The Philosophical Idea of Socrates and Machiavelli
The philosophy of Socrates and Machiavelli based on the books, “The Republic” and “The Prince”, had significantly possessed arguments that were considered part of the political thought during the 18th to 19th century.
This study determines the similarities and difference of ideas and philosophy between these two philosophers, Socrates and Machiavelli, by analyzing the philosophical ideas from the books of “The Republic” and “The Prince”.
The wide expansion of political idealism during the seventeenth century resulted to the evolution of political philosophy aided by various known philosophers of the era.
The idea of political philosophy emerged within the consorts of the Greeks, most significantly from the very-well known Athenian philosopher, Socrates (469-399 B.C), which has long been considered as the founder of this belief. While the Socratic form of political perspective, Aristotle and Plato had significantly provided oldest works devoted to political philosophy as well; however, it was from Socrates that the idea of classical political philosophy had firs been recognized.
Meanwhile, the concept of Machiavelli had been referred to as one of the primary influential component in the aspect of modern philosophy of political thoughts. The famous philosophers, such as Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, etc. had all utilized the teachings of Machiavelli to form part in their modern philosophical proposals. Machiavelli strongly believed in the political application of monarchical government. Being the author of the known book, The Prince, Machiavelli was able to provide his strong avocation in the political concept of monarchy. The argument that Machiavelli proposed involved that the single means of obtaining success in governance was to adhere to the familial hierarchy of leadership and rule, which depicted the monarchical system of governance.
The ideas of Machiavelli and Socrates had caused significant contribution to the current idealism of politics. The two famous philosophers had been considered as the trademarks of two different eras in the field of political thoughts of philosophy. The Socratic idea, being the first to arise during the late 400 B.C had considered the sole character of incorporating tradition, politics and the essentials of virtues during the Greek reign; however, this contrasted the idea of Machiavelli. As supported by Thomas, and Dicker (1998), Machiavelli indicated his lack of agreement with Christianity in a number of places in his writings, such as when he discussed Moses as one of four greatest examples of private individuals, “who have become princes through their own virtue and not by fortune (The Prince 14)” (80). The two philosophers had provided their idea that greatly influenced not only the philosophy society but also most importantly, the politics of the past and current time.
The Political Philosophy of Socrates
The Socrates’ idea of political philosophy was more inclined to the classical thought that involves primary challenged the political linkage between Christianity in the Middle Ages, and the concept of political powers. In Socrates’ argument in the book, The Republic, the conditions of political powers exemplified by Socrates was derived from the rule of the expert. In the political philosophy of Socrates, he emphasized the importance of possessing a government unified by single rightful ruler that should have strength and proper values to maintain the welfare of his dominants (Rep. 341d-342c). Evidently, the religious attachment top political rule was not encouraged by ideas of Socrates since the leader himself should comprise of the morals and values implanted by religiosity. Socrates had proposed the political idea of “masters and slaves” wherein he stated that the slave should never possess what masters possessed. According to Palmer (2001), the political view of Socrates encourages Authoritarian rule in the aspect of politics (29).
With Socrates’ philosophical inquiry, he was able to point out “a course of life on the basis of which each of us would have the most profitable existence” (Rep. 344e). Socrates provided more emphasis on the properties of the dominator who possessed overall control within the society. Morgan (2006) emphasized that Socrates’ philosophy was rather more focused on the leadership and/or the government within the society and not the ones being manipulated (31). From the description of Socrates in the scenario wherein he was to illustrate the beauty of the city in terms of justice to Glaucon, he mentioned that the justice in political perspective could be considered far more important than any man may receive (Rep. 427e).
The political philosophy of Socrates conceived the idea of the components of justice system, which he required to possessed the core virtues of political life. Under Socratic government, the authoritarian sense of individual was imbued with unconditional reverence over the governments or administrator’s will. The republic would be authoritarian, provided with enough power to initiate an atmosphere of set of non-modifiable laws by means of which stability and harmony would be guaranteed. However, despite of Socrates’ inclination towards Autocratic sense of governance, he was still able to appreciate the similar thinking of democratic thought. As according to Weiss (1998), Socrates approved a government with uncompromised independence and authority of the rule of reason and rule of justice as determined by individual persons through the exercise of their own best thinking (6). The political idea of Socrates also added the importance of agreed Law governing the society in order to counteract the barbaric character present in men’s intrinsic self.
With the Socratic political thought, he mentioned that the government should acknowledge a leader that possessed no natural limits (e.g. physical impairments, reputation, poor body health, etc.), especially considering this person as the primary symbol of the civilization. Under the Socrates did not consider the family or the concept of Nepotism, physical resemblances between offspring and parents, and the diversity present within the city. As supported by Monoson (1998), Socrates considered nepotism or the presence of familial hierarchy in political affairs as the major cause of the country’s divisiveness and political conflict (213). Clearly, the idea of Socrates also conflict the theme of Monarchical governance, since the thought of familial hierarchy was opposed by his philosophy in the Republic.
Under the Socratic form of governance, he mentioned the need of a political government held by a leader who is religious inclinations and moral character that should be a natural instinct. This was supported by Pangle (1998), the Socratic political philosophy represents a relentless, severely critical interrogation of morality and religion in the name of the highest kind of virtue known as knowledge (60). From Socratic view, the importance of knowledge over virtues remained supreme at all cases. Socrates emphasized the need for a society to consider setting aside the civic, moral and religious virtue especially if higher form of ethics was concerned in the decision-making. He mentioned that the only way to find this out was to conceive the rightful knowledge and judgment over a particular scenario. Added by Pangle, there was a profound tension between philosophy, as a way of life, and decent republican civil society, which demanded dutiful commitment from political leaders, citizens, parents and educators (60).
