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The Different Political Systems

The different political systems which Machiavelli and Rousseau heralded contrasted greatly. Reasons for each of their doctrines were completely different, therefore the style of the institutions vary considerably. However it could be argued that the way of life for an ordinary citizen may not necessarily be as different. This essay intends to show firstly, the reasons behind both writers theories; secondly, the different political systems resulting from these; thirdly, the way of life under each system. Both writers’ style of writing suggests that it is written for males, the name of Machiavellis book alone is an example of this.

It is therefore very difficult to write this essay with females in mind, where possible, an impersonal pronoun has been used but unfortunately this is not always possible. With each persons’ reading of the two authors, different visualisations of how each sytem will present themselves occurs. However in order for this essay to be of any relevance, some central themes in each writer must be evident. It therefore makes common sense in concentrating on generalisations of hypothetical States rather than attempting to relate each writer to an existing one.

Machiavelli has been described by some as a realist. The main objective for Machiavelli is success, or more poignantly defined as, success for the ruler of a country. His idea is a handbook for all monarchs in how to gain, maintain and increase ones’ own power and glory in principalities, either existing, new or conquered. Machiavelli does not deny Christian values such as compassion, generosity or forgiveness but he believes that these traits, when followed by the ruler will lead to exploitation by the citizens and either the loss of power or a full scale civil war.

Both of these could have been avoided by the ruler by being able to act more ruthlessly when (and only when) necessary. Machiavellis’ concept of human nature is pessimistic, he believes that men are generally “ungrateful, fickle, feigners and dissemblers, avoiders of danger, eager for gain. “. Machiavelli saw the Monarchs position as a balance between maximising power for themselves and giving away enough to the citizens for them to remain loyal.

A train of thought that runs through Machiavellis work is that the Monarch is sovereign and should only give up any part of his power if he considers that the action will create more power, glory, loyalty or security. Rousseaus’ main concern was liberty, or the freedom of the individual citizen to act independently from other citizens. His concept of the General Will – where the citizens under the system vote for the laws that they believe necessary and so are incapable of breaking them because they also deem these laws morally correct – is central to this argument.

Rousseau believed that the advancement of human society was corrupt as liberty had been eroded, therefore in a modern society, “Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. “. Generally, Rousseau can be said to be an optimist or even a romanticist about human nature, his idea of the state of nature is pictured as care-free, with simple desires and little else. Machiavellis’ system is a framework which can adjust to each idea, apart from the assumption of a monarchy not much else is described. References tend to be actions which are necessary for Machiavelli.

For example, in a mixed principality recently conquered Machiavelli advises two courses of action, firstly to slaughter the existing ruling families which removes the threat of them attempting to regain power, secondly to not make any changes to the existing laws or impose new taxes, in order not to further aggravate the conquered citizens. This second course of action shows Machiavellis pragmatic approach not to write about what should be, but rather how the ruler should best adapt to a given situation. Machiavellis’ concern was the ruler keeping power.

He states a number of times in ‘The Prince’ that the two main attributes needed to hold on to power are a good army and good laws. Quentin Skinner points out that “laws’ here should probably not be understood in a narrow sense: rather Machiavelli had in mind ‘laws’ and ‘customs’ (or unwritten laws); in short, the factors making for political and social cohesion and stability. ” As long as these two goals are adhered to, the rest is not as difficult. Contrary to many peoples beliefs, Machiavelli did not believe merely in a tyrannical government. He argues for the ruler to be rational and to an extent, moral.

When necessary, such as with law-breakers or conspirators, the punishment must be severe, uncompromising and swift, “men should either be caressed or crushed; because they can avenge slight injuries, but not those that are very severe. Hence, any injury done to a man must be such that there is no need to fear his revenge”. It is quite feasible under Machiavelli for the Monarch to be well disposed to their subjects, as long as it is understood that any kind of subversive action will be dealt with, “there are two ways of contending: one by using laws, the other, force.

The first is appropriate for men, the second for animals; but because the former is often ineffective, one must have the recourse for the latter”. The bulk of Rousseaus argument for his political system can be found in ‘The Social Contract’. Firstly, a group of people meeting Rousseaus prerequisites come together and form a tacit contract between them in the form of giving up every right they have to all the others, by doing this, no one can have any right over another but they collectively still have all the same rights only now “more power to preserve what he has”.

If anyone alters this contract, it becomes null and void. This group of people are now the People, the people have a common ego, life and will, they are an united, artificial body. All members of the People are voters in the assembly and share the sovereign power. Rousseau sees the People as the sovereign, any act therefore has to be approved by the People, this Rousseau termed, ‘The General Will’. Simply stated, it is where every member of the assembly meet and vote, the majority decision is the General Will.

The People, because they do not have any private rights, do not make decisions based on personal advantages, but on public benefits. Because it is done for public benefit and not private gain, Rousseau considers it to be inherently good and free, those who voted in the minority should realise that because of the result, if their idea had been accepted it would not have been the General Will and therefore their freedom would have been reduced. Rousseau accepts that the people may not always know what is correct for them, he therefore introduces the concept of a ‘Lawgiver’ or ‘Legislator’.

The Lawgiver is a person who has not taken part in the Social Contract and therefore cannot benefit it, he also possess superior intelligence, he works for the long term benefit of the citizens and can understand mens’ passions without feeling them.. This can be seen to be a major weakness in Rousseaus’ theory, it is very hard to imagine a situation where an individual would possess these abilities, would want to perform the task and in no way be tempted to turn the system to their own advantage.

The only being which seems capable and willing to perform these role is a God, then problems of communication arise, those who may claim to ‘hear’ the Lawgiver may be acting in their own interests, thereby defeating the very reason for this political system. Machiavelli recognises that unnecessary cruelty towards the subjects will only anger them increasing the likelihood of a conspiracy, especially in a state where the monarch has come to power by popularity, either by the nobles or the citizens, “above all else try to win over the people, which will be easy if you protect them”.

