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THE CONCEPT OF ‘POWER AND AUTHORITY’ IN NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS

THE CONCEPT OF ‘POWER AND AUTHORITY’ IN NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS

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ABSTRACT

In Aristotle’s evaluation of different constitutions, he considered some as better than others. One criterion was whether rule is conducted in the interest of rulers, or for the common good. Applying this criterion, we can ask if we would prepare to be governed by people who attempt to enlist our willing co-operation by persuasion, showing us how rule is in our interest also (the common good), or by people who rely exclusively on coercion, threatening – or actually implementing force. Man often co-operates without having to rehearse the whole set of reasons for his actions. He relies on short-cuts, pointing to the law, tradition directives of an official, or precedents, in a bid to explaining himself. Such reliance is obviously the recognition of authority. He does not necessarily have to be treated as an unreasonable or irrational brute before he co-operates – although sometimes, when he tends to exhibit his dangerious animalistic tendencies, one finds it somewhat unfair to cast blames on the dude behind the wheels of power. Within socio-political circles, power may sometimes be identified with authority and vice-versa, but however, neither of these are substantially one and the same, even though they may manifest common traits at specific points in time. So, conducting a marriage ceremony between them may just result in rational disputation but that notwithstanding, we should – or ought, in a unique mean resolution, find solace in what Plato regarded as “the highest form of knowledge” in his dialectic, a view which the 19th century Hegel adopted, further assertion that reality is dialectical in nature: that opposing rational views, a thesis (e.g. power) and an anti-thesis (e.g. authority), resolve into a synthesis which then becomes the thesis (THE CONCEPT OF ‘POWER’ AND ‘AUTHORITY’ IN NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI: AN ANALYSIS) of a further dialectical process and so on.  Niccolo Machiavelli’s entire political philosophy is centred around power game and authority. He understood the imperative of power devoid of morality, as well as the moralizing aspect of authority, legitimately-anchored. Between these two, Aristotle would naturally expect him to uphold virtue which according to Aristotle’s book “Niccomachean Ethics” lies in the middle but being who he is known to be, based on what he has fed us with through his works, we cant help but wonder whether Machiavelli ever possessed the patience for the Aristotelian virtue.  Leaving the above problem comfortably – poised for too long would no doubt suggest that devout philosophers like myself are either asleep, or aimlessly awake. So, with this basic mindset, I intend to subject the concepts ‘Power’ and ‘Authority’ to rational scrutiny, much in the illumination of the very popular “Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli” (1469-1527).

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

 

1.1Background of the study

Without being dependent on each other or any other in perspective, power and authority are respectively capable of provoking a thesis of some sort. This must be the reason some folks have randomly found discomforting. The very idea of conducting a marriage ceremony between power and authority, that is: Anyway, power can be defined as “ability to do something”1, while authority can be defined as “the power or right to command”2. It is important to be clear about the distinction between these two, since they are often confused in language, as well as in thought. We speak of a statute giving a minister “power” to do this or that, when we mean giving him authority. Similarly, we speak of going beyond one’s legal powers’ or acting “ultra vires”, where again the word ‘authority’ would express our meaning more clearly. The looseness of usage appears right at the beginning of the theoretical discussion o sovereignty, in the work of Jean Bodin in the 16th century. Bodin writes: ‘Sovereignty is the absolute and perpetual power (puissance) of a state… that is to say, the supreme powers to command. It is here necessary to formulate the definitionof sovereignty, because there is no just or political philosopher who has defined it, although it is the principal feature and the most necessary to be understood in the treatment of the state’.  He goes on to speak further of ‘puissance souveraine’ and ‘pussance absolue’, and so gives the impression that sovereignty is a mater of power in the ordinary sense of the word. Now, anybody has the power or ability to issue a command, but not everyone is authorized or entitled to do so in particular circumstances, and not everyone is either able or entitled to have his commands carried out.  Does Bodin mean by ‘absolute power’ the ability to issue effective commands, i.e. the ability to have one’s command carried out? This would be power, properly speaking. Or does he mean the entitlement or right to issue commands and to have them obeyed? This could be authority. A reading of his whole account of sovereignty makes it clear that ‘he means the second, but his use of the expression ‘absolute power’ suggests the first3.

