The Balance of Yin and Yang

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Dec 271989
 

The most ancient of Chinese theological concepts is the belief in a universal order, emeshed in constant turmoil and change, within which man must seek harmony. This idea of universal order is epitomized in the Dao, or “the Way.” The Dao, an impersonal force or power controlling the flow of destiny, must be understood and mastered in order for the future to be anticipated and harmony amid change to be achieved. There are, unfortunately, infinite changes within the Dao, so the Chinese had to explain the way that change is qualified and how it portends or affects the future. This need bred the concepts of Yin and Yang.

The first, Yin—the black half of the Yin-Yang—meant, originally, “covered by clouds.” It represents all in the universe which is dark, hidden, or secret. Therefore, it symbolizes the uncomfortable cold of winter, the reserved and secretive female, and the base Earth. Conversely, Yang, the white, represents all that is bright and shiny in the world. It is the warmth and blossom of summer, the bright light of the sun, the open male, and the enlightened heavens. The relationship between these two extremes make up Change in the universe.

Both Yin and Yang are constituents or the basic spiritual fiber of everything. Therefore, their relative blending in a particular moment or instance dictates the nature of that instance or change, be it Yin or Yang. Furthermore, this relative nature can reveal a blueprint or schematic of the future repercussions of the instance. Now, the symbolism of the Yin and Yang could lead one to believe that all that is Yin is “bad” and all that is Yang is “good.” Although acting according to Yang is favored by Daoists, it is an accepted fact that the whole system itself is intrinsically good—including the Yin: it is of the Dao and is therefore the proper order. Both of the halves are needed to make a whole, and it is the balance between the two which determines the absolute rightness or wrongness of an event or thing.

Therefore, the core of the world order expressed by Dao and explained by the Yin and Yang is balance. The Daoists realize the importance of finding the middle road between frigid cold and searing heat, between blind darkness and dazzling light. Therein lies the harmony of the Dao: this balance. A white dot in the Yin half of the circle and a black dot in the Yang half represent the imperative need to blend the two components of life into a blissful harmony amid change. Therefore, the controlling feature of this regulating concept is the balance. Without a proper blend of Yin and Yang, change is wrong, properly blended, and change is progress.

December 17, 1989

Contorted Blend

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Oct 271989
 

Elements of Nihilism in Anton Chekhov’s “The Bet”

Anton Chekhov, a Russian author who wrote before the Communist revolution in that country, is most famous for his theatrical works of fiction. He is, however, an accomplished writer of short fiction as well; and his stories, just like his plays, contain significant philosophical messages in a fictive mode. One such piece is “The Bet.”

To begin with, “The Bet” has a rather simplistic plot. Because of this simplicity, it is obvious that a message is the story’s true purpose. Told in retrospect from the banker’s point of view, it involves, as the title suggests, a wager between a banker and a lawyer at a dinner party. These two get involved in debate over the moral issue of capital punishment versus life imprisonment. The focus of debate concerns which of these venues is the more humane and which is more cruel. The bet emerges when the lawyer takes the stance that he would, for two million of some undesignated coin, remain in solitary confinement in one wing of the banker’s home for fifteen years. The banker, being very wealthy at the time, confidently accepts the challenge. From there, the plot focusses on the drama of the lawyer’s solitary confinement. The first years for him are lonely and hard, but then he begins to request books of all sorts. He spends the remainder of his sentence studying book after book. Finally, fifteen years, less one night, later, the story reverts to real time. The banker has lost the bulk of his wealth on the Exchange and, seeing the lawyer’s emminant victory, fears he would become destitute in paying the agreed bet. The banker decides to kill the lawyer to avoid the impending ridicule and loss of position. He goes to the lawyer’s room, enters it, and finds the man sleeping at his desk, a letter before him. The banker plots to smother the man, but he reads the letter the prisoner has written. In it, the lawyer expounds upon his utter contempt for all things earthly and states his intention to break the conditions of the bet as an expression of this hatred for “all that [the] books call the blessings of the world” (1 1106). This contempt transfers to the banker and, feeling the full weight of his foolish deed, he leaves in guilt. The next morning, the lawyer executes his intentions, the banker is ‘victorious,’ and the story ends.

