Machiavelli says the prince only has to seem good, not be good. Socrates insists that seeming is bad, being is good. Is it better to remain in the cave with Machiavelli, or see the light with Socrates? Write three pages for Machiavelli and against Socrates, write another three pages against Machiavelli and for Socrates.
Both Niccolò Machiavelli and Plato, in their works The Prince and The Republic (respectively), address the concepts of seeming and being in relation to political power and leadership, however they do so in two distinct manners. In the Republic, Socrates insists that seeming is bad, and being is good. Using a parable of people in a cave, he states that the only way to know the difference between what seems and what actually is reality is to experience it in its purest form, instead of through images. Machiavelli, on the other hand outlines the different ways that a prince could rise to power, and justifies any and all means that a prince could take. He states that a prince only has to seem good when it fits his purposes, not actually be good. He encourages an aspiring prince to be deceitful and conniving in order to gain and maintain power. Before concluding which political theorist is correct, it is interesting to examine whether it would be better to remain in the cave with Machiavelli or see the light with Socrates.
The citizens of Socrates’ Republic are divided into three classes. Those who are deemed fit to rule, the philosopher/rulers, are those who have been chosen to pass through several stages of training and preparation. They are the most fit to rule, because they are the only ones who (at the end of their training) know the difference between what seems to be reality and what reality actually is. They have gained this knowledge because they have spent the majority of their lifetimes preparing to rule. The other two classes of people in the Republic, the warriors and the moneymakers, can really only see what seems to be, and occasionally what really is. They simply rely on the philosopher/rulers to be knowledgeable and always act in the best interests of the community as a whole. The parable of the cave is evident here.
Socrates tells Glaucon a tale of men in a cave. These men have been “chained foot and neck since childhood” (Plato 514a). The chains prevent them from turning around; they can face only forward towards a wall. Directly behind them is a low wall, behind that a road, and behind that a burning fire. People pass by on the road between the backs of the men and the fire, casting shadows onto the wall directly in front of the men. Sometimes these people carry things, and on occasion they speak. Since the men cannot turn their heads, and never have been able to, they must assume that the shadows they see on the wall are real images. Likewise, they assume that the noise they hear is made by the shadows on the wall and not by the passersby. These men “would firmly believe truth to be the shadows of artificial objects” (Plato 515c). Socrates then proposes that one of the men is set free, drug from the cave and told that all he now sees is truer and more real than what he saw before. Once accustomed to the real world, Glaucon agrees with Socrates, that the man would “suffer anything rather than live like [he had before]” (Plato 516e). Additionally, both men agree that if the man was to return to his companions, they would find him quite mad, and “they’d say that he came back from above with ruined eyes and the trip wasn’t even worth the attempt” (Plato 517a).
According to the Myth of the Metals, the people in the Republic, are divided into three distinct classes: philosopher/rulers (gold, wisdom), warriors (silver, courage), and moneymakers (bronze, temperance). When examining the parable of the cave, the philosopher/rulers can be likened to those who leave the cave to find reality, and then return to share what they have learned with those still in the cave. These are the people who have attained the wisdom to realize that there may be something beyond what they are already experiencing. They leave the cave and see reality. Those who remain in the cave, content to view the shadows on the wall, are the other two classes of people in the Republic: the moneymakers and the warriors. They view what seems to be reality, but they will never know what truly is reality and what merely seems to be reality. Because they have never left the cave, they have not experienced reality, only what seems to be reality. These people put all of their faith into the philosopher/rulers since they are the only people who have access to the good, true reality.
In Book V of the Republic, Plato discusses forms versus images. The people in the cave, the citizens of the Republic, are content with images that seem to be real, and never arrive at true knowledge. They watch the shadows on the wall and assume that they are the real forms because they do not know any better, and have never seen the actual people whose shadows create the images. They never see the pure, unfiltered form of which the image is only a copy. Socrates states to Glaucon that “with the just, and the unjust, the good and the bad, and all other forms: each itself is one, but by their partnership in actions, bodies, and one another, they show up everywhere and each appears to be many” (Plato 476a). Forms are unchanging. Images, however, are changing. Forms are not exhibited in tangible, unchanging objects…instead they are simply known in the mind. For example, there may be something beautiful, just, or holy. However, “is there one of these many beautiful things that won’t also appear ugly? Or one of the just or the holy that won’t also appear unjust or unholy” (Plato 479e)? Both Glaucon and Socrates agree that there is not. Just as in the cave, the images are not as good or as pure as the true forms. However, like in the cave, people may assume that the image they view actually is the form. These images lead the people to a false conception of what seems to be reality.
