History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions

(contents)


Part III

A Brief History of Western Philosophy

Introduction Phylosophy

The nature of Western philosophy

Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy
 

Medieval philosophy
 

Renaissance philosophy

Modern philosophy

Contemporary philosophy


 

Western Philosophy
 

 

 




 

 
 

 

 


Western philosophy

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 
 


Western philosophy


History of Western philosophy from its development among the ancient Greeks to the present.





Renaissance philosophy


The philosophy of a period arises as a response to social need, and the development of philosophy in the history of Western civilization since the Renaissance has, thus, reflected the process in which creative philosophers have responded to the unique challenges of each stage in the development of Western culture itself.

The career of philosophy—how it views its tasks and functions, how it defines itself, the special methods it invents for the achievement of philosophical knowledge, the literary forms it adopts and utilizes, its conception of the scope of its subject matter, and its changing criteria of meaning and truth—hinges on the mode of its successive responses to the challenges of the social structure within which it arises. Thus, Western philosophy in the Middle Ages was primarily a Christian philosophy, complementing the divine revelation, reflecting the feudal order in its cosmology, devoting itself in no small measure to the institutional tasks of the Roman Catholic Church. It was no accident that the major philosophical achievements of the 13th and 14th centuries were the work of churchmen who also happened to be professors of theology at the Universities of Oxford and Paris.

The Renaissance of the late 15th and 16th centuries presented a different set of problems and therefore suggested different lines of philosophical endeavour. What is called the European Renaissance followed the introduction of three novel mechanical inventions from the East: gunpowder, block printing from movable type, and the compass. The first was used to explode the massive fortifications of the feudal order and thus became an agent of the new spirit of nationalism that threatened the rule of churchmen—and, indeed, the universalist emphasis of the church itself—with a competing secular power. The second, printing, propagated knowledge widely, secularized learning, reduced the intellectual monopoly of an ecclesiastical elite, and restored the literary and philosophical classics of Greece and Rome. The third, the compass, increased the safety and scope of navigation, produced the voyages of discovery that opened up the Western Hemisphere, and symbolized a new spirit of physical adventure and a new scientific interest in the structure of the natural world.

Each of these inventions, with its wider cultural consequences, presented new intellectual problems and novel philosophical tasks within a changing political and social environment. As the power of a single religious authority was slowly eroded under the influence of the Protestant Reformation and as the prestige of the universal Latin language gave way to vernacular tongues, philosophers became less and less identified with their positions in the ecclesiastical hierarchy and more and more identified with their national origins. The works of Albertus Magnus, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and John Duns Scotus had been basically unrelated to the countries of their birth; but the philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) was directly related to Italian experience, and that of Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was English to the core, as was that of Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) in the early modern period. Likewise, the thought of René Descartes (1596–1650) set the standard and tone of intellectual life in France for 200 years. (See Modern philosophy.)

Knowledge in the contemporary world is conventionally divided between the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. In the Renaissance, however, fields of learning had not yet become so sharply departmentalized; in fact, each of these divisions arose in the comprehensive and broadly inclusive area of philosophy. As the Renaissance mounted its revolt against the reign of religion and therefore reacted against the church, against authority, against Scholasticism, and against Aristotle, there was a sudden blossoming of interest in problems centring on civil society, humankind, and nature. These three areas corresponded exactly to the three dominant strands of Renaissance philosophy: political philosophy, humanism, and the philosophy of nature.


Renaissance philosophy » Political philosophy

As secular authority replaced ecclesiastical authority and as the dominant interest of the age shifted from religion to politics, it was natural that the rivalries of the national states and their persistent crises of internal order should raise with renewed urgency philosophical problems, practically dormant since pre-Christian times, about the nature and the moral status of political power. This new preoccupation with national unity, internal security, state power, and international justice stimulated the growth of political philosophy in Italy, France, England, and Holland.

Machiavelli, sometime state secretary of the Florentine republic, explored techniques for the seizure and retention of power in ways that seemed to exalt “reasons of state” above morality. His The Prince and Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy (both published posthumously) codified the actual practices of Renaissance diplomacy for the next 100 years. In fact, Machiavelli was motivated by patriotic hopes for the ultimate unification of Italy and by the conviction that the moral standards of contemporary Italians needed to be elevated by restoring the ancient Roman virtues. More than half a century later, the French political philosopher Jean Bodin (1530–96) insisted that the state must possess a single, unified, and absolute power; he thus developed in detail the doctrine of national sovereignty as the source of all legal legitimacy.

In England, Hobbes, who was to become tutor to the future king Charles II (1630–85), developed the fiction that, in the “state of nature” that preceded civilization, “every man’s hand [was] raised against every other” and human life was accordingly “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” A social contract was thus agreed upon to convey all private rights to a single sovereign in return for general protection and the institution of a reign of law. Because law is simply “the command of the sovereign,” Hobbes at once turned justice into a by-product of power and denied any right of rebellion except when the sovereign becomes too weak to protect the commonwealth or to hold it together. (See The materialism of Thomas Hobbes.)

