"Machiavellianism is superhuman, divine, transcendental, it will never be achieved by man, at most approximated".
Nietzsche (WP 304).
|Niccolo Machiavellie , the supreme theorist of power and founder of political science.|
Late in his life, Machiavelli described himself as “historico, comico et tragico” in a letter to Francesco Guicciardini written in 1525. Against the common perception of Machiavelli as the founder of modern “political science,” the totality of his works in fact shows that he was not an unqualified champion of the idea of a progressive human mastery of the world. He was one of the founders of a new realism that entailed serious doubts about the effective power of human knowledge and action. Niall Ferguson calls him “the supreme theorist of power”.His writings, most of which are of a historical or tragic-comic nature, in effect dispel the longing for a unification of politics and ethics while avoiding the pretense that scientific knowledge is his aim.As Isaiah Berlin affirms, the enduring legacy of the Florentine for Western thought is the philosophical, rather than scientific, idea that different spheres of value may not, in the final analysis, be compatible. In particular, Machiavelli focuses on politics and morality as two practices whose values, he claims, are indeed separable and in fact are separate. This “revolution” in moral and political philosophy is, I believe, strikingly similar to that enacted by another thinker who is generally not seen as a political philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche.Yet if we are to understand Nietzsche’s important contribution to political thought, we must examine the way he understands, following Machiavelli, the close link between immorality and the idea of human betterment.
In the case of each thinker, the tragic and the aesthetic generate a view that connects intimately with the thinker’s conception of politics. Their political recommendations are indeed quite divergent but the founts from which they spring are similar.Why is the term “tragic” apt in describing the two authors’ world view?Because they both portray man as engaged in a significant ethical struggle generally ending in ruin or profound disappointment. They do not espouse a conventional moral lens defined by the antinomy good/bad, but they do propose a way of living (an ethics) that is intended to better the human condition.However, they see this proposal as rife with difficulties, making life as such atrial of suffering and pain. Neither of them sees an ultimate, inevitable redemption for man, but rather ultimate failure is more common.This fate is owed to the way the see the individual as severely limited in capacities, and the world as “broken,” or possessing no clear, simple, and unified order.Nietzsche’s work bears the recurring imprint of “Machiavellian” concerns. Undoubtedly, Socrates and Schopenhauer are his chief interlocutors. Nonetheless, the Florentine Secretary is one his most admired figures
Stanley Rosen goes so far as to affirm that the author of The Prince was one of Nietzsche’s two favorite authors.In this project I will concentrate on Nietzsche’s affinities with Machiavelli and, on a secondary level, to“Nietzsche’s Machiavelli,” that is, the way that Machiavelli can be understood from a Nietzschean perspective. In this it is also important to examine the direct influence that Machiavelli had on Nietzsche’s thoughts on moral psychology and philosophical anthropology as evidenced by direct references to the Florentine. From Socrates and Plato to Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer as well as Rousseau and the English utilitarians, Nietzsche was in constant implicit dialogue with many figures in philosophy. It is true that even in his youth Nietzsche saw in Schopenhauer and the German Romantics the idea that nature as such is “without ethics.” Yet of all his influences, it is from Machiavelli that Nietzsche acquires the idea of a radical separation of morals from politics . This influence is visible in the context of their common critique of Christianity and the idea that committing harms is often necessary to propose something new and better for man. The concept of value-incongruity follows as a consequence of this innovation. However, it is important to point out that Nietzsche does go beyond Machiavelli’s initial separation of ethics from politics. He posits a ranking in which a new sort of ethical transformation stands higher than political change;that is to say, he presents a new brand of ethics to replace the old. This concern with the new is a key commonality between the two thinkers—hence their modernity. Nietzsche also casts a more critical glance at what I believe is a new theme, the distance of politics from the aesthetic. This is a task that Machiavelli does not perform. In fact, for Machiavelli politics is itself a practice that can be understood in aesthetic terms; while for Nietzsche the aesthetic has a more fundamental link to the underlying nature of life than does politics.The Florentine introduces a wall between sets of values for two reasons.One is a positive reason, the other a normative one. In Machiavelli’s opinion,politics and morality are, in real life, separate realms with distinct values. From our analysis of his literary works we can affirm that Machiavelli sees life in politics and art (mainly literature) as characterized by non-moral factors. Fundamentally, he sees forceand fraud as the twin pillars of all foundations of political order; and form giving and redemptive beauty as the guiding criteria of the aesthetic. The normative reason rests on Machiavelli’s view of the soul.
For Machiavelli, the critique of the “soul” for which he is well known through his jokes is actually quite serious. For him human life is not centered on the soul. In fact, it is arguable whether he truly believes there is in effect such a thing. He was “a man unconcerned with questions of soul, afterlife, or sin.” It is for this reason that he does not in any of his writings promote a vision of the politics of soul cultivation. He promotes a view of the improvement of human capacities, but this is not the same as spiritual improvement. Thus his notion of human development or strength is not moral, if this term is understood as one of the faculties of the soul.Unlike Nietzsche and Arendt, who do believe in the idea of the cultivation of the soul, Machiavelli is concerned with a more minimalist conception of man;one in which existence is fragile and politics is urgently necessary to safe guardit. Politics is born not from man’s superior qualities, but rather from his weaknesses. Beauty (in art, daily life, or even in politics) is valuable for Machiavelli in a redemptive sense, as a justification for existence in the face of its horrors. It is not, as for Nietzsche, a faculty for the cultivation of the soul that enables a moral regeneration. Machiavelli sees man as a lost being: as a newborn left on an open road, as he tells us in The Ass, or as “a man alone,” unosolo, in The Prince.
|Friedrich Nietzsche, one of the greatest philosopher of all time.|
This uncertainty about the ultimate unity of human experience and meaning leads to the tragic or existential ethos of his work. His radical critique of Christianity leads us to see that he rejects its eschatological view. Politics is for him the practice that best orders the world; it is a nurgent endeavor, it can engender great deeds, yet it is not always a glorious or progressive path. His disregard for the idea of the soul then makes him espouse values that are useful for the sort of man who is in a precarious and uncertain situation. Machiavelli’s own life is the model of such a conception. Nietzsche fundamentally shares the same values because he sees them as most conducive to his own idea of man as a physio-psychological “plant.” For him, in an age of nihilism,Platonic-Christian morality has run its course and is no longer cogent (in large part due to the Enlightenment). Man must overcome himself by seeing himself as he originally is: as a physiological and psychological being who must therefore choose values that will make him stronger in those two realms.
How does Nietzsche understand Machiavelli? We can start by pointing out(without claiming that this is the essence of their relationship) that he makes direct reference to him in eight passages of his published work and in nineteen of his unpublished notes. In all of these, he is portrayed as among Nietzsche’s most important influences.
