“The end justifies the means”

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Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito

In all business, political and organizational activities, management is the act of getting people together to accomplish desired goals of a company, organization, state, group or an individual. While management has been present for millennia, several writers have created a background of works that assisted in management theories of nowadays. Niccolo Machiavelli is one of them. Despite the classical precedents, which Machiavelli was not the only one to promote in his time, Machiavelli’s realism and willingness to argue that good ends justify bad things, is seen as a critical, some of the most important and widely discussed issues of modern politics.

Machiavelli’s teachings continue to influence all levels of Western society. Take for example a situation presented by Michael Walzer: An elementary school needs a new roof. Simple as it may seem, much of Machiavelli’s theories will be put to use. Money from a budget must be allocated by officials, each of them lobbying for what they think is most important. Even then, if money is allocated towards a new roof, a construction contractor must be hired. One must consistently consider, What is behind this lower estimate for the construction work? Why does this company want this small contract? Many questions must be asked in order to identify deception. In the end, all anyone can ever do is “strive to make an informed decision based on the best evidence, and then act accordingly, even though the best evidence will never guarantee certainty.”

Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (3 May 1469 – 21 June 1527) was an Italian historian, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. A founder of modern political science, he was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs, and poetry. His personal correspondence is renowned in the Italian language. He was Secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence from 1498 to 1512, when the Medici were out of power. He wrote his masterpiece, The Prince, after the Medici had recovered power and he no longer held a position of responsibility in Florence.

The Prince

Machiavelli’s best-known book, The Prince is a manual to acquiring and keeping power. From correspondence a version appears to have been distributed in 1513, using a Latin title, De Principatibus (About Principalities). But the printed version was not published until 1532, five years after Machiavelli’s death. This was done with the permission of the Medici pope Clement VII.

Although he privately circulated The Prince among friends, the only theoretical work to be printed in his lifetime was The Art of War, about military science. Since the 16th century, generations of politicians remain attracted and repelled by its apparently neutral acceptance, or even positive encouragement, of the immorality of powerful men, described especially in The Prince but also in his other works. In contrast with Plato and Aristotle, Machiavelli insisted that an imaginary ideal society is not the model for a prince to orient himself by.

The “Il Principe” contains a number of maxims concerning politics, but rather than the more traditional subject of a hereditary prince, it concentrates on the possibility of a “new prince.” To retain power, the hereditary prince must carefully maintain the socio-political institutions to which the people are accustomed; whereas a new prince has the more difficult task in ruling, since he must first stabilize his new-found power in order to build an enduring political structure. He believed that social benefits of stability and security could be achieved in the face of moral corruption. Aside from that, Machiavelli believed that public and private morality had to be separate in order to rule. To do this required that the prince be concerned not only with reputation but that he be also willing to act immorally. As a political scientist, Machiavelli emphasizes the occasional need for the methodical exercise of brute force, deceit, and so on.

Concerning the differences and similarities in Machiavelli’s advice to ruthless and tyrannical princes in The Prince and his more republican exhortations in Discourses on Livy, many have concluded that The Prince although written in the form of advice for a monarchical prince, contains arguments for the superiority of republican regimes, similar to those found in the Discourses.

The descriptions within The Prince have the general theme of accepting the aims of princes; such as glory, and indeed survival, can justify the use of immoral means to achieve those ends. Scholars often note that Machiavelli glorifies instrumentality in state-building – an approach embodied by the saying that “the ends justify the means.” Violence may be necessary for the successful transfer of power and introduction of new legal institutions. Force may be used to eliminate political rivals, to coerce resistant populations, and to purge previous rulers who will inevitably attempt to regain their power.

Machiavelli has become infamous for this political advice, ensuring that he would be remembered in history as an adjective “Machiavellian.”

Machiavellian

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, machiavellianism is “the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct”. Machiavellianism is the art of manipulation in which others are socially manipulated in a way that benefits the user, whether it is to the detriment of the people being used. The user would feel little to no remorse or empathy when their actions harm others.

His works are sometimes even said to have contributed to the modern negative connotations of the words politics and politician, and it is sometimes thought that it is because of him that Old Nick became an English term for the Devil and the adjective Machiavellian became a pejorative term describing someone who aims to deceive and manipulate others for personal advantage. Machiavellianism also remains a popular term used in speeches and journalism.

