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Post Machiavelli and the "Ends Justify the Means"
Created by John Eipper on 10/24/21 7:01 AM

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Machiavelli and the "Ends Justify the Means" (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 10/24/21 7:01 am)

With reference to the thought-provoking post of Ric Mauricio, 21 October, I too have read the books discussed, but have different impressions.

When I read Il Principe (The Prince), nowhere did I find "the end justifies the means."  As the blog "La cooltura" points out, this sentence never appears in Machiavelli's writings. However, the author expressed a more realistic concept: "In the actions of all men, especially the Prince's, when there is no jurisdiction to claim, men look to the ends. So if a Prince is convinced of winning and of keeping the state, the means have always been judged honorable and by each one will be praised." Is this not the case at present?

This is a statement of fact: the Prince should act for the good of the state and of its safety; only in such a case are actions justifiable. The great scholar Francesco De Sanctis (1817-1883), wrote in his Storia della Letteratura Italiana that Machiavelli should be judged by all his great works toward the good of a united Italy and not judged by extrapolating five words from his Opera Omnia. Machiavelli was a republican, but in that moment of turbulence with foreign armies roaming around Italy, he realized that only a Prince could govern the nation.

According to De Sanctis, we should judge Machiavelli for his logic and scientific values within the spirit of the times.

Furthermore, in the book, it is stressed that if the Prince wants to keep the state he must be a good governor with the good of the citizens in mind. Machiavelli does not justify any wrongdoing but may justify a wrong action, such as a war if it is waged for the good of the citizens. Machiavelli never supported "the end justifies the means," meaning as a justification of wrongdoings.

Furthermore, he makes the distinction between the Prince who acts for the good of his citizens and the Tyrant who acts only for his advantage. The first is good, the second is bad.

The book "Il Principe" is a short book but requires a great deal of study. By the way, my first clash at age 15 with my professor was on the interpretation of Machiavelli, as according to him the latter was a bloody fascist in the post-WWII sense. This teacher was the same guy who later wanted to kick me out of school for my politically incorrect ideas.

On the other hand, there is nothing confusing about Mein Kampf. An ideology, partially copied from Fascism especially in the social system, can easily be both anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist, which are, after all, the two faces of the same coin.

I read the Das Kapital after reading "Il Principe" and I found, as I have already stated, that poor Marx wrote a big bore fascinated only by the "homo oeconomicus" and completely forgetting, as does capitalism, the "homo spiritualis."

By the way, a silly question: why is Machiavelli's book titled in English and the other two in their original language?

JE comments:  We discussed this last question earlier, and found that there have been some English translations titled My Struggle.  Eugenio, most "mainstream" interpretations see more parallels between Marxism and Fascism than between either of these and liberal capitalism.  In fact, today's American students don't seem to understand the subtle differences between Marxism and Fascism.  The best answer I can offer is to discuss the strong nationalist element in Fascism, which doesn't exist, at least theoretically, in Marx.

Could you give us an idea of how Machiavelli was "officially" received in Fascist Italy?  As a great Italian thinker?  On the other hand, his cynical, subversive side would not fit in the type of nation Mussolini was seeking to build.

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  • Ric Mauricio on The Prince, Cliff's Notes (John Eipper, USA 10/30/21 3:51 AM)
    Ric Mauricio writes:

    Ah, I thank Eugenio Battaglia (October 24th) for his insight into Machiavelli. Indeed, the phrase, The End Justifies the Means is not stated in The Prince, but is an attempt by others to summarize the complex writing into one phrase. Sort of a Cliff's Notes on Cliff's Notes.