Isaiah Berlin’s correct assessment of Machiavelli is that the Florentine believed that the ultimate harmony of different sets of values (such as those ofethics and politics) is uncertain. In this notion there is a beginning of a bridge between the man of the Renaissance and Friedrich Nietzsche. For the latter also shares in this sentiment although in a more forceful manner.It is interesting to note in what terms Berlin expresses his valuation of Machiavelli, for he also sees a parallel with Nietzsche:What has been shown by Machiavelli, who is often (like Nietzsche)congratulated for tearing off hypocritical masks, brutally revealing the truth,and so on, is not that men profess one thing and do another (although no doubthe shows this too), but that when they assume that the two ideals [of politicsand ethics] are compatible, or perhaps are even one and the same ideal, and donot allow this assumption to be questioned, they are guilty of bad faith (as the existentialists call it, or of “false consciousness,” to use a Marxist formula),which their actual behaviour exhibits.
Machiavelli calls the bluff not just of official morality . . . but of one of the foundations of the central western philosophical tradition, the belief in the ultimate compatibility of all values.Nietzsche raises the wager that Machiavelli places. He follows Machiavelliby calling into question the incompatibility of values and goes beyond this: he asserts their actual regular conflict in historical practice and establishes his own Nietzsche’s Machiavellism ethics of the soul. For Berlin, Machiavelli’s work negates the idea that there is a single proper way to live, a single morality that binds all of life into an ordered whole. Hence the value pluralism that Berlin underscores is rooted in the Florentine. But this pluralism is not important so much for a defense of toleration; rather, it undermines the notion of progress towards an eventual perfection of human society. Like Machiavelli, Nietzsche does not break with tradition altogether but looks for “the new” as a way to release the existential tension that is felt by man after he recognizes the incongruity of life. Value pluralism is not unproblematic: it can be experienced as an onus or a tension.This is the root of Machiavelli’s existentialist outlook.
This existential tension is the adjustment of man, accustomed to living under the desire for value-compatibility, to the new world where such compatibility is shown to be nonexistent or impossible.28 Thus, it is a world deprived of the illusion or deception of its coherence or ultimate perfection. The suffering that occurs in this adjustment is not owed to the bite of conscience (or one’s “dirty hands”) but simply to the fact that a life lived in a world without an all-encompassing compatibility of various spheres of value is by its very nature onerous and disconcerting. This is another way to describe the problem that Nietzsche calls nihilism.
Niccolò Machiavelli was not a philosopher in the strict sense of the term. His own works and life do not fit the mold of the typical philosopher of the Cinquecento. He did not write scholastic treatises, did not rigorously assay natural law, did not concern himself with learning the traditional bases of his contemporary philosophical world. Yet this does not mean that his writings do not possess philosophical import—and an import with historical reverberations.If we read him from the perspective Nietzsche had on him—as one of “the great moral philosophers” as he avers in one his notes of 1888—we see that his ideas in fact construct a philosophy of life, one that has relevance not only to politics alone but to life in general. This is what Nietzsche saw in the Florentine,particularly as the founder of modern moral thought.Part of what Nietzsche admired in Machiavelli was his style of writing.
The true identity or being of things or entities(including men) is in the way in which their internal tendencies or components affect the world and are affected by it.This view implicitly constructs a sort of metaphysics for Machiavelli. And this rudimentary metaphysics is important to understand his moral philosophy as we shall see in later sections. It expresses both a notion of what the world is like(a cosmology) and also of what humans are (a philosophical anthropology).It is a base on which Machiavelli’s philosophical edifice is built.
From it we can understand why Machiavelli conceives of man and the world in an existential manner: there is no necessary way in which man is to act or to be. Moreover,there is no clear unity to what a person is, for in fact whatever identity he or she has is dependent on the net effect that internal antinomies have and which may not be necessarily under the control of the self at a particular moment. This is what we may call Machiavelli’s ontological dualism, since he considers man to be the result of the conflict of two tendencies. In this view of the world,conflict not only internal but also external is crucial.The relation between internal and external antagonism is here of interest for our analysis. Internal elements of one person’s personality may conflict and may push the individual to different types of action, and this occurs according to how much force they have at a particular point in time. This is in effect Machiavelli’s understanding of the idea of the humors that make up a person’s character. They are internal fluids that make the person as a whole fluid; that is, changing and temperamental. A person may not always react in the same manner in similar circumstances. His or her attitude to things in the world will depend on the particular conformation of his or her humors at that moment in time. If this is the case, then there is no necessary constancy in aperson’s actions. He or she may thus be in harmony or in conflict with other things in the world. This sort of inconstancy leads to a situation where internal antagonism (between humors) prepares the way for antagonism with the external world. Each person does, however, have a temperament, which is general makeup of the humors in her.As we know from the work of Parel, Machiavelli understands that aperson’s bodily humors are affected and interrelated with the geo- and cosmological forces that exist in the physical heavens and terrestrial bodies.
Internal division, much like what Plato says, weakens the ability to present aunified force against the world. This is the foundation of Machiavelli’s understanding of antinomies.There are many examples given by Machiavelli of the idea found in ChapterXV of The Prince that a thing is the effect created by the antagonism of its internal elements. Throughout subsequent chapters of The Prince we can discern many: Machiavelli discusses how generosity is the result of the conflict between liberality and parsimony (Chapter XVI). The discussion of cruelty and mercy as defining magnanimity, and love and fear as defining affect are further examples(Chapter XVII). The effect is the resultant of the amount or force of one type of cause in contrast to the amount or force of the other. For instance, a prince may make himself loved by the people if he is kind only in small amounts relative to his harshness, so that when he does carry out a very generous act, the people will feel it better and more intimately. The effect thus depends on the marginal, relative amounts of energy spent on each of the causes that make up an antagonism.Importantly, for Machiavelli most antinomies are made of one harm causing element and one pain-causing element. It is the former that is more critical because people tend to feel pain more deeply than they do pleasure. The pain and pleasure calculus is thus biased by nature towards the former element,and this is part of the wisdom that Machiavelli wants to convey.The most important example of the idea of the antinomy for us is his discussion of man in Chapter XVIII. Here is where we see Machiavelli’s discussion of man proper. We also see that the subject of the work The Prince is not only the apparent one, the politics of the principality, but also man himself,for Machiavelli discusses man’s human and animal nature in implicit response to the context of Cicero’s ideas on the proper role and conduct of man, not that of the state. In this chapter of The Prince Machiavelli avers that man is not one single thing. Man is not reducible to one fundamental essence, as many philosophers have claimed. Man is not essentially rational, essentially ethical, or essentially social. These are some philosophers’ views of some kind of perfection, but Machiavelli does not believe in the idea of perfectibility.
