Part I: Machiavelli, Rousseau and Nietzsche – A Critical Review
The three philosophical treatises, The Prince (Machiavelli), Lawgiver (Rousseau) and Sovereign Individual (Nietzsche) seem to define the role and position of the topmost leader of the society and how various classes of authority devolves from such a leader. The different philosophers seem to define their view of how these leaders must acquire their power, use it and maintain law and order through the delegation of power and authority and controlling these subordinates through systems of responsibility and accountability.
However, Machiavelli’s Prince seems to be somewhat different and distinct from Rosseau’s Lawgiver and Nietzsche’s Sovereign Individual. This is because when followed critically, Machiavelli focuses on the interest of the leaders of a society without much sensitivity to the people and the members of the state within which these people are ruled. This is because Machiavelli’s primary concern is that “was that survival and glory” was the main end leaders should seek and this should be the central theme for governance and the allocation of the resources of the state. This implies that The Prince has little or no sensitivity to the wellbeing of the larger society and the larger population. The fundamental end of a sovereign leader is to protect his interests and do what ought to be done rather than abstract ideals that are recommended by the Church and other entities.
This is in contrast with the ideals of the Lawgiver who is meant to be “a selfless and intelligent individual who uses his authority to create laws that are to be enforced in an unbiased fashion”. The lawgiver was meant to be a person “..who lays the foundations for the creation of a nation-state and this is to be done by neutrally and selflessly defining a set of rules that are to be followed objectively”. This implies that the Lawgiver departs from the thinking of Machiavelli which seeks to ensure that a nation’s leaders seek survival rather than the wellbeing of the people and the nation.
Nietzsche’s theory of the Sovereign Individual seeks to complement the thoughts of Rousseau because it identifies that the whole end of leadership is to empower the people and make the people better contributors to the nation’s wellbeing. Hence, the idea of a Lawgiver goes hand-in-hand with honest, competent and law-abiding citizens (Sovereign Individuals) who work together to achieve the best results in nation-building.
Therefore, the fundamental difference between The Prince on one side and Lawgiver and Sovereign Individual on another is that the latter focuses on the individualism and idealism of the ruling class whilst the latter seeks to create a process and system through which the nation will develop as a single unit. Therefore, it can be said that the two are at odds with each other.
However, a commonality that the three share is that they all sought to create a process and system through which the fundamental ideals of society could be tested and evaluated in order to create a social and national order that was different from the previous order. This is because the three philosophers sought to present a position that was against the status quo. The existing leadership structures at the time the theories were propounded involved the Catholic Church and its symbiotic leadership system with the nobility which was seen to be divine. This was universally seen by all three as a system that was not acceptable. Therefore, the three philosophers sought to present a set of ideals that was to promote empiricism in the activities and processes of people in power and in authority.
An area of significant departure between Machiavelli and the other two writers is in the means of promoting statehood and attaining the ends of leadership in a society. Whereas Machiavelli presents an argument for prudence and the opportunistic use of all people in the leadership cycle of a nation, Rousseau and Nietzsche provide a case for the creation of an egalitarian system, backed by laws that regulate the actions and conducts of people.
Principally, Machiavelli states that the leaders of a given nation will have to do what they have to do in order to survive and this includes the use of questionable and unethical practices. “He who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation.”. This implies that a person in a leadership will have to do what he has to do. And this excuse is sufficient for the conduct of unethical and illegal actions that are meant to preserve a person’s control and sovereignty in a given nation or state. Machiavelli therefore argues for the integration of important and vital measures to be put in place that preserves a given leader’s goals and objectives.
On the other hand, Rousseau argues for the creation of rule of law in a country and this is to be headed by a leader who is selfless and does not seek personal gains and personal glories. He states that the lawgiver must be a person of “superior intelligence who saw all of man’s passions and experienced none of them, who had no relation to our nature, yet knew it thoroughly, whose happiness was independent of us and who was nevertheless willing to care for ours; finally one who, preparing his distant glory in the progress of the times, could work in one century and enjoy the reward in another. It would require gods to give men laws.” [para 2.7.2].
This implies that Rousseau was totally in disagreement with Machiavelli’s position. This is because he argued that an ideal leader is one that ought to seek the highest and best good for the state, as opposed to one who sought to pursue his own personal and selfish ends. This implies that Rousseau was seeking to find an ideal leader who put the rule of law and the creation and enforcement of a rigid legal system that will ensure that people achieved two main things – natural liberty and own properties. Thus, the law giver was to be a person who had the duty of ensuring that a regulation system was put in place to allow all citizens of an ideal state to work to achieve their goals in relation to creating fundamental rules and implementing the rules. This brings into discussion, the concept of social contract which was to create a system through which the rights of individual members of the society was to be preserved in the midst of a system through which people could objectively work to achieve their goals and objectives in life.