In Holland, a prosperous and tolerant commercial republic in the 17th century, the issues of political philosophy took a different form. The Dutch East India Company commissioned a great jurist, Hugo Grotius (1583–1645), to write a defense of their trading rights and their free access to the seas, and the resulting two treatises, The Freedom of the Seas (1609) and On the Law of War and Peace (1625), were the first significant codifications of international law. Their philosophical originality lay, however, in the fact that, in defending the rights of a small, militarily weak nation against the powerful states of England, France, and Spain, Grotius was led to a preliminary investigation of the sources and validity of the concept of natural law—the notion that inherent in human reason and immutable even against the willfulness of sovereign states are imperative considerations of natural justice and moral responsibility, which must serve as a check against the arbitrary exercise of vast political power.

In general, the political philosophy of the Renaissance and the early modern period was dualistic: it was haunted, even confused, by the conflict between political necessity and general moral responsibility. Machiavelli, Bodin, and Hobbes asserted claims that justified the actions of Italian despotism and the absolutism of the Bourbon and Stuart dynasties. Yet Machiavelli was obsessed with the problem of human virtue, Bodin insisted that even the sovereign ought to obey the law of nature (that is, to govern in accordance with the dictates of natural justice), and Hobbes himself found in natural law the rational motivation that causes a person to seek security and peace. In the end, Renaissance and early modern political philosophy advocated the doctrines of Thrasymachus, who held that right is what is in the interests of the strong, but it could never finally escape a twinge of Socratic conscience.



Niccolò Machiavelli
Italian statesman and writer

born May 3, 1469, Florence, Italy
died June 21, 1527, Florence

Main
Italian Renaissance political philosopher and statesman, secretary of the Florentine republic, whose most famous work, The Prince (Il Principe), brought him a reputation as an atheist and an immoral cynic.

Early life and political career
From the 13th century onward, Machiavelli’s family was wealthy and prominent, holding on occasion Florence’s most important offices. His father, Bernardo, a doctor of laws, was nevertheless among the family’s poorest members. Barred from public office in Florence as an insolvent debtor, Bernardo lived frugally, administering his small landed property near the city and supplementing his meagre income from it with earnings from the restricted and almost clandestine exercise of his profession.

Bernardo kept a library in which Niccolò must have read, but little is known of Niccolò’s education and early life in Florence, at that time a thriving centre of philosophy and a brilliant showcase of the arts. He attended lectures by Marcello Virgilio Adriani, who chaired the Studio Fiorentino. He learned Latin well and probably knew some Greek, and he seems to have acquired the typical humanist education that was expected of officials of the Florentine Chancery.

In a letter to a friend in 1498, Machiavelli writes of listening to the sermons of Girolamo Savonarola (1452–98), a Dominican friar who moved to Florence in 1482 and in the 1490s attracted a party of popular supporters with his thinly veiled accusations against the government, the clergy, and the pope. Although Savonarola, who effectively ruled Florence for several years after 1494, was featured in The Prince (1513) as an example of an “unarmed prophet” who must fail, Machiavelli was impressed with his learning and rhetorical skill. On May 24, 1498, Savonarola was hanged as a heretic and his body burned in the public square. Several days later, emerging from obscurity at the age of 29, Machiavelli became head of the second chancery (cancelleria), a post that placed him in charge of the republic’s foreign affairs in subject territories. How so young a man could be entrusted with so high an office remains a mystery, particularly because Machiavelli apparently never served an apprenticeship in the chancery. He held the post until 1512, having gained the confidence of Piero Soderini (1452–1522), the gonfalonier (chief magistrate) for life in Florence from 1502.

During his tenure at the second chancery, Machiavelli persuaded Soderini to reduce the city’s reliance on mercenary forces by establishing a militia (1505), which Machiavelli subsequently organized. He also undertook diplomatic and military missions to the court of France; to Cesare Borgia (1475/76–1507), the son of Pope Alexander VI (reigned 1492–1503); to Pope Julius II (reigned 1503–13), Alexander’s successor; to the court of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (reigned 1493–1519); and to Pisa (1509 and 1511).

In 1503, one year after his missions to Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli wrote a short work, Del modo di trattare i sudditi della Val di Chiana ribellati (On the Way to Deal with the Rebel Subjects of the Valdichiana). Anticipating his later Discourses on Livy, a commentary on the ancient Roman historian, in this work he contrasts the errors of Florence with the wisdom of the Romans and declares that in dealing with rebellious peoples one must either benefit them or eliminate them. Machiavelli also was a witness to the bloody vengeance taken by Cesare on his mutinous captains at the town of Sinigaglia (December 31, 1502), of which he wrote a famous account. In much of his early writings, Machiavelli argues that “one should not offend a prince and later put faith in him.”