Now, as previously stated, there lies beneath the lawyer’s tragic dispair some message to the reading public. Chekhov chooses to draw from the leading contemporary philosophical movement in Russia for this crucial theme. Nihilism is a movement born in the mid-nineteenth century by the liberal youth. It has evolved with the revolution into several meanings, and Chekhov addresses each of its facets in “The Bet.” An understanding of these facets is required, however, to follow Chekhov’s progress through them. First, Avrahm Yarmolinsky, in his novel Road to Revolution, presents the anarchistic beginnings of nihilism. At the time of its conception as a belief, the nihilist was an “enlightened eqoist” (2). He sought to strike out at all social practices in an effort to determine which would survive the blows of reason and revolution. Those practices that survived were good; those failing and crumbling, wrong and deserving of their demise. The lawyer and banker’s debate at the party is clearly allegorical of this initial stage of nihilism. They begin by questioning capital punishment and end their party with a genuine rational effort of proof. Their bet, though in a practical sense foolish and wasteful, is a logical way to resolve the debate over relative cruelty. To them, if the lawyer can bear the imprisonment then it must be more just that one live in confinement than die. Second, the lawyer also embodies the quest for quality of the early nihilists in his greed for the “two million” (1 1103). This “hard-headed, materialistic” attitude of the lower and middle class radicals of Russia is one of the first characteristics of the lawyer presented by Chekhov. Clearly, the lawyer, before his confinement, is a symbol of early Russian nihilism.

Next, nihilism took a shift in meaning, both for Russia and Chekhov. The most overt message delivered by “The Bet” is the nihilistic opinion of moral justification. The banker bemoans, near the story’s close, the failure of their prison bet—a wager which has become an experiment or test of their debated views—to resolve their moral dilemma over capital punishment. He comes to realize that rational argument will not succeed in justifying moral standards, due to the subjective nature of morality. No solution to their debate is found, only misery. This misery, felt by the lawyer, introduces the next and most popular phase of historical nihilism. This phase was spawned from early nihilism and the increasingly popular athiestic philosophy. Russia, with the aid of Marx, had begun to doubt the existence of God. This lead them, in Nietzsche’s terms, to dispair over the triviality and emptiness of human existence without God. Industrialization was also key in this new nihilistic setting; but, for Russia at least, the profit-grasping materialists were lost. For Chekhov, the lawyer becomes lost as well within his cell. He, in his studies, seems to be “swimming in the sea among broken pieces of wreckage… eagarly grasping one piece after another to save his life” (1 1104). He reads work after work, and does so at a high rate… right after spending a year or more on the New Testament and other religious studies. Initially, one is tempted to fit this detail into a loss of faith parallel with nihilism; he seems to search for the God that is alluding him. At this point does Chekhov take control of the philosophy.

In taking control, Chekhov presents an alternative rational as support or impetus for nihilism. It seems that he does not appreciate the loss of God in nihilist, revolutionary Russia. Therefore, he includes, in the lawyer’s final letter, a strong belief in and responsibility to God. The wizened lawyer marvels “before God who sees me” at those “who have bartered heaven for earth” when he recognizes the emptiness of life on earth (1 1106). He knows the beauty of the earth, all of its “blessings and wisdom,” from his wide-spread studies; but he adamantly rejects them due to their non-divine and basic direction. The lawyer is a nihilist in his dispair, but not in his atheism, or lack thereof.

Thus does Anton Chekhov mutate the atheism of the nihilists of his period into an equally revolutionary and effective practical philosophy with a God. It can only be assumed that Chekhov feared the ruin of his nation under a goddless mind-set. He, therefore, through his effective power of pen, presents, in the flow of his plot, a case against the athiest-nihilists. He points an accusing finger at them for their despair and for its contagious effect. One can guess that the lawyer, in finding the importance of God in his life, went on after the story to live alone, but not disparagingly. Because he flees the goddless, industrial wailings and the trivial beauties of the earth, he is expected to find his heaven, even though he suffers on earth before ascention. This is Chekhov’s contorted blend. Nihilism hand in hand with anti-nihilism.

