Lorenzetti – Machiavelli – Hobbes
An internal split
Stoic securitas denotes a “tranquility of the soul”, which is achieved by means of self-control. More precisely, the Stoic wise man secures himself against future adversity by placing the self in sovereign control over the self: philosophical perfection involves a circular or self-contained relation between one part of the soul that rules and another part of the soul that is ruled.
But what kind of sovereign is the self who rules over the self? And how might the subject survive the internal split between the part of the self that rules and the part that is ruled?
The Stoic self seems to be less a sovereign over some clearly demarcated, protected territory, and more the governor over a dynamic inner life. The Stoic self is less involved in strict regulation and more involved in concern or “care for the self” (cura sui).
We have noted how the Stoic ideal of securitas (as “tranquility of the soul”) shifts to a Roman imperial ideal of securitas (as “tranquility of the state”). This political appropriation of the term securitas was designed to put civil discord to rest: Augustus as sovereign Emperor would remove all concern from the citizens and the state by taking all cares upon himself.
The question is: Does the internal split detected in Stoic security (the self divided between ruler and ruled) go on to compromise the political security of the Roman Empire?
Political Security in the Wake of the Roman Empire
In Roman politics, security first becomes an explicit issue in the wake of the Civil Wars and the ultimate ascendancy of Augustus. The Roman historian, Velleius Paterculus, writes that Augustus effectively brought “security to the people” (securitas hominibus), which meant a return to the ancient ideal of a stable republic (2.89). Again, implicit in the new formulation of political security is the idea that Caesar has taken on all concerns. The Roman populace is carefree because the leader is exceedingly careful.
Ultimately, the fall of the Roman Empire led to massive migrations in small groups across the continent. The period stretches roughly from the 4th to the 9th centuries. Within these small groups, the environment is perceived as threatening: the world beyond the community is dangerous, fraught with risk.
Historical anthropologists refer to this phenomenon as a “heterodynamics”—a migration vulnerable to and organized by external contingencies. Here, the people hope for a more simple and secure existence within the group. To this end, they enter into a pact of loyalty to each other, with the expectation that such loyalty would yield greater security. The community is carefree only when each person takes care of the other.
The individual who remains alone (outside the community) is invariably exposed to danger. Upon entering into the “pact” (pactum), the migrant is no longer an isolated individual but rather a “citizen” (in German: ein Angehöriger, i.e., someone who explicitly “belongs to” (angehören) a group).
Increased numbers of immigrants (those who migrate into a community) threaten to render the community itself insecure from within. The rules of the group are enforced, and the citizen must obey, lest he be expelled from the security of the community.
Thus, in the late Empire and afterward, security quickly became a political commodity: the more secure a community was, the greater its attractiveness and therefore the greater its trade, production, and prosperity.
Similarly, the depiction of Christ as a protector (both in this world and the next) played a crucial role in Christian conversion. Power was understood as the capacity to provide security: security as a commodity that could be given to the people or inherited. A ruler’s legitimacy was explicitly tied to his ability to maintain security: the pactum compels the ruler to offer security and the ruled to obey.
From personal leadership to territory: heterodynamic and autodynamic
A fundamental shift takes place around the 10th century: personal leadership (the ruler as guarantor of security) gives way to a spatial concept of leadership: the emphasis shifts to territory, marked out by walled cities. The individual still belongs to a collective identity (a population), but now that population is further identified with the space it occupies.
The heterodynamics of migratory communities yielded to the autodynamics of the city, where residents contributed their skills and thereby established the city’s self-sufficiency.
The concept of war changed accordingly: whereas in the early Middle Ages, war concerned the personal power of the leader as the provider of security and protection; in the later Middle Ages, war dealt with the conquest of territory (for its natural and human resources).
The shift from a heterodynamic to an autodynamic community is further discernible in shifting understandings of Christianity. In its earliest history, still within the context of ancient Judaea, Christ is depicted as a revolutionary figure, strong enough to defeat the oppressive authority of Rome and the Pharisees who were regarded as complicit in Roman power. Christianity is characterized as a religion of the rebellious Son, who will shake off the yoke of the Father.
As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and eventually, with Constantine, became the dominant religion of the Roman people, this revolutionary aspect had to be reconciled. This period—codified by the Council of Nicaea—is marked by two interrelated theological points:
Christ the Son is consubstantial with the Father (the dogma of Homoousia “Being the same substance”—as opposed to the heretical claim of “similar substance” [homoiousia].)
