Resisting Machiavelli Core Beliefs

A politician turned soldier, Oliver Cromwell, though devout, supported an agenda of toleration consistent with his values of individual freedom and responsibility. Cromwell’s letters and speeches testify to his toleration: “I have waited for the day to see union and right understanding between the godly people (Scots, English, Jews, Gentiles, Presbyterians, Independents, Anabaptists, and all)” (Abbott, 1937, I, p. 677). His commitment to freedom of conscience was founded in contemporary religious convictions and debate but anticipated liberal thought. In 1654, speaking to members of Parliament, Cromwell again asserts “Liberty of Conscience is a natural right; and he that would have it ought to give it . . . Indeed, that has been one of the vanities of our Contest. Every Sect saith, Oh! give me liberty. But give it him, and to his power he will not yield it to anybody else . . . Truly, that’s a thing ought to be very reciprocal” (Abbott, 1939, III, p. 459). Liberty is a “natural right” and not to be interfered with by sects or groups. Cromwell understood guilt or innocence on an individual not collective basis and argued that punishment must be proportionate. He criticized the overreliance on capital punishment. He wanted it to be reserved for murder and treason: “I have known in my experience abominable murders quitted; and to see men lose their lives for petty matters. This is a thing God will reckon for . . .” (Abbott, 1947, IV, p. 274). Individuals should be judged as individuals and punished as the particular case warranted. In short, he had a commitment to liberty, to free speech, to the rule of law, and to restraint in the use of violence.

Some historians have claimed that Cromwell had a collectivist or racist intolerance toward the Irish and targeted violence at them as a people (see Hill, 1970, p. 113). But it is not well-substantiated. There has been an effort among historians to evaluate the record in Ireland, and to “question the uncritical ease with which the allegations of indiscriminate slaughter have been repeated by historians. The statistics and the continuities of life in the communities involved bear this out” (Davis, 2001, p. 109). Ashley notes that “what recent historians do appear to agree about . . . is that Cromwell was fundamentally a tolerant and conciliatory statesman, far removed from the police-state autocrats of modern times” (Ashley, 1969, p. 170). As a commander, the Earl of Clarendon, the contemporary royalist historian testifies to his insistence on rules of conduct and discipline: “Cromwell had been most strict and severe in the forming of the manners of his army, and in chastising all irregularities; insomuch that sure there was never any such body of men so without rapine, swearing, drinking, or any other debauchery . . . ” (Clarendon, 1978, p. 381). Ian Gentles says, “that the armies of Parliament were better disciplined than those of the king is a cliche,” and claims that although “England had atrocities . . . it was spared the full horrors of the Thirty Years’ War, in part because of the restraining effect of the Articles of War adopted by both sides” (Gentles, 1998, pp. 111-112). In terms of his “combat morality,” Cromwell distinguished between combatants and noncombatants and insisted on individual responsibility for observing the articles of war, which extended to protections for noncombatants and forbade rape.

One of Lenin’s biographers describes his subject as a sincere “secular believer” with a clear vision of the good of all: “a vision of a future for mankind when all exploitation and oppression would disappear . . . The danger posed by the Lenins is not that they are simply power-crazed. It is that they combine a thirst for power with an ideological intolerance that casts down all in their path. Lenin was dignified and thoughtful, a decent man in his personal relations” (Service, 1995, p. 323). For Lenin, the good of all was to be reached through violent class conflict. He had no tolerance for those he saw working in opposition to historical processes. As Lenin said in November 1917, “the state is an instrument of coercion . . . we want to organize violence in the name of the interests of the workers” (Leggett, 1981, p. 41). The groups in the way of historical processes were to be targeted. They were the bourgeoisie, the Whites, the clergy, the rich peasants or kulaks, and political opponents, including anarchists and socialist parties. The Red Sword of August 18, 1919, described this line of reasoning: “Ours is a new morality. Our humanism is absolute, for it has as its basis the desire for the abolition of all oppression and tyranny. To us everything is permitted, for we are the first in the world to raise the sword not for the purpose of enslavement and oppression but in the name of liberty and emancipation from slavery. We do not wage war against individuals. We seek to destroy the bourgeoisie as a class” (Shub, 1951, p. 327). Under such a collectivist vision violence is uninhibited by considerations of an individual’s just deserts. The restraint on violence was also lifted in a definitional way.

In order for a revolution to be a revolution it had to be violent: “violence is always the midwife of the old society” (Lenin, 1972). Lenin’s priority on violence as essential to the revolution, as an end in itself and not just as an instrument to hold on to power, was clear to others. A leader of the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party and participant in the early Bolshevik-led government said that it was this attitude to violence that distinguished the Bolsheviks: “It was soon evident that the

Bolshevik leaders—Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin and others— wanted to intensify the violence of events . . . absence of violence would prove that the upheaval was not sufficiently revolutionary” (Steinberg, 1953, p. 119). In January 1918, Lenin was asked: “Why do we bother with a Commissariat of Justice? Let’s call it frankly the Commissariat for Social Extermination and be done with it!” Lenin replied: “Well put . . . that’s exactly what it should be . . . but we can’t say that” (p. 145). Lenin’s valuation of violence as important in itself is a departure from Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s view of violence was as an instrument to get and to hold on to power, not as valuable in itself. Machiavelli could see a limit to the useful amount of violence.

The argument is that the core beliefs and management practices of these leaders led to very different outcomes in the way the civil wars were fought, and in the way these leaders addressed their common problems. The next section provides a brief overview of the two civil wars, before discussing the shared problems.

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