Political thought is only a surrogate or substitute for more genuine political action. This is one theory that has sparked much thought and when examined it may be seen quite differently. For one, an argument can be made that indeed this political thought may substitute political action. On the other hand, political thought can serve as a great inspiration or spark political action. Thirdly, political thought may not have anything to do with more genuine political action but instead it may be purely theoretical and hypothetical. Examples of these three arguments may be made out of the works of Locke, Plato, Machiavelli, as well as other historical aspects of both political thought and action.
Political thought can indeed be a substitute for more genuine political action. Many writers and political thinkers offer many theories about politics that may not be intended to cause political action. Many theories are also offered but may not be implemented into the political arena directly or indirectly. For example, Machiavellis The Prince, has been viewed as a substitute for political action.
Many feel that Machiavelli wrote The Prince as a guidebook for his own prince Lorenzo de Medici, to promote himself into the political arena of Italy. Machiavelli dedicates this book to Medici, leader of the family who overthrew the government he worked for. One may argue that the book is a masterful act of political deception, filled with intentional bad advice he hoped Medici would follow. Machiavelli aimed to trip him up bad enough to make him lose power enabling a new republic to come in.
Others feel that the dedication of the book and the use of flattery are used as a means of setting himself up to function as a political advisor. By using flattery, he thought Medici would be impressed enough with him to ask Machiavelli to work for him. Machiavelli hoped to ensure himself a position with the Medici government, a government that he hoped to carry out his main goal which was the elimination of the papacy and through the dedication suck Medici into Machiavellis unraveling plans for him.
Nonetheless whatever Machiavellis intent was, his attempts to unravel the Medici government obviously did not pan out the way he thought it would. In fact, the book was not published until after his death in 1532. Even then the book provoked controversy and was quickly condemned by Pope Clement VIII.
The book, with its various theories about its intent, goes to prove that Machiavelli was using it as a clear substitute for a more genuine political action such as raising a real attempt to take over and promote himself high up into Italys political arena. His theories and thought were just a substitute for something that he envisioned for himself.
Aside from being a substitute political thought can serve an inspiration to more genuine political action. Works such as John Lockes Two Treatises of Government, as well as Machiavellis The Prince, have been proven to spark revolt and revolution among other types of political action.
Lockes works have exercised enormous influence in both England and America. In his Two Treatises of Government Locke set forth the view that:
The state exists to preserve the natural rights of its citizens. When governments fail in that task, citizens have the right and sometimes duty to withdraw their support and even to rebel.
This view can clearly be seen in the act of the American Revolution against Britain and is a fundamental principal of many of societys constitutional democracies. Lockes views influenced many people especially Thomas Jefferson in Americas fight for freedom and its Declaration of Independence. Drafted by Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence contained the ideas of individual liberty that had been expressed by views of John Locke. Locke maintained that:
the social contract preserved the preexistent natural rights of the individual to life, liberty, and property, and the enjoyment of private rights, the pursuit of happiness led, in civil society, to the common good.
This clearly influenced the Bill of Rights in the Constitution of the United States. Lockes notion of government was a limited one and his views on government were also deeply reflected in the US Constitution:
The checks and balances among government and true representation in the legislature would maintain limited government and individual liberties.
Lockes ideas can be clearly seen in the beginnings of the US governmental policies namely in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Some of the ideas presented in Machiavelli’s Prince have also been used to spark revolution and other political actions.
Lenin used Machiavellian tactics for a communist revolution, for these tactics were not only interested in the survival of a principality but the way a principality acquired its power. The communist revolution led by Lenin is a modern example of the destruction of an old principality to a new. Machiavelli outlines the unfailing process for a modern revolution in chapters VI-IX, stating that a leader guiding his fellow citizens as a citizen must stamp out the old principality, establish new government, appoint new officials, and instill respect and gradually fear for the new principal leadership. These seem to blue the blueprints for the Russian Revolution followed by Lenin.
After Lenin became leader of the Bolsheviks, he led them in a successful revolution. With the communist ideals pushing them, the Bolsheviks threw out the provisional government at the Winter Palace, a symbol of the old principality. Once the complete destruction of the old principality was over, Lenin appointed a new hierarchic system. He established himself at the head of that system and developed a reputation of cruelty. It appears that Lenin followed many Machiavellian principles including the following:
I conclude that since men love as they themselves determine but fear as their ruler determines, a wise prince must rely upon what he and not others control.
It is evident in the above examples that political thought has sparked political action and it is clearly exemplified in Jefferson and Lenins close followings of the principles of Locke and Machiavelli respectively.
Political thought can not only spark political action or be used as a substitute for political action but political thought could just be a theoretical or hypothetical thought as well. In Platos Statesman, Plato speaks seeks to find a true definition of a statesman and through arguments gives his theory of what a true ruler or statesman should be.
According to Plato all constitutions of government are inferior to the only true government, that true government being the rule of the royal statesman. Plato states that there is no need for laws as long as there is a kingly ruler who knows the science of statesmanship. Out of the possible forms of government Plato lists monarchy as the best with aristocracy occupying an intermediate position and democracy last out of the other possible constitutions of government.
In the statesman the knowledge and insight of the ruler remain the ultimate criterion of good government, although, at the same time, there is greater skepticism about the possibility of ever attaining a perfect ruler. Thus the rule of the kingly ruler who is the true statesman becomes the most desirable ideal, and a government of law is proposed as an inferior because it is a mere replica of the rule of the statesman. This ideal of the statesman may be the most desirable however it is probably unattainable. We can never expect that such a true ruler as the statesman will ever appear as is stated by Plato himself:
We must take things as they are, however, and kings do not arise in cities in the natural course of things in the way the royal bee is born in a beehive-one individual obviously outstanding in body and mind. And therefore it seems men have to gather together and work out written codes, chasing to catch the tracks of the true constitution.
Therefore Plato admits that there is a need for laws for whatever reason that may be, and that his arguments and definition of a true statesman is purely hypothetical and theoretical. Plato was not intending to implement this art form of the statesman nor did this type of rule ever exist. Yet Plato was just out to define what a true statesman was.
Political thought is intended for various uses. For one it can definitely be a surrogate for more genuine political action as is shown through Machiavellis intent on writing the book, The Prince. Political thought can be used to as rationale and ways to spark a more genuine political action as well. This is shown through Thomas Jefferson and Americas use of Two Treatises of Government and the influence of The Prince on Lenin during the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. And finally, political thought may be purely hypothetical or theoretical as is demonstrated by looking at Platos Statesman.
Thus political thought is used and has been used for various intent and ways of going about more genuine political action.
Political Issues Essays