Monthly Archives: April 2017

7. Machiavelli’s The Prince

“Machiavelli, Niccolo, was an Italian statesman and student of politics. His name has long stood for all that is deep, dark, and treacherous in political leadership. In Elizabethan literature, for example, there are hundreds of references that connect him with the Evil One or the Devil.” (The World Book Encyclopedia, 1978, volume 13, page 10)

In the seventh reading of their The Development of Political Theory and Government (volume 2 of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959), Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff consider Machiavelli’s The Prince. They discuss the period and place in which Machiavelli wrote–the Renaissance and Florence, Italy; his aims and the means he proposed to reach that end; and whether The Prince is immoral. Here I’ll sketch Machiavelli’s life, summarize Adler and Wolff’s examination of Machiavelli’s aims in writing The Prince, evaluate their discussion of whether it is immoral, and share and comment on two quotations on Machiavelli’s influence.

Machiavelli’s Life

Machiavelli was born in Florence in 1469, the son of a minor official. He became a leading figure in the Republic of Florence after the Medici family was driven out in 1498, serving as secretary to the magistracy which directed foreign affairs and defence for fourteen years. Being in charge of the diplomatic correspondence of his bureau and serving as Florentine representative on nearly thirty foreign missions gave him an insight into the politics of Italy and Europe. He also attempted to organize a citizen militia to replace the republic’s mercenary troops.

When the Medici family returned to power in 1512, they dismissed Machiavelli from his position and shortly afterwards imprisoned him on suspicion of being implicated in a conspiracy against the new government. After being released, he spent the remaining fourteen years of his life in retirement on a small farm near Florence inherited from his father. Despite having to spend most of the day working the farm, he spent up to four hours a night in his study, writing The Prince (in 1513) and various other works in the hope of winning the approval of the government. He died in 1527.

Machiavelli’s Aims in Writing The Prince

Adler and Wolff open the main section of their consideration of The Prince with, “Let us examine Machiavelli’s aims and the means he proposes to reach that end” (page 90). Here is part of what they say in that examination:

“[The Prince] is not addressed to all of mankind; it is rather meant only for a prince or king…. Again, The Prince is not a theoretical exposition of its subject…. Rather, it is a practical political treatise; that is to say, it is directed toward action…. The guiding principle of Machiavelli’s writing is the following statement…taken from another book: ‘Whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it.’ (Discourses, Book I, Ch. 3)

“This statement is not, of course, very flattering to man. Nevertheless, it may well be correct that practical political action takes its beginning from it. Certainly there is much evidence that states deal with one another in a fashion that is based precisely on some such assumption. Power politics, Realpolitik, ‘brink-of-war-policies’ are all based on the hypothesis that sovereign states (and presumably the people composing them) are concerned solely with survival and domination and respect nothing but force and the threat of force.

“Machiavelli can find support in other writers for his position. [Adler and Woolf give quotes from Plato’s The Republic and Aristotle’s Politics which reflect the same low opinion of man.] Machiavelli, therefore, is simply dealing with men as they are, not as they should be…. Both Plato and Aristotle want to check man’s bestiality. Plato propose to do it through education; Aristotle through the state and law. Both of these, of course, are long-range projects. Machiavelli, concerns with man’s present bestiality, suggests that he combat his subjects’ bestiality by becoming a stronger and more clever beast himself.” (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, pages 90-92)

Adler and Woolf close their examination of Machiavelli’s aims in writing The Prince by quoting this famous passage from it:

“…there are two ways of contesting, the one by law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second…. A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves.” (Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, volume 23, page 25)

The Morality of The Prince

Adler and Wolff open their discussion of whether The Prince is an immoral book by showing that Plato and Aristotle also advocated that rulers use questionable means to achieve political ends and asking, “Is there any difference…between The Prince, the Republic, and the Politics, or are all three alike immoral books concerned merely with political expediency?” (page 95) They answer that although all three books deal with the means needed to accomplish political ends, they differ greatly in the ends they advocate. They continue:

“Plato’s purpose [in The Republic] was the discovery of justice and the establishment of a perfectly just state. That purpose certainly is highly moral and laudable, whatever we may think of some of the means involved. Aristotle’s Politics is a direct continuation of his moral treatise, the Ethics. Far from considering the state and its laws as things that concern only the rulers, he considers the state necessary for human happiness and thinks that the constitution is man’s salvation. All of his remarks, therefore, must be understood as being governed by the essential moral role which he feels that state plays in man’s life.

