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Mind Meanderings of an Alchemist

Category: Humanity

The Toxic Legacy of Machiavelli’s The Prince (2/2)

Part 1 of 2
Pragmatic Morality
Importance of Reputation
Debasing Human Nature
Fox and the Lion
Direct Top-Down Toxic Influence
Imitation of Toxic Character
‘Kingdom of Heaven’
Propagation of Toxic Treatment
Cyclically-Reinforced Toxic Influence
Internal Rule
External Rule
Part 2 of 2
The Legacy’s Sinister Roots
Machiavellian Idolatry
Origin of the Machiavellian Shadow
Perpetual Suffering
Love is Nothing, Fear is Everything
Machiavellian Kind of Love


“Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.” Carl Jung

The Legacy’s Sinister Roots

In his intriguing little discourse, Machiavelli admittedly showcases an impressive arsenal of insights into the human psyche; but they nevertheless are observations of an invariably devious, manipulative and degenerate human nature. Machiavelli promotes an, in retrospect, universally burlesque view of the human being — a humanoid creature that is at all times fraught with alarming character defects and possesses an insufferable baseness of heart and mind. Arguably deserving more infamy than renown, the scholar of old advances a worldview in which the ruler, while feigning to be noble and honorable, is exhorted to adopt as cunning and ruthless a personality as needed in order to deal with depraved and dangerous subjects as well as menacing rival rulers itching to usurp his realm. Machiavelli’s understanding of the world paints a toxic worldview which works to seduce the real world into shaping and molding itself in accordance with the distorted and disturbing recommendations suggested in The Prince; where the severity of this corruption, the extent to which the real world is made to approximate the Machiavellian worldview, depends on the quantity and quality of all those ambitious and unscrupulous students of power finding themselves unable to resist the lure of the Machiavellian lore and choose to model their mores after it.

That is, in summary, Machiavelli’s legacy.

In the function of being an instruction-manual for rule, The Prince promotes a sinister form of idolatry. In effect, Machiavelli instructs the Prince to embrace a self-image in which he poses as the very embodiment of goodness while recognizing evil and blameworthiness in potentially everyone but himself. The ruler is expected to idolize a mirage featuring himself in the role of the untouchable exalted ruler, divinely-guided and fully-militarized, heroically fighting evil rival rulers wherever they crop up and either form a threat to be dealt with or an opportunity to be preyed upon; while, simultaneously, ruling with an eternally righteous iron fist over flocks of unruly subjects, barely deserving to be called human.

And by so doing, as he seeks to destroy evil by seeking to destroy all those human beings who, in his warped view, commit or represent evil, thereby completely negating the existence of his own profoundly sinister psychic shadow, if he was not so already, basically volunteers to at least partially become morally insane as he stunts or even freezes his conscience and sense of empathy. Therefore, as a model to be imitated, together with his responsibility-denying and fear-exploiting rule, the Prince thus helps to further corrupt society by (unconsciously) encouraging its members to likewise become Machiavellianly insane.

In particular, Machiavelli champions a doctrine which capitalizes on the Prince’s incapability to own up to the unavoidable shame and guilt that is native to the imperfection of his personality and defects of character; the untouchability of the Prince is regarded an unshakable axiom. Apart from repenting and seeking forgiveness with God and making amends with any possibly involved injured parties, the way to deal with shame and guilt in a healthy manner ultimately requires application of self-compassion and self-forgiveness. When instead resorting to blatant denial or projection, the toxic effects of shame and guilt on the psyche are, at best, merely temporarily mitigated while their psychic roots remain intact. By being able to forgive yourself, by admitting and accepting past mistakes, by humbling yourself through admitting and accepting your own fallibility, you put yourself in a position where those noxious roots may be pulled out, as it were; and you may then move on the morally wiser. Effectively you come to peace with yourself when admitting a past mistake and become able to prevent making that same mistake again in the future; and by having learned to make one mistake less, you get to climb one rung up the ladder of personal moral progress.

