« »

AP 101: Final Paper (Ruling Biblically)

Course: Introduction to Apologetics
Professor: Dr. William Edgar
Semester: 2016 Fall
Grade: B-

Ruling Biblically

          In May 2014, I had the opportunity to visit the largest Franciscan church in the world—Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence, Italy, and I saw the tomb of Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527), and those of Michelangelo, Galileo and Rossini as well, in this 722-year-old Gothic cathedral . Machiavelli is not an unfamiliar person to most of us. He was an Italian historian, writer, and especially known to us for his role as a politician in the Republic of Florence during the Renaissance. The Italian politician, in his political article “Be Powerful,” found in the book Constructing a Life Philosophy, beats the drum for a philosophy of political administration, saying that rulers should spare no efforts to maintain their ruling power, and moral principles are not useful to help them to attain their goal, that is, to be powerful. This is what the editor has explained in the introduction to the article.

          Nevertheless, now we have to examine whether the purpose of being powerful is reasonable and relevant. More specifically, a prince’s ardent desire to be powerful should correspond to the biblical view that teaches him how to properly exercise his kingship. In deed, his kingship is bestowed by God, and it is his obligation to exercise his kingship in accordance with the Word of God. Next, I will try to express what he claims in this article, before responding to his claims.

          In his article, Machiavelli spends most of his time describing the inextricably depraved and corrupt qualities of human beings, and he does this because, since human beings are vicious, a prince should also apply vicious administrative methods to govern his country in order to attain the goal of firmly maintaining his ruling power. Certainly, I do not disagree with his view saying that men are corruptive. However, unfortunately, I would like to ask why a prince should spare no efforts to achieve this ambitious goal of firmly grasping the political power in his hand. Then, I need to point out the inconsistency of Machiavelli’s article. In this response paper, I will mainly demonstrate that a prince ought to rule his people and country in accordance with and aiming towards what God has commanded him in the Bible, and my thesis is illustrated in Ephesians chapter 6, where Paul says that masters should not threaten their servants, but they ought to render “service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (v.7), according to what their servants do for them, because the masters also have their Master, who is the Lord, in heaven.

          Before I try to go more deeply into Machiavelli’s unfounded propositions, I would like to empathize with Machiavelli addressing out some of his points that are relevant.


          First, I empathize and agree with Machiavelli in his view of the nature or the quality of human beings, because such a description is really parallel to the biblical teaching of the reality of man. If you only look at the part of his discussion under the subtitle “Facing Reality,” he seems to claim that human conditions do not allow people to possess any good qualities, which corresponds to the orthodox Christian doctrine of man. Surely, as Calvin’s doctrine of total depravity indicates, after the Fall, human beings have been enslaved to sin, and consequently they can only do things that are the opposite of good because they are totally depraved in their nature.


          Second, I also resonate with Machiavelli’s proposition that man should have “fear at the will of the prince” (193) even if I will definitely argue against his open disrespect towards the will of the people. For we need to follow the teaching of the Bible, fearing the ones who exercise power over us in authority. For example, Paul points out in Romans 13:1 that men ought to submit themselves to the authorities: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” And another example of this is Paul’s rhetorical question in 13:3b: “Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority?” Also, we should acknowledge the fact that if most of the citizens of a country do not respect to their king, chairman, or president, whose kingship is appointed by God, their country will fall into disorder and chaos. Let me take the latest news around us as an example. Even though many American citizens are not in favor of Mr. Donald Trump, he was elected the next president of the United States; he will be the servant and the minister of God in 2017, and American citizens, as his people, should fear and be subject to him.


          Third, I admire Machiavelli’s vivid parable of “the fox and the lion” (193) when I think that I need to spend some of my time considering how to use some craft to survive in the world. Certainly, on some occasions, it is necessary for human beings or even our Christians to learn some useful skills to survive in the corrupt world, which is not usually a peaceful, friendly, or cozy place for us to live in. In like manner, the Lord Jesus also says that he is sending us out “as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents” in Matthew 10:16.

          Now, I will look more closely at these two parables which have distinctive functions. In Machiavelli’s parable, the fox recognizes traps and the lion frights wolves. In Jesus’s parable, he tells his sheep to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” which are surrounded by ferocious wolves (v.16). Therefore, it is not illegitimate for Christians to seek some clever techniques to avoid dangerous situations since we have to survive in this sinful world and this is why I empathize with Machiavelli on this point.     


          To begin with, in Machiavelli’s explanation under the subtitle “Facing Reality,” he claims that because men’s natures are bad and they cannot possess all good qualities such as being merciful, trustworthy, high-spirited and religious, a prince, whose nature is bad, must use evil methods rather than good methods to rule his people, who also have a bad nature. However, I need to ask why a prince should have vices? In fact, 1 Peter 3:9 states, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary….” Even though Machiavelli’s reason (his point of view on the nature of man) here is so true, there is something wrong with his conclusion. For instance, in 1 Peter 3:9-22, the author encourages us to seek and do good, which God views as righteous, even if we might suffer for the sake of doing good. Accordingly, it is obvious what Machiavelli claims is the opposite of the teaching of the Bible. 