Man creates his essence by attempting to control the antinomies inherent in him, which produce an effect that depends on the relative strength of each element. Machiavelli does not merely say that men can imitate animals or that only political man should try to be a composite creature (of man and animal); he claims that humans in general are such composites, though in different degrees of temperament, self control or management. It is precisely because it is in men’s nature that the beastly is found that political man can have recourse to it for acting. Political man is not acting in “artifice” by fabricating a beastly nature in himself. Hence within the antinomy of “man-beast,” there is yet another antinomy within the category “beast,” which is that of “fox-lion” (Ibid.) The human will, which for Machiavelli is a separate faculty for the controlling agency in the human mind, is only partially capable of controlling which tendency will override the other, but much of the outcome really hinges on the“physics” that is at play between the antinomies. And this is only partly under a person’s control.This ontological dualism found in the work of Machiavelli is akin, but not identical, to what Nietzsche would later claim; namely that “a thing is the sum of its effects” (WP 551). Nietzsche similarly sees a lack of unity in what we normally understand as the individual. The notion of competing drives and awill that attempts to bring them into line is a variation of Machiavelli’s conception, though for Nietzsche it is not a matter of duality, but of multiplicity.
Nietzsche sometimes writes describing the will as a separate faculty that tries to bring order to competing drives. However, early in BGE he deconstructs this idea in favor of the notion that the will is the strongest drive in each person. Nietzsche’s conception of the will is influenced by Schopenhauer’s, which is defined as something both within and beyond individuals. For Nietzsche will is similarly present in all activity and is not confined to the individual as if it were a capacity to be put to use by each person whenever he desires. For Nietzsche “will to power” is the underlying quality in life and it is different from Schopenhauer’s Will in that it is defined as the more potent of the drives in each being. As such, it overpowers others drives while retaining from them (Aufheben) their effective energy.Thus Nietzsche claims that a thing is the “sum” (aggregation) of its multiple effects (‘ranked,’ in asense, by order of power). Nietzsche declares “l’effet c’est moi” (BGE )and thus shares with Machiavelli the idea that the self is an effect caused by internal processes, which—to repeat—for Machiavelli are usually made of two elements while for Nietzsche they are manifold.There is another crucial distinction: Nietzsche’s idea of multiplicity negatesthe notion of the free will,’ something Machiavelli does not want to do.Machiavelli’s definition of Fortuna states that she (the rhetorical metaphor for contingency in the world) is ruler of one-half of man’s actions in order to allow man to have volition. It is not the name of an independent entity with a will of its own. Machiavelli finds the argument that man’s life is ruled by Fortune and God interesting, yet does not wholly agree with the elimination of free volition: “in order that our free will not be eliminated,” he declares, “I judge that it might be true that fortune is arbiter of one-half of our actions, but she leaves the other half, or close to it, for us to govern".The cautious language (“might,” “close to it”) clearly shows that Machiavelli is uncertain about the scope of man’s free will. Still, he sides with the idea that man has the faculty of will and that it is to a significant extent free to try to govern himself, others, and the world.
For Machiavelli this free will is endowed with a creative potency, which is not the same as undetermined will,which is the usual meaning of free will. In contrast to free will, Fortune and God are different phenomena in Machiavelli’s mind. Machiavelli understands the former as the complex of contingencies in the world and the latter as the being that is considered by Christians to rule the cosmos. He thus understands the notion of God in the Christian manner, yet does not share a belief that such a being truly rules over the lives of men. Machiavelli tends to refer to God in a rhetorical manner, merely as a figure of speech and not as a central factor in the existence and processes of the world. Fortune’s power is greater, for it is located in the concrete world that Machiavelli considers.From Machiavelli’s ontological dualism, branches of his philosophical tree arise. The fact that no single essential quality distinguishes a thing from others,and in reality a thing is the effect it creates, points away from any form of essentialism or idealism, including a doctrine of a single supreme, omni potent being. Things can be distinguished, but this is because of their unique composition of antagonisms, not because of an ideal form. This duality also characterizes Machiavelli’s conception of the cosmos.
Hence while Machiavelli advises men to take certain actions and favor particular dispositions, he provides a limited (rather than systematic) set of general rules or universal maxims to be used in similar circumstances. In this we see the reason for Machiavelli’s opposition to determinism and to the absence ofa dialectical theory in his work. There is no guarantee or tendency towards any particular outcome in worldly affairs.
The internal competition between tendencies or natures that Machiavelli recognizes in individuals and groups and that Nietzsche sees as multiple drives is a form of “agonism.” Agonism is the idea that conflict and struggle are the natural basis of life and that this is replicated in social, political, and cultural life. Human artifice can in many ways transform nature, but it does not eliminate the presence and preeminence of conflict in individual human consciousness and Nietzsche’s Machiavellism in social groups. For Nietzsche, what makes a man great in political terms is his ability to go above the constant antagonisms of life and to see that a higher purpose can be achieved if one abandons the desire to oppress. This is what Nietzsche refers to as the “love of humanity” that a great leader comes to possess by acting for the common good of a people or of humanity. For Nietzsche, Machiavelli’s notion of power is not for a mere power-monger seeking to tyrannize others. Agonism, as a concept, has two influences that are useful for our description of Machiavelli and Nietzsche’s view of life. The obvious one is the classical Hellenic meaning: the agon is the contest, and the agonistes is the contestant. More specifically I wish to draw attention to its origin in Atticcomedy, where the agon is the debate or contest between two characters. The Old Comedy of Greece was added to Dionysian festivals in 487 BC and was extant in the writings of Aristophanes. Hence the term agonism involves acontest between two persons in the context of comedy. Further, the most likely origin of the agon is the mimetic ritual from which comedy evolved: that is, thefertility rituals in which humans imitated the cycles of regeneration in nature. This is one key aspect of Machiavelli’s thought that indirectly owes much to Greek, rather than Roman, antiquity.This points to the second source of meaning in the term agonism that I want to underscore.
The relationship between man and nature is evident from the idea of the imitation of nature. More specifically, the study of animal behavior understands agonism in this sense: as a struggle for survival involving aggression, defense, and avoidance.This datum from animal behavior is also present in human, social psychology. In human societies, where verbal expression exists, agonistic behavior can generate constructive activity or bring about destructive acts. Hence the term agonism is also tied to the notion of conflict in both animal and human settings.For our use of the term agonism, then, the first influence points to the human acts of contest, struggle, and debate between individuals and groups. The underlying meaning is that human relations are characterized fundamentally and originally by confrontation. In Greek comedy cooperation is possible, but only after a process of debate and contest that enriches the participants and ends in a harangue where the audience is criticized in the name of some social or political principle. In society as a whole, struggle is part of the foundation of human life and from it achievements can be reached but only once deep-seated conflict is acknowledged and confronted. The second influence points to the animal nature of conflict, which carries over to human behavior. This links the human to the natural and specifically animal world. What this does is to introduce an element of irrationality and impulse from animal nature to human nature. And this presents us with the possibility that reason, argument, debate,and deliberation may not in some, or possibly most, cases allow for the cooperation and learning that the Attic comedy intends to ultimately bring about.Hence agonism is at its root animal, and therefore not grounded in reason.
