Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Creative liberty and Machiavelli

Going forward with the Discourses on Livy, which are much more liberal than The Prince, M. states that the tension between the upper class and the people is good in that it's forced societies to come up with creative compromises to resolve the tension, and that this has guaranteed liberty. It's part of M.'s analysis of Rome as having all three parts of the traditional Greek classification of governments: monarchy, aristocracy, democracy. Monarchy is embodied in the executive functions of the State, which are separated from the legislative portions, which include the aristocratic and the democratic. The aristocratic Senate dominates at first, but is then forced to give up some power to the people through popular uprisings. M. feels that just the people taking over wholesale is a bad idea, and that the rich ruling absolutely is a bad idea as well, because both parties would then abuse their powers, but if they're arranged in such a way that they check each other the abuses are less likely to occur. Of course this assumes that the system as it exists, with an aristocracy and the people, is just, but it provides a window into how authors from the early modern period sought to formulate an idea of a good state.

The same sort of creative tension between Monarchy and Aristocracy is pointed to by M. as the source of solid and stable representative government in the first place, because reacting against the idea of monarchy, yet forced to deal with the necessity of some executive power existing, the Romans and possibly the Greeks before them created a kind of compromise system of elected monarchy. It's the thing that we call Presidency and Prime Ministership today.

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