In 1503 Machiavelli was sent to Rome for the duration of the conclave that elected Pope Julius II, an enemy of the Borgias, whose election Cesare had unwisely aided. Machiavelli watched Cesare’s decline and, in a poem (First Decennale), celebrated his imprisonment, a burden that “he deserved as a rebel against Christ.” Altogether, Machiavelli embarked on more than 40 diplomatic missions during his 14 years at the chancery.

In 1512 the Florentine republic was overthrown and the gonfalonier deposed by a Spanish army that Julius II had enlisted into his Holy League. The Medici family returned to rule Florence, and Machiavelli, suspected of conspiracy, was imprisoned, tortured, and sent into exile in 1513 to his father’s small property in San Casciano, just south of Florence. There he wrote his two major works, The Prince and Discourses on Livy, both of which were published after his death. He dedicated The Prince to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici (1492–1519), ruler of Florence from 1513 and grandson of Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449–92). When, on Lorenzo’s death, Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici (1478–1534) came to govern Florence, Machiavelli was presented to the cardinal by Lorenzo Strozzi (1488–1538), scion of one of Florence’s wealthiest families, to whom he dedicated the dialogue The Art of War (1521; Dell’arte della guerra).

Machiavelli was first employed in 1520 by the cardinal to resolve a case of bankruptcy in Lucca, where he took the occasion to write a sketch of its government and to compose his The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca (1520; La vita di Castruccio Castracani da Lucca). Later that year the cardinal agreed to have Machiavelli elected official historian of the republic, a post to which he was appointed in November 1520 with a salary of 57 gold florins a year, later increased to 100. In the meantime, he was commissioned by the Medici pope Leo X (reigned 1513–21) to write a discourse on the organization of the government of Florence. Machiavelli criticized both the Medici regime and the succeeding republic he had served and boldly advised the pope to restore the republic, replacing the unstable mixture of republic and principality then prevailing. Shortly thereafter, in May 1521, he was sent for two weeks to the Franciscan chapter at Carpi, where he improved his ability to “reason about silence.” Machiavelli faced a dilemma about how to tell the truth about the rise of the Medici in Florence without offending his Medici patron.

After the death of Pope Leo X in 1521, Cardinal Giulio, Florence’s sole master, was inclined to reform the city’s government and sought out the advice of Machiavelli, who replied with the proposal he had made to Leo X. In 1523, following the death of Pope Adrian VI, the cardinal became Pope Clement VII, and Machiavelli worked with renewed enthusiasm on an official history of Florence. In June 1525 he presented his Florentine Histories (Istorie Fiorentine) to the pope, receiving in return a gift of 120 ducats. In April 1526 Machiavelli was made chancellor of the Procuratori delle Mura to superintend Florence’s fortifications. At this time the pope had formed a Holy League at Cognac against Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (reigned 1519–56), and Machiavelli went with the army to join his friend Francesco Guicciardini (1482–1540), the pope’s lieutenant, with whom he remained until the sack of Rome by the emperor’s forces brought the war to an end in May 1527. Now that Florence had cast off the Medici, Machiavelli hoped to be restored to his old post at the chancery. But the few favours that the Medici had doled out to him caused the supporters of the free republic to look upon him with suspicion. Denied the post, he fell ill and died within a month.


Writings
In office Machiavelli wrote a number of short political discourses and poems (the Decennali) on Florentine history. It was while he was out of office and in exile, however, that the “Florentine Secretary,” as Machiavelli came to be called, wrote the works of political philosophy for which he is remembered. In his most noted letter (December 10, 1513), he described one of his days—in the morning walking in the woods, in the afternoon drinking and gambling with friends at the inn, and in the evening reading and reflecting in his study, where, he says, “I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for.” In the same letter, Machiavelli remarks that he has just composed a little work on princes—a “whimsy”—and thus lightly introduces arguably the most famous book on politics ever written, the work that was to give the name Machiavellian to the teaching of worldly success through scheming deceit.

About the same time that Machiavelli wrote The Prince (1513), he was also writing a very different book, Discourses on Livy (or, more precisely, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy [Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio]). Both books were first published only after Machiavelli’s death, the Discourses on Livy in 1531 and The Prince in 1532. They are distinguished from his other works by the fact that in the dedicatory letter to each he says that it contains everything he knows. The dedication of the Discourses on Livy presents the work to two of Machiavelli’s friends, who he says are not princes but deserve to be, and criticizes the sort of begging letter he appears to have written in dedicating The Prince. The two works differ also in substance and manner. Whereas The Prince is mostly concerned with princes—particularly new princes—and is short, easy to read, and, according to many, dangerously wicked, the Discourses on Livy is a “reasoning” that is long, difficult, and full of advice on how to preserve republics. Every thoughtful treatment of Machiavelli has had to come to terms with the differences between his two most important works.