“But The Prince is altogether different in its purpose. We can discover no moral end that Machiavelli’s remarks are to serve. There seems to be, in fact, no end that he has in mind except that of success. Machiavelli’s maxim seems to be that everything is permissible as long as it succeeds…. The Prince would seem to be, then, at best an amoral book, and at worst, actually immoral.” (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 95)

Personally, I consider The Prince to be immoral in that it advocates that rulers use any means, good or bad, to accomplish their purposes. The only condition that Machiavelli places on their doing so is that they give the appearance of doing what is right. This is brought out in this short excerpt from it:

“Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.

“And you have to understand this, that a prince, especially a new one, cannot observe all those things for which men are esteemed, because often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to faith, friendship, humanity, and religion. Therefore it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself accordingly as the winds and variations of fortune force it, yet, as I have said above, not to diverge from the good if he can avoid doing so, but, if compelled, then to know how to set about it.” (Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952, volume 23, page 25)

Machiavelli’s Influence

“Machiavelli’s writings soon became known in Italy and other European countries, particularly France and England, although in 1559 his works were placed on the Index [a list of books that the Roman Catholic Church forbade its members to read]. Generally he was considered an advisor of cruel tyrants, an advocate of evil….

“In the nineteenth century, students of Machiavelli…[b]ecause the last chapter of The Prince contains an appeal for the liberation of Italy from the barbarians…assumed that Machiavelli had permitted the violation of moral rules only for the purpose of a higher ethical goal…the foundation of a unified Italy. Thus…Machiavelli became respectable as the prophet of the national state. In the latter part of the century Machiavelli was also referred to by those who wanted to free man from the oppressive shackles of traditional morality and believed that man’s faculties could be fully developed only if he placed himself ‘beyond good and evil.’” (Felix Gilbert, “Machiavelli, Niccolo,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, New York/London: MacMillan, 1967, volume 5, page 121)

“Machiavelli’s advice [that princes fortify their cities] is…tailored to the conditions of the fifteenth century. Nevertheless, the policy which the United States is following in the twentieth century seems to be not too different. Like Machiavelli’s prince, the United States is fortifying itself; i.e., building up its defences so that a potential aggressor will be deterred. At the same time, the United States is trying to keep the good will of allies all over the world.” (Adler and Wolff, The Development of Political Theory and Government, page 93)

What about today? Although Donald Trump is early in his tenure as President of United States, it seems to me that he is following the same policy as Adler and Wolff attribute to the United States of the twentieth century. Adler and Wolff don’t claim that twentieth century United States was influenced directly by Machiavelli, and neither do I claim that President Trump is. However the American “What is good for United States is good for the world” policy is certainly an offspring of the nationalism which the The Encyclopedia of Philosophy article quoted above describes Machiavelli to be the prophet of. Thus I can imagine Machiavelli’s applauding Donald Trump’s first one hundred days.


The Parable of the Great Banquet

Earlier this week the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host studied Jesus’ parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:15-24) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.

LK 14:15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

LK 14:16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, `Come, for everything is now ready.’

LK 14:18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, `I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

LK 14:19 “Another said, `I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

LK 14:20 “Still another said, `I just got married, so I can’t come.’

LK 14:21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, `Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

LK 14:22 ” `Sir,’ the servant said, `what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

LK 14:23 “Then the master told his servant, `Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ” (NIV; all Biblical quotations are from the NIV)

The questionnaire, which I’d distributed the previous week, was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. We shared our answers. For most of the questions we differed widely on which of the suggested answers we chose. Moreover for many of the questions one or more of us couldn’t choose between two of the suggested answers. Thus we had a particularly interesting discussion.