Just as the man who leaves the cave will return to it and realize how misguided those are who mistakenly believe the cave is reality, part of the philosopher/ruler’s training is to leave the cave, learn what reality is, and then return to the cave to receive practical experience for learning. Only by completing all the stages of training which end when the philosopher/ruler is approximately 50 years of age, will they have the knowledge necessary to adequately guard the city, act in the best interests of the community, and guide the next generation of philosopher/rulers. In the Republic, this is the only way to realize the forms and know the difference between what seems to be and what is.
To Socrates, seeming is bad and being is good because only those who can actually be, and who truly know what is can be guaranteed to make the appropriate decisions concerning the Republic as a community. Those who assume that the images represent reality do not have enough knowledge to guide or to guard the Republic. This is the reason that the Republic needs the philosopher/ruler; someone who has the wisdom, the knowledge and the training to lead the Republic in the way that is best; someone who knows what actually is reality and what is merely an image of reality.
Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince disagrees with Plato’s theories presented in the Republic. In Machiavelli’s work, he points out that the prince only has to seem good when it suits his needs, not to truly be good. The prince should gain power through whatever way is possible: deceit, corruption and manipulation. “It is not necessary for a prince to have [certain] qualities, but it is very necessary for him to appear to have them” (Machiavelli 18). While Socrates appears to be moral and encourages the philosopher/ruler to find the truth and to share it with his community by guiding them, Machiavelli is the exact opposite. In fact, the power which Machiavelli is seeking limits morality because he believes that a city cannot be founded unless strength, force, or violence is used to institute that regime. He declares that might make right, and a prince should do whatever it takes to seize and maintain his power, whether he believes the process is just or not. That is of no importance. What is of importance is power and glory obtained through power. The means by which these two things are gained are not critical. Sometimes takeover is easy and law-abiding, but usually one must resort to more fierce means.
There are two means of fighting: one according to the laws and the other with force; the first way is proper to man, the second to beasts; but because in the first, in many cases is not sufficient, it becomes necessary to use the other (Machiavelli 18).
Machiavelli promotes taking over territory with a vengeance, imitating both a fox and a lion. Even if the prince does not, by nature possess these qualities, it is important that he seems as though he does. He should be sly like a fox, carefully planning his every move and watching out for traps, attacking powerfully and protecting himself, like a lion.
The cave parable used by Socrates in The Republic can also be applied to the city that Machiavelli encourages the prince to found, however it can be interpreted very differently. Machiavelli advocates leaving all the men in the cave, never to be brought out to see reality. He encourages the prince to do all that he can to keep the men in the cave, facing the images on the wall. By seeming to be things that he is not, such as “merciful, faithful, humane, trustworthy, [and] religious,” the prince is keeping his citizens in the cave, away from the true reality of his nature (Machiavelli 18). Essentially, the citizens should only see an image of the prince which he purposely projects to demand fear, respect and power, which may not necessarily be his true form. Machiavelli states that “A prince cannot observe all those things for which men are considered good, for in order to maintain the state he is often obliged to act against his promise, against charity, against humanity, and against religion” (Machiavelli 18). The best thing that a prince can do is take on whatever qualities he needs to suit his own purposes for the time being, changing the projections of these qualities as need be.
