"I venture now to take up the defence of humanity against this monster who wants to destroy it; with reason and justice I dare to oppose sophistry and crime; and I put forth these reflections on The Prince of Machiavelli, chapter by chapter, so that the antidote may be found immediately following the poison."
"Certain chapters of the The Prince contain the essence of Machiavelli's thought in the sense that they exhibit most strongly his view that political action cannot be kept within the limits of morality. Although he indicated that a-moral action might frequently be the most effective measure which can be taken in any situation, he never showed a preference for amoral actions over moral actions. He was not a conscious advocate of evil; he did not want to upset all moral values. But it is equally misleading to maintain the opposite: that Machiavelli wanted to replace Christian morality by another morality and that he encouraged politicians to disregard customary morality because their motives for acting ought to be the good of the political society which represented the highest ethical value" (
"The conflict between [Machiavelli's] scale of values and that of conventional morality clearly did not [...] seem to worry Machiavelli himself. It upset only those who came after him, and were not prepared, on the one hand, to abandon their own moral values (Christian or humanist) together with the entire way of thought and action of which these were a part; nor, on the other hand, to deny the validity of at any rate, much of Machiavelli's analysis of the political facts, and the (largely pagan) values and outlook that went with it, embodied in the social structures which he painted so brilliantly and convincingly" (
"Despite the number and eminence of his disciples, I believe that Machiavelli is unfair to mankind. The professed realist only saw a limited portion of the vast field of experience. The will to power is not the sole key to human nature. . . If man were indeed the unruly and perfidious animal that he believes, The Prince might be accepted as a recipe for making the best of a bad job. But the broad testimony of modern history suggests that the average man rises above this level."
"I suppose it is possible to imagine that a man who has seen his country enslaved, his life's work wrecked and his career with it, and has, for good measure, been tortured within an inch of his life should thereupon go home and write a book intended to reach his enemies the proper way to maintain themselves, writing all the time, remember, with the passionless objectivity of a scientist in a laboratory. It must be possible to imagine such behavior, because Machiavelli scholars do imagine it and accept it without a visible trernor. But it is a little difficult for the ordinary mind to compass."
AS POLITICAL THINKER
Supreme among the political thinkers of all time, Machiavelli, in common with the greatest politicians- who, like him, so resemble the artist in that their logic and their dogma are completely subordinate to their intuition- has what may literally be termed initial inner "illuminations," immediate, intuitive visions of events and their significance.
The Prince has been read as if it were a treatise on political theory, instead of being considered an impassioned answer to a particular historical situation. Admittedly, Machiavelli believed that historical situations repeat themselves, and that good solutions may also be repeated. This does not, however, alter the fact that The Prince was written at a time of grave national and personal crisis and must be understood in the light of such events.
Machiavelli's intention was not the study or the creation of that particular science which we today call political science. It is important that we should come to his work as historians, not as theorists who hanker after synthesis. The science which he is regarded as having invented is a particular policy that he was commending for adoption by the practical statesman; or it was an element conditioning political action that he was subjecting to analysis. His teaching is a collection of concrete maxims- warnings and injunctions in regard to certain points of policy, rules of conduct for specified emergencies, and expositions of tactical moves.
Ever since Niccolò Machiavelli's day The Prince has been considered by some to be a diabolical production, and its author's name has been held synonymous with Satan (hence, according to Samuel Butler, "Old Nick"). Passages have been quoted out of context to prove their author depraved and immoral. Although such a practice is unfair and does not do justice to Machiavelli's whole thesis, it must be admitted that he exalts the state above the individual; that the most enthusiastic exponents of his theories have been Napoleon, Bismarck, Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin; and that his state is exempt from the obligations of "religion" and "morality."
Machiavelli inevitably had a felt need for the formation and expression of the political will of the community. Despite the fact that he lived in and worked for one city-state while spending his leisure time pondering the fate of other city-states, Machiavelli has proven to be vitally relevant to those living in the era of the emergence and spread of the national-state system and the rich and tumultuous development of the internal political life of Western peoples; at least in part because of his insistence upon viewing the political life of a people as the highest expression of its culture.
One significant way in which Machiavelli contributed to the new confidence in man was in his separation of politics from religion and his challenge to the secular authority of the Church. The human activity of politics, Machiavelli believed, can be isolated from other forms of activity and treated in its own autonomous terms. In a word politics can be divorced from theology, and government from religion. No longer is the state viewed as having a moral end or purpose. Its end is not the shaping of human souls, but the creation of conditions which would enable men to fulfill their basic desires of self-preservation, security, and happiness. Religion has the vital function of personal salvation, of serving as an important instrument of social control- a basis for civic virtue rather than moral virtue.
Machiavelli totally ignores the orthodox Christian injunction that a good ruler ought to avoid the temptations of worldly glory and wealth in order to be sure of attaining his heavenly rewards. On the contrary, it seems obvious to Machiavelli that the highest prizes for which men are bound to compete are "glory and riches" - the two finest gifts that Fortune has it in her to bestow.