          I think Machiavelli is not alone. Likewise, Deng Xiaoping, a famous Marxist and the leader of China from 1978 to 1989, generated a famous economic maxim in 1961: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.” To further explain, Deng Xiaoping’s proverb of a “black cat and white cat” is rooted in a philosophical foundation similar to  that of Machiavelli. Specifically, both of the politicians only focus on achieving the end, rather than on the means. In other words, they regard the means or methods as the servants of men’s particular purposes. Also, if Machiavelli, Deng Xiaoping and I were in the same room right now, both of them might not deny my inference from their claims that even though a method is bad, nevertheless, if it can help a prince achieve his ruling purposes or maintain his power, then the bad method is a good method because the “good” method serves the purpose of the prince well.

          Nevertheless, I would like to ask what Machiavelli’s standard is for discerning what is good and what is bad, that is, his principle for distinguishing between good and evil. Why does a good ruling method become a bad ruling method when it cannot serve the purpose of the ruler? If a method follows a good ethical principle, but the method cannot help a prince maintain his kingship, then is the method good or bad? In my opinion, here the moral principle of Machiavelli is vague, for he does not provide us with a clear standard for good and evil.

          Then, Machiavelli says that human conditions do not permit men to “possess all the above-named qualities that are reputed good.” Consequently, a prince “must not mind incurring the scandal of those vices” in order to safely maintain his power in his hand. I find that there are two logical disconnections between Machiavelli’s reason and conclusion. The first disconnection is that he does not connect the bad qualities with the prince’s involvement in vices. Why should a prince use vicious methods to control his people? The second disconnection is that he thinks the only way for a prince to maintain his power is to try his best to become a hypocritical ruler. Here I would like to ask, what is Machiavelli’s theoretical foundation or reason for?   

          My next step is to examine the legitimacy of maintaining political power unscrupulously, which is advocated by Machiavelli as a positive and recommended method for princes. The Bible also requires Christians to fear and be subject to the will of their princes, when they do things like pay taxes to the government, complete compulsory military service, and vote in elections, which is a point that I have mentioned above. Nevertheless, the natural issue is that, on the one hand, Machiavelli overemphasizes the importance of the will of the prince, but on the other hand, he gives little attention to the will of the prince’s people. In fact, the Bible not only commands citizens to be subject to their kings but also commands their kings to behave in a certain way and repeatedly reminds the appointed rulers to obey the laws of the Lord. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 aptly illustrates this when it says that Israel’s king should obey the moral principles that are set up by God, should read the law given by God for all his life, and should fear God “so that he may continue long in his kingdom” (v. 20), but he should not “rely on what is in his power” which is a violation of the basic principle of democracy and most important, is a violation of the teaching of the Bible. Consequently, I would ask why the prince’s citizens should be subject to his commands if he does not rule them with justice. In my opinion, a sane man would prefer rebelling against his prince rather than obeying his prince, if his prince downplays the person’s will and imposes his policies on the person.

          At this point, I would argue against Machiavelli and say that a wise prince will not disregard his people’s will. This is because if a prince devalues and belittles his people’s will, or even violently forces his people to do something that they do not want to do, then his people may no longer support him, and they will probably take arms against him. As a result, the prince may lose his throne. Hence, I think Machiavelli is not wise because there is a big logical flaw in his argument. Similarly, Machiavelli is not alone in his beliefs. Perhaps his governing strategies would be approved by Qin Shi Huang, a well-known ancient Chinese emperor who founded the Qin dynasty and was a follower of a classical Chinese philosophy called legalism (Fa Jia). Qin Shi Huang believed that an emperor should use strict laws to rule his country, but he should not be kind because human beings are selfish in terms of their nature. However, Qin Shi Huang’s dynasty only lasted 13 years (BC 221-BC 207), despite the fact that he was such a brutal emperor who spared no effort to maintain power. Additionally, other political philosophers like Han Fei and Shang Yang, who also belonged to the school of Fa Jia, were executed by their opponents whose political interests were severely restricted by the governing strategies advocated by Fa Jia. These examples further support my arguments against those of Machiavelli. Nevertheless, my most important reason to refute Machiavelli is beyond any reason found in natural revelation; that is, it is in the Bible.


          After examining the disconnections in Machiavelli’s argument, I would ask what premise leads to such disconnections. My primary concern here is merely to find out his worldview, perspective, stance, and presuppositions based only on the article “Be Powerful.” Indeed, Machiavelli’s allegations are so straightforward that I need not try very hard to discover them. I can infer from the article that Machiavelli is not a Christian or even a believer of any religion. He explicitly claims that a prince should “learn how not to be good,” (Machiavelli, 191). Machiavelli also encourages a prince to “take the life of anyone” (192), and he thinks that the value of one’s life is less important than that of an asset and property. To me, Machiavelli is an atheist and an anti-humanist who lived during the time of Renaissance humanism.