The emergence of the cult of Mary as the Mother of God.
The psychoanalyst Erich Fromm suggests that the Marian cult becomes important in the late Empire, because it provides an unconscious basis for the belief of two beings existing as one being: the embryo within the womb (Fromm, Dogma of Christ).
Security, then, is less perceived as protection by a mighty ruler and more as the enclosed safety of the womb. In other words, the walled city becomes a womb, enveloped in maternal care. The problem of the outside—as a site of perpetual danger—is of course hardly resolved.
Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government
The Republic of Siena was dedicated to the Holy Virgin. The city’s cathedral was dedicated to Mary and the feast of the Assumption was the city’s most important public event.
According to local legends, on the eve of the Battle of Montaperti (September 1260), the citizens of Siena made a special vow to the Virgin so that she might protect the city from the Florentines. The legend is that, on the morning of the battle, the Virgin herself sent down a dense, moist cloud to cover the Sienese forces who, although far outnumbered, managed to defeat the Florentine assault.
Siena henceforth flourished in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. The ruling government consisted of a Council of Nine statesmen, who occupied the central Palazzo Pubblico. It was the Council that commissioned Ambrogio Lorenzetti to prepare the frescoes in the Sala dei Nove.
The frescoes adorn three walls (slide 1): the short Northern Wall depicts an allegory of Good Government, consisting of personifications of civic and theological virtues.
To the right is long fresco in a more realist style, depicting the city and the countryside enjoying the effects of Good Government (slide 2): the citizens peacefully go about their business, merchants sell goods to passers-by, there is a wedding procession and young maidens dance in a round.
To the left (the sinister side), we have another fresco in realist style (severely damaged), depicting the city and the countryside under Bad Government, und oppressive tyranny and corruption. Scenes of rape, pillage, and murder. A figure of Justice is tightly bound and hurled to the ground.
The cycle’s main argument is straightforward: if the ruling body attends to the civic and religious virtues presented in the central mural, then the city will enjoy peace and prosperity. Should these moral lessons be neglected, the city will fall to complete ruin.
On the right, Eastern wall, hovering above the city gate, is an allegorical depiction of Securitas (slide 3)—unlike the townspeople below, this winged goddess appears in classical dress: Her diaphanous veil suggests juridical transparency. In one hand she holds a banner that promises the removal of fear (“sença paura”); in the other hand, she balances a gallows displaying the condemned.
Poised above the city gate, Securitas guards the traffic into and out of the town center. Business and commerce can take place without fear, without worry.
In contrast, on the left, Western wall, there is horrific pandemonium. The town is in flames. Ruin and confusion are rampant. Everyone fears for his or her life.
Securitas’ direct counterpart in the war-torn city is Timor (“fear”) (slide 4): a sword-brandishing demon, rendered in black and smoky grays, spreading mayhem through the desolate, infertile countryside. Timor is fully cloaked: a representation of opacity, which is opposed to Securitas’s transparency.
Although opposed to Timor, Securitas implements fear—namely the fear of the gallows. She reveals the consequences of transgressing the republic’s laws. Peace is the suppression of crime and its prevention. Her power is displayed along a vertical axis, emanating from heavenly justice and distributed among the townspeople. Fear is integrated or instrumentalized.
In contrast to the vertical distribution of Securitas, Timor spreads fear horizontally: coursing laterally through the population without any hierarchical order. Timor’s sword points to an impending death, while the gallows of Security manifest a death sentence already executed.
Security is therefore resultative: the threat is identified, duly processed and properly disposed. With fear, the threat is incalculable, unpredictable.
The image of Securitas is complemented by the figure of Pax (“Peace”) on the Northern Wall (slide 5): She, too, displays a classical dress, distinct from the other figures on this mural. She rests upon a pile of discarded armor: Peace is the cessation of war (not an original state). She gazes directly at Securitas.
Pax < pacisci (“to strike a bargain, to enter into a contract or covenant”). Whereas in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the original state is the tranquility of paradise, which subsequently falls, in the political philosophical tradition, the original, natural state is war. For Hobbes, the state of nature is a “war of all against all”.
