Friday, May 06, 2005

Machiavelli on Freedom and Monarchy

I came across this passage while reading Machiavelli's Discourses (Book I: Discourse 55):

But to make plain what I mean when I speak of _gentlemen_, I say that those are so to be styled who live in opulence and idleness on the revenues of their estates, without concerning themselves with the cultivation of these estates, or incurring any other fatigue for their support. Such persons are very mischievous in every republic or country. But even more mischievous are they who, besides the estates I have spoken of, are lords of strongholds and castles, and have vassals and retainers who render them obedience. Of these two classes of men the kingdom of Naples, the country round Rome, Romagna, and Lombardy are full; and hence it happens that in these provinces no commonwealth or free form of government has ever existed; because men of this sort are the sworn foes to all free institutions. And since to plant a commonwealth in provinces which are in this condition were impossible, if these are to be reformed at all, it can only be by some one man who is able there to establish a kingdom; the reason being that when the body of the people is grown so corrupted that the laws are powerless to control it, there must in addition to the laws be introduced a stronger force, to wit, the regal, which by its absolute and unrestricted authority may curb the excessive ambition and corruption of the great.[Emphasis Mine]
The bolded section is what interested me, since it is essentially the same point I was making here:
I do happen to believe that the bible portrays monarchy as a punishment inflicted on a people who reject God's rule and are, therefore, incapable of ruling themselves.
Of course, Machiavelli is not arguing from a biblical perspective and quoting him does not really advance the debate that much. In fact, given the slanderous treatment Machiavelli usually gets by the public school system, quoting him sympathetically may even get me into more trouble than my earlier citation of Paine did. But I am gratified to see that other lovers of liberty have come to similar conclusions to my own largely self-taught attempts to make sense of human history.

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