Similarities Between Socrates And Machiavelli

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Soulcraft and Statecraft: Socrates’ Contentions with a Machiavellian Prince

Socrates and Machiavelli were two great thinkers who lived in vastly distant, and yet remarkably similar, periods of human history. Both thinkers developed their conceptions of the world under conditions of violence, uncertainty, and political fragmentation, and yet they came to quite separate conclusions about the nature of the state and its actors. Between the political philosophies of Socrates and Machiavelli, the difference boils down to a question of soulcraft or statecraft—absolute morality or moral ambivalence—idealism or practicality. Socrates professes support for the ‘examined life,’ in which one lives one’s life questioning every action to determine whether it is good or ill, and in this way he expresses an absolute sense of justice and morality, and a belief that one’s allegiance should be to these ideals above status, riches, or power. The Prince crafted by Machiavelli, however, rules with a degree of moral ambivalence, feigning virtue but willing to do injury or injustice upon others for the sake of gaining and keeping power over a unified state. From the perspective of Socrates, Machiavelli’s Prince would seem morally unprincipled and preoccupied solely with gaining and keeping power over his state, even at the expense of justice. Socrates would not consent to a political system under the absolute rule of a Prince who does not strive to always do what it is moral and just. The most
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