[The following are some reactions to a book entitled, Machiavelli and Empire, by Mikael Hornqvist.]
Machiavelli was, obviously, “disenchanted” with “traditional political ethics.” But the implications of his disenchantment are quite interesting.
Machiavelli’s task was to “demystify” “traditional political ethics,” based as they were on ideas such as natural and/or divine justice, ideas that Machiavelli thought concealed a “frightening emptiness” insofar as these ideas were mere chimeras. Hence, Machiavelli rejected not just the prevailing theories of “just wars,” but he rejected “the very idea of the just and divinely sanctioned war itself.” [p. 96]
Nothing too controversial here. But what is often overlooked is that in Machiavelli’s world, precisely because of its “emptiness,” manipulation, rhetoric, concealment, and deceit acquire a status, a usefulness, that they did not have previously, while war itself is devalued.
First, once the emptiness of “just and divinely sanctioned wars” is embraced, wars can only be useful or prudent; they cannot be justified, either by nature or by God because there is no natural or divine justice available. If there actually were natural or divine justice, then wars could be justified, even be obligatory, being fought in the name of such justice. Wars could be “holy” or wars could be fought for “universal principles,” whereas for Machiavelli, wars can only actually be useful or prudent. This would seem to mean that the world would become less warlike, which is true for another reason as well.
Given its emptiness, the world, Machiavelli’s world, is more malleable because it is simply matter, devoid of form, and hence can be molded more readilty than if it were form as well as matter. As a result, manipulation, rhetoric, concealment, deceit, even “salesmanship,” become the new virtues replacing the old virtues of, say, spiritedness or piety. The more malleable the world, the safer it is and can be made to be by these means. War can be replaced by these new virtues, which of course Machiavelli can sell as “ancient virtues,” thereby proving his point.
Moreover, Machiavelli, described as the only non anti-Semite of his age, has no grounds for being such because to be an anti-Semite, it is necessary to see the world as “ordered,” with some human beings being superior and others inferior, if not beastly or sub-human. Machiavelli’s “humanism” is, at it were, part and parcel of his “nihilism,” as it were.
So, war is “tamed” in Machiavelli or domesticated, being reduced to a useful or prudential action, unencumbered by delusions of grandeur. And, similarly, so it what we call “government,” because in a malleable world, purges, genocide, mass murders are un-necessary. And even “inhuman cruelty” of the kind practiced by Hannibal is un-necessary or imprudent. In Machiavelli’s “new modes and orders,” life becomes safer, less warlike, more “civilized” than life in Rome. And it is almost possible to forget that these modes and orders have no transcendent supports. Almost.