NAKED POWER AND POLITICAL MORALITY


The success of the French, Spanish, and German invaders [of the Italian Peninsula in 1494] and the reduction of the Italian states to political impotence was an event without sense beyond the sphere of naked power. Italy, at the time, was a prosperous, wealthy country; and it was the most highly civilized area of Europe. The upheaval did not make sense in terms of a reduction of a poor, backward colonial region by economically progressive countries; neither did it make sense in terms of a social revolution, perhaps the rise of a third estate, or a populist uprising; neither were any issues of moral or political principles involved; neither was there any question of a religious movement, as later in the wars of Reformation.

In brief: economics, morals, principles of social justice, ideas concerning political organization, spiritual movements, or religious factions had nothing to do with the event; it was a clear case of a stronger power and better military organization in ruthless victory over a weaker and militarily less-well-equipped power.

We must realize, and perhaps we can realize it better than we could even twenty years ago [as a result of the Second World War], that the generation that witnesses such events receives a trauma. The more intelligent and sensitive members of such a generation have seen the reality of power at the moment of its existential starkness when it destroys an order, when the destruction is a brute fact without sense, reason, or ideas. It is difficult to tell such men any stories about morality in politics.

With the experienced eye of the moraliste they will diagnose the moralist in politics as the profiteer of the status quo, as the hypocrite who wants everybody to be moral and peace-loving after his own power drive has carried him into a position that he wants to retain.

The psychological diagnosis is fundamentally correct and will apply frequently. Under this aspect a man like Machiavelli who theorizes on the basis of his stark experience of power is a healthy and honest figure, most certainly preferable as a man to the contractualists who try to cover the reality of power underneath an established order by the moral, or should we say immoral, swindle of consent.

CW VOL 22 (HPI-IV)
Chapter 1, The Order of Power: Machiavelli
§2, The Problems of the AgeĀ—the Trauma of 1494, pp 36-37.

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