While Machiavellianism is notable in the works of Machiavelli, Machiavelli’s works are complex and he is generally agreed to have been more than just “Machiavellian” himself. For example, J.G.A. Pocock (1975) saw him as a major source of the republicanism that spread throughout England and North America in the 17th and 18th centuries and Leo Strauss (1958), whose view of Machiavelli is quite different in many ways, agreed about Machiavelli’s influence on republicanism and argued that even though Machiavelli was a teacher of evil he had a nobility of spirit that led him to advocate ignoble actions. Whatever his intentions, which are still debated today, he has become associated with any proposal where “the end justifies the means”. For example Leo Strauss (1958, p.297) wrote:

Machiavelli is the only political thinker whose name has come into common use for designating a kind of politics, which exists and will continue to exist independently of his influence, a politics guided exclusively by considerations of expediency, which uses all means, fair or foul, iron or poison, for achieving its ends – its end being the aggrandizement of one’s country or fatherland – but also using the fatherland in the service of the self-aggrandizement of the politician or statesman or one’s party.

Machiavellianism is also a term that some social and personality psychologists use to describe a person’s tendency to be emotionally cool and detached, and thus more able to detach from conventional morality and to deceive and manipulate others. In the 1960s, Richard Christie and Florence L. Geis developed a test for measuring a person’s level of Machiavellianism. Their MACH-IV test, a twenty-statement personality survey, became the standard self-assessment tool of Machiavellianism. People scoring high on the scale (high Machs) tend to endorse statements such as, “Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so,” (No. 1) but not ones like, “Most people are basically good and kind” (No. 4), “There is no excuse for lying to someone else,” (No. 7) or “Most people who get ahead in the world lead clean, moral lives” (No. 11). Using their scale, Christie and Geis conducted multiple experimental tests that showed that the interpersonal strategies and behavior of “High Machs” and “Low Machs” differ. Their basic results have been widely replicated. Measured on the Mach-IV scale, males are on average slightly more Machiavellian than females.

Machiavellian motivation is related to cold selfishness and pure instrumentality, and those high on the trait were assumed to pursue their motives (e.g. sex, achievement, money) in duplicitous ways. High Machs give high priority to money, power, and competition and relatively low priority to community building, self-love, and family concerns. High Machs admitted to focusing on unmitigated achievement and winning at any cost.

Machiavellianism is one of the three personality traits referred to as the dark triad, along with narcissism and psychopathy.

Influence

Machiavelli’s ideas had a profound impact on political leaders throughout the modern west, helped by the new technology of the printing press.

During the first generations after Machiavelli, his main influence was in non-Republican governments. Pole reported that the Prince was spoken of highly by Thomas Cromwell in England and had influenced Henry VIII in his turn towards Protestantism, and in his tactics, for example during the Pilgrimage of Grace. A copy was also possessed by the Catholic king and emperor Charles V. In France, after an initially mixed reaction, Machiavelli came to be associated with Catherine de’ Medici and the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre. In fact, he was apparently influencing both Catholic and Protestant kings.

Modern materialist philosophy developed in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, starting in the generations after Machiavelli. The importance of Machiavelli’s realism was noted by many important figures in this endeavor, for example Bodin, Francis Bacon, Descartes, Harrington, Rousseau, Hume and Adam Smith. Although he was not always mentioned by name as an inspiration, due to his controversy, he is also thought to have been a major influence on other major influence for example upon Hobbes, Spinoza, and Montesquieu.

In literature: Machiavelli is featured as a character in the prologue of Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. In William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello, the antagonist Iago has been noted by some literary critics as being archetypal in adhering to Machiavelli’s ideals by advancing himself through machination and duplicity with the consequence of causing the demise of both Othello and Desdemona.

Amongst later political leaders: Under the guidance of Voltaire, Frederick the Great of Prussia criticised Machiavelli’s conclusions in his “Anti-Machiavel”, published in 1740. At different stages in his life, Napoleon I of France wrote extensive comments to The Prince. After his defeat at Waterloo, these comments were found in the emperor’s coach and taken by Prussian military.

Scholars have argued that Machiavelli was a major indirect and direct influence upon the political thinking of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson followed Machiavelli’s republicanism when they opposed what they saw as the emerging aristocracy that they feared Alexander Hamilton was creating with the Federalist Party. Hamilton learned from Machiavelli about the importance of foreign policy for domestic policy, but may have broken from him regarding how rapacious a republic needed to be in order to survive (George Washington was probably less influenced by Machiavelli). However, the Founding Father who perhaps most studied and valued Machiavelli as a political philosopher was John Adams, who profusely commented on the Italian’s thought in his work, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America.

