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9-08-2015, 15:17

Political theory

Religious differences shaped not only the structures of learning and scholarship, but also the content of thought in the sixteenth century, which was infl uenced as well by the social and political changes we have traced in the previous two chapters. This can be seen most clearly in political theory, which is often conceptualized in response to actual political developments. Thus in the fourteenth century, after a series of confrontations between the popes and various rulers, most political theory was concerned with the proper relationship between church and state, with the balance shifting slowly toward those who viewed secular government as having more legitimate authority. Rulers were sanctioned by God, and their primary function was just like God’s: to judge and protect those under their authority. In the early fi fteenth century, scholars in Italian cities, which were often divided by political factions, taken over by home-grown or regional despots, and attacked by foreign armies, looked to the stability of Rome as a model state. Some of them, especially those infl uenced by the writings of Cicero, a fi rstcentury bce Roman orator and opponent of Julius Caesar, argued that republicanism was the best form of government. Others used the model of Plato’s philosopher-king in the Republic to argue that rule by an enlightened single individual might be best. Both sides agreed that educated men should be active in the political affairs of their city, a position historians have since termed “civic humanism.” The most famous (or infamous) civic humanist, and ultimately the best-known political theorist of this era, was Niccolò Machiavelli. He was the secretary to one of the governing bodies in the city of Florence, responsible for diplomatic missions and organizing a citizen army. Power struggles in Florence between rival factions brought the Medici family back to power, and Machiavelli was arrested, tortured, and imprisoned on suspicion of plotting against them. He was released, but had no government position, and spent the rest of his life writing – political theory, poetry, prose works, plays, and a multivolume history of Florence. The fi rst work he fi nished – though it was not the fi rst to be published – is his most famous, The Prince , which uses the example of contemporary rulers, especially the papal general Cesare Borgia (1475?–1507), to argue that the function of a ruler is to preserve order and security. Weakness would only lead to disorder, which might end in civil war or conquest by an outsider, clearly situations that were not conducive to any people’s well-being. To preserve the state a ruler should use whatever means he needs – brutality, subterfuge, manipulation – but should not do anything that would make the populace turn against him; stealing or cruel actions done for a ruler’s own pleasure would only lead to resentment and destroy the popular support needed for a strong, stable realm. “It is much safer for the prince to be feared than loved,” Machiavelli advised, “but he ought to avoid making himself hated.” 3 Effective rulers exhibited virtù , which is not virtue in the sense of moral goodness, but the ability to shape the world around them according to their will.

METHODS AND ANALYSIS 3 Was Machiavelli Machiavellian?