Machiavelli saw stable political authority and order as necessary for social cohesion and moral regeneration. It was for this reason that he stressed the need for a unified polity and a republican and free government committed to the liberty of its people. His new way of looking at political behaviour was significantly influenced by Leonardo, a personal friend with whose writings he was familiar. Incidentally, Leonardo was an architect of Borgia, the hero of the prince.

Machiavelli understood the realities of politics, “its hist for power, its admiration of success, its carefreeness of means, its rejection of medieval bonds, its frank pragmatism, its conviction that national unity makes for national strength. Neither his cynicism nor his praise of craftiness is sufficient to conceal the idealist in him”. He cherished Republican Liberty, but was aware of the dangers tyranny posed, amidst chaos to free institutions.

While in the Prince, Machievelli highlighted the importance of the security and unity of the state as the primary concerns of a ruler, in the discourses, the theme was liberty and republicanism4. The Prince maintains a pride of place throughout this entire thesis.

 

 

1.2       Statement of the problem

A problem can be defined as “a proposition stating something to be done”5. The thing to be done here is an analysis of power and authority respectively, both without and within the confines of Machiavelli. But again, why the resolve to fuse power with authority? I respect this philosophical question, and dare say it I only a prestigious matter in hand. Yes, since to analyze is “to separate (something) into its constituent parts to investigate its structure and functions, etc6 fusion (which after all establishes unity), is therefore a condition-sine-qua-non, if the separation aforementioned must retain its relevance in analysis.

So what is/are the structure and functions of power and authority respectively? Is any superior to, or more relevant than the other? If yes, then which? In short, to what extent can/should one be dependent on or independent of the other? Are power and authority one and the same? If not, how and to what extent do they differ? Who or what can exercise power and/or authority, and what are their limits? Why power? Why authority? … Truth is, the questions in this regard are quire numerous. However, during the progression of this thesis, conscious attempts at re-entering as many of them as possible and most necessary will be duly meted out.

1.3       Purpose of the study

This study stated earlier that power and authority re often confused at different times and in different respects. This is strikingly the same manner in which Machiavelli’s conception of them is also often confused. This observation constitutes a major reason why in this thesis, the study intend to establish the most attainable clarity concerning the nature and/or extent of power and authority as individual entities in the first instance, secondly, as fused, thirdly as determined by Niccolo Machiavelli, and finally, hopefully as less-complicated concepts introduced a fresh, for the benefit of all interested.

1.4       Significance of the study

Sometimes we witness, read, or hear about events as they occur in governance and quite expectedly, only those exposed to at least basic political understanding, especially from a philosophical standpoint, can successfully grasp the reality (ies) of such occurrences, without necessarily falling prey to the luring hands of disguise. Power and authority may not be all there is to the political jurisdiction within which we now play. However, one may not succeed in an attempt to deny the fact that at the very mention of government, these dudes reflexively occupy majority space. Thus, this study intends to reiterate and hopefully reveal some extra about them (that is, power and authority) than is already self-evident, an achievement which is believed will constitute a model process through which interaction with even the most guised political transactions can be attained.

1.5       Scope of the study

In my very-much-talked-about analysis of power and authority, as much as I am aware that Machiavelli is the key personality here, I may however have to necessarily veer off course randomly, especially when at the tope of its voice, the need to buttress a point silently demands such veering. Specifically though, Machiavelli’s popularly known treatise “The Prince”, will be analyzed under chapter three (3) of this thesis. What Machiavelli produces in The Prince is a set of prescriptions for the successful management of a state through the procurement of power? Therein, he also used the term authority to randomly express meaning and when we get to that realm, we ought to seek to ascertain whether or not to him, power and authority are one and the same.

1.6       Methodology of the study

We already know how that analysis involves separating something into its constituent parts in order to investigate its structure and function(s). With this tool therefore, this study intend to mantle the pending chapters of this thesis from a historical-analytical standpoint, engaging in thorough research.  Relevant contributions from available sources; including factual, written, oral, etc will be progressively introduced, while appraisal, refutation, critique, etc. will come quickly to play, as and when due.

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