Writings » The Prince
The first and most persistent view of Machiavelli is that of a teacher of evil. The German-born American philosopher Leo Strauss (1899–1973) begins his interpretation from this point. The Prince is in the tradition of the “Mirror for Princes”—i.e., books of advice that enabled princes to see themselves as though reflected in a mirror—which began with the Cyropaedia by the Greek historian Xenophon (431–350 bc) and continued into the Middle Ages. Prior to Machiavelli, works in this genre advised princes to adopt the best prince as their model, but Machiavelli’s version recommends that a prince go to the “effectual truth” of things and forgo the standard of “what should be done” lest he bring about his ruin. To maintain himself a prince must learn how not to be good and use or not use this knowledge “according to necessity.” An observer would see such a prince as guided by necessity, and from this standpoint Machiavelli can be interpreted as the founder of modern political science, a discipline based on the actual state of the world as opposed to how the world might be in utopias such as the Republic of Plato (428/27–348/47 bc) or the City of God of Saint Augustine (354–430). This second, amoral interpretation can be found in works by the German historian Friedrich Meinecke (1862–1954) and the German philosopher Ernst Cassirer (1874–1945). The amoral interpretation fastens on Machiavelli’s frequent resort to “necessity” in order to excuse actions that might otherwise be condemned as immoral. But Machiavelli also advises the use of prudence in particular circumstances, and, though he sometimes offers rules or remedies for princes to adopt, he does not seek to establish exact or universal laws of politics in the manner of modern political science.

Machiavelli divides principalities into those that are acquired and those that are inherited. In general, he argues that the more difficult it is to acquire control over a state, the easier it is to hold on to it. The reason for this is that the fear of a new prince is stronger than the love for a hereditary prince; hence, the new prince, who relies on “a dread of punishment that never forsakes you,” will succeed, but a prince who expects his subjects to keep their promises of support will be disappointed. The prince will find that “each wants to die for him when death is at a distance,” but, when the prince needs his subjects, they generally decline to serve as promised. Thus, every prince, whether new or old, must look upon himself as a new prince and learn to rely on “one’s own arms,” both literally in raising one’s own army and metaphorically in not relying on the goodwill of others.

The new prince relies on his own virtue, but, if virtue is to enable him to acquire a state, it must have a new meaning distinct from the New Testament virtue of seeking peace. Machiavelli’s notion of virtù requires the prince to be concerned foremost with the art of war and to seek not merely security but also glory, for glory is included in necessity. Virtù for Machiavelli is virtue not for its own sake but rather for the sake of the reputation it enables princes to acquire. Liberality, for example, does not aid a prince, because the recipients may not be grateful, and lavish displays necessitate taxing of the prince’s subjects, who will despise him for it. Thus, a prince should not be concerned if he is held to be stingy, as this vice enables him to rule. Similarly, a prince should not care about being held cruel as long as the cruelty is “well used.” Machiavelli sometimes uses virtù in the traditional sense too, as in a famous passage on Agathocles (361–289 bc), the self-styled king of Sicily, whom Machiavelli describes as a “most excellent captain” but one who came to power by criminal means. Of Agathocles, Machiavelli writes that “one cannot call it virtue to kill one’s citizens, betray one’s friends, to be without faith, without mercy and without religion.” Yet in the very next sentence he speaks of “the virtue of Agathocles,” who did all these things. Virtue, according to Machiavelli, aims to reduce the power of fortune over human affairs because fortune keeps men from relying on themselves. At first Machiavelli admits that fortune rules half of men’s lives, but then, in an infamous metaphor, he compares fortune to a woman who lets herself be won more by the impetuous and the young, “who command her with more audacity,” than by those who proceed cautiously. Machiavelli cannot simply dismiss or replace the traditional notion of moral virtue, which gets its strength from the religious beliefs of ordinary people. His own virtue of mastery coexists with traditional moral virtue yet also makes use of it. A prince who possesses the virtue of mastery can command fortune and manage people to a degree never before thought possible.

In the last chapter of The Prince, Machiavelli writes a passionate “exhortation to seize Italy and to free her from the barbarians”—apparently France and Spain, which had been overrunning the disunited peninsula. He calls for a redeemer, mentioning the miracles that occurred as Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, and closes with a quotation from a patriotic poem by Petrarch (1304–74). The final chapter has led many to a third interpretation of Machiavelli as a patriot rather than as a disinterested scientist.


Writings » The Discourses on Livy
Like The Prince, the Discourses on Livy admits of various interpretations. One view, elaborated separately in works by the political theorists J.G.A. Pocock and Quentin Skinner in the 1970s, stresses the work’s republicanism and locates Machiavelli in a republican tradition that starts with Aristotle (384–322 bc) and continues through the organization of the medieval city-states, the renewal of classical political philosophy in Renaissance humanism, and the establishment of the contemporary American republic. This interpretation focuses on Machiavelli’s various pro-republican remarks, such as his statement that the multitude is wiser and more constant than a prince and his emphasis in the Discourses on Livy on the republican virtue of self-sacrifice as a way of combating corruption. Yet Machiavelli’s republicanism does not rest on the usual republican premise that power is safer in the hands of many than it is in the hands of one. To the contrary, he asserts that, to found or reform a republic, it is necessary to “be alone.” Any ordering must depend on a single mind; thus, Romulus “deserves excuse” for killing Remus, his brother and partner in the founding of Rome, because it was for the common good. This statement is as close as Machiavelli ever came to saying “the end justifies the means,” a phrase closely associated with interpretations of The Prince.