April 9, 1989

References

  1. Schrodes, The Conscious Reader.  New York: Macmillian Publishing, ed.IV pp.1102-7
  2. Yarmolinsky, Road to Revolution.  New York: Crowell-Collier Publishing, 1962
  3. “Nihilism,” Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  New York: Macmillian Publishing and The Free Press, 1967, vol.V pp.514-6
  4. Glicksberg, “Nihilism.”  Gunner, The Course of Ideas.  New York: Harper and Row, 1986, pp.427-30

The Doxastic Assumption

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Sep 271989
 

Lawrence Bonjour has dug himself a deep philosophical hole, one about six feet down. He has tried to construct a theory concerning the structure of man’s system of beliefs; but has run into an obstacle of justification. He is forced to salvage his coherentist ideas in order to justify his system of beliefs which is, in and of itself, a justification for accepting new beliefs. As an answer to this dilemma, he proposes the Doxastic Presumption.

The Doxastic Presumption is, for Bonjour, not so much a premise in the logical flow as it is a cognitive practice. He describes it as such realizing that it would, as a premise, require justification. Adjusted thusly, the Presumption states, essentially, that we must assume the veracity of our meta-beliefs; we know that which we believe. This practice, Bonjour claims, is automatic and, because of this, is reliable. He understands that we can question the beliefs in our system, but he feels that the meta-beliefs are not doubtful.

This, unfortunately, is where Bonjour stumbles into that hole which he has dug. This principle requires one to swallow too big a pill. It ask man, who has been staggering through the justification of his cognitive system, to justify that system with an assumption, itself unjustified. Why not simply assume the veracity of one’s initial system and save a few precious memory cells? There is little reason to entertain the Doxastic Presumption when it lacks veracity; when it just “assumes” veracity. Certainly, it is human practice to follow the Presumption. Does, however, humanity always have correct practices? It is conceivable that philosophy’s main barrier to answers is this practice. Could not the most important target of inquery be our meta-beliefs? Or is it impossible that man is mistaken about them? He is, after all, so certain of other “truths.”

Therefore, though the Presumption is a noble effort by Bonjour to escape his unpainted corner, it simply asks too much. It is nothing but an analysis of one aspect of humanity; but, to save himself, Bonjour turns it into an infinite regress arrest. Its failing poses a serious threat to the continued acceptance of externalist coherentism. If one can not even be sure about that which he believes, then a system of these beliefs will not be very trustworthy.

The Missing Link

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Apr 221989
 

Preparations were fully underway now. The Kodash clan had accepted the Challenge; and, finally, the conflict over the plains to the setting sun would be resolved. Too much blood had been spent, many hunters lost on both sides. There seemed no way to achieve peace other than the Challenge. The members of both clans detested each other; fighting broke out whenever they came across one another. Though the dispute centered around the rich hunting grounds, the animosity had grow such that each claimed superiority and, therefore, sovereignty over the other. But the battles never seemed to resolve anything. Neither clan was willing to submit. The Challenge was the only way one clan could be called “rulers.”

The head of the Unganah clan –the one with whom the Kodash warred– was intently involved in his preparatory responsibilities. The bulky Neanderthal the Unganahs called Krec was, studiously and with great care, just finishing his third mastodon shank. He was just now beginning to eye the fourth one, recently brought in by four of the clan’s females. Normally, Krec would never eat more than three of the tremendous cuts of meat, but the Challenge called for extreme measures. The only way to outlive the Kodash bastard was to outeat him. Preparation was everything.

Outside of Krec’s cave, other Unganahs were hard at work with easier, but equally important, duties. Several females were hurriedly sewing specially cured, water-proof padding into Krec’s skins. The clan’s shaman was buzzing around them, watching over their progress and bestowing the proper charms and wards upon the outfit with his dervish prancing. In a secluded grove of trees, Krec’s first mate was carefully weaving what would serve as his arm bindings once the Challenge began, an honor his other mates envied but understood to be hers by right. By the river, Krec’s son-by-first-mate was consumed with hollowing a sapling’s trunk: Krec’s drinking tube within the Challenge cave.

