Political Freedom

Machiavelli’s thought is characterized by the distinction between the personal and the political. Such a distinction is based upon his recognition of politics as a distinct sphere of life. Despite of this, Machiavelli recognizes that politics is not different from the rest of human life. At the same time, he does not recognize that political action is governed by different principles that govern personal conduct. However, he does indeed state that “the rules of conduct for private life…are much the same as those advanced for public life” (Pitkin 6). Such an understanding is based upon Machiavelli’s conception of autonomy.

Autonomy here refers to the laws or principles of one’s own making (Pitkin 7). It thereby corresponds to concepts such as “independence, self-control, self-government, (and) freedom” (Pitkin 7). If such is the case, autonomy may be understood as expanding beyond the boundaries of an individual’s private life as it extends into every aspect of social, cultural, religious, and political life. According to Pitkin, “autonomy concerns borderlines, found or made; it concerns the question of how and to what extent I (or we) have become or can become a separate self (or community)” (17).

If such is the case, the problem of autonomy can be seen as addressing the problem of living within a human community. Note, for example, that politically autonomy may be conceived as the capability to form a self-governing polity [to which Machiavelli refers to as a republic]. Citizenship may be considered as a source of political autonomy as personal autonomy [conceived in the Kantian sense] extends into the public sphere thereby allowing the existence of a shared public freedom.

Such a freedom is possible if one perceives the public sphere as enabling participation in political activity through ensuring the means in which the community may make decisions and shape its collective principles as well as its way of life. The paradox is thereby evident if one considers that such a conception of autonomy implies both a connection and a separation within a polity [or within a republic]. Note that the aforementioned conception of autonomy may be conceived as a form of sovereign isolation [e. g. the prince towards his subjects] or a form of interdependence [e. g. the republic upon it citizens].

Perceived within such a seemingly paradoxical situation, the desire for autonomy may thereby be conceived as the desire for rule and the desire for non-rule. The pragmatic aspect involved in the aforementioned situation is evident if one considers that such a conception of the correlation of the desire for rule and non-rule presents the manner in which an individual enables the creation of a community out of multiplicity resulting from the limits imposed by historical situations. It is important to note that Machiavelli’s political philosophy is largely an offshoot of Aristotle’s political philosophy.

For Aristotle, man is by nature a political animal (qtd in Ross 152). Such a conception is based upon the assumptions that (1) politics is an activity, which can be solely attributed to man, and (2) engagement in it enables self-realization amongst human beings. For Machiavelli [and for Aristotle as well], this means that we are capable of autonomy however such an autonomy is only possible within the bounds of necessity since man is privy to the problems caused by his dependence upon the past, nature, a well as to other men.

Autonomy is in conflict with history since an individual’s dimensions of action are privy to the effects of history [in the sense that history defines man]. In relation to that, an individual’s nature is in conflict to the dimensions of judgment privy to the effects of man’s natural needs and desires. Such needs and desires also affect an individual’s dimensions of judgment. Each of these corresponding dimensions [action, membership, and judgment] however must necessarily correlate with each other in order to attain man’s autonomy.

Such autonomy, however, can only be achieved within the bounds of the political sphere since it is only within the aforementioned sphere that the aforementioned dimensions may correlate with each other thereby enabling man to achieve freedom from his organic human desires. Within the aforementioned conception of the correlation of the conflict of desires for rule and non-rule in relation for the desire for the possession of freedom and the ability to relinquish freedom, it is interesting to note an individual’s take in relation to the concept of suffering and desire.

It has already been established at the onset of this paper that man is a political animal. The embededness of man’s existence within the political sphere is evident if one considers one’s desires as a citizen. Citizenship entails the possession of certain basic rights. Such rights are grounded upon the concepts of liberty and equality however the relation of both concepts [liberty and equality] may differ during instances wherein an individual’s rights in consideration. Consider, for example the phenomena of homelessness.

Homeless individuals may generally be considered as possessing the desire for shelter or an abode. Note that as was stated in the beginning of the paper such a desire primarily stems from the knowledge of the necessity to have shelter. Such a knowledge, on the other hand, enables the development of an understanding regarding the necessity of shelter. Initially the suffering involved within such situation [that of homelessness] lies in the experience of being evicted from one’s immediate social environment.

Such an eviction involves [in the Machiavellian perspective] a separation from the dimension of membership, which later leads to cases of alienation from one’s community and later on from one’s self. Another instance of such a phenomena is evident in cases of gentrification. Gentrification results in the displacement of lower-income people such as laborers by the well-to-do or the middle class in the process of rehabilitating, revitalizing and upgrading of deteriorated urban property.

Within such a situation, the desire for the maintenance of one’s immediate social and political surroundings leads to the experience of suffering caused by the individuals’ inability to actualize their desires. How is one to act in such conditions that involve an individual’s displacement from the political, economic and social considerations of an entire community in question and their sense of what it means to be a community in the strict sense of the word?

Within the previous discussion of Machiavelli’s political philosophy desires of this form should not be privy to the pains of suffering. The reason for this lies in the mutability of the situation through the adherence to the parameters of freedom allowed to the individual within a state. Within such a condition, it is thereby possible for an individual to invoke his or her rights and hence invoke one’s freedom within the state in order to enable the alleviation of one’s desires.

The solution within the situation is thereby evident if one considers that it invokes an individuals rights [and hence freedom] within the state in order to attain the satisfaction of his desires. It is important to note, however, that to invoke one’s rights in the attainment of one’s desires and hence in the appeasement of one’s sufferings within a community is only possible if such desires do not lead to the harm of others and to the trampling of their rights.

Works Cited

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Trans. Peter Bondanella and Mark Musa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pitkin, Hanna. Fortune is a Woman: Gender and Politics in the Thought of Niccolo Machiavelli. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Ross, David. Aristotle. London: Routledge, 1995. Shaw, Karena. “Knowledge, Foundations, Politics. ”  International Studies Review Vol. 6 Iss. 4 (Dec. 2004): 7-20. Tarlton, Charles. “Political Desire and the Idea of Murder in Machiavelli’s The Prince”. Philosophy Vol. 77 (2002): 39-66. Vatter, Miguel. Between Form and Event: Machiavelli’s Theory of Political Freedom. London: Springer, 2000.