Republics need the kind of leaders that Machiavelli describes in The Prince. These “princes in a republic” cannot govern in accordance with justice, because those who get what they deserve from them do not feel any obligation. Nor do those who are left alone feel grateful. Thus, a prince in a republic will have no “partisan friends” unless he learns “to kill the sons of Brutus,” using violence to make examples of enemies of the republic and, not incidentally, of himself. To reform a corrupt state presupposes a good man, but to become a prince presupposes a bad man. Good men, Machiavelli claims, will almost never get power, and bad men will almost never use power for a good end. Yet, since republics become corrupt when the people lose the fear that compels them to obey, the people must be led back to their original virtue by sensational executions reminding them of punishment and reviving their fear. The apparent solution to the problem is to let bad men gain glory through actions that have a good outcome, if not a good motive.

In the Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli favours the deeds of the ancients above their philosophy; he reproaches his contemporaries for consulting ancient jurists for political wisdom rather than looking to the actual history of Rome. He argues that the factional tumults of the Roman republic, which were condemned by many ancient writers, actually made Rome free and great. Moreover, although Machiavelli was a product of the Renaissance—and is often portrayed as its leading exponent (e.g., by 19th-century Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt)—he also criticized it, particularly for the humanism it derived from Plato, Aristotle, and the Roman orator Cicero (106–43 bc). He called for “new modes and orders” and compared himself to the explorers of unknown lands in his time. His emphasis on the effectual truth led him to seek the hidden springs of politics in fraud and conspiracy, examples of which he discussed with apparent relish. It is notable that, in both The Prince and the Discourses on Livy, the longest chapters are on conspiracy.

Throughout his two chief works, Machiavelli sees politics as defined by the difference between the ancients and the moderns: the ancients are strong, the moderns weak. The moderns are weak because they have been formed by Christianity, and, in three places in the Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli boldly and impudently criticizes the Roman Catholic church and Christianity itself. For Machiavelli the church is the cause of Italy’s disunity; the clergy is dishonest and leads people to believe “that it is evil to say evil of evil”; and Christianity glorifies suffering and makes the world effeminate. But Machiavelli leaves it unclear whether he prefers atheism, paganism, or a reformed Christianity, writing later, in a letter dated April 16, 1527 (only two months before his death): “I love my fatherland more than my soul.”


Writings » The Florentine Histories
Machiavelli’s longest work—commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1520, presented to Pope Clement VII in 1525, and first published in 1532—is a history of Florence from its origin to the death of Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici in 1492. Adopting the approach of humanist historians before him, Machiavelli used the plural “histories,” dividing his account into “books” with nonhistorical introductions and invented speeches presented as if they were actual reports. His history, moreover, takes place in a nonhistorical context—a contest between virtue and fortune. The theme of the Florentine Histories is the city’s remarkable party division, which, unlike the divisions in ancient Rome, kept the city weak and corrupt. Like the Discourses on Livy, the Florentine Histories contains (less bold) criticism of the church and popes and revealing portraits of leading characters, especially of the Medici (the book is organized around the return of Cosimo de’ Medici [1389–1464] to Florence in 1434 after his exile). It also features an exaggeratedly “Machiavellian” oration by a plebeian leader, apparently Michele di Lando, who was head of the 1378 Revolt of the Ciompi (“wool carders”), a rebellion of Florence’s lower classes that resulted in the formation of the city’s most democratic (albeit short-lived) government. Although not a modern historian, Machiavelli, with his emphasis on “diverse effects,” exhibits some of the modern historian’s devotion to facts.


Writings » The Art of War and other writings
The Art of War (1521), one of only a few works of Machiavelli to be published during his lifetime, is a dialogue set in the Orti Oricellari, a garden in Florence where humanists gathered to discuss philosophy and politics. The principal speaker is Fabrizio Colonna, a professional condottiere and Machiavelli’s authority on the art of war. He urges, contrary to the literary humanists, that the ancients be imitated in “strong and harsh things, not delicate and soft”—i.e., in war. Fabrizio, though a mercenary himself, inveighs against the use of mercenaries in modern times and presents the Roman army as his model of military excellence. The dialogue was later praised by the Prussian war theorist Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831) and has achieved a prominent place in the history of writings on war.