This agonism is what describes the view of human life that Machiavelli and Nietzsche share. Machiavelli is one of the first post-classical political theorists to emphasize the struggle between groups as the core of social activity. For him, reason, deliberation, and ethical principles are relevant to political life but are not sufficient in bringing about order, duration, and flourishing in a society.Agonism is part of both individual and social life. Violence is thus a permanent and recurring feature of human society even when highly organized and developed (as was the case in Florence in Machiavelli’s time). At the same time,conflict can actually be the root of the highest achievements, such as political order, if managed properly (as in the case of the early Roman republic’s management of tumults).For Nietzsche agonism is a theme that suffuses his oeuvre. From his early writings on “Homer’s Contest” to the miscellaneous notes that make up the Will to Power, the notion of the contest recurs. In the former, Nietzsche argues the value of contests and confrontation, as a form of “wrestling” that enables the individual to improve himself through a challenge. Nietzsche thinks primarily of intellectual and moral (soul-related) improvement. It is a challenge that involves the fundamental continuity of the human and the natural. To be sure, Nietzsche has an interest in the individual psychology of men; yet his concern is in a sense class-based, for he understands men as divided into two classes, those whom he considers noble, and those he calls slavish. Hence while his understanding of agonism may be considered more focused on the individual as compared to Machiavelli’s, in fact he shares with the Florentine a class-based prism through which he sees the world. In both his understanding of the self and of groups, the agon is key. For instance, in the verse “Heraclitean” of the Prelude to GS Nietzsche writes,Only fighting yields Happiness on earth,And on battlefields.Friendship has its birth,One in three are friends:Brothers in distress,Equals, facing foe,Free, when facing death! Heraclitus was a philosopher who understood the cosmos as being originated in fire and struggle. “War is father of all,” he believed. In Nietzsche’s view, equality is a quality gained or achieved by individuals through the facing of a common enemy. It is not an inherent quality; rather, it must be won. There is sort of equality both among enemies and among brothers-in-arms. The agon allows for the development of happiness and friendship with profound meaning,to a large extent because they are earned in the process.
Nietzsche never fully rejected this Schopenhauerian influence, even after bouts of self-criticism.58 Yet it is important to note that Nietzsche does not see this struggle as merely one among individuals. There are many instances where the idea of struggle between and among individuals and groups is a fundamental element of Nietzsche’s world-view. In his account of slave and master morality,first introduced in Beyond Good and Evil (section 260 of chapter nine) and later developed in the Genealogy of Morals, for instance, the idea of a recurring contest is present: it is a contest between moralities that actually benefits the noble as well as the whole of society, and indeed development is only possible through protracted struggle.59 It is true that noble morality is nearly eliminated and prevented from dominating, but it is precisely this struggle that is required for the noble morality to be called thus, and for it to merit its dominance. It is adominance that is achieved, or won, in competition with the powerful slave morality. Noble morality needs its competitor, slave morality, if it is going to deserve any praise. Just as Machiavelli’s virtù requires Fortune to be called virtuous (it merits value only insofar as it overcomes Fortune, not if Fortune is too weak or inexistent), noble morality needs the challenge of different forms of slavish ethics.Additionally, the idea of the agon between nobles and non-nobles shows Nietzsche understands the noble as mindful of, and even dependent on, the non noble.In GS Nietzsche tells us that he understands the noble spirit as infused with a self-sacrificial attitude for the sake of the whole (GS Preface 3 77). The Nietzschean agon is not a matter of “all against all” or of the “survival of the fittest.”
Contrary to a simple Darwinian view or Schopenhauer’s pessimistic regard towards survival, the human species tends to general advancement if there is a proper relationship between the “strong” and the “weak.” The nobleman is in an antagonistic relationship with the non-nobles, yet he must face the potentially deadly insights that come with the task of philosophy: and this hedoes so that the totality of life is protected from dangerous discoveries even if it culminates in a hierarchical society. For instance, Christianity’s proper focus on pain and suffering is dangerous to man because it posits an afterlife that in effect negates actual life. The slavish is bound to be attached to this philosophy while the noble must defend against it.For Nietzsche there are some truths that are hard to bear and which should not be accessible to all humans. In a sense the nobles’ role is to bear the onus of knowing certain truths and still live with them while the slavish live in illusion.Nietzsche is indeed worried about slave morality triumphing over the noble, for if this occurs certain truths, such as the centrality and inevitability of pain in life,would not be known to man. Nonetheless, the noble needs the slavish to be challenged continually and thus hone his philosophical “knife.” As he avers in,degenerate natures are of the highest significance wherever progress is to be effected. Every progress of the whole has to be preceded by a partial weakening. The strongest natures preserve the type, the weaker help it to evolve.
The great goal of statesman ship should be duration, which outweighs everything else because it is far more valuable than freedom. While Machiavelli and Nietzsche see that man can in some sense impose his will on others and on nature, what is more salient in their thought, as compared to that of scientific thinkers such as Bacon or Descartes, is their cognizance of the limits to this. Nature may be amenable to human action from a scientific,technical perspective. Yet this human power over nature has its boundaries and,moreover, cannot alter man’s own nature. “Nature is there to be transcended,”Nietzsche affirms in BGE, yet he understands man as deeply rooted in nature and only able to transcend it in the future, once his world-view is put in place.Man is not entirely contained and limited by nature, but he is firmly rooted in it.This explains Nietzsche’s understanding of man as “beast” but also as potentially higher than beasts.Although for Nietzsche man has shown himself to be able to have great power over nature, this mastery is not entirely beneficent, for it may lack a noble purpose. Hence man is in a sense not truly sovereign. One force that conspires against this sovereignty is that of time.The course of time is a natural force that erodes, through the abrasive concatenation of events, human creations. Time proceeds headlong without consideration for the needs of man; and given the antagonistic nature of socialexistence, one’s actions must be hurried if one is to avoid being overrun byothers’ plans. This is a factor in life that for Nietzsche is part of the86 Chapter configuration of things. However, it lacks a malicious form, since it is simply part of life, part of life’s animal innocence. Machiavelli, too, shares this concern for the impermanence and evanescence of human achievements that is fomented by time.
