Violence works because we are emotional.
Violence is not used to remove obstacles but to provoke fear, to satisfy pride, to make fun of, to feel proud, to take revenge, to feel superior… that is, to cause emotions.
No bully is satisfied with hitting dummies.
Niccolò Machiavelli is often taken as an antecedent of the so-called “realist” school in geopolitics. What this school proposes is that conflicts between nations are fully explained by their economic or defense interests. There are no principles or morals in war: if a nation fears being attacked, or if it finds an opportunity to have more power, and if the other nation is weak, it will undoubtedly act and the advice of this political current is precisely that: act. I mean, attack.
But Machiavelli understands that wars are not just about destroying obstacles. The hardest job for a conqueror is not to win the war but to create a new government and move the conquered population to obey and submit. And for this violence is not the best instrument. If it is used all the time, it is like using a hammer to break bricks, and to wash dishes.
Machiavelli does not advise using violence against the population but against the possible competitors of the prince. Against nobles or aristocrats or bishops or generals who might compete against him for political authority.
On the population, on the vast majority, Machiavelli advises using violence to provoke the emotion of the satisfaction of justice.
Emotionally, psychologically, there is no difference between revenge and justice. Justice is not defined or established psychologically but in many other ways. And we know there’s a problem when justice doesn’t satisfy people’s emotions.
Machiavelli narrates a historical event that gives us food for thought.
Cesar Borgia wins a war and defeats the ruler of the Romagna, the northern region of Italy that overlooks the Adriatic Sea. To create a strong government, he gives power to Ramiro de Orco. He gives it to him because he knows that this Orc is a cruel and violent character. And indeed: by dint of threats and deaths and imprisonments this subject manages to make the population fear him, and obey him. But Cesar Borgia knows that a hammer does not wash dishes. So after little more than a year, he had Orco captured and executed: one morning he had him exposed in the Cesena square, split in two, each part of his body nailed to a frame, and a knife soaked in blood to his feet.
Machiavelli says. “The ferocity of such a spectacle left the people both satisfied and stupefied.”
That Borgia’s action has caused stupefaction and satisfaction in the people is what should make us think.
Cesar Borgia’s violence was wonderfully used: he freed him from an obstacle and at the same time moved among the people the emotions that the new ruler needs: the emotions that earned him the respect and admiration of the people. And so peace was established.
So far for now.
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