It was the last day before the Challenge began, and all who worked to prepare for it did so with a fervor. By sundown, all was ready. Krec was laying, bloated, on his sleeping mat, trying not to think about the six, maybe seven, tremendous shanks he had just dispatched. He mulled over his chances of winning the Challenge. He had certainly eaten all he could and, although the Kodashs’ ruler was a big creature, he would never outdo Krec’s preparations. The Challenge victory was assured.

The sun leered over the surrounding hills, intently contemplating the westerly mountains: its resting place after the coming day’s trek. The only life in its field of vision was a small, busy member of the rodent family and several large members of the Neanderthal family. Two families, actually, for the group atop the shining knoll represented the two parties who had escorted their chiefs to the ritual cave of the Challenge.

The psychological games of the Challenge had already begun, as each leader strove to look the most… nourished, for lack of a kinder term. The padding in each creature’s “garments” added, of course, to the desired effect; and, knowing this, the two gargantuan mammals stood before one another and tried to guess the real bulk hidden beneath their skins. The added warmth from the pads was secondary to this important first stage of any Challenge. As primitive as they were, each leader knew that confidence was crucial, and the more obese one looked, the better one’s edge was over one’s opponent. As the parties who escorted their chieftains were looking edgily at each behemoth, making their own predictions, the signal to fully commence the Challenge sounded.

Krec’s stomach growled.

His emissaries began tying his arms back with the binding his first mate had fashioned; the Unganah’s escorts followed suit. Krec’s men were worried, for the longer it took the challenging leader’s stomach to show signs of renewed interest in eating, the more psyched-out his opponent became. It had been an extremely short time since the group had gathered; for a growl to have occurred so soon was a bad omen for the Kodash. Nevertheless, there was no honorable way, nor reason, to turn back. Krec would not have if he could; the conflicts between his clan and the Kodash had to end. The Challenge was the end-all.

The decent down the steep natural chimney into the ritual cave was tedious, but each leader made it down unaided: another psych game. It was well understood that the eventual victor would have to make it back up; so if either had failed to get down unaided, he could count on not making it up, and subsequently not living. Having avoided such an unnerving prelude, both chiefs and their parties were somewhat encouraged by the successes.

A small fire was laboriously built, for the sun had not crept high enough into the still bleeding sky to cast much light into the chamber. When the tinder finally caught with a flare, Krec realized he was mere inches from falling into a small, silent stream running through the center of the chamber. Wishing to quickly begin the main part of the Challenge, he somewhat sluggishly, with a rumbling of the surrounding rock, dropped to a seated position, his back against a basalt outcropping and his knees pulled as close to his chest as possible. About three feet. The Kodash chief did likewise, thudding down opposite and across the stream from Krec. The two others who had been chosen to descend with their respective chiefs now placed the fashioned drinking tubes upon the knees of the two furry masses. One end of each tube dipped into the slowly moving stream. The other ends, once the tubes were steadied with nearby rocks, rested within easy stretching distance of the seated giants’ mouths. The two escorts double-checked the bindings, and after parting expressions of homage to their leaders, began the accent out of the cave. Above, there could be heard the beginnings of a quarrel between the others. The Challenge would end that habit soon enough. The two chieftains locked eyes and each began waiting for the other to die.

Four days had passed, and both creatures had begun to feel the first wrenching pangs of hunger. These represented the beginning of the end and caused the first bits of fear to pick their way into the minds of the two combatants. He who survived the longest, won. It was as simple as that. In a sense. Surviving the Challenge also required escaping, without the aid of hands, from the cave that had become, after a lunar month or more, the tomb of the loser. Few accomplished this. Fewer still made it back to their clan. Still less survived the shock of renourishment. To live to enjoy the fruits of a successful Challenge was the mark of a truly strong individual. All of these facts sifted around in Krec’s mind. Slowly, yes; but with sullen weight. He was certain that the Kodash pig’s excuse for a mind was mulling over the same things.

