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Paper 2 PLSC 114

Paper 2 PLSC 114 - Introduction to Political Philosophy...

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Introduction to Political Philosophy, Steven Smith November 17, 2007 The Prince and The King Despite the conventional understanding that Biblical stories of King David and Machiavelli’s The Prince advocate very different approaches to political leadership, this can largely be accounted for by the marked difference between the understandings of the political person in the respective texts. In the stories of David, the personality who is accountable to God is also the one who is also leading the people of his state. Consider, then, the approach of Machiavelli, who, in The Prince , addresses only the mechanisms of power and control, and is only accountable to the state. The Bible, however, interweaves and equivocates the importance of David’s political and private life, making them one and the same throughout. If these texts are also examined more thoroughly, it becomes clearer that they share much in common when it comes to the actions of David and the hypothetical actions of Machiavelli’s Prince. God may lead David’s kingship, but it is also fraught with the violence of war, unchecked passion and moments of sin for personal benefit, while The Prince contains within it a subtext of honor derived from a love of glory. The primary virtue, and the most taken-for-granted, of the Prince is his ambition. Indeed, this book, written as a guide to those whose desire to become a successful Prince, lent itself, initially, to a readership that was politically motivated. This ambition is the life-blood of any good prince, as Machiavelli would have the reader believe, and thus this had bearing for those who would appreciate its intentions. In the case of this ambition however, there are the 1
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underlying forces of fortune and virtue that enable “one [to become] prince from private individual” (34) and, in this way, the qualities of Machiavelli’s Prince and the Bible’s King David intersect. In the case of Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli argues that he “acquired his state through the fortune of his father and lost it through the same, notwithstanding the fact that he made use of every deed and did all those things that should be done by a prudent and virtuous man” (27). The importance of circumstances outside the control of the prince, for better or for worse, is a force that must be considered, and taken advantage of when necessary. Such events as the untimely death of Alexander IV and then of Borgia himself check all ambition and all precaution. This aforementioned element of secular chance resembles the power of God over David’s political development. Much in the same way that preparation, or a lack thereof, could usually be understood as the primary indicator of success, the power of God, like fortune, can also check all such precaution. It is his faith in God that guides David in killing Goliath: “God that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine” (Book of Samuel I, 17:37). Goliath, whose great physical prowess may be
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