength of democracy in the principle of subsidiarity, as discussed above. "The spontaneous operation of elementary energies" will produce greater and stronger results than does the use of power from the top down. (PDG p122). The problem with Machiavellian power is that it cannot trust the diverse energies of the people but it must seek to manipulate them through deceit. The importance of a free press and free expression help to counter the possibility of state deceit and propaganda. The "democratic transformation of the state" relies upon the principle of subsidiarity or autonomy by which the power of the state is limited. Even God rules through use of intermediate causes. (See pl3ln, ST 1.103.6) The point is that the power of the state, and the rulers who seek power and its abuse, must be resisted by institutional means. Private property, the freedom of the church, the freedom of the press, and the free initiative of intermediate groups all have a vital role to play in combating the cynical Machiavellian approach to political life.

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