Unfortunately, since the Prince is bound to worship(*) his pristine and unassailable image of the valiant warlord, by being thwarted from recognizing his own shadow, he is denied the means to morally mature. Although in informal private circles he may perhaps be permitted more leeway and somewhat relax his commitment to idolatry, in the presence of the prying eyes of the public, including and especially aristocratic fellows, he can never afford admitting to having made a mistake as he would jeopardize loss of face, fear losing public confidence, fear some rival ruler may exploit the exposition of his weakness and thus fear inviting ruin. As a result, courtesy of his dependency to a toxic form of idolatry, his moral development being impeded, in a worst case scenario, he may very well be stuck in a state of moral infancy.

It is interesting to note that Machiavelli precisely advices the Prince to shun burdens of responsibility. In Chapter XIX he broaches a then contemporary issue on how the French King commissioned a third party arbitrator, parliament, to have as aim to relieve the King of suffering reproach from the nobles upon favoring the commoners and, vice versa, suffering reproach from the commoners upon favoring the nobles. Teaches Machiavelli:

“And hence we may draw another notable lesson, namely, that Princes should devolve on others those matters that entail responsibility, and reserve to themselves those that relate to grace and favour. And again I say that a Prince should esteem the great, but must not make himself odious to the people.”

To admit to having chinks in his armor is something the Prince has learned, likely from an early age onward already, to avoid like the plague. But the price is to say farewell to effective means of relief of suffering and the means to morally mature. To further shed light on the psychology that gives rise to this pathology, the book The Betrayal of the Self by psychoanalyst Arno Gruen is very instructive. Although it is not devoted in particular to describe the psychopathology of budding potentates, its scope is nonetheless general enough to be relevant and applicable for that purpose. Gruen writes that exposing a child to a flooding of environmental high-intensity stimuli is destructive to its developing psyche, and the child responds to being overwhelmed with a state of helplessness. It seems to me that such a state of helplessness may however also be induced when subjecting the child to a strict code of conduct, a narrow range of permissible behavior suitable for a young ruler in the making. When the child has no choice but to rigidly submit to what the parents–and all the child’s court nannies, tutors and governesses–regard as desirable and becoming behavior, when thereby the child is robbed of the possibility to develop autonomy, it seems reasonable to presume that it, at some stage, may also fall victim to a state of profound frustration and helplessness. If this indeed were to take place, Gruen then proposes two ways for the child to respond: it may either succumb and become psychologically crippled or it may repress its defenselessness and split it off from the growing self:

“If the latter occurs, children will block out everything reminiscent of the situation in which they experienced these feelings, thus reducing their capacity for empathy and, consequently, their humanness. In this manner, entire parts of their developing self will be split off from consciousness. For the split to be sustained, helplessness must become an object of rejection and hatred. Helplessness is what seems threatening and not the situation which brought it about. As a result, people will continue to seek revenge on everything that might recall their own helplessness. That is why they scorn it in others. Scorn and contempt conceal their fear and at the same time encourage a general attitude of contempt for helplessness and the need for a compensatory ideology of power and domination. In this way, victims join the ranks of their oppressors in order to find new victims–an endless process by which human beings become dehumanized.” (p.9)

In other words, the child’s response reads as: if I cannot profess my, in actual fact, inalienable right to become a sovereign master of my own internal world, if I may not cultivate my own autonomy and authentic individuality, I will try to become a sovereign master of my external world through seeking power; if I cannot control my own person, I will seek compensation by trying to control other persons; instead of truly living on the inside, however, I now am being lived by outside influences; instead of developing into a freely acting individual, I now have degenerated into a slave of power and appearance; I act not so much because I want to, but because I have to. And as I cut myself off from my sentient and independent inner core of being, I sacrifice my capacity to have empathy because I have sabotaged my ability to sentiently register the suffering of other people by way of psychic mirroring, as it were–or, put more simply, I have become unable to suffer along with other people in a way that is sympathetic and free from interfering judgment and prejudice.

