When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
- Luke 14:15-24
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
- Romans 1:20
“Part of Machiavelli’s point is that a ruler cannot be bound by morality, but must do what it takes to secure his own glory and the success of the state over which he rules – an approach that became known as realism. But Machiavelli does not argue that the end justifies the means in all cases. There are certain means that a wise prince must avoid, for though they might achieve the desired ends, they lay him open to future dangers.
“The main means to be avoided consist of those that would make the people hate their prince. They may love him, they may fear him – preferably both. Machiavelli says, though it is more important for a prince to be feared than to be loved. But the people must not hate him, for this is likely to lead to rebellion. Also, a prince who mistreats his people unnecessarily will be despised – a prince should have a reputation for compassion, not for cruelty. This might involve harsh punishment of a few in order to achieve general social order, which benefits more people in the long run.
“In cases where Machiavelli does think that the end justifies the means, this rule only applies to princes. The proper conduct of citizens of the state is not at all the same as that of the prince. But even for the ordinary citizens, Machiavelli generally disdains conventional Christian morality as being weak and unsuitable for a strong city.”
- Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) grew up during a time of prosperity in Florence, Italy under the rule of the Medici family, but when Lorenzo de Medici (Lorenzo the Magnificent) was succeeded by Piero de Medici (Piero the Unfortunate), the city-state was soon conquered by Charles VII of France, who put a Dominican prior, Girolamo Savonarola, in charge of Florence. Savonarola established a republic, but Savonarola accused the pope of corruption and was burnt as a heretic. About this time, Machiavelli became the Secretary of the second Chancery, going on diplomatic missions, making deals with the other city-states (Naples, Venice, and Milan) as well as the papacy. It is said that in his dealings with the papacy, morality had nothing to do with the negotiations; it was all buying and selling power.
But then the Spanish conquered the region and the republic was dissolved. This allowed the Medici family to take over, but Machiavelli lost his job. Then he was thrown in prison on false accusations. He left prison and went into exile on his farm outside Florence. He wrote his book, The Prince, to ingratiate himself with the Medici family, showing them that he could be cunning and ruthless and a good person to have as an advisor.
So here we have an imbittered former politician who had fallen on hard times and the entire world seems to have taken his philosophy of the ends justify the means totally out of context.
Why not? When leaders misquote Scripture, they usually do so out of context. That is just one more example of the ends justifying the means. It keeps the Christians in control as they try to figure out how to explain where the leader misquoted Scripture rather than starting a rebellion.
And even Machiavelli felt that only princes should use the tactics of the ends justifying the means. How absurd, I have even heard it quoted at church leader meetings. Machiavelli probably limited the rule tp princes due to only princes being able to create the rules in which they have absolute power, thus above any recrimination for doing something immoral in order to secure power.
A business leader in modern times probably got to his position by the same philosophy, but the power is limited within the law of the land, or the business leader spends a lot of money with lawyers covering up that which was illegal. Then the leader has people that he owes (and knows his secrets), and that eats away at his absolute power.
I think the most profound example of a Machiavellian was one of the musketeers. To explain, I was part of a four-man team that was created to turn the training department into an accredited training institution. One guy got the facilities expansion. One guy got the on-the-job training documentation system (what had been a lot of hand-waving without documentation prior to this). One guy got the certification process, which was not even part of the 16-paragraph accreditation requirements. And I got everything else, all 14 and two-thirds of the 16-paragraph accreditation requirement process. The training department heads dubbed us the four musketeers. We never called ourselves that, but we occasionally fought over which of us was D’Artagnan.
Our boss was a dreamer and whenever he dreamed something, I was usually the one who had to make his dream come true. On one occasion, I had to work with the certification system guy. Out of the blue, he suggested that there were two ways of getting rid of our boss. We could get together and collectively screw up everything and it would be seen as the boss’ failure or we could overachieve and the boss would get promoted. Those were the only ways of getting rid of the boss, not that I wanted that. I voted for the latter and that is what happened. The boss got promoted and forgot about us, right about the time that the company that ran the government site left and a new company came in.
When there is a turnover of that nature, you must dance the unholy dance to prove that you are loyal to the new company. But in my case, I never got the chance to dance. The certification guy immediately ingratiated himself with one of the big bosses of the new company, and he was treated as if he had been part of the take-over team, and along the way, he threw his fellow musketeers under the bus as being loyalists to the old company. One musketeer got a new job immediately. One musketeer was too near retirement to care, and it took me about a year and a half to find a job. After finding a new job, my new boss, me having been demoted, gave my old fellow musketeer one last chance at keeping me, and of course he refused. I knew his secrets and his methods.
This fellow would have made Machiavelli proud, but he was never a prince. Those rules should not have applied.
The lesson that we SHOULD have learned from Machiavelli is that if you throw out all thought toward any moral code to get power or simply get a project completed, you have thrown out that moral code entirely. You cannot apply the moral code elsewhere. Some try to be ruthless at work and then pretend to be sweet at home and cordial at church. Others see through the façade. And their behavior is inconsistent to their known and stated value system. But we follow a failed 16th century politician who was nothing compared to Martin Luther who overlapped most of his life, and when it does not work out for us either, we can use Machiavelli as our excuse. From the Scriptures above, you can see that God is not impressed by excuses.
With Moses Maimonides a few weeks ago, we started to see some divergence from the Truth that Jesus taught, while prior to the arrival of Jesus, predominantly the Greek philosophers were looking for some objective Truth without the knowledge of the Jewish Messiah. Maimonides, a Jew, decided that God was unknowable. We may not be able to express the holiness of God and all other attributes of God are different than our concept of those attributes in human terms, but God is knowable in many ways. Now, with Machiavelli, and seemingly with the papal authorities with whom Machiavelli negotiated, all moral law and consideration of God at all has been cast aside in a hunger for power and wealth.
We will see much more divergence as the book that I am presently following has few theologians beyond this point, and even in theology there is divergence from Biblical teaching.
But Machiavelli is not just a divergence, it is seemingly an absolute opposite of Jesus’ teaching. Machiavelli was only thinking of himself and trying to recapture a career that was outside his control to reestablish. Even after presenting his book to the ruling Medici, he failed to return to public life, dying two years after the book was published. If the book and philosophy did not work for Machiavelli, why has the concept been repeated so often?
Many leaders in all walks of life have championed the cause of the ends justifying the means, without considering Machiavelli stating it only applied to princes, and many ignoring the rules of the game in that many revel in the fact that their employees, fellow volunteers, or family hate them – as long as they fear them.
How much further from God can you get? From a loving God who sent His Son to earth to die to save us from our sins to a self-centered tyrant who would gladly send his subjects to slaughter if it meant more money and power for himself? And we think that we have evolved and that we are progressive? No, we have indeed regressed, and taking up the mantle of Machiavellianism has been a large contributor.
May we turn back to God, a loving God, and realize that the means is the end.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.