Niccolò Machiavelli, Classification of Government

Classification of Government
 He accepts the Aristotelian classification of governments into monarchy, aristocracy and constitutional
democracy with perversions tyranny, oligarchy and democracy.
 He also agrees with Roman political thinkers Polybius and Cicero that a mixed type of constitution with proper
checks and balances is the best and the most suitable constitution for a state.
 The treatment of government in his two major works is significantly different; rather inconsistent and
contradictory to each other. The Prince deals with monarchies or absolute governments, while the Discourses
showed his admiration for expanded Roman Republic.
 In both forms his emphasis is on the cardinal principle of the preservation of the state irrespective of its
foundations, depends on the excellence of its law, for this is the source of all civic virtues of its citizens.
 Even in a monarchy the prime condition for stable government is that it should be regulated by law. Thus,
Machiavelli insisted upon the need for legal remedies against official abuses in order to prevent illegal violence.
 He pointed out the political danger of lawlessness in rulers and folly of vexatious and harassing policies.
 Both the books show equally the qualities for which Machiavelli has been specially known, such as, indifference
to the use of immoral means for political purpose and belief that governments depend largely on force and craft.
 Machiavelli never erected his belief in the omnipotent law giver into a general theory of absolutism.
 Both the books present aspects of the same subject-the cause of the rise and decline of states and the means by
which statesmen could make them permanent. This corresponds to twofold classification of states or form of
 The stability and preservation of the state is the prime objective of the ruler. Machiavelli favoured a gentle rule
where ever possible and the use of severity only in moderation.
 He believed explicitly that government is more stable where it is shared by many. He preferred election to
inheritance as a mode of choosing rulers.
 He also spoke for general freedom to propose measures for the public good and for liberty of discussion before
reaching a decision. He, in his ‘Discourses’ expressed that people must be independent and strong, because
there is no way to make them suitable without giving them the means of rebellion.
 He had a high opinion both of these virtue and the judgement of an uncorrupted people as compared to those of
the prince. These observations only show the conflicting and contradictory ideas of Machiavelli’s philosophy; on
one hand he advocates an absolute monarchy and on the other shows his admiration for a republic.
 As Sabine remarks: “His judgement was swayed by two admirations-for the resourceful despot and for the
free, self-governing people-which were not consistent. He patched the two together, rather precariously, as
the theories respectively of founding a state and of preserving it after it is founded. In more modern terms it
might be said that he had one theory for revolution and another for government.”
 He recommends despotism mainly for reforming the corrupt state and preserving its security. However he
believed that state can be made permanent only if the people are admitted to some share in the government
and if the Prince conducts the ordinary business of the state in accordance with law and with a due regard for
the property and rights of his subjects.
 Despotic violence is a powerful political medicine, needed in corrupt states and for special contingencies, but it is
still a poison which must be used with the greatest caution.
 He holds both monarchy and republican form of government as ideal, but he had very low opinion of aristocracy
and nobility, whom he perceived as antagonistic to both the monarchy and the middle class, and that an orderly
government required their suppression.
How to expand the State as per The Prince and Discourses?
 In the Prince and the Discourses, Machiavelli insists on the necessity of extending the territory of the state. An
irresistible tendency to expand is inherent in both monarchies and republics. His idea of the extension of the
dominion of a state did not mean “the blending of two or more social or political organism, but as consisting in
the subjection of a number of states to the rule of a single prince or commonwealth”.
 To Machiavelli a state must either expand or expire and extension of dominion was easier in one’s own country
where there was no difficulty of language or of institutions to overcome in the assimilation of the conquered
people. Machiavelli thought the Roman state and its policy of expansion to be ideal.
 Force of arms was necessary for political aggrandizement as well as preservation of a state but force must be
judiciously combined with craft. The doctrine of aggrandizement is one of the most characteristic features of
Machiavelli’s political philosophy and brings out vividly his moral indifference.
 Both The Prince and the Discourses give us Machiavelli’s ideas regarding the means to be adopted for the In a
monarchy, a prince must pay due respect to the established customs and institutions of the land which people
hold as something dearer than liberty or life itself.
 He must fire the imagination of his subjects by grand schemes and enterprises. He must not impose heavy taxes
and he must patronize art and literature. Machiavelli’s ideal prince is, thus, an enlightened despot of a nonmoral type.
 In a republic, the most important thing is that the constitution should be flexible, the law of the land reflecting
the varying conditions in the republic.

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