It is very interesting to note that while The Prince is advocating seeming rather than being, it appears that seeming is exactly what Machiavelli is doing in writing this work. The work is dedicated from “Niccolò Machiavelli to Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Magnificent” (Machiavelli Dedicatory Preface). It would seem that Machiavelli is trying to help Lorenzo gain power. However, it is rather odd that Machiavelli, a Republican, would write and dedicate a guide to politically take over Italy to a man who wants a very different type of government for Italy than Machiavelli does. Therefore, the reader can only assume that Machiavelli is writing The Prince in an attempt to regain his job and get out of exile. Or, maybe it is possible that there is an even deeper meaning. When closely examined, one realizes that The Prince is not at all a guide to success. Rather, if the instructions within it were adhered to, it would mean a sure death for Lorenzo. Machiavelli encourages the prince to be deceitful, callous and cruel. He says that it is better to be feared than to be loved. In order to gain power, the prince must kill off the members of the existing government which would, in turn, upset the people that he will be ruling. “As [some] states [when] acquired are used to living by their own laws and in freedom, [one method] of holding onto them is to got there in person to live” (Machiavelli 5). Next, he encourages the prince to think like Charles VII who “recognized the necessity of arming his own men” (Machiavelli 13). In fact, if “he has found them unarmed he should always arm them” (Machiavelli 20). He should not build a fortress. The best fortress that exists is not the physical fortress at all, it is “not to be hated by the people” because no fortress can save a prince if he is hated (Machiavelli 20). This is an ironic request considering that the above recommendations would most likely make a prince hated and provide the citizens with a way to take out their aggressions on the prince. Therefore, by following previous recommendations in The Prince, the prince would already have made himself hated, and without a fortress, would leave himself open to attack. The prince would be living without protection, among a bunch of angry, armed citizens. This is definitely a recipe for disaster. In the dedication of The Prince, Machiavelli only seems to be supporting Lorenzo. But, can he be trusted? In Chapter 23, Machiavelli himself states that it is very harmful to trust those who flatter you, which is exactly what he is doing to Lorenzo. In truth, Machiavelli only seems to support Lorenzo. When one delves deeper into The Prince, we see that Machiavelli’s ultimate goal was for Lorenzo to be killed.
After having examined both sides of the question, is it better to remain in the cave with Machiavelli or see the light with Socrates? The Republic which Socrates advocates is a much more democratic society. When compared to a society dictated by Machiavellian political theory, the Republic would be a more pleasant living environment, more just and less manipulative. The problem with staying in Machiavelli’s cave is that one would never know the truth about anything: the prince would certainly never offer it. Ultimately, the work can be interpreted to serve the self-interest of only one person; the prince, if we accept that Machiavelli truly did write it to help Lorenzo gain power. The main concern of the prince is not the welfare, the happiness or the safety of the people, but political power and glory for himself. If we accept the other interpretation, that Machiavelli was attempting to get Lorenzo killed, it is still obvious that this guide has selfish goals in that it will only serve the interest of one person. The Republic, on the other hand is a society in which the common interest of the community as a whole is the first and foremost obligation of the philosopher/ruler. The goal of the philosopher/ruler is that, since he truly capable of being, then in turn, he is also capable of recognizing what actually is reality, and what seems to be reality, what is a mere image of it. Their job is to help guide the rest of the society, to help guide the people who do not have the wisdom to see for themselves, those who do not have the wisdom to leave the cave and view reality for themselves. However, each person has their own place in this society, their own niche. They each contribute to an integral part of the society; if one of the triad was missing, the society would not run in the same way, possibly not even at all. This creates a sense of community among members of the society. The exact opposite is the case in the cities which the prince founds. He gains power by killing off the members of the community which may oppose his ideas, and he oppresses to keep the rest in line. He seems to be good, fair, just, religious, etc. when it suits his purposes, but for the most part, he is not. The prince does not act on what is good for the community, but rather, what is good for his kingdom.
One can only make the conclusion that Machiavelli is wrong when he states that one only has to seem good, not be good. In order to govern, one has to gain the confidence and by manipulating and deceiving citizens, this is not done. Socrates, on the other hand, with his theory that seeming is bad, and being is good is correct. This is evident through the parable of the cave: those who remain in the cave never get to experience the beauty and wonder of the outside world. Machiavelli wishes to deprive his citizens of this, merely for one’s self interest. Socrates, avoiding the glory, creates a democratic society in which citizens may break free from the cave to experience what reality really is, and if they don’t have the wisdom to do this on their own, there are people who will guide them. It can only be concluded that seeming good, as Machiavelli advocates, is bad because it is essentially deceives the citizens. Additionally, when one seems, they are acting in the interest of only themselves. Being good, as Socrates promotes, is the better of the two, because when one is actually good, they will act in the interest of society as a whole, instead of merely their own selfish interests. It is a far better thing to emerge from the cave with Socrates, to see the light, to gain the knowledge, and the ability to share it with others.