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Machiavellism - Machiavellian Rule

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Linear expansivity to Macrocosm and microcosmMachiavellism - Small-scale Societies And Kingdoms, Ancient China, Ancient India, Europe, Machiavellian Rule

Machiavellian Rule

The assessments of Machiavelli himself are still mixed. The more favorable ones may be exemplified by that of the twentieth-century philosopher Ernst Cassirer, who wrote that Machiavelli's accomplishment lay in not allowing his personal feelings and ideals to affect his political judgment, which was "that of a scientist and a technician of political life." But whatever the verdict on Machiavelli the person, the Machiavellism of which he wrote pales in the face of the massive attack on conventional morality by the twentieth century's great tyrants, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao.

Machiavellian behavior has been integral to the political and social life of every culture. One of the reasons why it is found everywhere is the universal need for a social system with an effective leader. When it is not clear what authority, if any, is to be obeyed, the result is uncertainty, social friction, wasted effort, dissatisfaction, and the willingness to follow any leader who promises to overcome the threat of chaos. In any case, morality proves to be easy to equate with conformity to the demands of leaders, however careless they may be of compassion and of truth. The individual conscience proves to be at its most elastic when leaders and followers assume that the cause they serve is of such surpassing importance that deception or cruelty in its behalf is in fact a moral virtue. Such a hope for a better society ordinarily requires that those who appear to be obstructing it should be identified and proclaimed to be its enemies.


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Ben-Ami Scharfstein

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