Within forty years of Machiavelli’s death, the word “Machiavellian” was applied to individuals judged to be unscrupulous in their methods of achieving a goal, and in the seventeenth century, even his fi rst name became a synonym for the devil, “Old Nick.” Why was Machiavelli viewed so harshly? Medieval political philosophers debated the proper relationship between church and state, but regarded the standards by which all governments were to be judged as emanating from moral principles established by God. Machiavelli argued that governments should instead be judged by how well they provided security, order, and safety to their populace. A ruler’s moral code in maintaining these was not the same as a private individual’s, for a leader could – indeed, should – use any means necessary. This more pragmatic view of the purposes of government, and Machiavelli’s discussion of the role of force and cruelty, was unacceptable to many. The fact that Machiavelli was Italian also became mixed in with these judgments. By the sixteenth century, Italian merchants were often resented in the same way that Jews had been earlier, being regarded as unprincipled and avaricious. Diplomacy was a new Italian invention, viewed by many as centered on the clever use of fl attery and deception. Italians served as diplomats and advisors to rulers all over Europe, but they were frequently accused of secret dealings and plots, which at times escalated into anti-Italian hysteria. The Italian advisor of Mary Queen of Scots, for example, was stabbed to death by Protestant nobles in 1566. Not everyone agreed with this negative view. Francis Bacon, the English scientist and politician, praised Machiavelli for just what others found so distasteful. “We are much beholden to Machivel and others,” he wrote in The Advancement of Learning (1605), “that they write what men do, and not what they ought to do” (bk II, xxi, 9). He quickly added, “All good moral philosophy is but the handmaid to religion” (bk II, xxii, 14), but this comment may have been motivated by “Machiavellian” expediency more than real sentiment. In the eighteenth century, philosophers and political leaders, including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Adams, praised the ideas about republicanism found in Machiavelli’s other writings, and in the twentieth century political thinkers with a range of views openly drew on his ideas. “Machiavellian” continues to be a term of criticism, however. Psychologists use the phrase “Machiavellian intelligence” to describe social skills that involve deception and the ability to use cunning to form coalitions, and journalists and political commentators are never praising someone when they use that word. Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli’s primary example, was the son of Rodrigo Borgia, a Spanish nobleman who became Pope Alexander VI (pontifi cate 1492–1503). Cesare Borgia combined his father’s power and his own ruthlessness to build up a state in central Italy. He made good use of new military equipment and tactics, hiring Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) as a military engineer, and murdered his political enemies, including one of the husbands of his sister, Lucrezia. Despite his efforts, after his father’s death his state fell apart, which Machiavelli ascribed not to some weakness, but to the operations of fate ( fortuna in Italian), whose power even the best-prepared and most merciless ruler, the one with virtù , could not fully escape, though he might try. Fortuna was personifi ed and portrayed as a goddess in ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy, and Machiavelli’s last words about fortune are expressed in gendered terms: “It is better to be impetuous than cautious, for fortune is a woman, and if one wishes to keep her down, it is necessary to beat her and knock her down.” 4 Fate presented a new – and, given Machiavelli’s words, one might even say ironic – challenge to both ruling houses and political theorists in the sixteenth century. Though Machiavelli mentions only male rulers by name, and virtù is linked conceptually and linguistically with vir (“man” in Latin), dynastic accidents in many areas led to women serving as advisors to child kings or ruling in their own right – Isabella in Castile, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor in England, Anne in Brittany, Mary Stuart in Scotland, Mary of Guise, Catherine de’ Medici and Anne of Austria in France. Theorists vigorously and at times viciously disputed whether this was appropriate: could a woman’s being born into a royal family and educated to rule allow her to overcome the limitations of her sex and become a successful ruler? Should it? Or, stated another way: which was (or should be) the stronger determinant of character and social role, gender or rank? The most extreme opponents of female rule were Protestants who went into exile on the continent during the reign of Mary Tudor, of whom the Scottish reformer John Knox is the best known. In his The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (1558), Knox compared Mary Tudor and Mary Stuart to Jezebel, arguing that female rule was unnatural, unlawful, monstrous, and contrary to Scripture; being female was a condition that could never be overcome, and subjects of female rulers needed no other justifi cation for rebelling than their monarch’s sex. Knox’s work was published just as Elizabeth assumed the throne, however, and a number of courtiers, including Thomas Smith and John Aylmer, realized that defenses of female rule would be likely to help them win favor in Elizabeth’s eyes, and they advanced arguments against viewing a woman’s sex as an absolute block to rulership. Jean Bodin (1530?–96), the French jurist and political theorist, returned to Scripture and natural law in his opposition to female rule in The Six Books of the Republic (1576), but also stressed what would become in the seventeenth century the most frequently cited reason against it: that the state was like a household, and just as in a household the husband/father has authority and power over all others, so in the state a male monarch should always rule. Robert Filmer carried this even further in Patriarchia , asserting that rulers derived all legal authority from the divinely sanctioned fatherly power of Adam, just as did all fathers. Male monarchs used husbandly and paternal imagery to justify their assertion of power over their subjects, as in James I’s statements to Parliament: “I am the Husband, and the whole Isle is my lawfull Wife … By the law of nature the king becomes a natural father to all his lieges at his coronation … A King is trewly Parens patriae , the politique father of his people.” 5 Bodin’s arguments in favor of male rule were shaped not only by the reality of female monarchs, but also by the religious wars in France during the 1560s and 1570s. (For more information about these, see chapter 5 .) Catholics and Protestants (called Huguenots) engaged in military campaigns, plotted and carried out assassinations, and sometimes massacred adherents of the other confession; the most brutal of these was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, in which royal troops and Catholic mobs killed thousands of Huguenots, fi rst in Paris and then in other French cities, often mutilating the corpses afterwards. There is sharp debate among historians about exactly who planned these killings, but after they were over the king admitted that he ordered at least some of them, and those doing the killing clearly believed they were doing the king’s will. In response, Protestant writers began to argue that the power of a monarch should be limited, and that when a ruler became a tyrant, the people – or at least those people who otherwise had some authority, such as offi ce-holders or representative groups – had the right, or even the duty, to rebel. The most infl uential of these works was the anonymous Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants (1579), probably written by the Huguenot nobleman Philippe Duplessis de Mornay. Bodin’s Six Books of the Republic was an answer to this resistance theory. For Bodin, all political authority came from God, and kings were answerable to God alone; husband/ fathers had absolute authority in their households, but this never gave them the right to resist, or even question, the actions of a divinely ordained monarch. To do so would lead to anarchy, which was worse than the worst tyranny. Bodin’s opinions were not shared by all Catholics, however. Radical Catholics later wrote their own resistance propaganda, which actually authorized the regicide of a ruler judged to be ungodly. Resistance theory on both sides was often written in very infl ammatory language and published in pamphlet form, so that it was widely read.

 

 

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