Essay: Machiavelli and Evil

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Machiavelli and Evil

The ideas of good and evil as polar opposites have been part of the human psyche since the first civilizations. Evil incarnate, like Good, is a system. It is at once part of human tradition and culture, and provides a way to explain certain events, as well as allow for there to be a side of temptation. Evil can be a distortion in moral and philosophical thought, something as tangible as the deeds a despot or simply a way to explain further genocide and the way humans can even conceive something so vast and horrible that the only possible way it could exist within the human psyche is for some outside force to hold control (Muchembled 2003).

For Renaissance political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli, one of the consistent and pertinent paradigms surrounding humanity was our tendency toward evil. Despite this tendency, though, Machiavelli believes there is a dichotomy inherent - that the tendency towards evil actually produces well. "Let us enjoy the benefits of the time -- but rather the benefits of their own valor and prudence, for time drives everything before it, and is able to bring with it good as well as evil, and evil as well as good" (Machiavelli, p. 25). Indeed, when a ruler applies the principles of good and evil to the task of governing, the larger good of trust and loyalty may occur: "Because men, when they receive good from him of whom they were expecting evil, are bound more closely… and become more devoted" (Machiavelli 2007, p. 48).

The absence of evil, or the transcendent nature of the concept of moving from evil to good, is tied up in Machiavelli's version of virtue. Civic virtue is like integrity; military virtue is compliance to law; and religious virtue is the absence of evil -- all which have a moral component and yet remain confusing in terms of the good/evil debate: "It will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed, would be his ruin; whilst something… which looks like vice, yet followed, brings him security and prosperity" (Machiavelli, p. 66).

Essentially, this seems to focus on the idea of strategy and the realities of power within society. If it is consistency of power that will bring stability to the State, and therefore offer good to the populace, then the leader must try for the good as long as possible, but when necessary, take evil in order to find a greater good (Machiavelli, pp. 63-5). This is the true central spirit of Machiavellianism -- do not pursue evil for the sake of evil, but when using evil is the only way to retain power, then good and evil are equal in that contest.

Power, or the ascension to ruling a State, requires the usurper to examine the details of the people surrounding him. "He who does otherwise, either from timidity or evil advice, is always compelled to keep the knife in his hand" (Machiavelli, p. 46). This ruler, now called a Prince, should be strong to the nth degree at first, lessening his hold and providing benefits later, so they are more cherished.

And above all things, a prince ought to live amongst his people in such a way… [END OF PREVIEW]

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