Administrative Policies: The Art of Love and War

[L]et us review quickly the kind of advice formulated by Machiavelli as administrative policies for rulers who would widen their powers or keep themselves in power:

Either treat well or crush; defend weak neighbors and weaken the strong; where you foresee trouble, provoke war; don’t make others powerful; be like the prince who appointed a harsh governor to establish order (but after this governor had become an object of public hatred in carrying out the prince’s wishes, the prince earned popular acclaim by putting him to death for his cruelties); do necessary evils at one stroke, pay out benefits little by little; sometimes assure the citizens that the evil days will soon be over, at other times goad them to fear the cruelties of the enemy; appear merciful, dependable, humane, devout, upright, but be the opposite in actuality whenever circumstances so require; always do lip-service to the virtues, since most people judge by appearances; use religion as a pretext for conquest, since it permits of “pious cruelty.”

One could put together a corresponding list of human susceptibilities which the ruler should take into account or play upon:

New benefits won’t make great personages forget old injuries; it is easy to persuade people, but you need force to keep them persuaded; one can satisfy the people, but not the nobility, by fair dealing; mercenaries are to be feared for their dastardy, auxiliaries for their valor; often what we call virtue would ruin the state, and what we call vice can save it; men in general are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, greedy; it is safer to be feared than loved, since people are more likely to offend those they love than those they fear; yet the prince should be feared, not hated; the worst offense is an offense against property, for a man more quickly forgets the loss of his father than the loss of his patrimony; any faction within the state can always expect to find allies abroad.

[Similarly] consider Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. It is written in praise of the “eloquence” that serves in the conquest of the public, of the senate, and of women; but the emphasis is upon the third—and where Machiavelli is telling how to get and hold a principality, Ovid is telling how to get and hold a woman, thereby transforming imperial motives into analogous terms of sexual courtship. Grounded in figures of soldiery, of gladiators, of the hunt, of animals enraged or ruttish, it is like a manual of instructions, such as The Prince. But whereas the Italian is in dead earnest, the Latin tinkers with playful persiflage. Having begun scenically, with a survey of locations where the hunting is good, Ovid proceeds by such topics as:

On deceiving in the name of friendship; feigning just enough drunkenness to be winsome; inducement value of belief in the gods; deceiving deceivers; the utility of tears; the need to guard against the risk that entreaties may merely feed a woman’s vanity; advisability of shifts in method, since a woman who resisted the courteous may yield to the crude; how to be servant and freeman in one; need for caution with gifts; if she has deceived you, let her think you don’t know it; give each of her faults the name of the good quality most like it.

All told, here was the sort of literary ostentation that De Quincey had in mind when selecting Ovid as prime example of rhetoric. Where Machiavelli says that war “is the sole art proper to rulers,” Ovid’s “how to” book on philandering is founded on the corresponding principle that “love is a kind of war.”

…Machiavelli was responding to the obviously divisive emergence of nationalism as a locus of motives. Here would be an acquisitive, competitive, conspiratorial set of values whereby my country might quite “naturally” honor as a hero a spy whom your country might condemn to death as a criminal.  Yet with regard to all such manuals as either Machiavelli’s serious tract or Ovid’s playful one, there is no problem…when we conceive of such a rhetorical realm as necessarily concerned with motives typical of man after the “fall.”

–Kenneth Burke, An Exchange on Machiavelli

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