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Unformatted text preview: Of Conquest An Interpretation of Chapters 3-5 of Machiavelli's Prince MICHAEL ANTON Abstract: This article examines Machiavelli's teaching on conquest, with particular attention to Chapters 3-5 of The Prince. It argues that this series of chapters forms a distinct subsection within the overall plan of The Prince and that this subsection treats the subject of conquest. The heart of the article suggests that the argument of Prince 3-5 proceeds on at least four levels: a surface level that supplies rules of acquisition to sitting princes, a deeper level that explains how to liberate and unify Italy, a metaphoric level that explains the Christian conquest of the ancient world and its consequences, and a still deeper level that argues for a rational understanding of the world and a new politics based on human initiative and self-reliance. Keywords: Christianity, conquest, Machiavelli, modernity, political philosophy N iccol6 Machiavelli presents his book The Prince as an easily understood how-to treatise on politics-jaundiced enough to be use- ful and short enough not to be intimidat- ing. However, as Leo Strauss demonstrates, the argument of The Prince proceeds on a number of levels.' These levels appear early in the book, as a close examination of chapters 3-5 will show. 2 Ostensi- bly, these chapters teach the existing prince how to acquire new territory, i.e., how to conquer. A close reading, how- ever, exposes contradictions, omissions, seemingly irrel- evant details, unsustainable overstatements, minor revisions, and the like. Careful consideration of these difficulties- especially Machiavelli's peculiar use and apparent misuse of examples-leads the reader to the deeper levels of Machia- velli's argument. Just beneath his surface account of the rules of conquest, Machiavelli explains how to liberate and unify Italy. The Prince, of course, culminates in an exhortation to do exactly this. In chapters 3-5, Machiavelli indicates that this enter- prise will be an act of conquest, with all the concomitant brutality, even if the conqueror is a native liberator, rather than a foreign invader. Furthermore, Machiavelli identifies the cause of Italy's division as the Christian Church-not just as a human institution, but as the Christian religion itself. On a deeper level, Machiavelli indicates his view that Christianity is a debilitating force that has fundamentally weakened the human spirit. For man to regain his dignity and rightful mastery over the world, he must conquer and displace Christianity. In order to conquer Christianity, how- ever, men must first understand how Christianity conquered the ancient world. Machiavelli's explanation suggests that Christianity conquered in part because it was able to exploit fundamental defects in classical philosophy's understanding of the world and its strategy for ruling the world....
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