In terms of idolatry: my autonomy, my independence, my mastery over my own authentic and individual being is replaced by a dependency to the worship of a prescribed idol befitting to one who is being groomed for rule. In practice, this means that I accept to learn to play an externally-imposed predetermined role of an upcoming ruler, filled to the brim with mandatory behavioral protocols and etiquettes; and as I pour all my attention and energy into playing that part, there is none left for me to tend to my spontaneous and unrehearsed, autonomous and independent genuine feelings; ultimately, by completely having surrendered myself to idolatry, I have starved my sentient inner-most self and by so doing I have starved my responsiveness to the sentient selves of others–who, from my vantage point, as do I myself, now have come to resemble self-animating humanoid dolls more than living breathing autonomous human beings having more than just a pulse.

And therefore as I have thoroughly immersed myself in the role forced upon me, I find myself having difficulty to suspend my disbelief when others enter my presence in a state of emotional distress or turmoil; and I often tend to think that their tears are but crocodile tears, aimed to manipulate and deceive me. And so I rarely have more than little patience or comfort for them. In fact, depending on the prevailing circumstances, I may just prefer to scorn or even persecute them for their insolence and audacity. You see, because I have become a permanent actor myself, I tend to prejudice that the people around me have embraced the same fate. In fact, to me, human life has now become one big play and I have become an arch-skeptic or even cynic of human emotion.

Gruen further clarifies the effects of the willful withering away of the capacity for compassion and empathy:

“When we are confronted with the helplessness of another person but turn our back on it because we repudiate it in ourselves, that person arouses our self-hatred. Faced with helplessness, our fear is transformed into anger at the victim for serving as a mirror of our own hated self. What we are doing is making the victim responsible for our own “weakness.” This is the revenge we take for our own repressed humiliation, a mechanism with a long history of development. Here we find the underlying reason for our identification with violence … the actual source of our cruelty and callousness lies in the rejection of our own suffering. The more inhumanly we behave, the more we repudiate our suffering and betray that human self we were never permitted to have.” (p.38)

So here we see a confirmation in the notion that the child’s focal point of where the causes which inspire its behavior shifts from internal to external. As it seeks to dissociate from its own painful inner core of being, it naturally looks to base its actions on a reactivity to external impulses coming from other people rather than being directed from within his own inner being. When the child happens to witness a helpless person (or “weak” person), it refuses to lay the responsibility within his own troubled psyche for the anger and pain that this observation provokes in him. The unpleasant sensory pangs the child experiences when the helpless person enters the child’s field of perception are blamed instead on the helpless person themselves. Therefore, ultimately the child’s pathological response originates in a misattribution, an unjustified externalization, of the cause of his suffering. And as the child refuses to own up to the responsibility for his own feelings, he will see himself vindicated to strike in retaliation to what he perceives as the culprit for his suffering. Generally speaking, the child thus learns to deny and evade self-responsibility for his own harmful actions by shifting it unto external agents. Hence he may always walk away from the fruits of his own cruel hand with a relatively clear conscience.

So this pathological mindset may serve as a basis, a psychological rationale, for the child to learn to seek power over people who squarely deserve to be exposed to mistreatment in the form of exploitation and domination, augmented with cruelty where needed…. after all, the child is led to believe, by being the miserable beings that they are, they never cease to having the gall to make him feel miserable too by committing the “crime” of entering his presence; and so to exercise power over them, it is suggested, is perfectly justified and works to fulfill two desires of the child: payback and pain management.

