Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!

Machiavelli
by [?]

BY WILLIAM MARION REEDY.

One of the best books issued this year is the thin pamphlet, you might call it, which contains Mr. John Morley’s lecture on Machiavelli. It will repay any reader from what standpoint soever he may approach the character. “The veering gusts of public judgment have carried incessantly along, from country to country, and from generation to generation, with countless mutations of aspect and of inuendo, the sinister renown of Machiavelli.”

Truly this man of all men, since Judas, has attained an immortality of infamy. Long was it thought that the common domestic title of the devil, “Old Nick,” was an abbreviation of Machiavelli’s Christian name. Hudibras fathered that myth, but now we know, Mr. Morley says, that the familiar appellation of the Evil One is a remnant of Norse mythology, deriving from Nyke, the water- goblin.

For three centuries all the evils of all political systems and policies have been attributed to the evils of Machiavelli’s logic. Church and State alike have claimed he was the champion of the other’s cause. He was Jesuit and atheist as it suited the turn of any vituperative polemist. He was Reformer and “Romanist” as the advocates of Rome or Reformation happened to interpret him. His is, certainly, an unique greatness. There has been in his work, as in all great works, something for all men; but that something has been always, for three centuries, something bad. It is no wonder, therefore, that there prevailed once, a belief that the Devil himself had written his chief book. I have always had an idea that Goethe in drawing Mephistopheles, glanced from the tail of his mind’s eye at Machiavelli for a model. Machiaveli appears to come nearer than any human being to realizing the Goethe conception of Intellectual Evil.

The man, still, may be infamous, but–he is intensely human. The baseness of him has its basal strength in his founding upon man. He is the only realist philosopher. Besides him Bacon is a dreamer. Machiavelli was and is the master misanthrope, and,–God help us!–we must admit that his misanthropy only too well is founded on fact. He seems to have been the most perfect incarnation of that “accomplished and infamous Italy,” which gave us the Borgias and the terrible Elizabethan plays of Tourneur, Webster and Ford, with their plots of incest and murder, that Italy which was a veritable Hell out of which rose the Renaissance. He was the philosophy of that Italy. He first said, in effect, that nothing succeeds like success. He first cast aside Plato and his dreaming and Aristotle and his elements. He was the father of the philosophy of “practical politics.” Francis Bacon learned of Machiavelli, who “wrote what men do and not what they ought to do.” This is the philosophy of fact. He dealt with men as he found them. He was a sublime, almost a diabolical opportunist I have often thought Benjamin Franklin, with his “honesty is the best policy,” is another Machiavelli, only touched a little with the pharisaism of the Puritan. With the Italian anything that would win is the best policy, and this is his honest estimate of men. The best policy was the policy adopted, after looking the facts of life and of human nature squarely in the face and finding that the end was to be attained easiest either by honesty or dishonesty. To “get there,” as we say, was the faith of Machiavelli.

Idea and ideal meant nothing to the author of “The Prince.” What we know as “moral forces” this Italian ignored. He judged humanity by its lowest average of motive or intelligence. There was but one general law, for him, and that was that it was right to deceive, if force were of dubious effect, in affairs of State. It were well to be honest, if one could, as a ruler of the State, but it was his duty to rule and triumph by any means between the extremes of simple lying on the one hand, and poisons or other assassination on the other.