Was Machiavelli an Immoralist?

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The Prince has elicited debate amongst generations of readers for its seemingly ruthless approach to statecraft and its abandonment of conventional morality. What Machiavelli recommends may seem, in a different political context to the stability of interstate relations today, to be shocking or immoral. However, such an interpretation fails to consider that The Prince is very much made by and for the real world. Machiavelli’s prescriptions are tailored to circumstances where society is already immoral by human nature and is blighted by disorder. Thus this essay will posit that Machiavelli is not motivated by immorality but rather pragmatism, in his advocacy of the means necessary to achieving an ‘end’ of stability and security for the collective good of the people. As Ramsay (1995: 179) considers, ‘we may have to be cruel to be kind’. Although the means may sometimes present an inhumane stratagem, only those which are necessary for safeguarding the state are employed, a state in which human themselves act in immoral ways. In this realist context, it is unfair to label Machiavelli an immoralist. The Elizabethan and dramatist view of Machiavelli, at least as a political thinker, is that of a man inspired by the Devil to lead good men to their doom (Berlin, 1979). The most extreme interpretations castigate him as a “teacher of evil,” in the famous words of Leo Strauss (1957: 9-10, cited in Nederman, 2009), on the grounds that he counsels leaders to avoid the common values of justice, mercy, temperance, wisdom, and love of their people in preference to the use of cruelty, violence, fear, and deception (Nederman, 2009). Such interpretations fail to understand the underlying motivations and assertions behind The Prince. In a state of disorder and corruption, it is the duty of the government to implement order to combat this instability. Machiavelli had legitimate reason
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