Machiavellis Belief and Principles of the Civilian Militia
(the very incomplete version)
It is to Machiavelli, imperative
that a state maintain two principle features. That
of good laws and good armies. Good armies are
perhaps even more important than good laws, because there cannot be good law if there is
no good army to uphold and enforce them. In
much the same way, where there are good armies, good laws will exist. A principality or a republic must make the
discipline of war and that of having good soldiers, one of its top priorities.
There are two types
of armies in this model, hired mercenaries and Citizen militias. Machiavelli believed that a state should always
vehemently reject the idea of hired Mercenary soldiers.
In his defense of this statement, Machiavelli points out the disasters that the
Italian city-states have faced at the fault of hired Mercenary troops. In multiple writings on the subject, he explains
the principles that make civilian militia a superior force.
So adamantly does Machiavelli stress the foolishness of using Mercenaries, he
states that a wise leader would choose rather to lose with his own troops than win with
outside forces (The Prince, p52).
It was Machiavellis scholarly
upbringing and what he might have seen as factual proof due to the state of affairs of
Florence, may not be so convincing today. Ironically
enough, most historians have concluded that Mercenary soldiers were quite an effective
might. What were the reasons that made
Machiavelli so desperately want a civilian militia instituted in Florence? So much so that he volunteered himself to help
make it happen.
Many of these biases stem from
the state of affairs of Florence during the early 15th century. This was during
a time when Machiavelli was secretary and diplomat. With
the kingdoms of Charles (England), Louis (France), and Ferdinand (Spain), all encroaching
on the Italian peninsula, defeating city state after city state, the Florentine republic
was soon fearing its own demise. The newly
elected pope Julius II was intent on reuniting some of the lost papal states, ready to
launch an attack of Florences only ally France (and soon enough Florence itself). The French had pretty much given up on their
allies who were unable to provide themselves with a needed victory against Pisa. Machiavelli blames these military failures of the
Italian states solely on the inadequacies of the Mercenary soldiers. He makes criticism of what he saw as bloodless
battles made by soldiers disinterested in little more than the cash they received. Having no sympathy for Florence, many mutinies
occurred on the battlefield, leaving whatever military strategies the Florentines had
devised in ruins. For Machiavelli, it must
have seemed that Florence was doomed if under the continued ineffectiveness of
With this line of thinking, it is
understandable why Machiavelli would have praised Caesar Borgia so highly in The Prince. Among
other things, Cesare Borgia was considered a good ruler by him for distrusting the usage
of Mercenary troops over his own. He quickly
eliminated them and replaced them with his own troops.
This was to
a necessary act that all new rulers should follow through with. A good leader must not rely on fortune and foreign
arms for he will become dependent on them. To
raise ones own troops is to make one self-master of the army (Prince, p.53). Ironically enough it was Cesare Borgias
reliance on fortune, which lead to his downfall.
It was the disaster of 1505
where Machiavelli decides to take the matter into his own hands and devise a strategy to
recruit civilian troops for a new militia. The
great council accepts the plan and this recruitment takes in December of that year. To negate any allegiances to any particular city
and procure an army more loyal to the whole entity of Tuscany, Machiavelli focuses
recruitment largely from the countryside. The
end result was the recruitment of 400 soldiers, which were given and paraded in the town square. The spectacle was watched with delight by other
supporters of the self-made militia. Such as
Luca Landucci, which called it the finest thing that had ever been arranged in
Florence (Skinner, p.32). The great
council was convinced and a new government committee The
Nine of the Militia was created with Machiavelli being its secretary.
Machiavelli never loses his
ardor for the militia. Even long after its
terrible failure in 1512, and the fall of the Florentine republic to the Medicis, it
is still written of as the only possible discourse. We
find this in works such as The Prince and The Art of War (1521). At
the end of The Prince is a warning to the
Medicis that Florence must above all else establish its own armies. The whole of book one in the Art of War, tries to prove the imperviousness
of the citizen militia to those that would believe otherwise. Though
invincible, they were considered to him, the most powerful form of army that could be
contrived by a nation.