Security is premised on our removal from the state of nature, our freedom from the brute forces that tear us apart and threaten our lives.
Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy, excerpts
NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI (1469 – 1527)
Born in 1469, Machiavelli comes of age during the last flourishing of Medici reign. Although traditionally and nominally a republic since at least the 10th century, Florence frequently fell into the hands of charismatic leaders. Throughout the 15th century, the popular voice of the republic was in continuous tension and suppressed by three generations of Medici rule (Cosimo, Piero, and Lorenzo “the Magnificent”).
With Lorenzo’s death in 1492, the republic was definitively re-established. Machiavelli was 23 years old and soon found himself at work for the republic, assuming various duties both within the city and abroad, surviving the rising and fall of the radically pious Savonarola.
In 1503, Machiavelli was assigned the office of defending the city of Florence; and remained politically active until 1512, when Pope Julius II (“il papa terribile”), allied with the exiled Medici, defeated the Florentine troops headed by the republican Piero Soderini. Machiavelli was subsequently arrested, tortured and sent into exile, where he would write his treatises.
Within two years, the Medici family returned to power with the accession of Cosimo I, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany—a political power reinforced by Giovanni de’ Medici who acceded to the papal throne in 1513 as Leo X (Martin Luther’s opponent).
In the introduction to the first book, Machiavelli evokes the danger of embarking on a new route of investigation, likening political philosophy to sea-exploration. The threat explicitly arises from mankind’s natural envy and jealousy. (37)
Despite the danger, however, Machiavelli is compelled to pursue his path. He likens himself to a doctor (a doctor against the medicinal Medici?): he explains that the modern neglect of ancient models of statecraft is a sickness and that a historically grounded political philosophy is the only cure. Like the Roman Stoics, Machiavelli stresses the need to “unlearn” modern misunderstandings—misunderstandings that are based on modern pride. In brief, modern politics must learn to imitate.
The call for imitation implies universalism: the political problems of antiquity are perfectly analogous to the political problems of today. Once this universalism is recognized, philosophy (which deals with universals) may contribute beneficially to modern issues of the state. Machiavelli therefore takes Livy as his model.
Historically, cities were founded either by native inhabitants or by invading strangers. Among native inhabitants, cities were first formed out of a lack of security. The city is constructed so as to avert danger.
A city may be founded either by an individual authority (as in Athens) or by collective accord (as in Venice). In both cases, laws are designed to maintain the peace.
But cities may also be founded by strangers, as in colonization, where relief from excessive population was sought. Fleeing calamity, the colonists sought out a new home.
Machiavelli then turns to the distinction between necessity and freedom: A city that works out of necessity is invariably stronger than the one that works by choice. Necessity keeps discord at bay.
Since civil security requires power, work must be encouraged. Laws, whose aim is security, should therefore compel labor, especially in regions and climates that might induce idleness.
Machiavelli’s ideal location for a city is a fertile spot that is ordered by laws preventing idleness. Rome is exemplary insofar as it ran on work-inducing laws.
Wise legislation is the basis for civil security. (40) If laws are not wise, security concerns demand reform. It is dangerous when a city diverges from a good constitution, but even worse when a republic is founded on vicious institutions.
Machiavelli’s reasoning broaches a fundamental problem: A constitution is generally reformed only in time of danger (and reformation is good); however, that danger may destroy the city before it has a chance to perfect its laws.
Machiavelli names the three forms of government and their degenerated forms: 1. Monarchy (which may degenerate into tyranny); 2. Aristocracy (degenerating into oligarchy); and 3. Democracy (degenerating into anarchy).
Degeneration is an inevitable consequence of historical time and mankind’s natural cupidity.
Because of these forces (forces grounded in human freedom in time), no form of governance is perfect. Therefore, a constitution that includes all three forms would be most stable, based on a system of checks and balances (e.g., Lycurgus’s constitution at Sparta—“a most perfect tranquility”—securing liberty).
Over the course of time, Rome gradually established such a tripartite government: 1. The consuls (assuming the role of the monarchy); 2. The senate (as the aristocracy); and 3. The tribunes (as democracy).
To explain the emergence of the tribunate, Machiavelli remarks that legislation assumes mankind’s natural evil. By checking the desire of the aristocracy to have more and more power, the tribunes ensure the “security of the people.”
