Posted: November 27th, 2013
Machiavelli’s Life and Principles
Niccolo Machiavelli was an Italian scholar renowned for his military understanding and his views on leadership. Over his lifetime, he wrote many famous texts that scholars still revere top this day. His most famous work was The Prince, a title that mostly discusses the dynamics of power. In many of his works, Machiavelli discussed the different ways that a leader should behave and the values and attributes that they should have. Machiavelli practiced his own advice whenever he got the opportunity to do so.
In The Prince, Machiavelli outlines the different ways that princes can succeed. He achieves this by using examples to show different successes in gaining and keeping power. One of the things that Machiavelli wrote about was the acquisition of power. Machiavelli claimed that it was best to use arms and virtue because when a prince acquired territory using his own troops and strengths, it would be easier for them to retain control of the land. One thing to note is that for Machiavelli, virtue mainly meant manliness and strength. Machiavelli also claimed that a leader should have evil qualities because that way it would be easier to hold on to power. For instance, he argued that it was better to be feared, but not hated, than to be loved. Lastly, he stated that a prince did not need to be trustworthy.
In his life, Machiavelli adhered to some of the principles that he explains in his writings. Using his intellect and skills, he gained a series of promotions that helped him rise through the ranks of government in Florence. At one point he was in a close to the chief magistrate of Florence and in this position, he pushed for the use of local militia in the state. This conformed to one of the ideals that he stated in The Prince on the rejection of mercenaries in favor of local armies. When Florence had its own militia, Machiavelli was placed in charge of the militia. In this position, he showed great military understanding to capture Pisa (Unger 163). After Machiavelli lost his position, he was never able to rise to the same level of political prestige and was thus unable to apply his own principles.
Unger, Miles. Machiavelli: A Biography. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.
Class Struggles in the Contemporary World
Scholars widely consider Karl Marx to be the father of Communism. His thoughts, works and ideas inspired leaders and political figures such as Josef Stalin, Vladimir Lenin and Mao Zedong. Marx’s works touched on a large number of issues affecting humanity such as governance, equality and wealth. To explain some of these issues, Marx introduced the concept of class struggles, or class conflict, to explain many of the issues that Europe was grappling with at its time. In his view, that many of the problems that were in Europe at the time, such as poverty, crime, war and unemployment could be explained by analyzing the concept of class conflict. Many of the issues that Marx talked about are still relevant in the contemporary world. Governments all over the globe are still struggling to deal with poverty, crime and unemployment and some of these crises seem to be worsening by the day. Class conflict can still be applied in the contemporary world to explain many of the problems that humanity is facing.
To explain class conflict, Karl Marx started by introducing two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletarians. The bourgeoisie were the capitalists who owned Europe’s means of production. This meant that they were the richest people, had strong political connections and were the employers of the wage laborers (Marx and Engels 14). Marx argued that this class arose from the feudal society that had previously been in place in Europe (14). The feudal class had instituted class antagonisms and following its revival as the bourgeoisie, it was coming up with a new way of oppressing the people in lower socio-economic classes. The fresh system instituted new classes, methods of oppression and struggles within Europe (Marx and Engels 14).
In contrast, Marx referred to Europe’s working class as the proletariat. This class provided the wage labor and worked in the companies owned by the bourgeoisie. Since they had no capital or means of production, these people were forced to provide labor for the upper classes as their only way of making a living (Marx and Engels 14). History shows that the feudal class, which became the bourgeoisie, had also been oppressing the working class in the previous feudal systems. This had come after most communities in Europe and Asia abolished the systems of common land ownership and replaced them with structures that created the antagonistic classes that Marx was discussing (Marx and Engels 14).
Within this context, Marx explained that there was a perpetual struggle and conflict between the two main classes. The bourgeoisie and the proletariat were constantly in opposition to each other and this struggle between them played out in a persisting fight that took place in the background of their daily relations. Marx argued that history had seen people occupying positions of slaves, serfs and plebeians engaged in a constant struggle with their opposites such as freemen, lords and patricians (14). At the time that Marx was developing this theory, many of these positions had changed. The introduction of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat had made class struggles a much simpler concept to grasp. The divisions within society were limited to the two groups, with the classes consistently becoming larger as they simultaneously grew further apart. Capitalism grew hand in hand with class conflict, and it allowed the bourgeoisie to expand their industries and employ more people from the working class (Dahrendorf 5)
The class conflict that Marx described was mainly the result of contrasting fortunes between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marx argued that the upper classes, needed to revolutionize the means of production to ensure that they remained at the top of the system. This was followed by the domination of global trade and the world market to create consumption for the products that their industries created. This system continually expanded into a massive global force that forced the bourgeoisie to spread and settle in other parts of the globe (Marx and Engels 16). Since the bourgeoisie employed the working class in the industries and other means of production, the proletariat grew along with the system that the upper class was instituting. Marx claimed that the situation was very different for the proletariat (18). In their case, they could only survive as long as they found work and they were only employable as long as their labor created capital for the bourgeoisie. Additionally, the use of advanced technology had taken away the pride that workers formerly had in their work (Marx and Engels 18). This contrasting situation created a lot of tension between the two classes as the proletariat felt that the bourgeoisie was using them to advance its position at their expense.
One of the key issues surrounding class conflict was inequality. Karl Marx felt that the situation with the bourgeoisie and the proletariat created a lot of inequality between the two classes. The proletariat worked hard within the industries owned by the upper classes, but were paid meager wages. In contrast, the bourgeoisie were able to make large profits from their industries through systems that Marx argued were oppressive. For instance, by underpaying their employees, the companies were able to make sure that the profits that they made were larger. Additionally, these profits all went to the bourgeoisie meaning that regardless of how well the industries did, the working class would still earn the same salary.