The third view presented by Nietzsche is embedded in his statement in which he identifies that “If we place ourselves at the end of this tremendous process, where the tree at last brings forth fruits, where the society and morality of custom at last reveal what they have simply been, the means to: then we discover the ripest fruit is the sovereign individual like only to himself, liberated from morality of custom, autonomous and supermoral (for “autonomous” and “supermoral” are mutually exclusive), in short the man who has his own independent, protracted will and the right to make promise – and in him a proud consciousness, quivering in every muscle, of what has at length been achieved and become flesh in him, a consciousness of his own power and freedom, a sensation of mankind comes to completion”.
This shows that Nietzsche transcends the position taken by Rousseau and identifies that there must be individual and conscious people who are ready to make laws and live by these laws. They are people who transcend the basic elements of laws and the use of force. Rather, they are empowered and competent enough to allow the right things to be done within the national context and the national framework. This therefore implies that Nietzsche seeks to promote governance from the bottom to the top. This means responsibility and autonomy of the citizens which collectively defines an appropriate and an ideal society and community.
In conclusion, all three theories were meant to provide an empirically based solution to the leadership systems and structures that existed in Europe at the end of medieval times. Each of them presents a recommended and ideal approach through which constitutions and leadership could be instituted and conducted in each of the nations. However, there are significant departures on the approaches that each writer recommended. Whereas Machiavelli presents a case for leaders to do what is realistically necessary to attain survival, Rousseau argues for a leader who will maintain a social contract that will promote the natural rights for citizens and help them to gain property and become happy. On the other hand, Nietzsche identifies that the empowerment and enlightenment of individual citizens of the nation to transcend some metaphysical and moral systems was the best way to ensure that nations could be built to attain the highest and best results.
In this section, there will be a contrast of the ideas of Machiavelli and those of Rousseau in order to identify their main demands and desires in governance and the control of people. This will include the critiquing of the ideas of these two scholars in the context of the way they met their philosophical objectives on nation building and governance.
First of all, Machiavelli argues with the concept of the “Prince”. Who is the “Prince”? The Prince can be construed to be a leader of a young nation or a young governance order that sought to be consolidated and operational within a geographical area. Therefore, the idea of a Prince is defined in terms of a government and a leader who wanted to remain in power and authority for as long as possible. Therefore, the stated assumption of Machiavelli is that he sought to create a leader who would survive and remain respected throughout time. And this was done in the context of empirical sensitivity rather than metaphysical sentiments.
On the other hand, Rousseau sought to define a kind of government in which the nation and the people both developed and grew together and became powerful and authoritative together. The focus is on the rulers and the ruled rather than the rulers only as the case in Machiavelli’s treatise suggests.
Rousseau comes up with the idea of sovereign leader who is to lead and head a nation in which the interest of the rulers and the ruled are to be balanced in order to create a synergistic power and authority that will bring the best results to both the rulers and the ruled. The “sovereign individual” was to work in a way and manner that he would balance the interests of all the components of the nation and the state. And this will include a person of high integrity and high intellectual standing who was ready to lead the community selflessly. The community that the leader was to rule is to be one that is guided by a “social contract”.
The “social contract” is meant to be an agreement between the arms of government and the citizens. The government was to make fair and reasonable laws for the development of the nation and the people are to see satisfaction, happiness and build properties in order to achieve the best results for themselves. This created a political community where the efforts of the people are to be harnessed by a neutral and selfless government to promote the best interest of its citizens. Therefore, the social contract is to be created by a “sovereign individual” who is ideal and transcends the norms of society and work to achieve the best results.
On the other hand, Machiavelli presents the idea of conquests which define the approaches through which different governments and states could be assessed and provide guidelines for the conduct of their leaders. He also presents the concept of “glory” and “survival” as the main ends of the nations and the states. Hence, this provides the lens through which Machiavelli evaluates and critiques all the different aspects and the different components of the circumstances within which the Prince or a leader can work to protect his best interest and also promote the best results for all the members of the community and the nation within which the government or state operates.
