Introduction [PDF]. Chapter 8 [PDF]. Benner's interest in Machiavelli's rhetorical strategies produces gratifyingly detailed and impressive readings of difficult passages.
This is a provocative argument for Machiavelli as a proponent of moral autonomy and ethical reflectiveness. Her research is meticulous and her arguments finely honed. This important contribution to both Machiavelli studies and the history of political philosophy will be indispensable for scholars. With the publication of this bold but responsible contribution to scholarship, those who assert that Machiavelli was not an ethical philosopher have a significant amount of evidence and argumentation to overcome.
Horkott, International Philosophical Quarterly.
Benner's insights are often surprising and challenging, but are definitely worthy of careful consideration. Her book gives us very good reasons for thinking that Machiavelli may have adopted the kind of ethical individualism that she ascribes to him. Nederman, Notre Dame Philosophical Review.
A refreshing catharsis now that I am stepping out from the flood of current events. Machiavelli is the first major thinker to judge actions solely in terms of their consequences. An action is good not because God commands it, nor because it comes from virtue, but because its consequences are the attainment and keeping of power. Most of The Prince is dedicated to explaining how we can measure consequences, and what princes can do to attain and hold their power.
The Devil's Morals: Ethics in Machiavelli's The Prince
Luther and Calvin had separated the ethics of church and state. Machiavelli had made power the ultimate concern, and set ethics against the background of unchanging human depravity. And all three of them had made the individual the ultimate focus of moral significance. He was unconcerned, in other words, with what modern thinkers call the problem of dirty hands.
The great Princeton philosopher Michael Walzer, borrowing from Jean-Paul Sartre, describes the feeling of having dirty hands in politics as the guilty conscience that political actors must live with when they authorize acts that public necessity requires but private morality rejects. He would have agreed with The Sopranos : sometimes you do what you have to do.
But The Prince would hardly have survived this long if it was nothing more than an apologia for gangsters. With gangsters, gratuitous cruelty is often efficient, while in politics, Machiavelli clearly understood, it is worse than a crime.
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It is a mistake. A leader guided by public necessity is less likely to be cruel and vicious than one guided by religious moralizing. After all, someone who believes he has God on his side is capable of anything.
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Machiavelli also understood that a politician, unlike a gangster, could not play fast and loose with the law. The law mattered because in republics, the opinion of citizens mattered, and if a prince put himself above the law too often, the people would drive him from office. If Machiavelli advised politicians to dissimulate, to pretend to virtues they did not practice in private life, it was because he believed that the people in the lanes and alleys cared more about whether the prince delivered peace and security than whether he was an authentic or even an honest person.
Benner, E.: Machiavelli's Ethics (Paperback and Ebook) | Princeton University Press
All of this looks like cynicism only if we fail to see its deep realism. This moral clarity remains bracing in an era like our own, when politicians hide the necessary ruthlessness of political life behind the rhetoric of family values and Christian principles and call on citizens to feel their pain when they make difficult decisions.
We are still drawn to Machiavelli because we sense how impatient he was with the equivalent flummery in his own day, and how determined he was to confront a problem that preoccupies us too: when and how much ruthlessness is necessary in the world of politics.