          Also, Machiavelli is not a Christian or a religious believer, for his perspective is destructive to the most important parts of Christianity, and to a great extent, his perspective is in opposition to most of the sacred writings of many pagan religions such as Buddhism, Taoism, Sikhism, and Hinduism. More specifically, Machiavelli teaches princes to behave in contradiction to the prince’s beliefs and moral principles. Machiavelli says that it is important for a prince to seem to have good qualities, and he also claims that a prince “may be able to change to the opposite qualities” (194) according to the needs of particular cases. In addition, he instigates princes to “act against faith, against charity, against humanity, and against religion” (194-195). As a consequence, obviously any conscious person would make the conclusion that Machiavelli is not a faithful, charitable, humane, or religious man, and most noteworthy, I find Machiavelli attempted to persuade princes to act against humanity. Nevertheless, Machiavelli is well-known as a humanist in the Renaissance period, and ironically, the Renaissance is the period of the revival of human’s self-awareness. That is why Machiavelli confuses me over whether he is a humanist or an anti-humanist like the Nazis (e.g., Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Martin Bormann), Marxists (e.g., Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung) and ISIS terrorists. For this reason, I need to point out another disconnection found in Machiavelli’s article, and this disconnection is so great that it is like there is a Grand Canyon or even an East African Rift between his belief and his behavior, resulting in the inconsistencies found in this article in many places. 

          Furthermore, according to Machiavelli’s stance, he is not a Christian or an adherent of a major world religion. This is for the simple reason that Machiavelli applauds those rulers who “have done great things who have little regard for good faith” (193) but does not oppose their points of view. What Machiavelli says about “great things” is not a rhetorical expression, he really does believe that disregarding good faith is a great thing, which reveals that Machiavelli is hand in hand with unfaithful rulers such as Alexander VI, who “always succeeded in his deceptions” (194). Additionally, as I mentioned above, acting against goodness is laudable and commendable in Machiavelli’s eyes; namely, to some extent, he stands on the side of evil. In short, Machiavelli is in agreement with those deceptive princes who rule by craft or trickery.

          Finally, Machiavelli alleges that the chief end of a prince is only to maintain his power, and this contradicts to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” At this point, apparently Machiavelli leaves no place for God because he primarily presupposes that there is no God, so he does not fear God at all. Furthermore, his atheistic presupposition gives rise to his disregard for human beings, who are created according to the image of God. As a result, he belittles religious values, love, faith, integrity, and any other good quality. Instead, he develops his contemptuous, insolent, haughty atheistic and anti-human assumptions and presuppositions.                            


          I have argued against Machiavelli’s worldview, perspective, stance, and presuppositions in terms of the strategies he suggested for how a prince should rule. Now it is time for me to use the Christian point of view and values to illustrate the real philosophy for concerning how a prince should rule his country. According to the Christian point of view, the only goal of a king, chairman, prince is to rule his country and use his power in line with the Bible, which is the final reference point. Only in the Bible can we correct the disconnections in Machiavelli’s argument.

          To examine Machiavelli’s article biblically, I would say that it is important for a prince to remember that, as the representative of God, the prince should keep in mind that his only purpose must be to obey God. More specifically, in the first place, a prince must learn what is good in terms of the use of his power, in view of the fact that God, who is king of kings, not only appoints princes but also commands them always to do things that are good and righteous in God’s eyes. For instance, as Colossians 4:1 teaches: “Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.” That is to say, a prince shall seek God’s goodness, a prince shall learn how to serve God as his servant, and how to be good, kind and merciful to his people so that he is righteous in God’s eyes, and this is the only proper perspective that a prince should have. In the second place, when the Lord Jesus prays: “Your kingdom come,” Jesus is praying for the coming of the Father’s kingdom. And this indicates that the earthly kingdom does not exist for a selfish and ambitious purpose (e.g., gaining power) of the princes of the earth. Instead, a prince shall acknowledge that his temporal kingship set up by God is to let him rule faithfully, religiously, and obediently according to God’s eternal Word and God’s heavenly kingdom.


Gloria, Chiarini. “Basilica of Santa Croce.” Florence Art Guide. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.mega.it/eng/egui/monu/xbasilic.htm.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. “Be Powerful.” In Constructing a Life Philosophy, edited by Mark Ray Schmidt, 190-195. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002.

I understand and have not violated the Seminary’s position on plagiarism.


日志信息 »

该日志于2016-12-07 17:00由 Ocean 发表在Schoolwork分类下, 你可以发表评论。除了可以将这个日志以保留源地址及作者的情况下引用到你的网站或博客,还可以通过RSS 2.0订阅这个日志的所有评论。


发表评论 »