This section examines the differences and similarities between Rousseau and Machiavelli in relation to religion, masses and rulers. It will identify the main themes and ideas that they two present that describe the role of religion, masses and rulers in an ideal state or nation. As a background, Machiavelli predated Rousseau by several generations and they lived in two different parts of Europe where the cultures were completely different. Rousseau was writing in a tradition that focused on the rights of people in society and based on Protestant values that focused on improving the lives of people. Machiavelli on the other hand wrote in a society and a community where the transition from the influence of the church to secular discourse was rather slow. Therefore, his premises were based on a high degree of realism and the need to integrate politics and other values into a society that had completely different value systems.
Rousseau states that society is such that the people seek to gain the best for themselves and the essence of society is that it should enable people to achieve their ends in life. He identifies that rulers are to exist as members of the society who seek to promote the demands and the desires of the society. Therefore, the rulers are to be lawmakers and they are to be invisible and intervening authorities in the country who will make laws and enforce the laws in a way and manner that will ensure that all members of the society get the best of the results they need or desire. Therefore, rulers are to be persons who do not seek their own selfish ends, but desire to work to create a social contract and encourage people to achieve results within the context of this social contract.
On the other hand, Machiavelli focuses on the interests and desires of rulers. They identify that rulers must work to seek their glory and their survival. This is the central theme of the Machiavellian idea. Therefore, the rulers have to do whatever is necessary and use every subject as a means to the end of maintaining their glory and their survival. Therefore, the theme of survival and glory of the leadership structure and system defines the way the stakeholders of the country’s polity are to be organized. All groupings and components of the nation are to be put in a place and position whereby they work together for the attainment of the selfish and personal interest of the leaders. Therefore, all these groups and units of the nation have to be organized to meet this central and fundamental end. The masses are to be treated as a means through which the leaders of the nation can meet their end of leading and controlling affairs in the country and to stay in power and remain under control for as long as possible.
The masses are to be the ultimate benefactors in Rousseau’s philosophy. This is because the masses are individuals whose rights as single units and components of the nation matter. And the masses are the ones who will be regulated by the laws to be made by the sovereign authority. Rousseau argues that the masses and their quest for a happy and successful life is the theme and central essence of governance. And this is to be achieved by a set of independent and selfless laws that are made to achieve this “social contract”. This is something that subjugates the will of the leaders to the needs of the masses.
On the other hand, Machiavelli argues that the masses are just a means through which a leader can gain his glory and he has to use the individuals to protect his right to rule and control affairs in the country. Therefore, the control of the sovereign leader in Rosseau’s view is to be done by consensus by the masses and he is to symbiotically seek the best interest of the masses. On the other hand, Machiavelli identifies that the main end for the holders of authority is to consolidate their power and authority and from there, they are to protect their interests and remain in power. Sowing discord amongst the masses, causing the masses to suffer could be an option if leaders are to remain in power and in authority.
Finally, religion is seen by Rousseau as a part of the social contract. Members of the society are to have their rights to choose how to serve and worship in an independent way and manner. This is to be done in a selective way that will promote the happiness of each member and help people to achieve the best results possible in their lives.
The nature of Rousseau’s submissions indicate that he saw the need to promote individual members of the society’s desire and right to gain better results and happiness as an important and a vital end that was to be the highest end of his social contract. And this was to include the protection of the natural rights of people. This is to have two significances to religion. First of all, religion is to be held as a part of the society not as the definitive system of the society. This is because there had been a history whereby religion had been used as a tool to oppress certain people in society and to force people into war and other things against their will. Hence, Rousseau saw the need to subjugate religion within the context of individuals’ rights. Secondly, religion is to be seen something that people could choose freely rather than a compulsory thing. Hence, religion is to be treated like any other thing and people must choose whether they want to be part of it or not.
On the other hand, Machiavelli asserts that religion is one of the many institutions and tools through which a leader can consolidate his power. He cites examples of leaders like King Ferdinand of Spain who used religion as a tool to conquer vast lands and suppress his enemies. This shows that religion is also part of the means through which the Prince is to work to achieve survival and glory and the religious leaders can be brought on board where necessary.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, translated by Leo Paul S. de Alvarez. . Prospect Heights, IL: : Waveland Press. , 1980. Print.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals, translated by Walter Kaufmann and RJ Hollingdale. . New York, , 1967. Print.
Parks, Tim. The Prince. New York: Penguin Books, 2012. Print.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacque. On The Social Contract, translated by Donald A. Cress. . Indianapolis, IN: : Hackett , 1987. Print.
Williams, David Lay. Rousseau's Platonic Enlightenment. Pennsylvania: Penn State University, 2013. Print.
Zeitlin, Irving. Rulers and Ruled: An Introduction to Classical Political Theory. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. Print.