Suddenly, something inexcusable happened. Krec felt his stomach begin to churn, and, before he could think of any way to stifle it, a long, low, thunderous grumble sounded from his midsection. Krec felt his face flush; letting such an obvious sign of hunger be revealed filled him with shame. He reluctantly looked to the face of his opponent, knowing that a triumphant grimace would be smeared all over it. He made eye contact and tried, for the other beast’s benefit, to look unconcerned. Krec was staggered with surprise when he saw an obvious look of sympathy and understanding on the chieftain’s face. The Kodash leader signed, with his face, that the feeling of hunger was mutual. Krec realized after a few stupefied moments that his mouth was hanging open. He quickly snapped it shut and averted his stare from the sympathetic visage that faced him.

Between the spells of sleep and semi-consciousness that Krec experienced over the next ten days, he drank and pondered the Kodash’s reaction to his cataclysmic churnings. He chose to regard it as a sign of his enemy’s weakness. He could not, however, convince a quiet, pestering voice in his mind of this. It argued that he should, in some way, return the gesture. This feeling he was able to keep at bay when awake, but his dreams were plagued with images of he and the Kodash scum hunting and eating together as clan. Of course, even these loathsome dreams were preferred to the other dreams.

Krec had just awakened with a start from one of these other dreams in a frigid sweat. This time it had been slightly different. Before, he had dreamed of being in this same cave, in this same situation, except his opponent was his first born son. Each time, the dream would end with his son slumping forward and face down into the stream, dead. Then, in the dream, Krec felt himself stand and cry out in a scream of joy and victory and… anguish. This pattern repeated for several sleeps, unvaried, until tonight. In this dream his opponent had been his first mate.

Krec looked over to his opponent’s slumped form; the dim moonlight made him see, in brief flashes, the image of his mate. Try as he might, he could not exorcise it. He stared for a long time at his mate’s body, which had now fully resolved, and slowly but surely began see something wrong with it. He suddenly realized the problem. His mate’s drinking tube had fallen off her knees and into the sluggish stream. With a shudder, Krec saw his female’s image waver and be replaced by the Kodash’s grim features. The Kodash was looking at him with a face filled with sadness and yet accented with a grim determination. Then Krec realized that the image of the tube in the stream had not disappeared with his mate’s. The Kodash’s drinking tube lay about one foot from Krec’s right leg, wedged against a stone in the water. His opponent feet stretched out over the stream, seeking purchase on the wet wood. The tube then, with slow, lethal leisure, shifted slightly and came to rest entirely out of reach of the Kodash’s straining limbs.

It was over.

The tube had drifted across the water to a spot thoroughly inaccessible to the starving, weakened Kodash; his only solace was that, for him, the torture of the Challenge would now be quickly resolved. Both creatures stared at the oversized straw as it undulated to the rhythm of the slow current. Krec felt an elation. As a smile began to spread across his haggard face, he looked towards his adversary. His gaze fell upon the deflated looking Kodash and he began to see a change come over the beast. He saw it slowly and deliberately shrink in bulk, withering away as the dehydration set in. Creepingly and yet impossibly quickly, Krec watched the fetid mask of death spread across the features of the slumped figure. Just as his flesh started to turn to dust, the Kodash looked up into Krec’s eyes. The sole emotions which shimmered across the cadaverous, nearly skeletal, face were sorrow… and pity.

Krec’s confused eyes blinked in surprise without the aid of his numbed brain. This reflexive action was sufficient to disperse the hallucination, but the sad sympathy still hung on his opponent hollow visage.

Sympathy?! Krec’s mind reeled at the presumptuous prospect of it. His response was one which he typically favored when backed into this familiar state of uncertainty; he went on the defensive. He summoned, for his opponent, the most full expression of elation his uncomfortable features could muster. The result: he looked somewhat pleased. His opponent’s pity seemed to almost swell on his features. Not to be so easily daunted, Krec attempted a scream of victory. An unenthusiastic, almost nervous, cry issued forth from his lips. His opponent regarded him with the same look for a moment longer and then tried to rise in an effort to retrieve the tube. Then, with a final look of defeat, the Kodash seemed to realize that, even were he make it to a standing position, there was no way, with bound arms, to properly reposition the vital device once he reached it.

It was over.