What this means for the Prince, when his character has suffered such an alienation of the self, is that he will have a natural commitment to persecuting and exploiting the weaknesses of his subjects, concerning internal rule, as well as his aristocratic rivals concerning external rule; and by his efforts of power in so doing, by seeking to subdue his subjects and rivals he tries to gain a sense of superiority and righteousness. With respect to internal rule (see the Cyclically-Reinforced Toxic Influence section), this means that initiating measures of persecution and surveillance will come natural to the Prince, in the sense of being in perfect harmony with his toxic disposition; it also means that the Prince sees himself justified to exploit the masses, as he rationalizes his ruthless domination of them by placing the blame squarely with their own weaknesses. Concerning external rule, any perception of weakness in a rival ruler the Prince may eagerly use as an excuse to step up hostilities aimed at such an easy prey and blame the prey’s possible demise on its own weakness; if, on the other hand, the Prince perceives a rival ruler to be both menacing and powerful, the fear that now he might become a prey must trigger self-hatred which quickly is to be transmuted into hatred for the threatening rival, provoking again the Prince to step up exaggerated preemptive hostilities. Hence it shows that the Prince’s self-alienated character is perfectly consistent with the paranoid and megalomaniacal worldview of Machiavelli; or, rephrased, courtesy of his toxic nature, the self-alienated Prince works to make sure that the Machiavellian prophecies come true in a self-fulfilling way.

It is also interesting to note that the infant Prince’s decision to seal off the “weak” part of his psyche, is paradoxically itself an act of weakness. The young Prince simply could not handle being in a state of helplessness, he failed to muster the strength to process the experience of his weakness, and rather than having the strength to admit to being weak and in need of help, he chose to altogether distance himself from his own insufferable weakness in a state of utter self-disgust and self-contempt. It is of course entirely possible that the Prince was raised in such a decidedly cold and unaffectionate royal environment in which the prospect of being granted help when he was helpless was out-of-the-question to begin with, perhaps precisely because his parents were also of a weakness-despising toxic disposition and were therefore committed to raising the Prince dispassionately. In addition, the parents may have regarded it to be matter of virtue for the child to learn to fiercely despise helplessness and as such be able to look toward becoming a more effective (read: resolute and ruthless) future ruler; and so they intentionally let the child suffer in solitude and as such force it to brand itself with the mark of psychic toxicity, as it were, disguised as the mark of suitability for rule.

Since he despises weakness lock, stock and barrel, the Prince may be expected to in general be unable to forgive those who in some way have wronged him but who, in some point in time, have a change of heart and, in a state of remorse, proceed to humbly request his pardon; a patent gesture of weakness, in the eyes of the Prince. The only possible exception I can think of for the Prince to welcome offers of regret, however, is if his acts of absolution put him in a favorable and therefore exploitable public light; this could happen, for example, when such generous exercises of amnesty are accompanied by all the magnificence and pomp the Prince can bring to bear to make certain that everyone under his rule is reinforced in the impression that they have the special fortune of serving a most benevolent and magnanimous ruler. Since the main object is to impress his people, however, one cannot help but place doubt in the sincerity of the Prince when he extends his grace and mercy in such spectacular and self-profiting fashion.

Being therefore, on the whole, fiercely hostile to compassion, the Prince automatically forgoes on the unconditional expectation of himself receiving gentle approaches from those who can afford to not having to stoop to grovel at his feet upon entering his presence, those dignitaries who have the luxury of being able to face the Prince more-or-less as a peer. Together with Machiavelli’s heavily advertised need to devote himself virtually exclusively to the art of war, and therefore wholly embrace a sincerely belligerent attitude, the Prince is sure to move in a very harsh and unforgiving political climate and will likely never quite be a stranger to abundances of psychic stress and tension. As long as he clings to his images, as long as he is idolatry-dependent, as long as he remains on the road of rule and commits himself to don the mask of power, he will never be denied freedom from psychic suffering.

And so it is that the Prince is bound to keep on suffering, although he must choose to stay oblivious to the real cause of his suffering for fear of having to recognize his own weaknesses and defectiveness of character, his kryptonite. Grounded in his inability to reconcile himself with his unavoidably shame-burdened and guilt-ridden shadow, the inner core of his being that he abandoned as a child in hatred and contempt, the Prince seeks, ultimately in vain, to relieve himself of his stressful, fear-based suffering by seeking to make his minions, subjects and, most favorably: enemies suffer. By virtue of his power, the psychic toxicity that issues from the Prince may affect not just his whole realm but may resonate, in principle, across the world.

