Niccolo Machiavelli's Controversy

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Five centuries after his death, Niccolo Machiavelli’s works remain a source of controversy. Often seen as an amoral cynic, Machiavelli’s notorious reputation is cemented in his outright repudiation of traditional morality as a course to political action. The aphorism, the ends justify the means, is said to have been derived from Machiavelli’s works, specifically, The Prince and The Discourses. In this paper, I argue that “the ends justify the means” is not necessarily a fair characterization of Machiavelli’s thought, but instead it is simply a concept that Machiavelli provides for those who seek to obtain and preserve power. The ends will justify the means when it is done to achieve a desired objective. In The Prince, the moral substance of…show more content…
Throughout The Prince, Machiavelli tells of ancient and modern figures at the time, which he considers have embodied virtù. Here the aphorism comes into play, as the commonality of these figures is that they are those who did whatever necessary to seize and sustain power, including committing heinous aggressions. For example, Machiavelli presents the story of Cesare Borgia who had manipulated the unrest in Italy in order to plot his future success. In a passage, Machiavelli tells of when Borgia appoints a harsh minister, Remiro d’Orco, to “establish peace and unity” in the Romagna province, after it had been hit with a wave of crime and violence (24). Although Borgia realized that d’Orco’s measures were both “cruel and efficient,” they were both hated and needed (P 24). Borgia knew that “the harsh measures…had given rise to some enmity towards him, in order to purge the ill-will of the people…he wanted to make clear…if there had been any cruelty…his hard-hearted minister should be blamed,” (24). Borgia then had d’Orco’s body cut in half and placed in the town square (24). As Machiavelli notes, Borgia grasped this “opportunity and exploited…show more content…
Though Machiavelli is seen as an amoral cynic, he was a realist who understood both the usage and restraints of power. The Prince seeks to indicate to rulers how to survive in the world as it is and not as it ought to be. Furthermore, for someone wanting the demise of the Medici family, Machiavelli seemed to have a genuine intent on obtaining a job with the Medici. After all, in his Letter to Vettori, he writes that he would like the Medici to put him in “their employment” (4); at the start of The Prince, he offers his extensive knowledge of the classics. Though he may have been honestly interested in applying his political wisdom, Machiavelli clearly expected to obtain some personal gain from the book, as he hoped that The Prince would prove itself helpful to Lorenzo di Medici; The Prince is basically an adept handbook that provides an insight into how to handle the turbulent situation of Florence at the

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