    For those who are not familiar with Cliff's Notes, they are small study guides for students in order to understand the underlying literature. Actually, they are really Cheat Notes, and students utilize them as a shortcut to not reading the entire text. Ah, there's the rub. By doing that, the student will miss the nuances of the writing. As in the case of The Prince, The End Justifies the Means totally misses the nuances of Machiavelli's writing. Machiavelli is saying "one judges by the results," not "do anything necessary to get your desired ends with no regard for virtue." Machiavelli, in many of his writings, was a satirist. So one can conclude that he is poking fun at Princes, which fits with the idea that the work is essentially written as satire and is trying to teach virtuous leaders how to overthrow tyrants and people how to form Republics. So that would make it not at all Machiavellian (as many define that). Wait, isn't that what Karl Marx was trying to say? I say the issue here is about "virtuous" leaders.

    In Francisco Wong-Díaz's post about sources, he states:

    "First, in my Cuban family of origin we have a Communist first cousin who married a Venezuelan lady, and we also had a distant uncle who owned a chocolate factory in Caracas."

    OK, you know one Communist, but does being Venezuelan (the wife) also make you a Communist? The uncle must hate the Maduro government, since his chocolate factory is quite entrepreneurial and capitalistic.

    Francisco added, "Second, on the Berkeley and Stanford campuses there are outspoken Venezuelans on both sides and some are very active online."

    Francisco, please provide a link to these outspoken Venezuelans. The ones I know are vehemently anti-Maduro. Need to know what the pro-Maduro crowd is saying.

    "Third, in Florida, Los Angeles and New Orleans, large contingents of Venezuelan expats are actively opposing the disaster that is VeneCuba."

    This seems like a discussion point that Venezuelan expats are anti-Maduro.

    "If Henry Levin is such an expert, he would know that the SF Mission is not a place that welcomes anticommunists from anywhere."

    Really, I am in SF Mission quite often. I don't know where in the SF Mission you are meeting these anti-anticommunists, but I've never met one.

    I know several socialists, but other than my CSM professor, have never run into a real Communist. If you were to equate socialists and Communists, you would need to call many of the Nordic countries Communist. And those countries, like the People's Republic of China, who profess to be Communist, utilize the Manifesto to form an oligarchy, in other words, pseudo-Communism. The PRC government recently pounded on the capitalistic wealthy bourgeoisie, stating, of course, that they are taking advantage of the workers. Ah, the real reason is that the government is threatened by these wealthy entrepreneurs. Gotta put them in their place.

    In several recent WAIS posts, I get the feeling that if you against Donald Trump, then you are a liberal, neo-Socialist, left-wing, Marxist. Thus by extension, anyone who is a Democrat and other smaller parties, are left-wing etc. It was stated that there are only really two main parties: Democrats and Republicans. I would venture to say that there is indeed a major third party. The members of this third party are registered as Democrats, Republicans, smaller third parties, and Independents. These members don't subscribe to the cult of personality. Oftentimes, they will vote against a candidate by voting for a candidate they do not even wholeheartedly support. This is what happened recently in the California recall vote. Voters are not wholeheartedly for Newsom, but the opposing candidate was not the solution and even very distasteful to many. My distaste for Donald Trump doesn't mean I am a wild-eyed left winger. How could I be? I was a registered Republican longer than Donald Trump. I voted for Mitt Romney, and although I liked John McCain, his pick for VP was not the optimal pick. I don't like AOC, but she does provide comic relief. I see where Bernie is coming from, but I don't agree with his methodology. I am not a Pelosi or Newsom fan either. But I do like Ro Khanna, who happens to be a Democrat from Silicon Valley. I've met Jackie Spier, a Democrat who I say is a centrist. And I know many people that are in this centrist political spectrum and they outnumber the left wingers and right wingers.

    Here's a question. Is there a word for those who will only read or listen to views that support their views and never bother to listen or read other viewpoints? This happens not only in the political arena but the religious sphere as well.

    JE comments:  Yes, moderation in everything.  Ric Mauricio makes Plato proud.  But how do we square this with Revelation, "Because thou art lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I shall spit you out of my mouth"? 

    We've never properly glossed this bizarre passage, but our extremist times call for it.

    Ah, Cliff's Notes (now stylized as CliffsNotes), the go-to source for slackers since 1958.  Students these days have moved to the online SparkNotes, which have the added advantage of being free.

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