Humanist Theories which support the Civilian Militia
upbringing is also a very important factor that heightens his distrust in Mercenaries. Here we see the principals of the literary
humanist tradition that stems back to the times of Livy, Polybius, and Aristotle. The civilian militia was one of the most
important ideals in the humanist tradition. It
was maintained that true citizenship involved the right to bear arms and if necessary, die
for one's state.
In the title of The Art of War, one should look at the term
art with a double meaning. In one
sense it describes the art or creative skill of the warrior and others there
of. It can also be looked on as the
profession or business of war, which makes sense if we understand
the timeline and the Florentine language. Machiavelli
would have been describing the profession as one of many professions in
Florence, which were divided and organized into a number of arti or guilds.
In this way, Machiavelli is trying to pass off war as being like any other
business, and can be useful and manageable to the Florentine republic. In being a business it must in no way
become a separately organized entity under its own control.
A soldier who dedicates their whole life to war and nothing else, contributes
little benefit to the state for they are incapable to take part in any other forms of
social activities within it. Such a person
would be less than a citizen
drain on their peers. It would the same way
if a government directed all of its energies to the economy and neglected its other public
or political duties. To pursue the limited
good and ignore the public good is detrimental to the state. Those who do this may place the limited good over
the good for all. For a state to prosper, its
citizens must place the common good over any other priorities. This idea stems directly from Aristotles
theories of citizenship, which is one of Machiavellis primary adopted ideologies
when dealing with the citizen militia and what a good citizen should be.
Full time military soldiers will
more than likely not follow the common good, and often place their own personal good over
that of the state they fight for, leading often to coercion and destruction. It is what Greville would call a
paradox that for Machiavelli, only part time soldiers should be allowed to
possess a full time commitment to war and its purposes (The Machiavellian Moment, p. 200). A citizen soldier has a home, possessions,
including more than likely a family in the state that they are fighting for. Because the citizen has a place in the social and
political structure of the state they will fight with full knowledge of what they are
fighting for. They will also place value on
the state that is their home. Also they will
fight passionately, wishing to return to their home and the things that they value. A mercenary has no home except the military war
camp and since war is a way of life, there is no drive or desire to see a quick end.
In the same way but reversed, a
citizen who takes part in the military may also become a better citizen. This is mentioned, in lesser detail, in the
Preface of the Art of War. The truest citizen is the one who is ready to
fight and die for their country. For of whom
the commonwealth require greater faith than of him who must promise to die for her (p.
48). It is to Machiavelli the finest
form of patriotism.
The value of a patriot warrior
is that it is they who contain military virtu. They realize that the state is the common good. In
not just sacrificing their lives to it but their deaths, they understand the concept
of sacrificing particular goods and themselves to achieve a more universal goal. Also in the demand of rights and of goods, the
patriot warrior will be satisfied when their demands are met. He will not demand more or take it for the act
will be harmful to the state. This noble
display of virtu makes the soldier as virtuous
as any citizen and perhaps more so. The
patriot warrior learns what it means to be a true citizen and displays civic virtue.
Using Roman virtue as a model,
Machiavelli describes it as being built on military
discipline and civic religion. This civic religion was pagan in nature. Paganism serves a function identical to that of a
republic, which is a desire to control and predict fortune. The republic was best at doing this on its
own. Whether or not the fortune turned out to be true, it was the ability to rally the
people and display military virtue. The pagan
rituals of this nature were often done before an impending battle, instilling pride and
confidence in the people and making them fight for the common good. Common good was a part of the moral center to
pagan worship and is also the core of what civic
virtue is about. It was the Romans civic
religion that made their civilians good soldiers. It
was their military discipline and civic religion made them remember the public good during
combat. Thus be able to control their
fortunes to whatever aims they wished. In
same way we can picture Machiavelli believing that the Florentinians could have utilized
this model as well, being able to shape their own fortunes.
