Politics and Morality-Machiavelli

 

 

Machiavelli:=immoral suck-up+ Blair+Kissinger+Beelzebub painting by Je'
Machiavelli:=immoral suck-up+ Blair+Kissinger+Beelzebub
painting by Je’

Niccolo Machiavelli lived in Florence from 1469-1512. Florence was a hotbed of corruption, violence and intrigue and Machiavelli held an official post in one government, then was imprisoned by the next. His book, The Prince, was his attempt to suck up to the current ruler in the hopes of getting a political appointment.

None of this would matter much to us if his advice was not being followed so closely by contemporary leaders, like Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair and if modern authors were not trying to resurrect him as some kind of business hero with books containing the word “Power” in the title (always a good sales tactic in our power-mad world.)

Frankly, Machiavelli’s advice could have been ghostwritten by Beelzebub. It consists of such suggestions as effective lying, how to look good while doing evil, and why you should betray your best friends if it will help you get ahead. “He was just being realistic,” his fans say. Right, and Ayn Rand was just promoting freedom. And oh, and Nietzche was just trying to elevate humanity. For some reason, blatantly immoral philosophies are being promoted. Why is that?

As a manual of what leaders actually do, The Prince is informative. Machiavelli’s advice on taking over other states is: utterly ruin them, occupy them, or install a friendly oligarchy and extract tribute. While the US tried all three in Iraq, Machiavelli advises that option number three is actually best: maximum exploitation with minimum investment. The recent spate of western-sponsored Color Revolutions follow option number three.

When you invade your neighbor, you will, of course, have to kill off the old guard. He says you should kill them all and do it quickly. This advice has been followed by such memorable leaders as Joseph Stalin and the U.S. puppet Augusto Pinochet in Chile. Just call them terrorists or insurgents and put them up against the wall.

He offers advice on plausible deniability (Iran-Contra), on letting others fall on the sword for your sins, on constant warfare and creative treaty-breaking. He explains why it is better to be feared than loved, a maxim Margaret Thatcher is said to have followed.

Applying my theory of Moral Pragmatism to Machiavelli, he fails on both criteria:

  1. Does it work?
  2. Is it fair?

Machiavelli tosses any concept of fairness out the window like the contents of yesterday’s chamber pot. Screw fairness. He dislikes people, who he says are selfish and fickle anyway and deserve only to be manipulated. Many leaders would agree with him on that, though they, ala Machiavelli, will lie about it.

So it’s unfair-But Ye Skanky Leaders, consider criteria number 2:

Does it even work? Not just in the short term, does it work over time? Or will you get blowback and retribution? Does what goes around come around? How did Machiavelli himself do?

Did it work for him? NO. He died in exile. And how big a superpower is Florence these days? Although he said that Christianity was BS, he got last rights before he died, covering his bets to the bitter end.

Evil, unfair and ineffective=Machiavelli. Why would anyone follow him then?

I suggest that they are just trying to find a philosophical justification for their own evilness. Don’t let them get away with it.

Who is afraid of Machiavelli? video

10 Comments

  1. There’s a lot to unpack with your post, so much so that I suspect that you are being a troll.

    People would follow him if they actually read the man’s work as opposed to just playing off of an overly simplistic stereotype based on out of context quotes. Claiming that the evidence for Machiavelli being incorrect is the fact that Florence is no longer a superpower ignores the history of Renaissance Italy, the role of the Papacy in controlling states, and that he advocated for a state to be based on people with a common history and a shared language…like Italy is right now.

    The adage that you claim that it is better to be feared than loved is utterly wrong, ideally a leader of a state would want the people to love them but also fear their justice.

    You may not be aware that he wrote a much longer book on Republic governments in which he advocates them as being much superior to principalities. You may also not be aware that he was writing The Prince for the purpose of convincing the Medici family of uniting Italy to throw out the foreign influence of the Holy Roman Empire and the French.

    It was also not Christianity that he claimed was BS, but the court of Rome which was a political entity which he claimed were the least religious of all people. If he thought it was BS it is doubtful that he would have such acclaim for Moses and Francis of Assisi.

    Like a similar claim about Charles Darwin there’s no evidence that he recanted on his deathbed.

    1. I am aware of every single point you make. I not only read The Prince, I studied much before writing this. The things you mention are true AND they do not negate the immorality-the title is Politics and Morality.

