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Research paper topic: Machiavelli, Locke, Plato, And The Power Of The Individual - 1007 words
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.. ccount of external powers (The Prince, 72). In both this text and Lockes Two Treatises, the authors yield an incredible amount of power to the people: the power to both influence the creation of and bring about the destruction of governments. For Machiavelli, the people are a large body of people, viewed as more formidable, and, therefore, more influential, than the great aristocrats in principality building. For Locke, the people exert a similar influence over the building of a commonwealth, since it is from the people that the power of the prince or legislature originates. Moreover, the people can decide to bring about the end of a particular regime of government if they feel that it no longer adheres to its responsibilities. Thus, the people, in both Machiavelli and Locke, appear to share a similar amount of power both in the formation of government and in its oversight: namely, that of adjudication.
In the Discourses, Machiavelli writes of a cyclical succession of governments, one after another, each one rising to prominence only to fall to licentiousness. It is through this cycle that Machiavelli demonstrates the power of the people to adjudicate, and he argues that it is this adjudication that perpetuates the cycle. Kings rise to prominence based upon character, until the monarchy becomes hereditary and degenerates into sumptuousness and lasciviousness (Discourses on Livy, 12). The people then, with the guidance of a leader, overturn this form of government and institute first an aristocracy, and then popular government. As with the principality, these modes of government also become licentious. So the cycle continues anew, with a principality following this popular form of government. Likewise, the same reasons each form of government declines, namely licentiousness, sumptuousness, and lasciviousness, also leads to the decline of each the second time, and so on, and so on. The power of the people acts as impetus for reform, and reiterates their role as adjudicators.
In conflicts between the prince or legislative and the people, Locke argues that the law should hold the power of final and resolute arbiter. But in cases where the law is silent, or doubtful, and the thing be of great Consequence, Locke argues that the power of judgement falls to the people, and that they should be the jury for the actions of the prince or legislature. For since the power of the prince or legislature derives from the will and consent of the people, they are the proper judges of the limits to which that power can extend. This should not be understood, however, to indicate that more than this power exists in the hands of the people, or that they may exercise this power arbitrarily. Locke argues that it is incumbent upon the Legislative to govern the people, and that this legislative power can never revert to the people whilst that government lasts (Two Treatises, 428).
Men in Lockes commonwealth have given up their rights to the political power that the legislative executes, and, therefore, removed themselves wielding political power. Moreover, this accedence of power to the legislative is binding due to the permanent nature of the contract. It is important, however, to note that the one power which Locke never says the people should give up is the power to judge the government and the power to revolt should that government violate its contract. Turning to Plato, it is essential remember that he wrote a democratic regime is composed of three types of men; the multitude; the oligarchic; and the men most orderly by nature (The Republic, 243). It is in his description of the multitude, however, that Plato reveals the true role and political power of the people. His description from section 565a reads: And the people would be the third class, all those who do their own work, dont meddle in affairs, and dont possess very much.
Whenever they assemble, they constitute the most numerous and most sovereign class in a democracy (The Republic, 243). Like Machiavelli, Plato apportions a large amount of power to the people based on their numerous populaces. This population, as Adeimantus points out, is not willing to assemble very frequently unless they get some share of the honey. Plato replies by stating that the leaders take care to assure that the people have enough to keep them from becoming unruly, a tactic that implies the power of adjudication, once again, to the people. If the body of people feel that the ruler is favoring the privileged class too much, then they can mobilize their large numbers against the ruler.
Therefore, it appears that in Plato as well as in Machiavelli and Locke, the power of sheer numbers is secondary to the chief role of the people; namely, that of umpire and as judges of the behavior and actions of the ruler. Thus, it appears that even among these three different writers, each of whom wrote the texts analyzed above, there is an agreed upon notion of the role of people in the various governments that each author describes. Moreover, each author defines this role in the context of the power people are afforded. Plato and John Locke may not have agreed with each other in regards to an ideal form of government, and Machiavelli may not have agreed with himself from one text to the next in regards to the same subject. Each author, though, dealt with that unruly multitude, the people, in their works.
And by juxtaposing Two Treatises on Government, Discourses on Livy, The Prince, and The Republic against one another, it appears that these writers from three very different centuries all agreed upon an identical notion of the relationship between the power of the people and their role in government. Bibliography Works Cited Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Peter Laslett, ed. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
1997. Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield. 2nd Ed. University of Chicago Press: Chicago & London. 1998.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. Discourses on Livy. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield & Nathan Tarcov. University of Chicago Press: Chicago & London. 1996. Plato. The Republic.
Allan Bloom, ed. Political Issues Essays.
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