Machiavelli saw Christianity as
an enemy to civic virtue and political good. This
was because is destroys patriotism, by making Christians value their soul more than the
common good and the state. He distrusted
Christianity, favoring the pagan religion as a much better tool to service civic virtue. It is most likely that Machiavelli saw the
Christian revolution as contributing to the downfall of the Roman civic duty.
The other was the result of
tyranny such as a Caesar, or a Pompeii, where the sword has been used as an
instrument of political power (Greyville, p. 201).
This can happen when mercenaries revolt or when a citizen becomes corrupt and
usurps power for himself.
Happens When the People Loose their Civic Virtue and How Does it Begin?
Corruption and loss of liberty occur in
states that do not use the civilian populace and allow outside sources to do what they
should have expected from themselves. The
citizens are corrupted because the allowed inferiors (Greyville, p.204) to do
the things that were supposed to be done for the public good. The angst of Machiavelli is quite apparent when it
comes to this subject and those unthinking citizens are to blame for this
fundamental error (look to the Discourses for information on corruption).
Corruption is also a natural
process and appears after long term degradation of the moral order of the state. Once the moral decay begins it is almost
impossible to stop.
reason for this is that the laws of a state (its moral laws and principles) work only as
well as its compatibility with the general consensus of the people. At the time of their institution they are supposed
to work for the benefit of the citizens that made them.
After a time, if that peoples moral order has decayed, the old laws no longer
apply, since the climate of the people has changed as well.
To enforce those obsolete laws now would have the opposite effect and would make
the people even more unhappy with the state. This is called the Polybian cycle.
For example the failure of the
late Roman empire could not have been stopped by any attempts by the empire to reinstall
the old Roman virtues. In an empire
increasingly filled with other cultures (many were of Germanic descent) and with the days
of the Roman republic long gone, their model of the virtuous Roman was no longer
applicable for its present status.
This is because once the
corruption is visible, it has existed for far too long to be reversed. Any leader attempting to do so (either through
might, or through extraordinary pervasivness in the way of a prophet), would find
themselves far too soiled by the terrible means that they would have to go through to
re-establish the old order. Getting rid of
the corruption would be much like cutting out the infected people from society like a
disease and exterminating them. Once it has
taken hold, it must run its course, the restoration occurring after the old state has
fallen and the barbarians return from the far reaches to begin anew. The only way for an existing state to prevent
corruption according to Machiavelli was through 10 year intervals (more or less) of the
state re-enforcing its code
values on the people. The methods may be
harsh and rigorous at times, but it is the only way to prevent corruption of the civic
virtue from ever beginning.
The cause of corruption
according to Machiavelli is inequality in the city (Discourse, end of the 1st
Chapter). This inequality comes from those
who live in luxury, the gentiluomini who ends up
controlling the state unfairly. They cause
the corruption and the thus loss of faith civilian populace in the nation. Because these people are so destructive to the
idea of a working state that professes the public good, Machiavelli makes the claim that
civic virtue can exist only in a republic. Such
an upper-class is incompatible to the idea of the republic.
Thus, the civilian militia is utilized best in a republican state over a monarchy. This is why the one who may choose to stabilize
the state through vicious means can only end up with a tyranny such as a Caesar or a Pompeii.
James B. Atkinson, David Sices, Machiavelli and His
Friends (Northern Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996)
Peter Bondanella, Mark Musa, The Portable
Machiavelli (United States: Viking Penguin inc., 1979)
Hulliung, Citizen Machiavelli (Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983)
Anthony Parel, The Political Calculus: Essays on
Machiavellis Philosophy (Toronto-Buffalo: Toronto University Press, 1972)
Greville A. Pocock, The Machiavelli Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975)
Quentin Skinner, Machiavelli (New York-Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1981)