I went to the Columbia conference (and hung out a great deal with Mansfield, which was awesome). But this post is about Rahe.
Paul Rahe gave an interesting talk on Prince
11, which yielded some extraordinary insights. Some of what I am going to say came from him, some I added on my own.P
11 is "Of Ecclesiastical Principalities," i.e., above all the papacy. Now, this much I had noticed before. In 19, Nick explicitly compares the Sultanates of the Ottoman Empire and the Mameluke order in Egypt to the "Christian pontificate." The similarity is that they are both elective monarchies. The last time Nick had discussed "the Turk" (as opposed to "Turks") had been a lengthy discussion in 4. The key distinction there had been between princes placed amidst many barons (e.g., the king of France) or princes who are absolute monarchs with all obeying their commands (the Turk).
The distinction at first appears to be feudalism v. absolutism. But that becomes problematic when Nick uses ancient Greece as analogous to France. Ancient Greece was, to say the least, not a feudal monarchy. So, then it seems that the true distinction is between regions or “provinces” governed by a single lord v. those with many different states, whether principalities or republics.
But then if you dig a little deeper, there appears to be a metaphorical meaning, viz., paganism v. monotheism. The Turk is God, an eastern absolute One-God, the barons of France are the pagan gods with the king as their Zeus.
All right, so we get to 19 and he makes the explicit comparison between the Sultan and the pope. This is meant to drive home the nail: the Church is an eastern despotism, fundamentally antithetical to Western principles. It’s a nasty import that the host body should, and would, have rejected—had not the Romans turned the Med (formerly a province like France) into a province like the Ottoman Empire—a despotism that obeyed only one ruler. The Roman physical conquest preceded and was necessary for the Christian spiritual conquest.
By making this much explicit, Nick is inviting us to look for other parallels. Ch. 19 contains by far the highest usage of the world “soldiers.” The surface point seems to be the following. In Ch. 9 and thereafter, NM says that there are the people and the great, and the prince must choose one on which to base his rule, and Nick recommends the people. But this is modified in 19, where in the long digression on the Roman emperors, he shows that the “bad” emperors (above all Severus) ruled without the people or the great, but through the soldiers. Then he makes the following explicit comparison: “since the kingdom of the Sultan is in the hands of the soldiers, he also is required to keep them his friends.”
One is then invited to wonder, if the papacy = the sultanate, what is the parallel for the soldiers? And answer must be the priests. The priests are the soldiers of the church. It is they who enable it to rule, through whom it rules—and more fundamentally, through whom the faith itself rules, Christ Himself rules. This is confirmed when one counts instances of “soldati” and variants in the book and comes up with 44.
Rule through the soldiers, NM makes clear, is what enables bad rulers to ignore the extremely modest wishes of the common people. He says this explicitly about Severus and the Turk, implicitly about the Church.
Moreover, in 9, he describes the people and great as two “humors” or fundamental facts of nature. (He uses identical language in D
I 4.) This is repeated in 19, twice, the first time straight, the second with a twist. The second time he lists THREE—the people, the great, and the soldiers and refers to “their humor.” In other words, the soldiers by this passage are said to HAVE a humor, whereas in the two earlier passages (and in the Discourses
) the people and the great are said to BE humors. The people and the great are fundamental. The soldiers appear not to be. This suggests the possibility of victory, of doing away with them.
Be this as it may, Machiavelli seems to recognize the existence of a soldierly, and by extension, a priestly humor. The distinction between the people and the great is that the former want neither to be commanded nor oppressed whereas the latter want to command and oppress the people. The soldiers of the Turk are intermediaries. They command and oppress the people, ostensibly on behalf of the Turk. But really? For NM makes clear that the Turk must fear and satisfy them. So who is really in charge?
Turning to the priests, for light we may turn to a passage in D
III 1. There Machiavelli describes the priests as “doing the worst they can, for the do not fear the punishment which they do not see and do not believe.” Perhaps, then, the priestly humor is one which wishes to command without being commanded. Its surface status is as an intermediary, just like the Turk’s soldiers, but is that status real or feigned? The priests, NM says explicitly, do not fear punishment from above. Hence are they not really in charge?
And then there is a deeper level, involving “the high places” and Machiavelli’s replacement of their soldiers with his soldiers.