      I have quoted him accurately. If YOU think it’s moral to murder, lie and betray your fiends so you can prosper BUT SIMULTANEOUSLY you are a fan of democracy and puppy dogs-guess what?

      You are still advocating murdering, treachery and lies and I would hope no political leaders are following your suggestions. Let’s take Emmanuel Kant’s test: Imagine EVERYONE did it>Is that a world you want to live in?

      Je’

  2. I’m confused by your reply, if you were aware that the last rites anecdote is unsubstantiated then why did you repeat it?

    More importantly, as to the actual content of Machiavelli’s philosophy: it seems that you are missing the context. Machiavelli’s point about treachery, deception, and killing is about not pretending that moral idealism can be relied upon for safety, he advises to avoid engendering hatred among one’s own population. This is a running theme of chapters 14-19 of “The Prince.” To quote an earlier chapter, “Yet it cannot be called talent to slay fellow citizens, to deceive friends, to be without faith, without mercy, without religion; such methods may gain empire, but not glory.” (ch. 8 Marriot translation [I believe it is in the public domain]) You are arguing against a poorly constructed straw man.

    I am completely disinterested in whether or not you like or accept Machiavelli’s philosophy, only that if you are going to disagree with it, you should be disagreeing with what he actually claims and observes. I wouldn’t trade it for Kant’s moral absolutism, I do think it is permissible to lie or break a promise in order to save a life, something his categorical imperative says is immoral.

    1. He did get last rites. Why he did so I do not know.
      You apparently believe that the end justifies the means. Killing, lying, betraying one’s friends is all right if the end is…what? important? profitable? The greatest good for the greatest number? Is that your position-because its Machiavelli’s.

      As for not lying ala Kant. He says you can’t lie, but there is nothing to stop you from preventing the death of the person in question by moral means.

  3. If he did get last rites, which I’m stressing the “if” since the reports of that don’t exist until many years after his death; it’s probably because he lived in Italy during the Renaissance where if you weren’t Christian, you were either Jewish or a Muslim Turk. You should read De Grazia’s book “Machiavelli in Hell” for a more detailed idea of his morality and religiosity. I’m not claiming that he was a religious person only that your assertion that he felt Christianity was bs is incorrect.

    I don’t know where you are getting that position. If the ends justified the means in Machiavelli, then it wouldn’t matter if a leader oppressed his citizens, mistreated them, or used the state as their own personal hedonistic pleasure dome–all examples which he explicitly states against, re: ch.14-19 of the Prince, and book I of the Discourses. This is not his position. If you can back your assertion up with some kind of textual evidence I would love to hear it. Even in his short story “The Belfagor” he has the king of Hell asking for advice of his counsel on how to proceed as a wise prudent leader ought to rather than just go with whatever made him happiest.

    The Kantian example I brought up as one of ill-placed moral absolutism. Yes, Kant says you can’t lie. So if the soldier at your door is seeking to arrest someone, even an innocent person, you can’t tell the soldier that the person isn’t in there. Nor, can you proceed to inhibit their actions given that the universalization of that action would create a maxim by which everyone could disobey the law at all times ala the categorical imperative’s first formulation.

    Machiavelli’s point was that the state exists for the security and well-being of the individual. That pretending that moral absolutism will guarantee that is not only foolish but also harmful.

    1. He wrote the book, as he clearly states to suck up to the leader: “Desiring therefore to present myself to your Magnificence with
      some testimony of my devotion towards you, I have not found among my possessions anything which I hold more dear than, or value so
      much as, the knowledge of the actions of great men”

      The purpose of the book is to obtain and retain power-that is also the theme of the book. To obtain and retain power anything goes-violence, betrayal, lies. This is the core of the whole thing. If you wish to be a fan of this philosophy-go ahead. I find it repugnant.

      He most definitely DID NOT care about the security and well-being of the individual. This is what he thinks of “the individual” They are greedy, “a man will sooner forget the death of his father than the loss of his inheritance”; shallow, “all men want glory and wealth”; ungrateful, “since men are a sad lot, gratitude is forgotten the moment it’s inconvenient”; credulous, “people are so gullible and so caught up with immediate concerns that a conman will always find someone ready to be conned”; and manipulative, “men will always be out to trick you unless you force them to be honest”.

      All in all, human nature offers little to inspire. “We can say this of most people: that they are ungrateful and unreliable; they lie, they fake, they’re greedy for cash and they melt away in the face of danger.”