Frequently,Machiavelli reminds the reader that failing to take action only aggravates one’s situation in the face of the passing of time. The concern with the perdurability of human creations is a common one to both thinkers. This is evident if we look at Nietzsche’s effort to understand the “weak” and the “strong” as a tacit response to Darwin’s notion of the struggle for existence in Human, All-too-Human(section 224). Nietzsche does find truth in the notion of struggle between weak and strong, but unlike Darwin, he does not think that it is a matter of the survival of the strongest over the weakest. For Nietzsche, in this early text, a community is made of both types, and the weak are as important as the strong. The weak allow wounds to be opened in the community, which eventually must be healed by the strong in order to reconstitute cohesion and then allow development. It is not merely a matter of the overcoming of the weak by the strong. Complete victories or defeats are really not possible, for time brings new antagonisms.In an important reference to political life, Nietzsche calls on Machiavelli to explain the nature of durability. As we see in the passage cited above, Nietzsche finds it convenient to use Machiavelli’s example of the state as a durable thing,and is eager to quote the words of Machiavelli. Nietzsche goes on to expoundthat only where “the greatest duration is securely established and guaranteed is continual development and ennobling inoculation at all possible” .
In this key passage Nietzsche whole heartedly accepts Machiavelli’s judgment that duration, permanence, persistence, and lasting form are the foundation on which all else is built. Machiavelli brings up the model of the state, which Nietzsche admits as an example of the need for durability in a world where agonism and time’s corrosive quality are central. Nietzsche is not dismissive or critical of the political example, which for Machiavelli is the most evident one. The duration of a regime, not its type, is the primary concern, for only from this can any sort of development or growth occur. Nietzsche only adds a coda that authority, the ruling power, will usually try to oppose such growth for its people, since its interests are not those of the individual.Nietzsche, however, ignores Machiavelli’s belief that order requires a mixed regime. Nietzsche tends to write as if he aims to see a complete triumph of the strong or noble, yet in fact, as we pointed out above, the weak or slavish have acardinal place in the “dynamics” of power that comprise a Nietzschean“constitution” of the soul.The importance of this passage is in the two thinkers’ common concern for the need to impose lasting form upon a fractious entity. This task is aesthetic in the sense that lasting form and permanence are also aesthetic concerns. For Machiavelli the state is the foremost example of imposing order upon anagonistic people; Nietzsche accepts this example and uses it to support the notion that the same applies to individuals in relation to each other in all sorts of communities, as well as to each noble individual in relation to himself. Machiavelli shares this idea in his conception of the republic, for in his view Nietzsche’s Machiavellism both the grandi and the popolari must be included in the constitution; and only through their interrelation can the republic flourish. The difference is that while Nietzsche sees time as an innocent part of the world, for Machiavelli time appears to have a malice about it, for he thinks it diminishes everyone’s achievements including those of the highest type of men, such as Scipio as described in The Ass. Only through the unusual coexistence or symbiosis of the many and the few, of the people and the great, can perdurability emerge. This is the explicit meaning of Machiavelli’s civic republicanism.
Power, the capacity to establish perdurable order, is thus understood by Machiavelli through this form of unconscious cooperation. And the great men are those who understand the need for such coexistence without seeking to appropriate all of the state: hence Machiavelli’s endorsement of the mixed republic, where both plebs and nobles partake in rule. It is for this reason that Nietzsche describes the “Machiavellism of power” as that which manifests itself among the very strongest (the founders)as a “love of humanity” (WP 776) rather than a mere will to conquer and oppress.From the ideas of agonism and the corrosive character of time, we see that the human individual is not in a position of domination over his world. Conflictis something that is largely irrational and often occurs at the level of groups,where no “head” may actually exist to lead a movement. Moreover, time itself is a conspiratorial force in human affair, which thus prevents full agency in man.Facing this reality about the nature of our world, Nietzsche’s Machiavelli helps us seek to see in human achievements the notion that some kind of permanence may redeem our time on earth. We must be cognizant that all eventually goes back to a primordial sand, yet we can try to sculpt a form with some sense of permanence—much like an artist seeking to find aesthetic value in durability—to give sense to our lives.
Machiavelli understands the human being as composed of fluids whose volume and power in relation to each other determine in large part the actions and behavior of a person. Moreover, celestial and terrestrial physical forces affect these humors.The movement of planetary natural entities affects the dispositions of individuals. It is through this that Machiavelli understands group formation or solidarity, not through an idea of deliberation or reason. Machiavelli believes that this interplay between personal humors and planetary movement tends to create, generally, two social groups, a popular one that seeks not to be oppressed and a noble one that seeks to oppress.The attempt to impose form and order on this interplay is worthy,necessary, and possible but far from predictable or always efficacious. In a world where the human being is affected deeply by natural forces and is made up of largely inscrutable fluids, prediction of behavior is not easy. This realization is what makes Machiavelli’s philosophy of life acquire a tragic tone.Machiavelli is not the theorist of deliberate action or demiurgic agency. He is even less a theorist of male domination as Pitkin claimed.In fact Machiavelli’s exhortation to action is not rooted in the will to impose or, in other words, for the pleasure of imposition, but simply in the desperate need to create some order and some meaning in an otherwise overwhelmingly chaotic universe. This happens through imposition, which may require brute force. A partial view of Machiavelli may lead one to see him as concerned primarily with male autonomy; but a fuller view of his works shows us that, while cognizant of distinctions between the genders, he does not posit a hegemonic superiority ofthe male over the female in every realm.
Yet Machiavelli and Nietzsche give subjectivity in another sense a high value. And this is the sense opposed to the idea of objectivity in knowledge. In Machiavelli, the subjective perspective on knowledge runs throughout his oeuvre. Implicitly, this trust in the idea that humans exist as beings always located in particular contexts is a riposte to the Platonic (in the colloquial sense) notion that there is an underlying universal rationality to the way the cosmos works. This is the sense in which Nietzsche sees Machiavelli as a “cure for Platonism.” Despite the claim by some commentators that he is a founder of an objective political science, Machiavelli actually writes from a very partisan and personal, or subjective, perspective. Two examples can be given for this fact:his own republican political beliefs as they permeate his works; and the fact that this own life is the source of particular theoretical stances that he takes. In Nietzsche, the principal related idea is his perspectivism, which includes the critique of philosophers’ claims that they are motivated only by the will to truth,when in fact this will is underlain by a will to power. Further, it can be claimed that Nietzsche’s own life is the artistic creation that is representative of his philosophy, as Nehamas has deftly argued.86Throughout the past five centuries, the fact that Machiavelli wrote the republican Discourses and also the apparently despotic Prince has been considered perhaps the central problem in Machiavelli studies. The work of Skinner and Viroli has gone a long way to prove the republican beliefsdear to Machiavelli’s heart. Still, the question of why Machiavelli wrote asort of handbook for tyrants is asked again and again. We may trust Rousseau in believing that The Prince is a book for republicans that attempts to show the way despots think and act (On the Social Contract, Book III).