Among Machiavelli’s lesser writings, two deserve mention: The Life of Castruccio Castracani of Lucca (1520) and The Mandrake (1518; La Mandragola). The former is a sketch of Castruccio Castracani (1281–1328), the Ghibelline ruler of Lucca (a city near Florence), who is presented as the greatest man of postclassical times. It concludes with a list of witty remarks attributed to Castruccio but actually taken from ancient philosophers, providing a rare glimpse of Machiavelli’s view of them. The Mandrake, the best known of Machiavelli’s three plays, was probably composed in 1518. In it a foolish old jurist, Messer Nicia, allows himself to be cuckolded by a young man, Callimaco, in order to produce a son he cannot beget himself. His wife, Lucrezia, is persuaded to comply—despite her virtue—by a crooked priest, and the conspiracy is facilitated by a procurer. Since at the end of the play everyone gets what he wants, the lesson is that immoral actions such as adultery can bring happiness—out of evil can come good.


Assessment
Machiavelli’s influence on later times must be divided into what was transmitted under his own name and what was known through the works of others but not acknowledged as Machiavelli’s. Since his own name was infamous, there is little of the former kind. “Machiavellian” has never been an epithet of praise; indeed, one of the villains of the play Henry VI, by William Shakespeare, claims to surpass “murtherous Machevil.” For moral lessons like the one described above and for attacks on the church, Machiavelli’s works were put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (“Index of Forbidden Books”) when it was first drawn up in 1564. Nonetheless, his works were read by all the modern philosophers, though only a few of them were brave enough to defend him: the English lawyer and philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626) discussed Machiavelli in his The Essayes or Counsels, Civill and Morall (1625), noting his boldness; the English political philosopher James Harrington (1611–77), in his The Common-wealth of Oceana (1656), speaks admiringly of Machiavelli as the “prince of politicians” and the disciple of ancient prudence; the Dutch-Jewish philosopher Benedict de Spinoza (1632–77) defended Machiavelli’s good intentions in teaching tyrants how to gain power, claiming in his Political Treatise (1677) that Machiavelli was a republican; likewise, the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) asserted in his Social Contract (1762) that Machiavelli was, despite appearances, “an honest man and a good citizen” and The Prince “the book of republicans.” The contemporary republican interpretation of Machiavelli, less mindful of his evil reputation, presents him as a communitarian alternative to self-interested liberalism.

More powerful, however, was Machiavelli’s underground influence on thinkers who avoided using his name. One may suspect that some used his doctrines even while joining in attacks on him. One such scholar, for example, was the Italian philosopher Giovanni Botero (1540–1617), who was among the first to establish the idea of a moral exemption for the state. Authors taking a similar approach developed, for safety’s sake, the practice of quoting passages from the Roman historian Tacitus (ad 56–120)—thus becoming known as “Tacitists”—when they might just as well have cited Machiavelli.

But the greater, more fundamental claim of Machiavelli’s influence, made especially by Burckhardt and Strauss, is as the founder of modernity. Machiavelli himself despised the moderns of his day as weak, but he also held forth the possibility of a “perpetual republic” that would remedy the weakness of the moderns and correct the errors of the Romans and so establish a political order no longer subject to the vicissitudes of fortune. There is no modern science in Machiavelli, but the Baconian idea of the conquest of nature and fortune in the interest of humanity is fully present. So too are modern notions of irreversible progress, of secularism, and of obtaining public good through private interest. Whether Machiavelli could have had so grand an ambition remains controversial, but all agree on his greatness—his novelty, the penetration of his mind, and the grace of his style.

Harvey Mansfield

 





 
 



Jean Bodin
French political philosopher

born 1530, Angers, France
died June 1596, Laon

Main
French political philosopher whose exposition of the principles of stable government was widely influential in Europe at a time when medieval systems were giving way to centralized states. He is widely credited with introducing the concept of sovereignty into legal and political thought.

In 1551 Bodin went to the University of Toulouse to study civil law. He remained there as a student and later as a teacher until 1561, when he abandoned the teaching of law for its practice and returned to Paris as avocat du roi (French: “king’s advocate”) just as the civil wars between Roman Catholics and Huguenots were beginning. In 1571 he entered the household of the king’s brother, François, duc d’Alençon, as master of requests and councillor. He appeared only once on the public scene, as deputy of the third estate for Vermandois at the Estates-General of Blois in 1576. His uninterested conduct on that occasion lost him royal favour. He opposed the projected resumption of war on the Huguenots in favour of negotiation, and he also opposed the suggested alienation, or sale, of royal domains by Henry III as damaging to the monarchy. When the duc d’Alençon died in 1583, Bodin retired to Laon as procurateur to the presidial court. He remained there until his death from the plague 13 years later.