      I recommend John Rawls theory of social justice-light years ahead of Machaivelli.

      Best Wishes,

      Je’

  4. If Machiavelli was advocating a moral code for the individual in their day to day life I would agree with you that it’s not one that ought to be followed. However he’s not doing that, it’s a guide for political entities so the rules must change. Now if you want to go the idealistic, all people are good route, that’s fine but it’s not a realistic picture of the world. Dante Alligheri in his Purgatorio admits that politicians have to lay aside conventional morality in order to fulfill their responsibility, which is why he places leaders of state on the shores of purgatory to wait before they can begin to achieve their salvation. It’s a common understanding in the renaissance, and now realistically, that the rules of morality have to be different at the macro level.

    The subtlety of his writing is not that all people are greedy, fickle, and violent; but that some are and those people will do whatever they want to get around the law, this was an inspiration to Thomas Hobbes a century or so later. This is why in the Discourses he argues against allowing the wealthy elite to become so powerful they can buy justice, “keep the public rich but the individual poor.” I cannot recall one instance where he says that an individual can be killed without cause. That is precisely the type of behaviour he argues against because it engenders hate. The moral guideline is not power, but necessity. If necessity dictates that land must be seized then it should be seized but not will-nilly.

    I think I see the problem, you are confusing Machiavelli’s political philosophy with the opening of the Prince. The Prince was written so that he could get a position with the Medici family who retook Florence 1512. As I stated earlier, he wanted the Italian people to be united as a state not carved up by foreigners and to do this he hoped to enlist Lorenzo Medici and his powerful family that was also in place at the Vatican. The caricature of “power at any cost” is specifically argued against in both of his main works as well as his lesser known “History of Florence.”

    I’ve taught Rawls before, the veil of ignorance is a nice experiment but what do you do if you get a room full of gamblers to decide morality?

    1. “…it’s a guide for political entities so the rules must change.” Is that true? Would it be possible to be, as Jesus said, “wise as a serpent” AND “harmless as a dove?” Could a nation make deals, honest deals, while still defending itself from aggression when necessary? Could such a nation thrive? What is the level of corruption in Italy these days?

      I do not think people are naturally good, nor do I think they are naturally evil. I believe the DSM, that 4% of the population are sociopaths, people without conscience, and I suspect a lot of them are attracted to power positions.

      I do think we get the level of corruption that we accept and I do NOT think morality can be so neatly compartmentalized: one morality for home, one for the office, one for church, one for government.

  5. I have no idea as to the level of corruption in Italy these days, although from what I understand of their prime minister it’s probably high. Yet that’s a red herring, since corruption is a different thing altogether and something that Machiavelli advises against since it engenders the hatred of the populace (at least it’s supposed to, I agree with your claim that we get the level we are willing to accept, and in the US that seems pretty high [where I live]).

    Your last claim is intriguing to me as I teach an ethics course. Do you really think that the same moral principles ought to apply to the individual as well as the state? I find that to be problematic for a couple reasons but I’ll offer one. Let’s assume that Christian ethics are the true ethics, and the Jesus’s rule about turning the other cheek to the person that strikes you is then lifted into the government’s legal system. Would this then not mean that if I am assaulted and physically harmed by another person, not only do I forgive them, but also the law meaning that anyone who breaks the law would receive no punishment?

    It may not be neat, or even something we like; but we do permit the government to perform acts that individually we would find immoral. Such as the imprisonment of another individual.

    1. I have been fascinated with ethics from a very young age (and I’m old now) for a perhaps odd reason: My father never lied, he was generous, fair and kind-but he was not a pushover. He was a combat veteran, a construction worker and a farmer. I thought all men were like him until I grew up and found otherwise. I wondered: Why was he so moral? He never “preached” morality. How does one become like that? If everyone was like that the world would be much better-can people learn to be moral?

      I do not have the answers to all those questions.
      Italy is quite corrupt and US is better than Italy but still somewhat nasty. Corruption Perception Index: http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2013/

      I once lived in a neighborhood in which stealing was fine. They said they would steal from their grandma if she left her stuff out-its her responsibility to lock her stuff up. Those who stole the sheriff’s private gun collection were heroes. They liked me AND they stole from me. It was like this because they all accepted it as a norm. I think we must guard against accepting corruption as a norm. I don’t know that “Christian morality” applies to states, but I think Jesus’ admonition to be both “wise” AND harmless are good principles.

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