Machiavelli and the Advent of Modern Political Science

In preparation for our discussion, you might want to consider the following overarching themes and questions:

1. Last semester, we noted five tenets of Old Western as compared with New Western, or, in Machiavelli’s phrase, modernity’s “new modes and orders” (pp. 23, 32, 37). The five tenets were 1) the conjunction of the good and the beautiful; 2) the emphasis on Being as opposed to Becoming; 3) the rank ordering of faculties of the soul, with contemplation of the truth as the highest activity of the soul;   4) philosophy as a discipline that speaks to general, unspecialized questions, and chiefly the question, what is the good life?; 5) the conjunction of goodness and freedom, that is, the argument that one has to be good in order to be truly free.  How are Machiavelli’s new modes and orders departures from these tenets?

2. Chapters 15 through 18 in The Prince contain the most oft-quoted lines from Machiavelli, with its statements about the best policy for a prince and about human nature. Chapter 15 opens with Machavelli’s claim that in the past, political advisers wrote about the imagination of politics instead about the “effectual truth” (p.61).  Most of us, I am fairly sure, find his “effectual truth” repellant.  What might be a defense of it?

3. Last semester in Books 3 and 4 of the Nicomachean Ethics, we encountered Aristotle’s picture of the man of practical (i.e., political) virtue: courage, concern with the “noble” (Greek kalos, which can also mean “beautiful), temperance (restraint), liberality, magnificence (putting on public displays), pride, good temper, friendliness, wit, and above all justice. Aristotle describes the highest practical man, the great-souled man, as one of “slow step [that is] proper to the proud man, a deep voice, and a level utterance.” He is a man “who takes few things seriously [and] is not likely to be hurried.”  What is the difference between Aristotle’s and Machiavelli’s goal for the ruler that generates the differences between the character of the great-souled man as opposed to Machiavelli’s “new prince”? How are we to take Machiavelli’s statement that the prince should “appear merciful, faithful, humane, honest, and religious, and be so” (p. 70), for here, he seems to argue that a modern prince should be pretty much what Aristotle’s great-souled man is?

4.  Machiavelli says that in modernity, every prince is a new prince.” “Either you are a prince or you are on the path to acquiring it [sic].” Would you say our educational system inclines students to hone their skills as “new princes”?

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