However, the most convincing piece of evidence as to the presentation of Machiavelli’s republican beliefs can be found in the text of The Prince itself. Machiavelli presents his own personal belief, his partisan stance, not in a surreptitious manner, but founded on theoretical reasons, in Chapters V and IX.In these chapters of The Prince he explains the superiority of the republican mode of government over the principality, thereby providing support for his own partisan preference. He avoids spurious reasoning but still provides an in direct defense of his own republican ideas in Chapter V, where he claims that in a confrontation between a republic and a principality the latter can only defeat the former through sheer violence and destruction, not by improving its own internal order. In a republic more life and passion are found (P 21) than in principalities and the latter can defeat the former only by force, not by any self-improvement. In chapter IX, discussing civil principalities, Machiavelli erodes the distinction between the republic and the principality by expressing the idea that Nietzsche’s Machiavellism principalities can acquire from republics certain techniques; for instance, the support of fellow citizens, a bulwark of republican government, can be useful to principalities.In this manner Machiavelli proffers reasons for the superiority of there publican form, which can in some way be borrowed by principalities which lack virtue or fortune (or power through crime) by relying on citizens’ support.The people are more “decent” (P 39)89 than the great; and they also have more power to threaten the authority of the prince if they are not kept friendly to him.
For Nietzsche, as for Machiavelli, authority and its concomitants standards of right and wrong, good and bad, are born from earthly processes of power.Rulers and politicians who claim to act out of Christian motivations,Nietzsche tell us, in reality simply follow Machiavelli’s tenets for acquiring,maintaining and utilizing power. That is, if they are effective rulers and politicians. For Nietzsche a political man who does not understand and act on such tenets is an inept one. Christian morality is merely a façade that belies the desire for power. But what is the theory of power that explains what really motivates the ruler? This is what Machiavelli and Nietzsche posit as an alternative to the ethical, Christian view that politics should be about achieving justice. What they argue is that there is an aesthetic motivation in the political man. For Machiavelli the notion of virtù is the key concept, while for Nietzscheit is will to power. These notions are related to each other through their sense of aesthetic practice.
As I define it in previous chapters, Machiavelli’s understanding of virtù has a meaning more complex than selfless civic action in the service of one’s country. The notion refers to Machiavelli’s philosophical anthropology. It represents a rare ability found in the character of some men. This ability rests on innate-talent, but also requires cultivation through practice. There are three qualities that it comprises: foresight, flexibility, and defiance. When these appear in concert, they can be expressed in three areas: independence, acquisition, and appearance. The effective result of this exercise of abilities in these fields allows for autonomy and freedom through the construction of order, unity and peace.This is the logic that Machiavelli seems to be employing when understanding the notion of virtù as a human capacity. 100Clearly what strikes us at first, and what is known to be one his central innovations, is his disregard for moral concepts in his understanding of virtù.Virtue as understood by Christianity entails following the rules set down by its religious tenets. In its place Machiavelli wants to promote the idea that one reaches certain rules through experience. The quality of foresight, to be able to see in advance what will come, entails a mastery of the notion of new-ness.Imagination is at work when one needs to anticipate the future. And this ability requires the mental movement from the present to the future, from one “now” to another “now II.” This is the essence of modernism, for the term refers to the present, to the “now” of a particular moment, even before it refers to the “newness” of something.
|The Prince, Machiavelli's masterpiece.|
Machiavelli also tells us that it is important, though difficult, to be flexible according to the times. Most men’s natures are fixed, yet there is something in some of us that allows us to alter them a little to suit the circumstances. This relative “transformation” of one’s character is indeed a movement from one form to another. The movement from one form or shape to another requires knowledge about various forms if one is to do it successfully. For this,Nietzsche’s Machiavellism understanding of action as form-giving is necessary, for a unity to one’s new“character” or persona can only succeed if the elements of the new form are well grasped. If one is unwilling to be flexible, one lacks this quality.The final quality that makes up virtù is that of defiance. What this stands for is a trans gressive attitude that urges critical questioning of received ideas and values. In part this seems to be present in Machiavelli through the “expression”of the quality of courage that is tied to defiance. Through virtù, Machiavelli seems to assert, a man can allow the manifestation or expression of his capacity to have courage.
Perhaps no concept is at the same time more central and more nebulous in Nietzsche’s thinking than “will to power.” As is well known, Walter Kaufmann considered it the kernel of Nietzsche’s teaching. Martin Heidegger saw thenotes that make up the text Will to Power (arranged by Nietzsche’s sister) as Nietzsche’s principal work for its propounding of what he saw as Nietzsche’s metaphysics. Yet it cannot be denied that there is no extensive exposition of thenotion anywhere in Nietzsche’s texts, and that the notes that make up that publication were not intended by Nietzsche to be a cohesive, final work. Nonetheless, the same can be said for any of the key Nietzschean concepts, suchas the Eternal Return and the Overman. Moreover the works that preceded WP were not entirely paragons of expository writing.102Still, the concept is indeed cardinal in Nietzsche’s opus. Nietzsche wasindeed confusing about it, for he appears to have various meanings at different times for this notion. One way to come to terms with what will to power meansis to understand it from the vantage point of Machiavelli’s concept of virtù. With this approach, we can approximate at least one of the meanings that Nietzsche seemed to be trying to provide for the term.103Nietzsche’s ambiguous term appears infrequently in his writings. The confusion around it centers on the fact that Nietzsche at points seems to claim that Wille zur Macht is a human quality; at others, that it is a quality of all life;and yet in other instances he appears to declare that it is the fundamental quality of the world. Hence it is not clear if he understands the term as ontological,cosmological, or metaphysical. Perhaps he meant it to be all three, but this adds to the confusion.Will to power depends largely on Nietzsche’s understanding of Will in Schopenhauer, as I stated before.
