Monday, November 1, 2010

Republican Openness Against Monarchial Closedness

Machiavelli thinks people can contribute to communal liberty. He sees in them the ability to judge and act for the public good. He contrasts their common sense with irrationalities of the prince. He says, “A people is more prudent, more stable, and of better judgment than a prince.”

Machiavelli says that the people are more concerned about, and more willing to defend, liberty than either princes or nobles. The latter conflate liberty with domination of others. The people are concerned with their own freedom and being free of abuse by the powerful. When they fear the threat of oppression, they are inclined to object and to defend their common liberty. That is against subordination to authority the powerful need. The fight for such liberty by the people is in tension with constitutional monarchy’s promise of security.

Security and liberty are against each other to Machiavelli—with liberty to be favored. He traces that to the “rhetorical” character of his republicanism. He views speech as the best means to resolve conflict, the best means to get at the best course of action and to choose the most qualified leaders.

Classical rhetoric associated public speaking with conflict: debate is an adversarial setting, with each speaker seeking to persuade by arguing the superiority of his position. Machiavelli sees conflict as a necessary condition of liberty

Monarchies limit public discourse. It is easier to convince a single ruler of anything than the people, hence the rabble nd noise of public deliberation, which inclines against security, but which inclines as well to wisdom. Which is to say, public discussion, debate, usually inclines to the common good than does the isolated nature of monarchial decision.

So public debate protects civic liberty and as well conduces to good policy. Machiavelli's positive view of the people in these regards is consistent with his view of the good effects of public speech for the public welfare. Machiavelli takes unto himself a key feature of classical republicanism: the people’s ability to see and take unto themselves good words about good policy. He argues, as noted, that the people are well ordered, and, therefore, prudent, stable and grateful, as long as there is public speech and debate. Machiavelli insists that

…public opinion is remarkably accurate in its prognostications…. With regard to its judgment, when two speakers of equal skill are heard advocating different alternatives, very rarely does one find the people failing to adopt the better view or incapable of appreciating the truth of what it hears…

So, the people, to repeat, are better qualified to make decisions than are princes. For example, “the people can never be persuaded that it is good to appoint to an office a man of infamous or corrupt habits, whereas a prince may easily and in a vast variety of ways be persuaded to do this” Likewise, should the people tend to become unreasonable , they can be brought back to reasonableness: “For an uncontrolled and tumultuous people can be spoken to by a good man and easily led back into a good way. But no one can speak to a wicked prince, and the only remedy is steel…. To cure the malady of the people words are enough”

This contrast is sheer. The republic is to be governed by deliberation—as manifest in public speech, which is public reasoning—as it inclines to the common good. Monarchies limited public discussion and rested upon coercion and threat, and promise, of recourse to violence.

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