For the rest of the day and half of the ensuing evening, Krec mulled over all that he had seen. Actually, he mostly considered the Kodash’s eyes for that time; his hallucinations were too much for his feeble intellect to comprehend. He failed to fully understand the meaning behind the obvious sympathy in them… if anything, his opponent should feel sorry for himself.

It was as the first glow of dawn began seeping through the natural chimney that Krec understood the significance of the beast’s emotion. He began to feel ashamed and dishonored. He realized that, of the two seated in this cave, he was the more beastly. The sanctity of the Challenge allowed for victory on one condition: starvation. He was the “scum” for trying to revel in his opponent’s misfortune. No wonder the Kodash viewed him with such pity.

Krec could not take it. He quickly positioned his feet over the rocking tube and then, lifting with one foot and pivoting it while the other braced the tube, he carefully rested it on the other Neanderthal’s knees. This motion woke the dozing creature; and it looked at the tube and then at the man seated across from it. Krec stared back into the man’s eyes… and smiled.

The two men began waiting again. It was all they could do. It was all the beasts in their clans would accept.

Mixed Drinks

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Feb 271989
 

The skeptics have won. They have punched holes in coherence theories and have made a mockery of foundationalism. Their ignorant posture, further, is invulnerable to criticism; so no riposte, on a philosophical level, is possible. They, however, do have a problem. What do they know? Well, they have said themselves that they know nothing, that they are certain of nothing. Yet, what good is skepticism as a philosophy of life if it offers no answers or even any shred of hope for finding the answers? At least foundationalism had a goal; at least coherentists had a system. Skepticism offers nothing on either the philosophical or practical level. With what, then, are we left?

It would seem that the skeptic is forcing its bitter, empty pill down our throats. To allow this is pure folly. Everyday life depends upon assumptions. These assumptions are formed based upon some loosely coherent web of beliefs which we hold. Without these assumptions, we could not act in life, if only because we fear failure and the unknown. What man would drive to lunch if he seriously doubted the continued existence of his favorite diner? How does the skeptic woman, living alone, contend with the absolute uncertainty of her home’s security? Clearly, skepticism is a dead-end street of thought. Its end result is only stagnation, inaction. This point is further evident when one argues with a skeptic. Their only response to any inquiry will be “I don’t know; I cannot be certain of the answer.” What progress is made?

Unfortunately, however, the skeptic has succeeded in damning the competition. Noone would whole-heartedly support strong foundationalist ideas. Likewise, the coherentists have their faults, making them equally unsupportable. For a solution, regard… a bartender. He has, in stock, a liquor whose intoxicating results are unparalleled, yet no man can bear its taste. He also has a mixer which, by itself, is pointless and ineffective, but tasty. His solution is our solution: a mixed drink. We want a potent solution, a foundation, for the universe. We equally require a coherent framework in which to apply this foundation and all of its deductive permutations. Thus should those who quest for empirical knowledge develop some blend of coherentism and foundationalism.
How, then, should we mix our philosophical potable? Equally—one part foundationalism to one part coherentism—or with more of one? Well, of the two ingredients, coherentism is surely the more stable, more useful. For that reason, it is our mixer. By augmenting coherentism with foundationalist beliefs, a truely tasty, as well as heady, drink should be formed. Coherentists propose an internally consistent weave of beliefs. Their prime fault, as Bonjour criticizes, is that their web is neither based upon external input nor “causally influenced by the world” (Bonjour, p108). Foundationalists aspire to reach the central truths of the universe; yet they are forced, because of their dependance soley on sense experience, to fear error and misapplication of the perceived truths. What if, though, the coherentist looked for the basic truths, and from these strove for consistancy? Or, equally, what if the foundationalist applied his fundamentals to a larger frame of thought? Could not a working format for justification of truths then be found?

Essentially, the answer is “yes.” Foundationalist flaws are easily avoided if one has an internal, working test or template in which to try to fit newly derived or discovered truths. If one’s senses are being fooled in some instance, the application of the their discovery to the coherent web will surely reveal this. Coherentism does not flounder alone with the aid of the external, fairly trustable input through the senses. One cannot form a coherent theory of existence which is completely incorrect if one is receptive to the external world. Certainly one could make a coherent web which is not grounded in experience, but our “coherent foundationalism” does not allow for such fantasy. Our mixed drink is blended.

