I 9 presents a beautiful example of "argument" v. "action." It is taken for granted by most that Machiavelli wrote treatises. And so his works appear on the surface. But really there is an inner kinship between his books and Platonic dialogues. Both have characters, settings, dramatic action and so on, that obscure and at the same time clarify the true argument.
The "argument" of I 9 is that "it is necessary to be alone" if one wishes to successfully found or reform a republic. This turns out to be an excuse for Romulus' murders of his brother Remus and his later partner Titus Tatius, king of the Sabines. Machiavelli is often credited with saying that the ends justify the means, which he never said. But he does say in this chapter that "where the deed accuses the effect excuses." Note that there is a qualitative difference between “excuse” and “justify.”
But that aside, he goes on to give the example of Agis and Cleomenes. The former wanted to reform Sparta, which had gone bad but he was killed by the ephors (sort of like Senators). However he wrote down his plan and his successor Cleomenes read the plan and implemented it—after killing all the ephors. Sound like a great illustration of the teaching, right?
Wellllll….. except that shortly after he was defeated in battle by the Achaeans (Nick says the Macedonians) and eventually fled to Alexandria where he committed suicide.
So what is the “action” here? First, look back on what Nick says about Lycurgus, Sparta’s founder in I 2. He is emphatic that Lycurgus was such a great founder that Sparta’s laws remained in place uncorrupted for 800 years (Plutarch says 500). He contrasts that with Solon, founder of Athens, whose founding was so imperfect that Athens was a tyranny within Solon's own lifetime.
Well, now Nick says that Sparta badly needed reform back to the laws of Lycurgus. Lycurgus is suddenly not so great after all. His laws did NOT remain incorrupt. Was this because they were flawed in the first place or because of the natural political “entropy” that erodes all states?
Following the action further, we get an indication that the problem was the former. Cleomenes “renewed altogether” the laws of Lycurgus. OK, a faithful refounding. But look at the outcome. Cleomenes failed. Perhaps because those laws were not so great in the first place? Or did Cleomenes not get to complete his project, which “remained imperfect”? Doesn’t seem like that excuse will fly since it was “after such an order” that Cleomenes “found himself alone and inferior in strength.” But isn’t it necessary, and therefore good, “to be alone” to reform a republic?
Beyond this, I note that the chapter title, and later sentence within the chapter, refers to reforming a republic “altogether outside its ancient orders.” An exact copy of Lycurgus’ orders can hardly be said to be “altogether outside its ancient orders.” Cleomenes mistake was perhaps to make too literal and exact a copy. He did not innovate with the times. This is a rare and curious instance in Nick where a chapter title is actually more revealing of his true thought than the subsequent text.
Edited by Manton - 4/29/13 at 6:47am