In the modern world, inequality still exists in various forms. Racial prejudice and sexism are good examples of inequality. For some scholars, the reality is that there can never be a society or community in which all men, women and children are afforded equal chances (Dahrendorf 23). There are varying reasons for these disparities, with some people arguing that the diversity found in society cannot allow there to be complete equality. Within a single community, there exists a wide range of tasks that need to be done along with a large number of diverse interests and abilities. A combination of these factors is what causes the inequality (Dahrendorf 23). However, this still does not explain the reason why some members of society place themselves in positions of complete dominance over others by using oppressive systems such as the one that Marx described.
Dahrendorf argues that in the modern world, the shape of class conflict has changed in some ways (24). During Marx’s time, the conflict was typified by a system of social immobility that was deeply entrenched with European society. The problem then was not just that the system oppressed the working class, but that the proletariat had no chances of moving upwards towards a higher social class. The structures within society confined them to an unsatisfactory life of hard labor and low wages. The situation is different in the modern world. The issue of entitlement has substituted that of social mobility (Dahrendorf 27). Class conflict is now about the status that people hold in society and the different opportunities attached to those positions.
One real problem involving inequality in the modern world is income disparity. Income disparity can be used to show the inequality that causes class struggles within the same economic context that Marx used to apply the situation. The American society is currently struggling to contain a growing gap between the top earners and the bottom earners in the nation’s economy. The end of the World Wars and the economic depression that came in between them saw the American government develop economic policies that were supposed to deal with the issue of income inequality (Schmitt 1). The policies were able to cause a reduction in this disparity but the 1970s saw all of the progress come undone. Income disparity in the country started to rise again and this trend has continued to this day. Subsequent economic scandals and crises such as the late 2000s recession have worsened the situation making it harder for American’s in the lower social classes to cope in the prevailing economic conditions (Schmitt 1).
Class conflict helps to explain these disparities in many ways. Firstly, the American economy still relies on a capitalist system. The only change that has happened is that the structure is no longer centered on means of production but on financial systems (Foster and Holleman 191). The oppressive systems that Marx described in his works still exist, albeit in a different form. The bourgeoisie now depend on other systems to dominate society. The capitalist systems have allowed the upper classes to control national, regional and global economy and this has caused friction between them and the working class (Foster and Holleman 192). Class conflict also explains this income inequality by showing that there is a competition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat where the former are trying to sustain the status quo in their favor while the latter keep trying to gain dominance over the other. This conflict has translated itself into tensions between the two classes as the workers push for governments to increase taxes on the higher classes. This whole situation has seen different presidents elected around the world on campaigns that appear to be against the rich (Schuman 1). In other cases, the tensions have escalated into mass protests against financial institutions and other organizations that are deemed to be under the control of the upper class (Leavitt 2).
There are several arguments that can be made against the idea that class conflict still applies in the world today. Firstly, society has evolved over the past few years, leading to the formation of new classes that do not fall under the categorization of either bourgeoisie or proletariat. The rise of the middle class is a good example of these changes within the class system that is now found in the world. The middle class is usually seen to be apathetic and uninvolved in the struggle between the classes and this opposes the ideas put forward by Marx in some ways. One of the reasons why the middle class are uninvolved in the struggle is the fact that they are trying to break into the bourgeoisie as opposed to bringing it down.
Another counter argument to Marx’s theories entails the fact that there have always been members of the lower classes who are in control of some means of production. These people may not have owned large industries or companies but they were employers themselves and they were not struggling as much as their companions were even though they were employed as wage laborers by the bourgeoisie. Dahrendorf notes that this contradiction was there when Marx was coming up with his views, even though his works completely failed to acknowledge the existence of these people (9). The fact that some workers are capable of owning their own businesses and industries negates one of the key arguments that Marx made concerning chances and opportunities within a class system. This situation implies that there are possibilities for the working class to create their own industries and take control of some means of production. It also suggests that social mobility was not as limited as Marx made it to be.
The concept of class conflict has influenced political discourse within society for years and years. Karl Marx came up with the idea as a way of explaining the different issues that were affecting European society during the nineteenth century. Even though the concept was developed almost two centuries ago, the ideas it held still apply today. Our societies are still divided into social classes, and these divisions have been the cause of a perpetual state of conflict and never ending tension. The same problems that created the class conflict still exist today, as different countries are struggling to deal with inequality, particularly in the incomes earned by different citizens. These disparities have worsened the situation, as the conflict between the two classes has been brought out in the open.
Dahrendorf, Ralf. The Modern Social Conflict: The Politics of Liberty. New Brunswick, N.J: Transaction Publishers, 2008. Print.
Foster, John Bellamy and Hannah Holleman. “The financialization of the capitalist class: Monopoly-finance capital and the new contradictory relations of ruling class power.” Imperialism, Crisis and Class Struggle: The Enduring Verities and Contemporary Face of Capitalism. Ed. James F. Petras and Henry Veltmeyer. Leiden: Brill, 2010. 191-202. Print.
Leavitt, Gregory C. Class Conflict: The Pursuit and History of American Justice. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2013. Print.
Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. London: Pluto, 2008. Print.
Schmitt, John. Inequality as policy: The United States since 1979. Real-World Economics Review 51.1 (2009): 1-9. Print.
Schuman, Michael. “Marx’s revenge: How class struggle is shaping the world”. Time. Time Inc. 25 Mar. 2013. Web. 19 Nov. 2013.
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