IR 3034: The Political theory of Peace and War.
FIRST ESSAY: « For Machiavelli, the art of war is the supreme test of any polity, whether principality or republic ». Discuss
Quentin Skinner once argued that even if “Machiavelli died nearly 500 years ago, (…) his name lives on as a byword for cunning, duplicity, and the exercise of bad faith in political affairs”1. Indeed, there is no denying that Machiavelli stands probably as one of the most controversial thinker in the history of political theory. In fact, Skinner even argued that “the charge of being a Machiavellian remains a serious accusation in the political debate”2.
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Yet, saying that military power counts does not imply that politics found a supreme expression in war and violence. Eventually indeed, we will point out that, contrary to what is usually believed, Machiavelli stands today as one of the main republican thinkers in political theory and consequently, his contribution cannot be reduced to a fascination for military valour and expansion (II). We will try to understand particularly that, the key to Machiavelli’s thought relies on the idea that “powers have to be replaced by ordinary justice and reason, (…) but before the rule of law is in place, politics in the conventional sense of the art of ruling according to reason and justice needs the help of the ambivalent but powerful art of the state”4. This is basically the best way to understand that, according to Machiavelli, war is indeed extremely important for any kind of polity but not necessarily the supreme test or above all an ultimate target.
1° A clear role is given to war, conflict and political violence in Machiavelli’s thought
A) Virtue, violence and the art of war as the supreme knowledge for a ruler:
It is worth mentioning that, according to Maurizio Viroli, “most scholars have considered Machiavelli as the intellectual father of the theory that politics is essentially a matter of political power”5. Since reputation can be misleading, we should look at Machiavelli’s writings to see whether or not, for him, skills in the art of war were more important to the state and his rulers than anything else, and whether or not warfare can be understood really as a form of supreme test for “any polity”. Yet, first and foremost, it will be most useful to explain a central concept that can be found in his different works, i.e. virtù. We may notice first that Machiavelli, in the prince especially, had associated this particular quality almost exclusively with great political leaders and military commanders, in other words men of action, and not theorists. According to J. Hannaford, “these men are warriors, soldiers ad generals, virtuosi in the art of war”6. Indeed, Machiavelli tries to demonstrate the fundamental importance of the art of war, which is “the only art which is of concern to one who commands”7. According to him, “A prince should have no other object, (…), nor take anything else as his art but the art of war and its discipline”8.
From all these statements, we can infer that Machiavelli gave a major part to war and military in politics, as they are both identified as the most important things a ruler has to learn. According to Harvey C. Mansfield, we can even deduce from reading Machiavelli that “a prince who has the art but no state will often gain a state, while a prince who has a state but not the art will lose his state”9. Similarly, Mansfield reminds us that Machiavelli recommended the reading of Cyropaedia, a Greek classical text, where Xenophon suggests that the art of war is all a prince needs to know. Meanwhile, Isaiah Berlin...