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Modes Of Virtue

An alternative to a naturalistic justification of royal rule derives from the view that the monarch should be obeyed on account of the personal qualities that inhere in him, whether these characteristics are physical or psychological or both. Hence many cultures accepted the principle that, in effect, might makes right, in the sense that the warrior who demonstrates the greatest prowess and courage in battle deserves to be revered and obeyed in matters of government. The Greek concept of aretē ("excellence" or "virtue"), as espoused in the Homeric epics, epitomized this martial conception of rulership; those who fought gloriously were accorded the greatest deference concerning all political decisions. Similar views can be found in many societies with strong chivalric traditions, such as Japan during the era of the Shogunate or feudal Western Europe during the Middle Ages.

Monarchy might also be justified by the intellectual or moral qualities acquired and refined by a leader. The Republic of Plato (427?–347 B.C.E.) speaks of a "philosopher-king" whose competence to govern a city (and even over other philosophers) stems from his preeminence in the exercise of his speculative reason as well as the fully just ordering of his soul. Likewise, Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.) believed that kingship, as that species of monarchy in which a superlatively virtuous man rules, constituted the ideally best political system, even if he was skeptical that it could be attained in practice. The Roman Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.E.) also believed that among "simple" constitutions, kingship was optimal, as long as the occupant of the royal office remained morally upstanding. Cicero also identified kingship as the chronologically earliest form of human government, since it involves power without a formalized system of laws. But Cicero believed (as did Aristotle) that kingship could readily degenerate into a form of arbitrary rule in the interest of the incumbent, and so he preferred a law-based republican regime.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) combined the martial and the psychological elements of monarchy in his Prince (written c. 1513–1514 but not published until 1532). Machiavelli stated explicitly that he was addressing a particular sort of monarch: one who came to power not as the result of heredity or divinity but solely on the basis of his own ability (which Machiavelli called, somewhat perversely, virtù). On the one hand Machiavelli claimed that military prowess constituted the salient quality of an effective prince; good "arms" must precede good laws. Yet Machiavelli also held that virtù had a psychological dimension, insofar as the prince who succeeds in gaining and retaining his state must shun conventional personal morality and adjust to the circumstances of his position in whatever way is required. Hence, while the "self-made" monarch should try to adhere to the precepts of everyday virtue when he can, he must be prepared to contradict the moral teachings of religion and philosophy at those times when following them would lead to political ruin.

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