Is The Phrase The Ends Justify The
Means A Useful Summary Of Machiavellis The Prince Essay, Research Paper
In Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ it would appear, at first, that Machiavelli is advancing the argument that ‘the ends justify the means’. However, I am unsure that this is a useful summary of ‘The Prince’ and that it may be an over simplification and even a misunderstanding.
‘The Prince’ has been condemned for promoting fraud, force, and immorality in politics, justifying the use of evil means by a beneficial end. It has also been associated with corrupt, totalitarian government. Indeed the word Machiavellian refers to cunning, amoral, corrupt opportunistic political practices. ‘The Prince’ was even put on the papal Index of Prohibited Books in 1559 for its lack of conventional morality. This apparent lack of principles appears to be best demonstrated in Machiavelli’s examples; Cesare Borgia, Agothocles and Oliverotto.
Machiavelli in chapter 7 appears to celebrate Cesare Borgia’s policy of having his own minister executed and displayed to absolve him of any cruelty. Having explained to the reader what Cesare Borgia does Machiavelli states “So, now I have surveyed all the actions of the duke, I still cannot find anything to criticise”. Machiavelli even states that one “cannot hope to find a better model to imitate than Cesare Borgia.”
Agathocles’s “bold achievements” were that he “had his soldiers kill all the senators and the richest citizens.” Machiavelli says that “there seems to be no reason why he (Agathocles) should be judged less admirable than any of the finest generals.” Machiavelli even appears to advocate violence in one of his conclusions, in chapter 8; “So the conclusion is: If you take control of a state, you should make a list of all the crimes you have to commit and do them all at once.”
It is, therefore, easy to see why ‘The Prince’ is misinterpreted and summarised by the phrase ‘the ends justify the means’. However, Machiavelli was one of the first political commentators to critically analysis politics in this scientific way. It is this difference that causes the misunderstanding; Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, is simply showing how the government actually works in practice, rather than, like the other writers of his time, writing about how it ought to work. This is shown by the quote from chapter 8; “I do not intend to discuss in detail the rights and wrongs of such a policy.”
Through ‘The Prince’, Machiavelli’s goal was to aid the ‘prince’, or would be ‘prince’, to conquer and preserve their state. Machiavelli simple demonstrates that the most effective and easiest way of achieving this is through “well-used cruelty”. This is shown through the examples of kind rulers failing; “Marcus, Pertinax, and Alexander, all of whom were unassuming, lovers of justice, haters of cruelty, sympathetic and kind, all came, apart from Marcus, to a tragic end.” This is effectively summarised by; “there are some ways of behaving that are supposed to be virtuous, but will lead to your downfall, and others that are supposed to be wicked, but will lead to your welfare and peace of mind.” In this way ‘The Prince’ uses historic and contemporary examples of what policies for ruling a state are effective and which ways simply do not work.
‘The Prince’ was undoubtedly written about monarchies not republics; “I shall omit any discussion on republics as I have discussed them fully elsewhere”; and as such it was intended to aid the monarch/prince (the Medici family in particular) in conquering and preserving a state of their own. Therefore, the summary ‘the ends justify the means’ is not a useful summary of ‘The Prince’. It may, however, represent the ideas and values held by the monarchs/princes of the 16th century. It is not a useful summary as far as the judgement over whether to follow the ‘cruel’ or ‘kind’ way of ’statecraft’ is not decided in ‘The Prince’, which simply shows that the most efficient/effective and easiest way for achieving this may well be through following a more cruel, deceptive and ‘cunning’ policy.