April 20, 1989

On Machiavellianism

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Nov 271988
 

Niccolo di Bernardo Machiavelli was born May 3, 1469, with a modest future. Yet, after ten years in Florentine government he wrote some of the most influential works ever. His experiences as well as those in power around him greatly affect his views, and these views would greatly affect the world.

From the start, Machiavelli admired the Romans. He felt their government was one of the best established in history; and he would, in his works, often cite their methods. This, early on, set up his support of a return to earlier governing forms. He also highly regarded the Latin classics, the “golden words.” He was named gonfaloniere for life in 1502 but was purged from office in 1512 after Medici rule over Florence was installed. Machiavelli, however, learned much in ten years that would later benefit him. His encounters with Louix XII and the cardinal of Rouen as ambassador establish, for him, a basis for analysis of powerful rulers. He also visited Pope Julius II, and from that visit produces his discussion of damaging ways of middle behavior and how noone is capable of being totally good or totally evil. It was the son of Pope Alexander VI, Cesare Borgia, who proved most influential in the formation of Machiavelli’s ideas. During his three encounters with Borgia, he saw in him the prototype of a modern ruler. It was at this time he formed one of his main themes on what makes a ruler. All in all, it was his diplomatic experiences which had the most influence on him. They provided him with a ready source of examples to compare against those in his favorite classic authors and supplied him with a “laboratory” in which he could compare his budding theories to these examples.

It is after expulsion from office that Machiavelli begins his intense writing. It is now that he puts the ideas previously mentioned on parchment. The aforementioned theme he formed around Borgia described what causes someone to have a historical impact: ability or ingenuity (virtu) and good fortune (fortuna). It is in 1513 that Machiavelli’s virtu and fortuna theme (and others, to be later mentioned) is developed in the one work upon which most of his fame sits, The Prince. This work caused quite a stir initially, as Machiavelli intended; he wrote it as cause to unify Italy against French invasion. In it, he lays down his second famous theme, “Si guarda al fine” — one must consider the final result of questionable acts. He praises a beneficial goal, regardless of the violence involved in obtaining it. He also ties the first theme in with this theme by examining individual virtu and the influences of fortuna in human affairs. Another famous work of Machiavelli’s, Discourses, contains his more comprehensive studies of human nature and political theory. He more thoroughly analyses virtu and fortuna. Each ,according to him, make up half a person’s life, and no person lacking in either will become truly great.

Together, these two influences may allow a man to take advantage of a historical opportunity, or occasione. With regards to political theory, Machiavelli locates the standard of excellence for a government in the past. He asserts that present leaders should strive to reach the classic ideals of his favorite authors. He also aligns himself with classical theorists by feeling that a mixed form of government is the most stable. He sees that the conflict created by such a mix insures stability based upon dynamic equilibrium. Machiavelli therefore sees as necessary inner conflict within a state. In like manner, he expects war out of state, and calls for a citizen militia to fight it; this came from his admiration of ancient Rome or Sparta. Lastly, he sets down policy for the workings of a government. He states the need for ordini, meaning a constitution for the organization of aspects of the state. He also praises the conflict between Roman plebeians and aristocrats because it was carried on without partisans or factions. Discourses, therefore, was his most elaborate discussion of how a state should be set up and how the leaders of that state should rule.

The influences of Maciavelian works on more modern history become readily apparent now that his beliefs have been analized. Throughout history his ideas have been used for everything from a dictators propaganda to the foundation of a nation. In the worse extreme, such dictators as Mussolini and Castro have twisted his theme of using final analysis to judge actions to justify their oppressive rules. On the other hand, the United States was founded on many of his ideas. The entire mechanations of the U.S. government are layed out in the constitution, and the central government is built around a system of checks and balances, thereby creating Machiavelli’s all-important inner conflict. The first president of the U.S. was noted for his condemnation of political factions, and the first military system set up by Americans was a militia. These same impacts are seen in other governments also, which futher goes to show the impact of Machiavellianism. He did much of his writing with intent to unify Italy and instill the desire for a stable government in the people. But not only did he influence his nation, but his writings went on to influence the world.