Looking into the Scriptures
This section contained these six multiple choice questions:
1. How do you feel when someone declines your invitation to dinner? – We divided between “no problem” and “wonder what the real reason was.”
2. To what is the “great banquet” referring? – We divided between “the kingdom of God” and “the marriage banquet at the return of Jesus.” See below.
3. Why did the three people who were originally invited refuse to come? – We divided between “too busy with other things,” “not interested in being with God,” and “unaware of what they were missing.” See below.
4. “Go out quickly into the streets and the alleys…bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” Who are these people? – Most of us had “outcasts of society.” See below.
5. “I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” Why? – We divided between “chose not to receive God’s grace” and “rejected Jesus as the Messiah.”
6. If God invited you to a banquet as his special guest (to spend time together), what would you do? – We divided between “wonder what God was up to” and “jump at the chance.”

My Own Story
This section contained these four multiple choice questions:
1. How would you describe your spiritual diet right now? – Our most popular choice was “gourmet feast.”
2. What can you expect at God’s banquet? – Our most popular choice was “all my needs will be met.”
3. When it comes to experiencing God’s spiritual feast, what will help you enjoy it more? – Our most popular choice was “assurance that I can eat whenever I’m hungry.”
4. What would it take to get you to come to the banquet of God’s deeper things? – We divided between “an adjustment in my schedule” and “a little more spiritual hunger.”
The diversity in our choice of answers is illustrated by my choosing the answer (or one of the answers) most popular with the rest of the group in only question 4. I had to choose “a little more spiritual hunger” because I’d chosen “spiritual hunger” in question 3.

When I said “See below” in reporting on our discussion of questions 2, 3, and 4 of Looking into the Scriptures above, I was referring to the following:

In our discussion of question 2 in Looking into the Scriptures, we observed that Jesus told the parable in response to someone’s saying, “Blessed is the man who will sit at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). The person was referring to the eschatological feast that Jesus describes in Luke 13: 28-29 and Matthew 8:11 as taking place with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see also Isaiah 25:6). Thus it’s quite possible that the parable is referring to that feast as well, which many identify with the “wedding supper of the Lamb” of Revelation 19:9. However the parable could be referring more generally to “the kingdom of God.” For example, Matthew Henry explains “in the kingdom of God” as:

“(1.) In the kingdom of grace in the kingdom of the Messiah, which was expected now shortly to be set up. Christ promised his disciples that they should eat and drink with him in his kingdom. They that partake of the Lord’s supper eat bread in the kingdom of God. (2) In the kingdom of glory, at the resurrection. The happiness of heaven is an everlasting feast; blessed are they that shall sit down at that table, whence they shall rise no more.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, Vol. V, page 733)

In our discussion of question 3 in Looking into the Scripture, we observed that the servant referred to in verse 17 was just letting those previously invited to the banquet know that the banquet was ready. They had apparently accepted the initial invitation to the banquet despite knowing that they were going to buy a field, buy oxen, or get married. Thus their replies to the second invitation were just “excuses” and may seem foolish to us. However George Arthur Buttrick asks: “Are these excuses more foolish than ours? ‘I got too much religion when I was a boy’ … ‘I am too tired when Sunday comes’ … ‘There are too many hypocrites in church’” (The Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville, Tennessee: Abington Press, 1952, volume VIII, page 256).