Liberty is the result of an opposition between the nobility and the people. Therefore, the tribunes were “the most assured guardians of Roman liberty.”
Every legislator recognizes the need for precautions that would guard and protect liberty. The Romans wisely gave this office to the people (as opposed to Sparta and Venice, where this role was assigned to the nobility).
However, because of the longevity of the Spartan and Venetian governments, Machiavelli is compelled to concede that the nobility may be better suited to protect liberty.
This choice is a pragmatic concession, because theoretically the source of freedom (of virtù) lies in the people. Machiavelli defends his theoretical position by taking the case of Rome. It was wise, he asserts, to entrust power to those who were least liable to abuse it.
Nonetheless, the Spartan and Venetian model is also wise, insofar as it entrusts power to those better suited to handle it, and moreover, to be satisfied in having it.
Machiavelli must ask: what is less dangerous to civil security? Giving authority to those who do not have it? Or to those who already have it? If the goal of a city is to build an empire, than it is wiser to choose the former; but if the goal is simply a city’s self-preservation, then the latter is the better model.
Empire (the desire to gain) is progressive, while civil autonomy (the fear of losing) is conservative.
Republicanism: deals with the balances between a city’s elites and its populace. The question is always: Which party occupies the privileged position in government?
The premise of Republicanism is that the population is not simply the object of rule.
Time and Freedom
As Althusser argues (Machiavelli and Us), Machiavellian time is lawless and therefore “evental” – i.e., “an open-ended field of forces”, eluding all calculation: Fortuna: what Althusser names the “freedom of the event.”
The ideal freedom is neither negative (“freedom from”) nor positive (“freedom to”), but rather a “freedom for,” that is, a freedom for assuming our “thrownness into time without law in order to bring law to time… a freedom to act into time to change the course of time, or not.”
For Machiavelli, factical freedom, expressed by republican virtù, is lost through degeneration, e.g., the degeneration of virtù into tranquility or idleness (cf. History of Florence, 811). Tranquillitas is a degenerated form of virtù.
Virtù is “the individual’s capacity for action”.
Law cures man’s original cupidity and freedom cures imperialism’s laws. Imperialism’s self-corrupting tendencies (e.g., the establishment of ever more restricting, oppressive laws) are precipitated by the weakening of republican virtù.
The people express a basic cupidity—a desire “not to be oppressed,” a will to exercise freedom (see The Prince, ch. 9).
Fortuna as “evental” implies that time demands ad hoc strategies. Time is not simply ontologically contingent; rather, time’s contingency is created by human action. (See Victoria Khan, Wayward Contracts).
Machiavellian time: neither providential nor dialectical (teleological), but rather strategical.
Strategy “reads the heterogeneous signs of the times in order to fashion timely interventions into the course of time, continuously seeking to secure itself against all the changing correlation of forces which distinguish the changing nature of the times” (Dillon 2008).
Factical freedom creates reality, enacting a political crisis: the emergency is the emergence of action. “The emerging of the historically emergent freedom of republican virtù is, then, evental not juridical” (Dillon 2008)
Hobbes, Leviathan, excerpts
THOMAS HOBBES (1588 – 1679)
Hobbes was fond of recounting the anecdote that his mother gave birth to him prematurely, when she learned of the invasion of the Spanish Armada in 1588: “My mother gave birth to twins: myself and fear.”
Hobbes consistently rejected dualist premises that would distinguish the mind from the body. His objections to Descartes’ Meditations, based on arguments further outlined in his treatise De corpore (1650), insist on understanding all human action in materialist terms. (See Hobbes’ comments against “immaterial substance” in Lev. 5.5, p. 24)
Leviathan is concretely the product of the English Civil War. Perceived as royalist, Hobbes wrote the manuscript while living in exile in Paris. The publication, which reinforced the royalists’ belief in the political necessity of a single, sovereign will, nonetheless garnered hatred among the exile community, who were gravely displeased by Hobbes’ argument, which denied the king any claim to divine right. He had to flee back to England in 1651, pleading asylum from the revolutionary government.
All men are naturally equal “in the faculties of the body and mind.” Concerning the body, even the weak are able to kill the strong, either by “secret machination or by confederacy.” The state of nature is characterized by equality—and equality is the source of violence (each person has equal claim to everything he or she wants).