Bodin’s principal writing, The Six Bookes of a Commonweale (1576), won him immediate fame and was influential in western Europe into the 17th century. The bitter experience of civil war and its attendant anarchy in France had turned Bodin’s attention to the problem of how to secure order and authority. Bodin thought that the secret lay in recognition of the sovereignty of the state and argued that the distinctive mark of the state is supreme power. This power is unique; absolute, in that no limits of time or competence can be placed upon it; and self-subsisting, in that it does not depend for its validity on the consent of the subject. Bodin assumed that governments command by divine right because government is instituted by providence for the well-being of humanity. Government consists essentially of the power to command, as expressed in the making of laws. In a well-ordered state, this power is exercised subject to the principles of divine and natural law; in other words, the Ten Commandments are enforced, and certain fundamental rights, chiefly liberty and property, are extended to those governed. But should these conditions be violated, the sovereign still commands and may not be resisted by his subjects, whose whole duty is obedience to their ruler. Bodin distinguished only three types of political systems—monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy—according to whether sovereign power rests in one person, in a minority, or in a majority. Bodin himself preferred a monarchy that was kept informed of the peoples’ needs by a parliament or representative assembly.

 





 
 



Hugo Grotius
Dutch statesman and scholar
Dutch Huigh de Groot

born April 10, 1583, Delft, Neth.
died Aug. 28, 1645, Rostock, Mecklenburg-Schwerin

Main
Dutch jurist and scholar whose masterpiece De Jure Belli ac Pacis (1625; On the Law of War and Peace) is considered one of the greatest contributions to the development of international law. Also a statesman and diplomat, Grotius has been called the “father of international law.”

Early life
Grotius’s father, a learned man, had been burgomaster of Delft and curator of the recently founded Leiden University (courses then would be similar to high-school classes today). An extremely gifted child, Hugo Grotius wrote Latin elegies at age 8 and became a student of the arts faculty at Leiden University at age 11. He studied under the renowned humanist Joseph Scaliger, who contributed greatly to Grotius’s development as a philologist.

In 1598 he accompanied Johann van Oldenbarnevelt, the leading Dutch statesman, to France, where he met Henry IV, who called Grotius the “miracle of Holland.” This experience is reflected in Pontifex Romanus (1598), which comprises six monologues on the current political situation. In 1599 he settled in The Hague as an advocate, lodging for a time with the court preacher and theologian Johannes Uyttenbogaert.

In 1601 the States of Holland requested from Grotius an account of the United Provinces’ revolt against Spain. The resulting work, covering the period from 1559 to 1609, was written in the manner of the Roman historian Tacitus. Although it was largely finished by 1612, it was published only posthumously in 1657 as Annales et Historiae de Rebus Belgicis (“Annals and Histories of the Revolts of the Low Countries”).

Throughout his life Grotius wrote in a variety of fields. He edited, with commentary, an encyclopaedic work on the seven liberal arts by the North African poet Martianus Capella and the Phaenomena by the Greek astronomer Aratus of Soli. He wrote a number of philological works and a drama, Adamus Exul (1601; Adam in Exile), which was greatly admired by the English poet John Milton. Grotius also published many theological and politico-theological works, including De Veritate Religionis Christianae (1627; The Truth of the Christian Religion), the book that in his lifetime probably enjoyed the highest popularity among his works.


Involvement in politics
Grotius was deeply involved in Dutch politics. In the early 17th century the united kingdom of Spain and Portugal claimed a monopoly on trade with the East Indies. In 1604, after a Dutch admiral had seized the Portuguese vessel Santa Catarina, the Dutch East India Company asked Grotius to produce a work legally defending the action on the ground that, by claiming a monopoly on the right of trade, Spain-Portugal had deprived the Dutch of their natural trading rights. The work, De Jure Praedae (On the Law of Prize and Booty), remained unpublished during his lifetime, except for one chapter—in which Grotius defends free access to the ocean for all nations—which appeared under the famous title Mare Liberum (The Freedom of the Seas) in 1609. The work buttressed the Dutch position in the negotiations regarding the Twelve Years’ Truce concluded that year with Spain and was widely circulated and often reprinted.

In 1607 Grotius was appointed advocaat-fiscaal (attorney general) of the provinces of Holland, Zeeland, and West Friesland. In the following year he married Maria van Reigersberch, the daughter of the burgomaster of Veere, an intelligent and courageous woman who stood by him unwaveringly in the difficult years to come. A member of the Remonstrants (primarily upper-class “regents” siding with Jacobus Arminius’s tolerant Protestantism), Grotius was engaged in the bitter political struggle under Oldenbarnevelt against the Gomarists (orthodox Calvinists led by Franciscus Gomarus who were dominant among the ministers and the populace), who were under the leadership of Prince Maurice, for control of the country.

In 1618 Maurice, using his military powers in a coup d’état, ordered the arrest of Arminian leaders. Oldenbarnevelt was executed for high treason, and Grotius was sentenced to life imprisonment in the fortress of Loevestein. In 1621, with the aid of his wife, Grotius made a dramatic escape from the castle by hiding in a chest of books. He fled to Antwerp and finally to Paris, where he stayed until 1631 under the patronage of Louis XIII.


