How does Machiavelli’s idea of ‘virtu’ compare with Aristotle’s idea Essay
“Man is a political animal”1. This, indeed, is true because in the modern world we live in, every single person is a part of a society. A society is a political object, so from this results the idea of a man being dependant upon political acts. All men are special and unique members of the society they live in, but of course we all know that every society divides into different parts: the prince or the rulers, the citizens and the common people. Every single member has it’s own duties and is obliged to do them.
However, how these members are divided and what their duties are defined differently by different people, yet the best definition would definitely be given by well known political philosophers, good examples of which could be Nicclolo Machiavelli and Aristotle. Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and Aristotle’s “Politics” Book 3 The Theory of Citizenship and Constitutions are works where the definition for what the rulers, the citizen and the common people have to be like is given.
If we compare the two works of two historical political theorists we will find that they have a lot of things in common and yet still there are some differences that can be found. Writing “The Prince” and giving advise on governing a princedom, Machiavelli listed a lot of qualities positive and negative that a Prince should have to be a good ruler. One of the most important qualities, Machiavelli says, is the virtu or virtue. This quality is pointed out to be very important, mainly, not because of personal values, but for appearance of the Prince in front of the subjects.
A Prince should be generous, kind, compassionate and devout, or so he should appear to be. As it is known, simple, private citizens tend to like people who have the qualities listed above, and so to be loved by his subjects the Prince should seem to have them. However it is clear that if the Prince really does express these qualities quite often, he will undoubtedly loose the positive appearance in public and even loose his power. Therefore, ‘ he should have a flexible disposition, varying as fortune and circumstances dictate’2.
He should know how to appear good and do evil at the same time, of course the evil would be done in benefit to the princedom. Still, the Prince must not forget that he should demonstrate the virtues he has from time to time. So virtu are important qualities that all people should have, but tend to be very important in particular for Machiavelli’s Prince, because this way the Prince will be the person who has it all to be a ruler: good in dealing with people, with his subjects and of course with the internal and the external affairs of the princedom.
In Machiavelli’s opinion the Prince is the soul of the princedom and, although he has a lot of advisers, he makes all the decisions himself. However Aristotle’s idea of ruling the state or the city is when all citizens are cooperating and making decisions together, but it does get confusing for us to understand the word ‘citizen’ itself, because the definition given by Aristotle to this word differs from what we’ve become used to.
In his book ‘a citizen’ is not a person who just lives in the city and “shares in legal processes only to the extent of being entitled to sue and to be sued in the courts”3, but “citizens are those who share in the holding of office”4(the office of jury men or the office of a member of the popular assembly). For Aristotle a common man is not entitled to become a citizen and if by any chance he does become one he must establish him self among other citizens and prove that he deserves to be one.
Yet there are always doubts whether the citizen who became one unjustly can be called a citizen or if a child of a mother and father citizens can be called one, to which the answer would be that to call such people citizens would be fair. Still in different kinds of constitutions, in Aristotle’s book, there are different requirements for citizens. ” It follows that the citizen under each different kind of constitution must also necessarily be different”5. “So different kinds of constitutions require different kinds of good citizens, while a good mans is always the same”6.
So just like in Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, when the vitru of a Prince differed from the virtu of an ordinary man, in Aristotle’s “Politics” the definition for excellence is defined differently for the good citizen then for the good man, and the two can never be identified. Although in the case of a good ruler the two can become one, because the ruler has to have the moral wisdom of good quality, which is the fundamental quality of a good man and also be a good citizen for he is a citizen and the ruler of the city.
The excellence of a good citizen can be defined interrelated with the constitution of the city, whereas the good man is a man of “a single absolute excellence”7. The excellence of a good citizen must belong to all citizens, however the excellence of a good man can not possibly be long to all. Only the ruler possesses both, since he need to be the good ruler and obtain practical wisdom. Aristotle also says that a citizen on the other hand does not need to have practical wisdom.
Practical wisdom is something that is very typical for a ruler and a common citizen can not possess a wisdom of such, his excellence would rather be called ‘right opinion’. And again, just like in Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, “the excellence of the ordinary citizen is different from that of the ruler”8. Yet, even the excellence of a good citizen cannot be identical for all citizens and it is impossible to reach that kind of a condition.
Aristotle believes that a good citizen should know how to, both rule and obey, that is the excellence of a good citizen. This brings us to another difference between the excellence of a good citizen and the excellence of a good man. “… The excellence of the good man is in ruling, while that of the good citizen is in both ruling and obeying, these two excellences cannot be held in the same esteem”9. However, one cannot rule without being ruled and so ” the ruler must begin to learn by being ruled”10.
There are some other certain functions a ruler needs to know: it is that the ruler does not fulfil the tasks him self, he does not even have to know how to do it, but what he does need to know is how to order and to use the subordinates to get it done. Whereas the duty of the citizens is to obey, cooperate and act accordingly to the constitution. Since ” it is the function of the one to acquire, and of the other to keep”11. The two ideas of two political philosophers: ‘virtu’ and ‘civic excellence’ in whole differ a lot.
For Machiavelli there would be only one ruler, the Prince, in the state, who would be the only man to possess the power to make the decisions all by him self and to be at the top of all the rest of his subjects. Whereas Aristotle describes a group of people, the citizens, who possess that power to rule by cooperating and making decisions collectively. This group of people is the one, which stands above all the rest of the common people and rules over them and yet is being ruled itself by the Ruler.
However the two also have a lot in common, like the definition for what the Prince, in Machiavelli’s case, and the citizens, in Aristotle’s, need to be like. These definitions both say that the Prince or the citizen needs to be of good quality and morally excellent. So both Machiavelli and Aristotle seek to reach the best princedom or city, but by different roots: one by the power of one (the Prince) and another by collective cooperation of group of people (the citizens) who possess the same power.