Courtesy Reuters

Machiavelli and Machiavellism

MACHIAVELLISM is the name given to a doctrine which might be summed up as follows: The supreme law of politics is success. Politics, therefore, cannot recognize any moral law as binding. What is bad in the conduct of individuals can be the most imperative of duties for a statesman if the good of the state so demands. This doctrine is named after its creator, Niccolò Machiavelli, statesman, historian and philosopher, who was born in Florence in 1469 and died in the same city in 1527. The nineteenth century saw in Machiavelli one of the creators of modern thought because he freed politics from slavery to theology. Until his time politics had been either empirical or a branch of theology. With Machiavelli it became a free science depending only on reason.

In all this there is only one inconvenient factor, namely, that one looks in vain for a complete Machiavellian system in the works of Machiavelli. He set forth his political doctrine in two works, "Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio" and "Il Principe" ("The Prince"). The first is a treatise on republics, the second a treatise on monarchies. I have read the "Discorsi" many times without ever finding any trace of the doctrine called "Machiavellism." They contain ideas and advice on how to organize a republican government. The ideas and the advice are always ingenious, though sometimes a little too theoretical; but nowhere is consideration given to the connection between morals and politics. Machiavelli maintained neither the doctrine that morals take precedence over politics nor the contrary theory; the question is simply outside the framework of his interests.

One cannot say the same of "The Prince." All the pretended doctrine of Machiavellism originates in this little book. This, however, is not to say that it can be found there. To understand this paradox -- that a doctrine originates in a book which does not contain it -- we must read the book without preconceptions. What does one then find there? A

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