Because Nietzsche is nowhere explicit about what part of his once-admired “idol” he wants to reject and what part he wants to retain, what we have is tenuous, yet pivotal concept. Schopenhauer’s philosophy saw the world as Will; Nietzsche appears at times to follow him:“This world . . . a monster of energy, without beginning, without end . . . this world is the will to power—and nothing besides!” (WP 1067). But it is Schopenhauer’s awareness of English utilitarianism that tells us what Nietzsche seems to want to do: to reject a simple hedonistic perspective that claims humans basically seek pleasure and abhor pain. Exploitation, for instance, is part of the essence of what lives; it is a consequence of will to power.105 Hence for Nietzsche pain and pleasure are not antinomies that represent the guiding lights of human motivation or action. At this point we can introduce Machiavelli’s notion of virtù to shed light on Nietzsche’s concept of will to power. The critique of a simple avoidance of paint hat Nietzsche carries out has a parallel in Machiavelli, for Machiavelli does not want to give credence to the notion that avoiding pain is the key human trait. For Machiavelli the term virtù, rooted in the Latin word vir, which means man,implies an archetype of male toughness and courage that actually seeks out danger and pain in order to prove itself. Let us hear Nietzsche’s words: “I judge the power of a will according to how much resistance, pain, torture it can endureand; given this yardstick, far be it from me to reproach the evil and painful side of man.”106 Here is where the trans gressive quality is manifested, as “lust for adventure.”107 This is the root of the term and it is the basis on which Machiavelli posits the “maleness” of his ethics, however machista, misogynistic,or simple it may appear to modern minds.108In lieu of a simple hedonistic calculus, Nietzsche wants to underscore theidea that “drive” (Trieb) is what will seems to be connected to. Taking another cue from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche finds that drives inhere in humans qua biological beings. Against a Heideggerian interpretation of will to power asmeta physical, in effect what Nietzsche does is to locate the will in relation to the somatic, animal, and physio psychological aspects of man:Suppose all organic functions were traced back to this will to power and one could also find in it the solution of procreation and nourishment . . . then one would have gained the right to determine all efficient force univocally as—will to power (BGE 36).
Flesh and blood envelop the will, and it is not, we can argue, a substance in the sense that Aristotle would propose. Again the link with Machiavelli’s virtù is clear: for Machiavelli the daring that a man must show is principally in risking his body. This would require a “discharging of strength” (BGE 13). Death and pain are the currency of Machiavelli’s trade.
This is one point of tension between the two thinkers. For Nietzsche, even if will appears to be located in the midst of such a corporeal locus, this does not mean that it is fundamentally expressed physically. For him, it would seem,“will” becomes “will to power” in the mind. It may be true that will exists, and it exists as linked to basic, inchoate drives. Yet for it to be called “a will that makes” (as the German term seems to imply) it requires a particular orientation that can only be given in the mind, not in physicality. Nietzsche does appear to reject free will, but will to power seems to have at least a moment of freedom in the mind, when a particular drive is chosen by a person, mentally, as the ordering principle of his or her world. This is why Nietzsche calls philosophy,the love of wisdom, “the tyrannical urge itself, the most spiritual will to power”(BGE 9).If the drive that one chooses to become dominant (in one’s mind) is allowed to supersede others most of the time, it will have an affirmative, explanatory value for the person vis-à-vis the world. This dominant drive is really not one towards mastery of the world. It is one towards ordering and justifying, in the sense that one may use it as the reason behind the fact of one’s existence. This is what explains why Nietzsche tends to favor artists and authors over men of politics as his paragons: he finds them more emblematic of the mental process that he is interested in, viz. the moment of choice in which a drive is chosen as a world-ordering principle.The ordering of the world allows a simultaneous process of self-mastery because subordinate drives or values are kept in check by the dominant drive.Thus, while the choice of drive may not necessarily be done for the purpose of self-mastery, this may in effect be one of its results. Thus the process of world ordering is intimately tied to self-mastery as if in a mirror play. But for this, the element of time is crucial.Because the world-ordering process allows for a self-mastery, the desire to have a mastery of the self or soul requires keen knowledge and understanding of the times in which one lives. For Nietzsche, will to power is effective only to the extent that it faces things in the world and persons in the world aptly, that is,fitting the temporal context. This involves both a timing of actions and the exercise of actions in accordance to the times in which one lives, that is to say the social and cultural conditions. This is what brings into play what we might call the art of time. Nietzsche does not favor reckless, anarchic action. The model of the artist, and more specifically the musician, is important. Rhythm is of the essence; timing of of actions, allows for a style that is cohesive, even if not uniform. The music that emerges comes out over time, it becomes and develops slowly into a whole that is effective if timed well. Again Nietzsche sees that artists, especially musicians and poets, have such a talent.
A man of politics who is able to discern current and future conditions in order to gauge his actions, informed by things past (history), is engaging in virtuoso action. Knowledge of the past, present,and future, both from a wide perspective as well as from a momentary one, is essential for a man to engage his flexibility and transgressive qualities at the appropriate instance.If we see the will to power as virtù, we recognize that Nietzsche has something in mind similar to what Machiavelli does when he conceives of the“fields” in which virtù is expressed. As I said above, for Machiavelli the attributes of foresight, flexibility, and defiance can manifest themselves on three different fields, independence, acquisition, and appearance. The second is the most important, and here is where we can elucidate further Nietzsche’s notion of will to power.If we understand will to power as the desire or ability to “make things your own,” we approach a notion like acquisition in Machiavelli.
This attitude of appropriation allows an ordering of the world that makes it more intelligible and therefore makes one (at least feel) stronger. Looking out into the world and being able to explain it is one example of this.This is why Nietzsche reduces the will to truth to will to power (Z II 12).2 But the intellectual sphere is not the only one where this occurs; will to power is omnipresent. Just as Machiavelli was concerned in explaining how to make the world your own or appearing to do so, Nietzsche understands will to power as appropriation. This is what he means when he explains the morality of loving our fellows: “Our love of neighbor—is it not a lust for new possessions?” (GS14). Of course Nietzsche does not mean to say that will to power is only (or even primarily) the acquisition of material possessions. What he means is the acquisition of a grasp, a comprehension of the world in one’s own terms. This isa parallel to Machiavelli’s study of acquisition in the prince and in the republic. Having said all this, Nietzsche does seem to have in mind a meaning widerin breadth than Machiavelli’s virtù. This is because the remarks that he makes about will to power sometimes include all of life, not just human beings, and not just some great human beings. To understand the concept from a metaphysical perspective, however, seems to fly in the face of the naturalist, and explicitly anti-metaphysical perspective that Nietzsche posits as his own.
To make the notion of will to power clearer and more cogent, a perspective grounded on the human being is most appropriate. For this reason the ties to Machiavelli’s concept of virtù are useful. Because Nietzsche seems ambivalent about free will, however, we must treat will to power as a nascent potentiality in all, whereas virtù is a rare capacity in some. What this means is that will to power may not easily be called to action and may not be manifested in the world as easily as virtù is. Virtù itself is rare, but it seems will to power, properly understood as that which develops from an inchoate potential to something that allows self-mastery, is even more rare.The way that Nietzsche understands will to power, however, is ineluctably tied to virtù. In a passage in The Antichrist he tell us,What is good? Everything that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself . . . . Not contentedness but more power; not peace but war; not virtue but fitness (Renaissance virtue, virtù).