Life in exile: De Jure Belli ac Pacis
While in Paris, Grotius published his legal masterpiece, De Jure Belli ac Pacis, in 1625. In writing this work, which made full use of De Jure Praedae, he was strongly influenced by the bitter, violent political struggles both in his own country and in Europe more broadly, particularly the Thirty Years’ War, which had broken out in 1618. In one famous passage of De Jure Belli ac Pacis, Grotius wrote that,

[f]ully convinced…that there is a common law among nations, which is valid alike for war and in war, I have had many and weighty reasons for undertaking to write upon this subject. Throughout the Christian world I observed a lack of restraint in relation to war, such as even barbarous nations should be ashamed of. (Prolegomena, 28.)

Grotius sought to achieve his practical objective to minimize bloodshed in wars by constructing a general theory of law (jurisprudentia) that would restrain and regulate war between various independent powers, including states.

Following Roman law and the work of the Stoics, Grotius placed natural law at the centre of his jurisprudentia. He argued that a law deduced from man’s inherent nature would have a degree of validity

even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God, or that the affairs of men are of no concern to Him. (Prolegomena, 11.)

He made this daring argument because he believed that natural law—the most important tool to restrain and regulate wars in Europe—must be independent of religion, applying to all people regardless of their religious beliefs. He realized, however, that the goal of restraining and regulating war could not be achieved by secular law alone. He thus reintroduced various elements of Christianity into his jurisprudentia. Grotius has often been quoted to “secularize” law or natural law, but the so-called secularization of law was hypothetical rather than categorical. In order to understand this critical character of law in De Jure Belli ac Pacis, one must understand the entire structure of his argumentation.

Grotius adopts a multilayered structure of norms, including various religious ones, to restrain and regulate both the resort to war and violence in warfare. When Grotius found it difficult to persuade various kinds of rulers to refrain from resorting to war or committing cruel acts during the war by means of secular norms either by natural law or law of nations, he did not hesitate to resort to “law of God,” mainly taken from the Old Testament, or “law of love” and other similar norms taken from the New Testament. He even relied on the argument based on utility as a last resort when he found it difficult to discourage political leaders to refrain from violence by means of normative argument alone, though he wrote that consideration of utility was not his concern. This multilayered character of the argumentation was the vital means to achieve his practical goal: minimizing bloodshed.

Grotius believed that only wars with just causes should be allowed. Because there is no judge for judicial settlement between nations, war as a means to solve conflicts must be tolerated. However, causes of war should be limited to causes for litigation. For example, the defense and restitution of things are just causes of war (see also just war). He also developed a theory of crime and punishment, which he used to characterize certain wars as just punishment for crimes committed by independent powers, including states.


Later life
Prince Maurice died in 1625, and in 1631 Grotius returned to Holland. After intense debate in the States of Holland, Grotius was again threatened with arrest. In 1632 he went to Hamburg, then the centre of Franco-Swedish diplomatic relations. In 1634 the Swedish chancellor, Axel, Count Oxenstierna, offered him the position of Swedish ambassador in Paris. Grotius accepted the appointment and Swedish citizenship. He settled again in Paris, but his life as a diplomat was not as successful as his life as a scholar.

In 1636–37 he worked on the Historia Gotthorum, Vandalorum et Langobardorum (“History of the Goths, Vandals, and Lombards”). He showed great interest in the reunification of the Christian church and published a number of works dealing with this subject. He also revised, again and again, De Jure Belli ac Pacis; the last edition including his own revision was published in 1646, shortly after his death. On the other hand, Grotius was not appointed to be a negotiator at the important peace conferences of Münster and Osnabrück that finally resulted in the Peace of Westphalia that ended the Thirty Years’ War. In 1644 Grotius was relieved of his post of ambassador in Paris. After consultations with Queen Christina, he left Stockholm for Lübeck on Aug. 12, 1645, but was shipwrecked on the coast of eastern Pomerania. The great man, great not only in the history of international law but also in natural law, civil law, criminal law, and modern humanities, soon died of exhaustion at Rostock.


Assessment
Grotius designed his theory to apply not only to states but also to rulers and subjects of law in general. De Jure Belli ac Pacis thus proved useful in the later development of theories of both private and criminal law. It is in the area of international law, however, that Grotius’s masterpiece has been most influential. Its general normative framework provided a foundation to constitute and regulate relations between emerging sovereign states, which became the basic units of modern international society.

Non-European civilizations also had developed norms and institutions for regulating the behaviour of independent powers in their own regions (e.g., the siyar in Islamic civilization and the Sino-centric tributary system in East Asia). However, many of these civilizations had been subjugated by the European colonial powers by the end of the 19th century. Thus, European international law became global international law, and Grotius’s influence accordingly was magnified on a global scale. Although long regarded as the “father of international law”—and his importance has been undeniable and lasting—this title is misleading; instead, Grotius was one of many “fathers” of European international law, and European international law is just one of many historically coexisting regional normative systems.

Yasuaki Onuma

 

 

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