Machiavelli's Prince Is Merely an Exercise in Cynicism. Discuss.

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Machiavelli’s Prince is merely an exercise in cynicism. Discuss.

Machiavelli is a character that has gone through history despised, demonized and reviled. To have one’s actions deemed “Machiavellian” is no great compliment. However, while some have proclaimed him to be “the preceptor of Barabbas” (Butterfield 1955), I believe that they seek to take Machiavelli out of context, and also to purposefully misinterpret his arguments to create emotive appeals to a morality that Machiavelli rejects (Parkinson 1955, Lukes 2001, Butterfield 1940). To call Machiavelli cynical is to say that he holds an overtly scornful, or jaded negativity ; instead Machiavelli holds a view of human nature that, while undeniably not optimistic, is pragmatic, and from which he forms an alternative moral code that is far more reliant upon the realistic and concrete, than the intangible and “moral” (Lukes 2001 p. 561).

Machiavelli is easily characterised as a cynic by those who choose to casually interpret his work, and who hold him up as a paragon of immorality and shady dealings. For such people Machiavelli is a cynic because he rejects the notions of morality and any lofty ideals of an international code of ethics which should govern the actions of statesmen; instead they argue he appeals to our basest emotions, power-grabbing and exploiting whenever there is personal gain to be made. They “indict his claims of success by exposing what are thought to be his shallow aspirations” (Lukes 2001 p. 561), and make it seem as if Machiavelli is “the source of the miser’s sins and ingenuities” (Butterfield 1940 p.104). However this is a shallow reading of his work, and one that I believe is in many cases plagued by misinterpretations and a lack of context (Parkinson 1955).

The relationship between Machiavelli’s ethics and politics is less startling than is supposed (Parkinson 1955). As Professor Butterfield argues it takes “only one twist of the screw-and a touch of spite-to turn...
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