Literature and the Individual
Literature and the Individual in Early Modern Masterpieces Paper
Machiavelli is a well-known political writer, and is known by many as the founder of political science. His writing, The Prince, is thought of as controversial, self-contradictory, and inconsistent (Stanford, 2009). He was a self-made man who came from nothing and then found his way in politics. His world changed when the Medici family came back into power in Italy, and he was imprisoned under suspicion of trying to overthrow the new government (Damrosch & Pike, 2008). Machiavelli embodied individualism in his day, and even today, because many use the term “Machiavellian” to describe someone cunning, duplicitous, or without faith (Mirriam-Webster.com). He was seen as power-mad and someone who would stop at nothing. This paper will explore the inspirations Machiavelli had through his responses to earlier writers working on the same topics, how this emphasis shaped the work’s literary qualities, and what current society can learn from the work discussed.
Machiavelli took his inspiration from many different sources. He was seen as a pragmatic politician who was anti-government. In reality, he thought that Christianity’s role in politics was a disaster, perhaps an early foreshadowing to what he thought was a necessary separation of church and state. He was inspired by many princes, Moses, Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus were just a few that he mentioned. He admired these men because they “became princes by means of ingenuity, acquire their principality with difficulty, but hold on to it with ease” (Damrosch & Pike, 2008, p. 1505). Since he was a man who came from nothing and worked hard to make a name for himself, he was an admirer of other men who had done the same. He was also inspired by philosophers Socrates and Plato. Many of his works were philosophical, or they tried to be. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that a Machiavellian perspective states that no one wants authority except for the sheer possession of power (2009). As far as individualism is concerned, there really is no such thing unless you possess the ultimate power, and everything else is an illusion.
It seems to be that because Machiavelli was inspired by so many different types of people, from great philosophers, to princes, to Bible heroes, he was torn every which way and that makes the literary qualities of The Prince so inconsistent. In his writing, Machiavelli first refers to history to make his point, and then twists it somehow to make what he says most accurate. If Machiavelli feels the reader will not support him, then he will throw in a bit of history to make his point seem more valid. He also uses comparisons to make his points come across, to show the reader the oppositions of the art of war and art of life. Machiavelli also uses his persuasive techniques to lure the reader into believing whatever he says is true, such as when he tells the reader, “to be feared is much safer than to be loved,” he is exerting his power and his cunning ways to get the reader to buy into what he is saying as truth (Anjila, 2010).
Current society can learn a lot from the work discussed. What is power? Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that, in Machiavelli’s critique of “grand” philosophical schemes, there lies a challenge to the enterprise of philosophy that commands attention and demands consideration and response (2009). The article then goes on to state that Machiavelli deserves a place at the table in any comprehensive survey of philosophy. With what is going on today with the overthrowing of governments in Egypt and Libya, and the changes in the world in the Middle East, this kind of challenge and discourse is crucial to the advancement of society. While Machiavelli may have been a legend in his own way for challenging the thoughts of the time, he did help to steer modern discourse. Evidence of the necessity for controversy and change can be seen in the tragedy that just occurred in Japan with the earthquake and subsequent
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