The 20th century Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci drew great inspiration from Machiavelli’s writings on ethics, morals, and how they relate to the State and revolution in his writings on Passive Revolution, and how a society can be manipulated by controlling popular notions of morality. Machiavelli’s writings and life also influenced rapper Tupac Shakur, who after being released from prison used the alias Makavelli to record a new album, entitled The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. He is also put as an immortal character in the series The immortal Nicolas Flamel. He is the partner of the English immortal, John Dee, who seeks to control the world. Italian-American mobsters were influenced by The Prince. John Gotti and Roy DeMeo would regularly quote The Prince and consider it to be the “Mafia Bible”. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini wrote a discourse on The Prince.

Niccolò Machiavelli’s Life

Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy, the first son and third child of attorney, Bernardo di Niccolò Machiavelli, and his wife, Bartolomea di Stefano Nelli. The Machiavelli family are believed to be descended from the old marquesses of Tuscany and to have produced thirteen Florentine Gonfalonieres of Justice, one of the offices of a group of nine citizens selected by drawing lots every two months, who formed the government. Machiavelli, like many people of Florence, was however not a full citizen of Florence, due to the nature of Florentine citizenship in that time, even under the republican regime.

Machiavelli was born in a tumultuous era – popes waged acquisitive wars against Italian city-states, and people and cities might fall from power at any time. Along with the pope and the major cities like Venice and Florence, foreign powers such as France, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, and even Switzerland battled for regional influence and control. Political-military alliances continually changed, featuring condottieri (mercenary leaders) who changed sides without warning, and short lived governments rising and falling.

Machiavelli was taught grammar, rhetoric, and Latin, and became a prolific writer. It is thought that he did not learn Greek, even though Florence was at the time one of the centers of Greek scholarship in Europe. In 1494, Florence restored the republic – expelling the Medici family, who had ruled Florence for some sixty years. In June 1498, shortly after the execution of Savonarola, Machiavelli, at the age of 29, was elected as head of the second chancery. In July 1498, he was also made the secretary of the Dieci di Libertà e Pace. He was in a diplomatic council responsible for negotiation and military affairs. Between 1499 and 1512 he carried out several diplomatic missions: to the court of Louis XII in France; to the court of Ferdinand II of Aragón, in Spain; in Germany; and to the Papacy in Rome, in the Italian states. Moreover, from 1502 to 1503 he witnessed the brutal reality of the state-building methods of Cesare Borgia (1475–1507) and his father Pope Alexander VI, who were then engaged in the process of trying to bring a large part of central Italy under their possession. The pretext of defending Church interests was used as a partial justification by the Borgias.

Between 1503 and 1506 Machiavelli was responsible for the Florentine militia, including the City’s defense. He distrusted mercenaries (a distrust he explained in his official reports and then later in his theoretical works), preferring a politically invested citizen-militia – a philosophy that bore fruit. His command of Florentine citizen-soldiers defeated Pisa in 1509. However, in August 1512 the Medici, helped by Pope Julius II, used Spanish troops to defeat the Florentines at Prato. Piero Soderini resigned as Florentine head of state and left in exile. The Florentine city-state and the Republic were dissolved. Machiavelli was deprived of office in 1512 by the Medici. In 1513 he was accused of conspiracy, arrested, and imprisoned for a time. Despite torture (“with the rope”, where the prisoner is hanged from his bound wrists, from the back, forcing the arms to bear the body’s weight, thus dislocating the shoulders), he denied involvement and was released. Machiavelli then retired to his estate at Sant’Andrea in Percussina, and devoted himself to study and to the writing of the political treatises that earned his intellectual place in the development of political philosophy and political conduct. Despairing of the opportunity to remain directly involved in political matters, after a time Machiavelli began to participate in intellectual groups in Florence and wrote several plays that (unlike his works on politics/political theory) were both popular and widely known in his lifetime. Still politics remained his main passion and to satisfy interest he maintained a well-known correspondence with better politically connected friends, attempting to become involved once again in political life.

Machiavelli died in 1527 at the age of 58. He was buried at the Church of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy. An epitaph honoring him is inscribed on his monument. The Latin legend reads: TANTO NOMINI NULLUM PAR ELOGIUM (“so great a name (has) no adequate praise”).

References:
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niccol%C3%B2_Machiavelli#The_Prince
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niccol%C3%B2_Machiavelli
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Management
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Niccol%C3%B2_Machiavelli
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machiavellianism
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