Much like the Machiavellian prince’s need to acquire power, the Nietzschean Overman must express his unique approach to life in a way that is courageous and transgressive (‘war’). He must be agonistic, and not have the contentedness of a being like the pig in Machiavelli’s Ass. And he must have the flexibility that comes with Machiavelli’s understanding of virtue. For fitness flexibility is needed; and fitness allows strength and a longer life. Like an athlete who must avoid nicotine and caffeine, the new man should avoid “moraline,” i.e., thinking in terms of a Manichean ethics. Specifically, it cannot be the ethics of Christianity. For as Machiavelli tells us,Our religion has glorified humble and contemplative more than active men. It has then placed the highest good in humility, abjectness, and contempt of things human; the [pagan] placed it in greatness of spirit, strength of body, and all other things capable of making men very strong. Like Machiavelli, Nietzsche wants to undermine Christianity and remove it from the base of Western civilization. For this, both find inspiration in the ancients:the Italian primarily in his “ancestors” the Romans of antiquity, and the Germanin pre-Socratic Greece. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and both seek to establish new bases for the West from their study of the strengths and weaknesses of the ancients.ConclusionFew thinkers receive the kind of approval—and even praise—that Nietzsche bequeaths on Machiavelli. There are some important distinctions between the aims of the two, yet the overall intention that Nietzsche sees in Machiavelli is found to be on target. True, Nietzsche finds Machiavelli’s critique of conventional Christianity somewhat superficial, for it does not psycho analyzethe notion of guilt, for instance. Yet on the whole the Machiavellian perspective on the world is what Nietzsche believes is necessary in order to achieve things,to create lasting, admirable, life-redeeming events.
Much like the ideal that Machiavelli creates in the mythologized image of Borgia, a prototype of (im)moral perfection that never quite existed in reality for Nietzsche “Machiavellianism” is the theoretically perfect separation of a desire to create great things and the personal cost that it might entail. This is what Nietzsche means when he says that virtù (the capacity to act with force, foresight, flexibility, and creativity in order to produce something grand) can be made to dominate only when one is willing to renounce being virtuous in a conventional sense. This explains the statement by Nietzsche from Will to Power with which we open the present chapter: pure,untarnished, raw, green, strong, pungent virtue is that which is human, natural,perceived through the senses, worldly, and not one that is abstract, clean,rational, and moral—in a word, Platonic-Christian. For Nietzsche Machiavellian virtù is an organic human capability possessed by the few, the ability to remain untouched by moral pangs when acting for the sake of a great purpose, for the“grand politics of virtue” (WP 304). Of course, few humans can really remain unharmed by such immorality or amorality, hence the theoretical perfection of Machiavellianism as a principle. It is anti-Platonism, the opposite number of the Platonic ideal, something so rare as to be almost just an ideal.
Thus Nietzsche describes it as “superhuman” and only approximated in reality. For Nietzsche virtù is the real-world manifestation of Will to Power when put to use adequately, correctly. This occurs in the foundation of new states, new morals,and new ways of life that transcend the simplistic, unreal, and harmful denigration of this world by world views such as Platonism and Pauline Christianity.From vastly different historical and political contexts yet from similar philosophical perspectives, Machiavelli and Nietzsche seek a rejuvenation of the West. This process involves a radical critique of Christian values and the establishing of a new way of looking at the world beyond conventional moral codes. Despite almost four hundred years between them, Machiavelli and Nietzsche possess a similar structure to their philosophical approaches. It is from this that we can affirm that there is an underlying bond between the two. This bond is born from a similar predisposition to approach moral-philosophicproblems not from an abstract deontological-normative position but from onethat is rooted in the actual, lived experience of human beings. This position is one that depends on cognition through the senses to acquire knowledge; thus, it is aesthetic.While not fitting the traditional mold, Machiavelli was a philosopher who wrote historical, comic, and tragic works. He was a political historian, but not apolitical scientist, as we moderns understand the term.5 Contrary to the common belief that Machiavelli was one of the founders of the kind of modern view of man as the potentially unbounded shaper of the world, we see from the above account that he in fact is the founder of a modern view of life that sees man as severely limited and constrained by the nature of the world, time, and his own nature.Machiavelli and Nietzsche share these philosophical points about the nature of the world: The significant presence of unintelligibility in certain respects is Nietzsche’s Machiavellism 103what comes about from the multiple causation of events in the world;the lack of self-control is what emerges from the competing antinomies in human being;the deterioration of human achievements is what comes from the frenzied run of time; and the incapacity to ascertain a universal, scientific account of the world is what makes man by necessity draw inwardly to his own .This view is tragic/existential, and not proto-scientific or an adumbration ofthe Enlightenment.
Nietzsche shares with him the same ethos; and this subjective perspective in which harm and agonism are pervasive leads to their conception of the world as fundamentally amoral. As a consequence, they believe the justification for human existence lies in the idea of man as shaper or artist in the world. But because they see a variety of oppositions to a truly free imposition of human will upon the world, they possess a view of action that is closer to an aesthetic one that struggles to achieve some degree of order rather that complete, masterly control as a scientistic, or techne-based view would have it. This view is much more skeptical than that given by the demiurgic view of man in other writers in the humanist tradition with whom Machiavelli and Nietzsche have sometimes been confused.If the philosophic grounds on which the two authors stand are similar, what do they propose as an alternative to conventional political theorizing? What they provide is a way to understand value-creation through aesthetic means and categories. The means are artistic, and the categories are drawn from aesthetict heory. Rather than to seek logical proofs of what the best way to live is, they rely on metaphor and story-telling to persuade us to embrace particular values that they espouse.For Nietzsche, “Machiavellianism” is “perfection in politics” (WP 304).What he means is that one must recognize Machiavelli’s basic insight: that any new founder of constitutions or ways of life (ethics)—if he or she is to be effective—has to be able to separate conventional morality from the doing of great deeds. These are political acts even if they are not formally matters of state,because they entail power and sets of values that are to affect communities of people. Value-creation is inherently political because it is grounded on an assertion of particular power, and on a separation of simple morality from the acts of a founder.
We explore the aesthetic nature of value creation in their workin the next chapter, as we follow Nietzschean themes in Machiavelli’s plays and in the Machiavellianism of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. By “Zarathustra” we mean Nietzsche’s idea of the man who brings new and radical values, to the text by the same name, and to Nietzsche himself, who sometimes wrote his words under this self-styled pseudonym in his belief that he was the prophet of a radical break with the Western tradition.