With the idea of autocratic inclinations and negation of religious influence in political affairs, Socrates’ political proposals had this resemblance with the political idea of communism as manifested by the idea of neglect in the natural limitations and prevention of political subordinates in realizing their maximum natural potentials. Socrates’ idea was very different from other philosophical thought of his time, such as Platonic political views wherein he approved the blending of politics and influence of religion, especially in terms deciding based on virtues. Despite the classical thoughts of politics instituted by Socrates, his perspectives encountered the political theories of Machiavelli. Some of these theoretical frameworks had been refuted by Machiavelli, while some concepts had been retained and further expanded in his setting of another different trend of political philosophy.
The Political Philosophy of Machiavelli
Contrary to the professional background of Machiavelli, his background did not even coincide in the aspect of political thought. By profession, he was rather a political leader, political theorist and historian, but not a philosopher. However, despite of these oppositional careers, his ideas of politics and theories had greatly modified the trends of political thinking of his time, which was considered the initiation of Modern Political Philosophy. He was able to demonstrate his idea from his novel entitled, The Prince. The book had evidently contributed to the vast understanding of modern political philosophy; hence, Machiavelli had indeed become one of the prominent persons in this field. The principles presented by Machiavelli had considerably argued several of Socrates’ view with his classical political perspective.
The teachings of Machiavelli started in the lands of Europe, particularly in England. The emphasis of the modern political philosophy emphasized more on the practical side of politics, and considered the realistic points of dirty political affairs. According to the book of Morgan, Machiavelli expanded the truth about politics, and how flaws and compromises were necessary to maintain the powers of the government (477). Machiavelli’s published work raised the validity and use of virtues against the appropriate political management. He conceptualized the philosophical inquiry of the individual’s status of morality, and the inevitability of encountering wrong acts in the political world (Whelan 8). Machiavelli’s concept had indeed challenged the moral concepts provided by the classicists in their view of moral and virtue-governed political perspective.
From the views of Machiavelli, he argued that political leaders should sometimes resort to immoral ways, even perhaps committing violence over their own supporters, in order to become effective. Machiavelli also refuted the influence of religion in political affairs, and according to him, the presence of religion can only detract and refrain the political personnel to view the real scenario, the right decision to make, and the right cause to perform. According to Carney (2001), Machiavelli claimed that the most successful leaders (rulers he studied while on diplomatic missions) were those who could, through deception and cunningness, foster the love, respect, and fear of the citizens (240). From Machiavelli’s point of view, the context of politics should only be within the borders of politics and with no participation from religious sectors. Virtue and religious acts taught by the religious committee can blocked the reality of political happenings that needed to be seen, since religion can only see through solutions that incorporate values and virtues that sometimes were not anymore appropriate. Hence, the basic theme of The Prince coincided in the pragmatic use of power.
The concept of modern political theory concerned the characteristics of government and the legitimate ruler, who should possess the capacity to protect the rights and liberties of those governed. From the perspectives of Machiavelli, “all the states and governments that ever had or now have power over men were and are of two sorts, either republics or princely states (The Prince 1.20).” Evident through his novel, Machiavelli viewed politics possessing direct control over the ones being dominated. His argument considered the fact of natural tendency for politics to incorporate actions of corruption, deception, and injustice, which Machiavelli viewed as the leading idea for the governance of anarchy (a country with no rules and government).
From his book, he demonstrated this cyclical conflict within political affairs through (Ottimati) the rich and (popolo) the poor, which evolved as the literary dualism used by Machiavelli himself (The Prince 10.27-28). Machiavelli’s political inclinations were more evidently related to the governance of absolute monarchy. Within the context of his novel entitled, The Prince was considered as a proof of his approval in monarchical form of authority. According to Ratcliff (1986), Machiavelli rationalized that a government under monarchy can only be appropriate for a country mandating individuals who do not possessed moral distinctions; hence, Machiavelli setout his idea of considering an absolutely militaristic government (26). Machiavelli believed that a model administration should move under a militaristic domination with no participation of religious sectors.
Confrontations of Machiavelli and Socrates
Between the arguments of Machiavelli and Socrates, their concepts had evidently been differentiated in terms of preferred governance, the nature of leadership, and the character of ideal politics in Socratic and Machiavellian form. In the earlier discussion, Machiavelli had argued on how virtues should be utilized as preferences in choosing the rightful leaders. Meanwhile, Socrates had also considered the emphasis on the leader’s knowledge as the most important characteristic of a leader. Socrates gave more emphasis in the aspects of physical strength and natural exceptions present in the individual.
Machiavelli argued in his statement, “for it is a general rule about men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers, fearful of dangers and greedy for gain (Prince 17. 46)”. However, Machiavelli claimed that the concept of negativism and immorality present in the instinct of the government should not be publicized and kept hidden for the purpose of maintaining the order within the society and community people. Instead of divulging truths, he considered the alternative plan of hypocrisy and cunningness in managing the political dirt of the government (Prince, 7.27). On the other hand, Socrates also agreed to this form of argument under his statement that the dominator should cover the elements providing the hints of barbaric governance. Instead, he encouraged an artificial community participation to maintain the leader’s absolutism and good name. Socrates inclined his political ideas to absolute authoritarian form of government, while Machiavelli considered monarchical and militaristic rule in order to correct the anarchical situations within society. Hence, with Socratic view, he fostered the authoritarian sense of political regime, while Machiavelli instituted a lineage-focused monarchy that sooner became republican in aspect.
The philosophical theories of Socrates and Machiavelli were very much intertwined in their concept of politics. The concept of Socratic form of government initiated the classical philosophy of politics, while Machiavelli started the trends of modern political philosophy. Evidently, the two philosophers had molded the political trends in the society by contributing their ideas of Politics should progress in order to achieve a higher organization within the society.
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