In our discussion of question 4 in Looking into the Scriptures, I justified the inclusion of “Gentiles outside of the covenant” as a possible answer by observing that some commentators identify those who were originally invited as the Jews and those who were invited later as the Gentiles. One recent commentator, Darrell L. Bock, even claims that this “is the crux of the parable,” explaining:

“The original invitees represent Israel. Although the nation as the originally invited is not responding, the time for the arrival of the kingdom had come, and the initial celebration of its blessings will go ahead. Others previously thought excluded from the celebration will get invitations. These people represent the spread of God’s blessings beyond the bounds of the needy of Israel. In all likelihood, the inclusion of Gentiles is alluded to here (Isa. 49:6). Israel, though first in line, is missing her present chance to sit at the table. The first have indeed become last.” (The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996, page 395)

However another recent commentator, Joel B. Green, rejects this view. After noting that some identify those invited later as the marginalized among the Jews (the “poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” found in the town’s streets and alleys) and the Gentiles (those found in the roads and country lanes outside the town), he claims:

“One looks in vain within the Lukan narrative or beyond for instances wherein these proximities (in or outside town) are used to distinguish Jews and Gentiles, however. Luke seems not to be interested in specifying the precise nature of the socio-religious divisions at work here.” (The Gospel of Luke, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997, page 561

Whatever, the parable clearly brings out that all are invited to attend the great banquet and that only those who accept the invitation will get to attend it.

6. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica

Ever since encountering Thomas Aquinas’s arguments for the existence of God in his Summa Contra Gentiles when I was a young man, I’ve been impressed by his work. Thus when I acquired Great Books of the Western World, I was pleased to find that it contained his other masterpiece, Summa Theologica. (However I was disappointed that it didn’t also contain John Calvin’s The Institutes of the Christian Religion, an omission that was rectified when the set was later expanded.) I still respect Summa Theologica, but I don’t use it as much as I use some of my other systematic theologies, its being much older than them (it was written in 1267-73) and from a Roman Catholic perspective, its being somewhat difficult to read (see below), and its seeming to treat Aristotle (“the Philosopher”) and Augustine as being as authoritative as the Bible.

In their The Development of Political Theory and Government (volume 2 of The Great Ideas Program, Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959), Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff consider part of “Treatise on Law” in Summa Theologica. They consider questions 90-97, which deal with law in general, eternal law, natural law, and human law, but not questions 98-108, which deal with the law of the Old Testament and the law of the New Testament. Here I’ll give Aquinas’s definitions of law, eternal law, natural law, and human law and summarize what he discusses about each. I’ll also note and comment on the two reasons which Adler and Wolff give for most people’s finding Summa Theologica difficult to read.

“Law” is “a rule and measure of acts, by which man is induced to act or restrained from acting” (vol. 20 of Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopedia Britannica, 151, page 205). Aquinas discusses the essence of law, the kinds of law, and the effects of law. Under the essence of law he considers whether it is something pertaining to reason, whether it is always directed to the common good, whether the reason of any man is able to make laws, and whether promulgation is essential to a law. Under the kinds of law he identifies eternal law, natural law, human law, Divine law (which he divides into the Old Law and the New Law), and the law of sin. Under the effects of the law he considers whether the effect of law is to make men good and whether the acts of law are suitably assigned as consisting in command, prohibition, permission, and punishment.

“Eternal law” is “the Divine Reason’s [eternal] conception of things” (page 208). Aquinas discusses what eternal law is, whether it is known to all, whether every law is derived from it, whether necessary things are subject to it, whether natural contingents are subject to it, and whether all human beings are subject to it.

“Natural law” is “the rational creature’s participation in the eternal law” (page 209). Aquinas discusses what natural law is, what its precepts are, whether all acts of virtue are prescribed by it, whether it is the same in all, whether it is changeable, and whether it can be abolished from the heart of man.

“Human law” consists of “particular determinations, devised by human reason … provided the other essential conditions of law be observed” (page 210). Aquinas discusses it in itself, its power, and its mutability. In his discussion of human law in itself he considers the usefulness of laws framed by men, the derivation of human laws from natural law, the quality of human law, and the division of human law. In his discussion of the power of human law he considers whether it should be framed in a general way rather than for a particular case, whether it should repress all vices, whether it should direct all acts of virtue, whether it binds men in conscience, whether all men are subject to it, and whether those who are under a law may act beside the letter of the law. In his discussion of change in laws he considers whether human law is changeable, whether it should always be changed whenever anything better occurs, whether custom can obtain the force of law or abolish a law, and whether the rulers of the people can dispense from human laws.