If Machiavelli feels this strongly about winning the people over by protecting them it appears that it is quite feasible that a logical case for the Welfare State could be made. Obviously, when Machiavelli refers to protecting the people he means by the army. However a Welfare State – the concept of which was not incepted until the nineteenth century – would bring a number of advantages which appear to agree with Machiavellis argument, firstly it will allow more members of the state to be healthier, consequently a healthier body of citizens will mean a larger and healthier army.

Secondly, it will make them more benevolent towards the Monarch, especially if he takes credit for its conception, “do those things that increase popularity”. It appears not to violate Machiavellis laws on generosity and meanness, here it is stated that if generosity is practised to benefit the “vast majority.. and acting meanly to the few to whom he gives nothing” in the defence of the country, it is good. Being generous to the elite is bad and so undesirable.

Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) the first German Chancellor (The Iron Chancellor) was considered an ultraroyalist and waged aggressive foreign policies, he however also created universal suffrage, a codification of law, reformed the coinage and created a minimal welfare state in order to consolidate a young German state and unify the people behind him. It is of course easy to argue against this idea of the Welfare State being consistent with Machiavelli, for example, it may be suggested that if the people are weak they will be too concerned with problems such as food to worry about other throwing the Sovereign.

However, hunger is only a slight injury and is not protecting the people. This the people can avenge. In ‘A Discourse on Inequality’ Rousseau pictures his ideal place of birth and consequently how the average citizen living under his system would live, it would be well governed; democratic – where the Sovereign and the People are the same; there would be equality; everyone knew each other well and consequently no act of vice or virtue could go unnoticed, “a state where the delectable habit of meeting and knowing one another made love of country a love for fellow citizens rather a love for the land.

But most importantly Rousseau “wished to live and die free” Under Rousseau, the individual has little property rights, the people as a whole own the land, “Because public possession is in simple fact more secure and more irrevocable than private possession, without being any more legitimate”. The only sign of ownership is that no one previously owns it, it has signs of cultivation, and no individual may have more land than that he needs for subsistence.

The average citizen under Machiavellis system can be seen to be a healthy individual who is most likely to be involved somehow in the defence of the country, directly in the Army or indirectly in support. They would be law abiding because of the great fear of punishment, which would more often than not be severe. They would be free to carry out any activity they wish to do as long as it not against the Monarchs will or considered subversive. If the citizen belongs to a recently conquered country, the way of life should not be too different from the previous regime as the laws should not have been changed.

He is less likely to be involved in the army and would probably live a subsistence life. He would be subject to direct rule and should be able to have direct access to the Monarch. As time goes on and the conquered country begins to take on the characteristics of the dominant state, the life of the citizen may change to one similar to the conquering country. The individual living under Rousseaus’ political system would live in a relatively small area, possibly a town or small city so that it is easy for him to know everyone. He would be constantly attending meetings where he must debate and decide whether an action was free or not.

He would have little or no privacy because he has no rights, plus it is the right of the People to know every ‘vice and virtue’. He would be relatively self sufficient, able to make repairs on his home and grow his own food. He would accept and not be able to break any of the laws that the General Will has created because he would morally agree with them. If he did attempt to break any of the laws, everyone else would know and force him to adhere to it; he would not necessarily be forced because it was immoral but because by remaining within the laws, he is free.

A good example of this notion often referred to as ‘being forced to be free’ is the road transport system, there are laws which govern the way cars are driven (for example: drive only on the left), if everyone is forced to keep to these laws, the roads are less impeded by other cars and everyone has the maximum possible freedom. The lives of the two ordinary citizens would both have different emphasis. They would have different beliefs, for example, a Rousseauian citizen would have strong notions of freedom and autonomy whereas the Machiavellian individual would be loyal to their ruler as long as he believes he benefits from being ruled.

However both citizens still have a single person ‘governing’ their laws, one has a Monarch, the other has a ‘Lawgiver’. Both have to live under a system of rules which they have no choice but to adhere to. These rules are rigid and the punishment for breaking them is quick.. It does appear that both citizens could go about their daily life in a fairly similar way, they are free to do what they wish as long as they do not infringe on the laws of the land. An individual living in a conquered country under Machiavelli would not be part of the army and so would probably live a subsistence life much like Rousseaus’ citizen. ery notable difference is that a citizen living under Rousseaus’ system would know everybody in the ‘state’, Under Machiavelli, it could be any size, but most likely much larger.

Rousseaus’ citizen would constantly be attending meetings and voting in the assembly. Machiavellis’ citizen would most likely have no or little notion of democracy or freedom. As can now be seen, both Machiavelli and Rousseau are attempting to solve a problem with different priorities. For one it is freedom, the other it is power. It is natural to assume that the systems now put forward by the two writers are very different and they both are.

Both have notable characteristics such as Machiavellis’ notion that a ruler should not reward his close servants at a detriment to the majority, or Rousseaus’ idea of regaining freedom. Both do not describe in detail exactly what should occur but instead give a loose pragmatic framework which allow many possibilities to be covered, for example it could be argued that Machiavelli would have been in favour of a Welfare State. Both appear to fall down on a number of issues, for Machiavelli this can be seen to be the decline in the number of absolute monarchies and the frequency of invasion, especially in Europe.

Rousseau fails to adequately explain the position of the Lawgiver. The beliefs of each citizen are very different. as described earlier, their daily routine would not be all that different, it appears that it would be possible to have similar laws (although for different reasons). They both have an individual above them, they both would be free to do anything they feel that does not break the laws or threaten the monarch/social contract. To summarise, it does appear that both citizens would live similar lives.

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