Jan 06, 2017 CANADA (SUN) Conversations wtih HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, excerpted from Dialectical Spiritualism: A Vedic View of Western Philosophy.
IV – RENAISSANCE THOUGHT
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 - 1527)
Hayagriva dasa: Machiavelli's view of man was very cynical. He wrote: "In constituting and legislating for a commonwealth, it must be taken
for granted that all men are wicked."
Srila Prabhupada: This is not philosophy, considering all men wicked.
Hayagriva dasa: Well, he considered that men are so created that they
desire all things, although they cannot acquire them. Men are never
satisfied. As soon as they have one thing, they crave another.
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore it is the duty of the government to introduce
Krsna consciousness so that the people can know the way of peace and
Hayagriva dasa: As long as the prince benefitted the people, they would
be entirely his.
Srila Prabhupada: But he must know how to benefit them.
Hayagriva dasa: Machiavelli was very fond of speaking of "the common
good," and he set love of country and the common good above the Christian love of God.
Srila Prabhupada: But what is his common good? He is thinking that
people must have enough to eat, but it is for the common good of everyone
to love God. Love of God is for everyone, and God is one. When we
become lovers of God, our lives are perfected.
Hayagriva dasa: But if the people are basically wicked, he argued, a
strong prince is necessary to control them.
Srila Prabhupada: Why should the people remain wicked? It is the
king's duty to see that all the citizens become gentlemen. He should not
allow them to remain wicked. The educational, social, and religious
systems should be so perfect that the people become God conscious. At
least a sector of the people, the brahmanas, should be perfect.
Hayagriva dasa: But he felt that if the prince were perfectly virtuous or
truthful in all cases, he couldn't possibly survive in the political world.
Srila Prabhupada: That is why there are social divisions: brahmanas,
ksatriyas, vaisyas, and sudras. It is not possible for everyone to be truthful, but at least a section of the people should be ideal so that others can
take advantage of their good advice. It is not that everyone is in the same
position, nor that everyone should join the military. Only those who are
interested in fighting should join the military.
Hayagriva dasa: Machiavelli recommended compulsory military service
as a primary form of education for everyone.
Srila Prabhupada: Nothing is meant for everyone. There must be divisions. Machiavelli had no idea that brahminical training is absolutely
necessary for intelligent men.
Hayagriva dasa: Since youth should especially become used to hardships, he considered war as a form of education.
Srila Prabhupada: Well, any education requires hardships, and to become a brahmana or brahmacari requires the greatest hardships. In any
case, there must be educational divisions, just as there are divisions in
the human body: the head, arms, belly, and legs. Military education is
education of the arms, but where is the education for the brain? Unless
the head is educated, how will the arms act?
Hayagriva dasa: Machiavelli recommended a democratic republic for a
society consisting of virtuous people. In such a state, the ruler must
obtain the people's consent. But he considered such a society to be purely
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a completely virtuous society is Utopian in this
age. It is not possible. Yet a section of the population can be ideally
virtuous, and the remainder may take lessons from them. It is not possible for everyone to become a brahmana, but a few can be trained. The
sky may be full of stars, but one moon is all that is necessary. If the
populace consists of fools and rascals, how can anything be managed?
There must be at least a section that shines like the moon.
Hayagriva dasa: This cynical view of mankind was partially based on the
Christian doctrine — or at least on the doctrine of Augustine — which held
that man is by nature corrupt. Whereas Augustine believed in the saving
grace of God, Machiavelli believed in man's willpower to overcome bad
Srila Prabhupada: But who adjusts good and bad fortune? If we consider
good and bad fortune, we must consider a dispenser, a supreme power or
controller, and that supreme power is God. Therefore people should be
educated in God consciousness by reading transcendental literatures like
Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Hayagriva dasa: Machiavelli's attitude toward religion has greatly influenced modern governments. He considered religion to be a department of the state; it should not be separate in the sense that it should not
Srila Prabhupada: In that I agree. It is the government's duty to give
protection to religion, and if that religion is scientific, the state will be
sound. America is presently strong in many respects, and now America
must become strong in God consciousness. It is very good to write, "In
God We Trust," but we must also know who God is and why we should
trust in Him. We are therefore trying to introduce this science of God,
Hayagriva dasa: Machiavelli felt that as long as religion is not detrimental to the state, the state may accept it as valid. But in one sense, religion
is subordinate to the state.
Srila Prabhupada: Of course, they are separate, but the state must know
what religion is and how to introduce it to the general public. There is
no question of blind faith. The government is maintaining many different
departments: an engineering department, medical department, military
department, and so forth. Similarly, a religious department may be subordinate to the state because all other departments are subordinate, but
religion must be based on scientific knowledge. If the state takes advantage of the Vedic literatures, it can introduce a scientific system of religion. Then the people will be knowledgeable and happy.
Hayagriva dasa: For Machiavelli, the only sin is not acting for the common
good. First, the ruler must protect the citizens from physical harm. Citizens
are happy when they obey the laws, follow customs, and pray to God.
Srila Prabhupada: If the ruler must first of all protect the citizens from
physical harm, how can he advocate animal slaughter? Animals are also
subjects because they are born in a country. A citizen is anyone who is
born in a state. So how can a ruler discriminate between one type of
citizen and another? If he discriminates, he cannot speak of common
good. He can only say "man's good." According to the common good,
animals as well as men are protected.
Hayagriva dasa: Machiavelli placed love of country and the common
good above everything else. He rarely uses the word "God" or "Providence," but prefers the word "fortune." It is fortune that plays tricks on
men and changes friends into enemies.
Srila Prabhupada: If God is fortune, who is misfortune? Since God is
the supreme controller, He is both fortune and misfortune. When you
act wrongly, punishment comes from God, and when you act properly,
the reward comes from God.
Hayagriva dasa: Love of country transcends everything religious and moral, so that one may even lose his own soul for his country's sake.
Indeed, Machiavelli wrote: "I love my country more than my soul."
Srila Prabhupada: But how long will he remain in his country?
Hayagriva dasa: Well, he remained from 1469 to 1527.
Srila Prabhupada: So what is that? Time and the soul are eternal. Such
deification of one's country is not very intelligent.
Bhaktivedanta Book Trust