Saturday, July 5, 2014
Political Violence: Hannah Arendt vs. Niccolo Machiavelli
Written in April 2008 for a course on political theory,
Edited in July 2014
Hannah Arendt says that “to force people by violence, to command rather than to persuade, were prepolitical ways to deal with people[,] characteristic of life outside the polis...” [. She continues,] “To be political... meant that everything was decided through words and persuasion and not through force and violence.” She says that as political philosophy grew, the emphasis shifted from action to speech - previously regarded as equal - as a means of persuasion.
Machiavelli says that “a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise...” [. He continues,] “if one considers everything carefully, doing some some things that seem virtuous may result in one's ruin, whereas doing other things that seem vicious may strengthen one's position and cause one to flourish.”
Machiavelli does not agree with Arendt at all. He says that good arms and good laws constitute the dual foundations of a well-ordered political system, and that the use of violence can advance political power, while Arendt says that the use of violence is prepolitical.