Machiavelli's Understanding of the Populace in the Prince and the Discourses
The focus of this study is Machiavelli's Understanding of the Populace in the Prince and the Discourses. This study will answer the question of what makes the populace of his contemporary era different from that of other places and times. Secondly this work will compare the populace of Machiavelli's contemporary era with past societies and republics.
Machiavelli's Understanding of the Populace in the Prince and The Discourses
Machiavelli stated in 'The Prince' in Chapter Three that when dealing with the public or the populace that it is better to either caress or to crush them because if only minor damage is done to them they will seek out revenge however, according to Machiavelli "if you cripple them there is nothing they can do." (p.9-10) It was the belief of Machiavelli that are two directions which a Prince may take in his rule over his people and specifically that a prince can act out of benevolence or act out of ruthlessness. According to Machiavelli, when the prince acted ruthless he must make sure that the populace is annihilated so that there is not potential for revolution.
The prince from the view of Machiavelli should seek first and foremost to preserve himself. In Chapter Five, Machiavelli writes that the one who comes into the role of leadership over the populace of a city that has been accustomed to living according to its own laws and who does not bring the populace to heel will be brought to heel by that populace and when such a city rebels, great strength is realized in talk about liberty and such a city will desire to adhere to its ancient form of rule. Machiavelli writes "Neither the passage of time nor good treatment will make its citizens forget their previous liberty. No matter what one does…if one does not scatter and drive away the original inhabitants, one will not destroy the memory of liberty or the attraction of old institutions. As soon as there is a crisis they will seek to restore them." (p. 17)
Machiavelli views subjects as being self-oriented and that while subjects are for the most part obedient to the prince they are at all times waiting the opportune moment to revolt against the new ruler. The populace is presented by Machiavelli as static characters having only two dimensions. In Chapter Five Machiavelli states that when "cities and provinces are used to be ruled by a monarch…they are used to being obedient. Their old ruler is gone, and they cannot agree among themselves as to who should replace him. They do not know how to rule themselves." (p. 17-18)
The natural state of the populace according to Machiavelli is that of being ruled over and an obedient state needing a set of rules that are rigid in nature to guide them and inform them as to how to live and what to do. One such contemporary example is that of Iraq which was a totalitarian regime that Saddam Hussein controlled. While the people of Iraq desired to be free from the rule of Saddam Hussein, simultaneously once freed from his rule has failed to realize the benefit of such freedom as Iraq is still characterized by power struggles, violence and political crises. In Chapter Three Machiavelli states the claim that this is because the population has an inherent tendency to traditional modes of living which illustrates the view of Machiavelli that the populace is formulated by followers rather than leaders.
According to Machiavelli in Chapter Five, the individuals in the world are characterized by an inconstant nature who are easily persuaded and great difficulty is realized in attempting to keep them constant and dedicated as their minds are very easily changed. This means that the Prince must be prepared ahead of time for the moment when their belief is lost and that they must be forced to believe. (paraphrased) This statement by Machaivelli illustrates how generalizations were utilized by Machaivelli concerning the behavior of humans for the purpose of justifying political decisions. Machaivelli repeatedly utilizes this formula as the basis for his assumptions of what the prince is required to do. Generalizations are used frequently in The Prince and the Discourses and are reflective of Machiavelli's view of the sixteenth century populace in Florence.
In Chapter 9, Machiavelli writes "He who comes to power with the help of the elite has more difficulty holding onto power than he who comes to power with the help of the populace." (p.31) This is because of the ongoing power struggle between the nobility and the populace. Stressed in this quote is the importance of the prince gaining the support of the populace since when the prince has gained his power from the populace, he is greatly uncontested and retains his power. The support of the populace is critical to the power of the prince because within the numbers represented by the populace is great strength while the few forming the nobility class are insignificant in comparison.
In Chapter 10 Machaivelli writes that "people are always reluctant to undertake enterprises that look as if they will be difficult, and no one thinks it will be easy to attack someone who is well-fortified and has the support of the populace." (p.34) In other words, not only does the prince gain his strength from the support of his people but strength is gained in the view of the outside world because the prince supported by his populace is a formidable foe who will not easily fall under attack since the populace stands with him against any type of attack. It is not the belief of Machaivelli that a prince should improve the well being of the populace on the basis that it is the right thing to do but instead should improve the populace's well being in order to gain their support should the prince be faced with a possible attack from an enemy external to the populace and his rule.
In Chapter Ten Machaivelli writes that the populace "will be all the more ready to rally to their ruler, believing him to be in their debt, since they have had their houses burnt and their possessions looted for defending him. It is in men's nature to feel obliged by the good they do to others, as by the good others do to them. So if you consider all the factors, you will see it is not difficult for a wise ruler to keep his subjects loyal during a siege, both at the beginning and as it continues." (p.35) This is held by Machaivelli to be a required step in securing the city when it falls under attack and fails to see any inherent value in the populace's happiness.
In the Prince, Machaivelli views the city as being shaped in such a way that provides service to the ruler and the populace viewed in the manner of being people who are ordinary, simple-minded and that serve a functional purpose. This means the populace and its provision of support and realization of well-being is not the objective but instead is a means to strengthen the city when it is attacked from outside. The prince must convince the populace that the struggles are temporary in nature but not for the purpose of easing their suffering but instead to rally them to support the state and the ruler. It is acknowledged by Machiavelli that the state's true strength is that which is constructed upon the support of the populace.
Machiavelli writes: "One ought to be both loved and feared; but, since it is difficult to accomplish both…I maintain it is much safer to be feared than loved…For of men… are ungrateful, fickle, deceptive and deceiving, avoiders of dangers and eager to gain. As long as you serve their interests, they are devoted to you….But as soon as you need help, they turn against you…Men are less nervous of offending someone loveable, than someone who makes himself frightening" (Chapter 17, p. 51) There are two ways to interpret this statement. First it may be interpreted that the prince should not be concerned with public opinion. However, this interpretation conflicts the statement of Machiavelli in Chapter 19 since the state and its rulers have to consider the potency of conspiracies among the public. Machiavelli held that the best protection against such conspiracies is to be well liked among the populace.
II. "What Makes the Populace of Machiavelli's Contemporary Era Different From that of other Place and Times?
This study examines the populace in the view of Machiavelli's Contemporary era and how it is different from that of other places and times. Machiavelli writes of the masses and states that nothing is "more futile and more inconstant" than the masses. The masses are known to condemn people to death and then after those individuals are dead the masses have been found to be "lamenting him and ardently wishes he were alive." (Section…