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Although Machiavelli's superficially fits into the mould of these humanist tracts, he actually undertook to refute these catalogues of virtues, especially in books XV-XIX (Adams 1971, p163). There are two clear grounds for this attack.
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The classic statement which helped established these values in the modern Western tradition is found in the short work called , written by Niccolo Machiavelli. We will approach Realism by looking at his works, plus one main representative of modern realism, the thought of Hans Morgenthau. It is no accident that both these books were written during periods of crisis, when nations in Europe were under major turmoil.
SELFISH STRATEGIES In the prisoner's dilemma, the police are separately interrogating two accomplices. Each criminal has two options: to cooperate with the other by keeping quiet or to defect by squealing on the other. If both cooperate, they'll each receive a 1-year sentence. If each incriminates the other, they'll both get 5 years. But if one cooperates and the other squeals, the cooperator will land a 10-year sentence, while the squealer will get off with only 6 months in jail.
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This approach can be broadened to discuss the stability of any elite group in any organization. Elites need some support base to operate, and if 'pyramids' are either too steep, or lack a proper basis, they can be more readily toppled from below. An alternative strategy to gaining the support of broad-based support by means of propaganda or persuasion is to set up a countervailing force. For example, a group with a separate identity and closed ideology. In the ancient world mercenaries were often used in this way, while the creation of elite party groups and secret police organizations are standard techniques of both fascist and communist states.
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Furthermore, it can be argued, that the prince, by usurping power, has made himself a target for others to do the same, e.g. the assassination of the Roman emperors from the time of Caligula on set a precedent for future action. In a sense then, whether or not is true to life, by even discussing these ruthless methods, it is certainly a possible recommendation of their use. By expressing and analyzing the unthinkable it brings these forbidden actions into the realm of the possible and 'normal' (a similar critique was developed later on by Sartre). The success of ruthless methods demonstrates to competitors that such actions can lead to the successful grasping of power. As such, the gaining of power by military coupes and assassinations will lead to a state system which can itself threatened destabilized by similar methods. It must therefore use a greater level of fear and force to remain in power than some kind of consensus-based government, as Machiavelli has noted in his comments on the benefits of gaining the support of the people (, X, p36). What we have here is a kind of escalation in the internal-security stakes, a feature of most totalitarian or police states.
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There are examples which show limiting cases for the depravity of politics even in Renaissance Italy. Firstly, the Concert (or agreement) of 1454, already mentioned, was a rational attempt to provide stability within the Italian peninsula. This was called the Most Holy league, and in it Venice, Milan and Florence formed the equivalent of a 'a collective security organization' (Holsti 1988). It was actually the break down of this system after thirty years of relative success which created many of the horrors which Machiavelli describes. Likewise, in 1518 Cardinal Wolsey of England drew up the Treaty of London, which was designed to provide for peace in Europe, including clauses against aggression, and provision for systems of arbitration. This treaty was viewed with suspicion at first, but in the end did manage to stabilize European wars for some 30 months (Mattingly 1973, pp158-160).