Niccolò Machiavelli, Morals, Ethics, and Religion


 Machiavelli held that it was good to promote morals and ethics and religious convictions among the people.
These were important in order to keep them under control and productive. Morals and ethics maintained
stability and order and peace.
 Sabine writes: “ruler must believe in the religion of his subjects or practice their virtues… Machiavelli offers an
extreme example of a double standard of morals, one for the ruler and another for the private citizen.”
 So the ruler, himself, was under no obligation to live by these same morals and ethics and religious convictions.
The ruler was above these things. He was beyond good and evil. The ruler had the obligation to do whatever was
necessary to maintain and extend his political power.
 Sabine notes that Machiavelli, “openly sanctioned the use of cruelty, perfidy, murder, or any other means,
provided only they are used with sufficient intelligence and secrecy to reach their ends”.

 Machiavelli promoted the idea that a ruler should be gentle most of the time, but when necessary the ruler must
make use of any form of manipulation, deceit, and even murder to achieve his ends.
 Machiavelli writes: “Alexander VI did nothing else but deceive men, nor ever thought of doing otherwise, and he
always found victims; for there never was a man who had greater power in asserting, or who with greater oaths
would affirm a thing, yet would observe it less; nevertheless his deceits always succeeded according to his
wishes, because he well understood this side of mankind.
 “Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very
necessary to appear to have them.
 And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear
to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind
so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.
 And you have to understand this that a prince, especially a new one, cannot observe all those things for which
men are esteemed, being often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to faith, friendship,
humanity, and religion. Therefore it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself accordingly as the
winds and variations of fortune force it, yet, as I have said above, not to diverge from the good if he can avoid
doing so, but, if compelled, and then to know how to set about it.
 “For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete
with the above-named five qualities that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful,
faithful, humane, upright, and religious.
 There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally
more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, too few to come in touch with
you.
 Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose
themselves to the opinion of the many.
 Those things were virtuous in a which excelled in bringing success and power and that virtue lay in functional
excellence , these were ruthlessness , cunningness , deceitfulness, boldness and shrewdness along with an
unflinching will”.
 From the foregoing, it is obvious that Machiavelli had little place for ethics or for the matter of that for religion in
his system of political philosophy and that formed the chief difference between him and the medieval writers.
 Aristotle had already distinguished ethics from politics but had not separated the two whereas Machiavelli
brought about a complete divorce between them. Moral virtues had their own value but he refused to assign
them any place in his scheme of things.
 Morality was not denied but was subordinated to politics and, therefore, Machiavelli “is not immoral but
unmoral in his politics”. With Machiavelli, the end justified the means. Machiavelli may be called the “founder
of utilitarian ethics”.
 Machiavelli believed that the state was the highest form of human association and had a superior claim to a
man’s obligations. Reasons of state must outweigh any ethical considerations. Public interests were the most
potent of all motives for political action. Public standards of action were different from private standards. It is
wrong for a private individual to kill but it is not wrong for the state to kill by way of punishment for crime. The
state hangs a murderer because public safety demands it and because public interests are more important than
private interests of the criminal. Private interests or ethics have nothing to do with public action. Public conduct
is neither inherently good, nor bad. It is good if its results are good. A good citizen is one who is a bad man for
whom patriotism is the only moral law.

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