English class essay (year 10) The Use Vitue and Vice in Niccolo Machiavelli's the Prince
| Humans always have well-defined ideas of virtue and vice, and it seems like there is a clear line between what is good and what it is evil. However, is that always the case? We constantly see people’s thoughts about the act of stealing becoming much less severe when a poor man commits that act in order to provide his starving family with food. While on the other hand, the supposedly righteous act of honesty usually becomes thought of as rude when people dislike what they hear. Therefore, the two concepts of virtue and vice are in reality overlapping and unstable ideas. In the prince, Niccolo Machiavelli stresses the fickle nature of good and evil with his theory on evil becoming a virtue when used in order to achieve overall stability for the country, which he supports with several logical examples and observations, causing me to agree with it.
In his book, Machiavelli creates a general rule in which he states that “a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin”(62) because “he will find things which, though seeming good, will lead to his ruin if pursued and others which, though seeming evil, will result in his safety and well-being.”(39) In other words, Machiavelli says that evil means do not always have to result in terrible consequences while righteousness can sometimes cause great loss. When hearing this idea, one will most likely be baffled and angered by this man’s audacity in encouraging wrongful acts. However, after looking through the examples that Machiavelli discusses, one will find that there may be some logic to this method of ruling. In his book, Machiavelli uses some powerful comparisons between virtue and vice that clarify how wicked means can lead to overall safety and power in a land. One well-built example is his comparison between cruelty and kindness in which he shows how Cesare Borgia’s use of force in ruling his land actually caused him to restore order and prosperity to Romagna, while the Florentines’ kindness on the other hand, resulted in the destruction of Pistoia. This example strongly supports Machiavelli’s thoughts in such a way that few can argue against them. Although, even if someone from these days were to argue against it, Machiavelli would probably have come up with numerous examples from modern history to prove his point such as that of Franco of Spain who, even though he was a resolute dictator, was very successful in his ruling. He might also mention Napoleon Bonaparte, a ruthless military leader who managed to conquer much of Europe. These ancient and modern examples prove the undeniable truth of Machiavelli’s theory, giving him the chance to elaborate on it.
As Machiavelli discusses the details of his theory, he gives the key to reaching success through vice by stating that there is a proper and improper use of evil acts such as cruelty. According to Machiavelli, a prince must practice cruelty with great caution so that this cruelty will achieve the sought after goal without hurting subjects severely enough for them to hate their ruler. During times in which a prince must take great measures in order to ensure command, the proper use of cruelty is acceptable and even favorable. That is “when one resorts to [cruelty] at one stroke out of a need for safety and does not thereafter insist upon it, but seeks instead to replace it with measures of the greatest possible use to his subjects” (42). When one uses cruelty in such a way, resentment would be minimal and results pleasing. On the other hand, when a prince applies cruelty frequently and increasingly as time goes by, citizens are bound to revolt against him and thus all his plans become destroyed. Regarding, improper use of cruelty, Machiavelli gives the example of Oliverotto da Fermo who ruled over Fermo by using an evil ruse through which he blatantly betrayed the powerful citizens of that land, including his kind uncle, by slaughtering them all. Oliverotto ruled Fermo for a year, but because he was uncared for, Cesare Borgia eventually strangled him and took away his power- something that would have never happened if he had had loyal supporters. Machiavelli also mentions Agathocles, who publicly exterminated a large percentage of the people of Syracuse in order to gain supremacy. His brutal action resulted in the denial of all his virtues such as boldness and bravery, making Agathocles one of the most appalling historical figures. With these examples, Machiavelli provides practical and realistic advice on understanding the fluid nature of good and evil. Although these tips are quite useful, can the public tolerate their immoral nature?
When Machiavelli first introduced his thoughts on virtue and vice to the public, he was said to have been inspired by the devil. Frankly, Machiavelli is not to blame for this since his ideas are derived from the behavior of humans, which he has observed of length. With his observations of human nature, he has concluded, “there are so many men who are not good” (62) and has, based on this conclusion, come up with a proper method of satisfying humans yet keeping them obedient. Machiavelli only created this rule in accordance to the real-life examples of the wickedness that he has seen in people. Therefore, one must agree with such a statement knowing that it was fitting to the state of humanity during that era and may still be fitting to this day. With Italy going through great wars at that time, Machiavelli saw that drastic changes had to be made in order to achieve peace and has come up with this rule according to that. Because of that, it is safe to say that Machiavelli was looking for the best to his country and people when he came up with this rule.
Knowing that virtue and sin are two intersecting ideas, and that they are perceived differently depending on the circumstances, one learns that using these two notions appropriately requires intelligence and wisdom. For, using righteousness excessively in order to please people can have unsatisfactory outcomes. Therefore, at times of adversity, dark means may be extremely efficient. Yet, one must be careful around such an attitude because reckless use of cruelty can cause detestation and rebellion. The only way one can ensure a successful outcome is to look out for the state of humanity at that time and act upon that, just as Machiavelli has done. Machiavelli’s shrewdness in comprehending human behavior and quick reactions to the times makes his work extremely valuable. The truth is there is no denying that he has the mind of an outstanding ruler. With the immense knowledge that Machiavelli has shown, one cannot help but wonder whether Machiavelli would have been able to rule a vast empire, had he become prince, based on his rules.