Because men are equal, each individual has the hope of achieving his ends. Yet here, when two men desire the same thing, arises the possibility of becoming enemies: one strives to “destroy or subdue” the other. Enmity, moreover, knows no end: upon destroying or subduing another, the victor stands to be threatened by yet another person, who desires to usurp his position. The fear I instill becomes the fear that I suffer—I become diffident (hesitant to act).
This ensuing diffidence leaves one’s “security” threatened—a threat that remains until all danger is eradicated.
The problem is compounded by the fact that men delight in conquest, pursuing it “farther than their security requires” (4/14).
Thus, Hobbes summarizes by listing three “principal causes of quarrel: first, competition; secondly, diffidence; thirdly, glory” (6/14).
Each cause has its own specific telos: competition for gain; diffidence for safety; and glory for reputation. When there is no overriding authority (or “common power”) to keep mankind in check, we witness a “war of every man against every man”—‘a war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes): a time “without security” (8/14).
In section 9, Hobbes describes this time without security as a time of “continual fear and danger of violent death” – a lethal time, wherein man is reduced to a “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” life (9/14).
In the war of all against all there is no justice, since the notion of justice and law is grounded in a common, discriminatory power. The notion of justice (together with injustice) only arises with the establishment of law.
That which impels mankind to seek peace are the following: the fear of death; the desire for luxury (“commodious living”); and the hope to obtain luxurious items.
Hobbes defines “the right of nature” (jus naturale) as “the liberty each man has to use his own power … for the preservation of his own nature” (1/33).
Liberty is defined as “the absence of external impediments.”
The “law of nature” (lex naturalis) forbids man to destroy his life.
The distinction, therefore, between ius and lex is the following: a right consists in the “liberty to do” (the absence of impediment); while a law consists in a determination or bond. Right deals with liberty; law with obligation.
In the lawless war of all against all, every man exercises his natural right to possess whatever he desires. “[A]s long as this natural right of every man to everything endures, there can be no security to any man … of living out the time which nature ordinarily allows men to live.” (4/33)
Man’s rationality, therefore, leads to the natural law, which binds man to the pursuit of peace and self-defense. It is according to this natural law, that man relinquishes a portion of his natural right. Peace is purchased with the renunciation of freedom.
Hobbes understands the renunciation of our natural right as the basis for the “golden rule” – quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris.
One may lay aside one’s natural right either by simply renouncing it or by transferring it to another. In relinquishing his right, he enters into an obligation not to hinder the other who has been granted the right.
Injustice occurs when this obligation is ignored, when one wishes to exercise his natural right after he has already renounced it. Injustice is an absurdity, insofar as it unjust for a man “voluntarily to undo that which from the beginning he had voluntarily done.” (7/33)
One renounces or transfers one’s natural right by “declaration” or “signification.” The subsequent law is maintained by fear of consequences. (The fear of danger is replaced by a fear of incurring punishment.)
The renunciation or transference of one’s right is voluntarily undertaken for the sake of security (8/33). This is the motivation for adopting the mutual transference of right that is known as a contract, which is obligatory.
If the transference allows one party to honor his agreement afterwards, it is called a pact or covenant.
If the transference is not mutual, it is called a gift, a free-gift, or grace.
To elaborate on the difference between the merits gained by a contract, on the one hand, and by grace on the other, Hobbes turns to the distinction between a meritum condigni and a meritum congrui (17/33).
The distinction between a meritum condigni and a meritum congrui was established by Scholastic philosophy, so as to explain what we humans are to expect from God in return for Christ’s redemption. If Jesus died for our sins, isn’t God required by justice to grant us the merit of redemption? There is a difference between a meritum condigni (which names a reward granted according to the dictates of justice) and a meritum congrui (which names a reward granted out of propriety, i.e., without obligation). The reward we receive from God is the latter, since God is not bound by any obligation to honor the covenant. (See Summa Theologiae I, quest. 114, art. 3, where Aquinas asserts that mankind may expect a meritum ex condigno; Luther and Calvin both reject this notion, claiming that God’s gift of redemption is given to those who do good works simply because it is proper).
Here is a good example of how Hobbes turns to theology so as to ground the terms of his political philosophy.
We can see that Hobbes fully understands the notion of privation implicit in securitas: the commonwealth is formed by dispelling the curae that inform the state of nature.