As Adler and Woolf observe, Summa Theologica was written for the instruction of beginners but most people find it difficult to read. Adler and Woolf give two reasons, the first being that although the “beginners’ whom Aquinas had in mind were beginners in theology they were also university students with good training in the liberal arts. Related to this difficulty are Aquinas’s numerous references to writers not familiar to or accessible by most modern readers.

The second reason which Adler and Woolf give is the structure of the articles into which Summa Theologica is divided:
– a title; for example, the title for the first article in “treatise of Law” is “Whether Law Is Something Pertaining to Reason”
– an “It would seem” statement indicating the opposite of Aquinas’s conclusion; for example, the statement for the first article in “Treatise on Law” is “It would seem that law is not something pertaining to reason”
– three or four arguments in favour of the “It would seem” statement; Aquinas calls them “objections” because they are opposed to his view
– an “On the contrary” statement usually containing quotations from one or more authorities stating a view contrary to the “It would seem” statement
– a lengthy “I answer that” section arguing for Aquinas’s view
– replies to the objections, usually one for each objection
Adler and Woolf recommend reading the “I answer that” section before reading the objections and reading the replies to the objections with the objections. Although following their advice would likely make following Aquinas’s discussion, I still read his presentation in the order in which he gives it.

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Last evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host studied Jesus’ parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.

LK 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

LK 12:14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

LK 12:16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, `What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

LK 12:18 “Then he said, `This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘

LK 12:20 “But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

LK 12:21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (NIV; all Biblical quotations are from the NIV)

The questionnaire, which I’d distributed the previous week, was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. We shared our answers.

Looking into the Scriptures
This section contained these six multiple choice questions:
1. In verse 13, what was the man in the crowd really saying to Jesus?
2. In his reply, what was Jesus telling the crowd?
3. In the parable, what is Jesus saying about wealth and the pursuit of wealth?
4. Why is God’s response to the rich man so harsh?
5. What does it mean to be “rich toward God”?
6. If Jesus commented on our view of wealth today, what might he say?
The only question on which all of us chose the same answer was “In the parable, what is Jesus saying about wealth and the pursuit of wealth?” The answer which we chose was “wealth can make us self-indulgent.”

My Own Story
This section contained these four multiple-choice questions:
1. Where are your riches? (Name two)
2. What are three priorities for your life right now?
3. How would you like to be remembered?
4. Where would you like to leave your riches?
Again we chose different answers.

We also read Luke 12:22-34 and discussed how it related to the parable of the rich fool.

This footnote is about the Life group which Leonora and I host. The group meets at our house every Thursday evening. Regular attendees are the members of our family living at home (Leonora, me, and our son Robert), two other members of our church (Ray Noble and Russell Froude), and the three Church of the Latter Day Saints missionaries currently stationed here.

Leonora leads opening worship, Ray and I alternate in leading a study, Ray prays for our requests, and we have lunch. In Ray’s turn to lead the study, we view the story of a persecuted Christian contained on the Voice of the Martyrs’ “I am n” video and discuss it guided by the Voice of the Martyrs’ participant’s guide. In my turn to lead the study, we read a parable of Jesus and discuss it guided by the questionnaire on it contained in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.” We are grateful to the Voice of Martyrs for providing Ray with material for us to do the study that he leads and to Serendipity House for giving me permission to reproduce material from “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups” for use in our study.

We’re planning to have four more studies in 2016-17, two on the stories remaining in “I am n” and two on parables of Jesus. The two “I am n” stories focus on forgiveness and faithfulness; the earlier stories focussed on sacrifice, courage, joy, and perseverance. I haven’t decided which two of The Great Banquet, The Lost (Prodigal) Son, The Pharisee and the Tax Collector, and The Talents we’ll study; please let me know if you have a preference. We’re planning to have a closing supper as well.