Love is Nothing, Fear is Everything

With so much toxicity radiating out from the warlike Machiavellian Prince of Darkness and the reasonable expectation that a good deal will be returned to him, it is obvious that his underlying attitude is not what one would expect were he to be an adept at professing effective self-love. Notwithstanding the possibility that he may have an affectionate regard for his self-image, which at any rate is only an intangible mental abstraction, he may be considered to be all but a complete stranger to both love for his fellow human being and love for his own person. And this notion is perfectly consistent with the teachings contained in The Prince when Machiavelli encourages the Prince to place little stock in love (Ch.XVII), whether it concerns the love his subjects have for him or the love he has for his subjects. Machiavelli in fact glorifies rule by fear while he distrusts and rejects love for being too fragile to rely on as tool of power.

He blatantly ignores the possibility that man is more than a purely selfish and socially-isolated creature who has bonds with no-one when he writes in Chapter III:

“And let it here be noted that men are either to be kindly treated, or utterly crushed, since they can revenge lighter injuries, but not graver. Wherefore the injury we do to a man should be of a sort to leave no fear of reprisals.”

In the real world, however, every person normally is thoroughly meshed in a social network of loved ones, friends and other people who care for them. And by killing a person, or even by slaughtering an entire family or tribe, one may still expect a desire for revenge from all those who were not killed but were connected to the slain ones by affective bonds of one kind or another; especially in modern times, facilitated by telecommunication systems enabling people to become instantly connected with each-other in combination with the globally distributed do-it-yourself media facility known as the Internet, the expectation of no reprisals is too unrealistic to ever deserve guarantee.

Indeed, the blow-back from the heinous American drone bombing campaigns perfectly serve to illustrate this point. As these unmanned remote-controlled spewers of death and destruction send shock-waves of terror across the middle- and far east, it is precisely such campaigns which function as indirect yet fertile recruitment grounds, cynically enough, for the one thing they on paper are supposed to combat: terrorism. Those who henceforth choose to become “terrorists” may be driven to do so not so much out of purely religiously inspired motives, although that is possible, but simply rather as a way of fighting back–to protect their besieged lands against an overwhelming external enemy as well as avenge slain loved ones. Admissions such as, “Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants”, reported in an article by the New York Times in 2012, come hence as no surprise.

Rather than being based on general observations of the society the Prince resides in, perhaps the lack of trust in love evident in The Prince is due to the writer himself being a stranger to love. When in Chapter XXV discussing whether it is better for the Prince to be impetuous or cautious, Machiavelli claims to be “well persuaded, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious. For Fortune is a woman who to be kept under must be beaten and roughly handled; and we see that she suffers herself to be more readily mastered by those who so treat her than by those who are more timid in their approaches. And always, like a woman, she favours the young, because they are less scrupulous and fiercer, and command her with greater audacity.” Do we sense here that to Machiavelli a relationship between man and woman, entails the former being licensed to brutally subdue the latter by way of violence? If so, and although the times of emancipation of the woman were still far off, any kind of love that the woman may have for her man under such appalling misogynist circumstances must indeed be of a rather unreliable and insincere quality; on the whole, she is much more likely to be driven by fear than love; after all, how well may love survive when it stands to be drowned out by the eternal fear of punishment from a husband who has rather loose hands? If in this kind of relationship between adult people, where love may have a chance to rise to have an exceptionally strong quality, it turns out that even here love also is inferior, then how can it fare any better in other kinds of relationship between adult people? It is thus no grand mystery for Machiavelli to altogether abandon hope in love as an asset for rule.

Machiavelli’s idea of love seems to come in two basic flavors. The first is the kind akin to bribery, where you give someone something valuable and in return that person enters into a state of commitment, a tacit understanding, an unspoken promise to return the favor when you show to be in want of help. Since there is is a compulsory sense of commitment here, it is questionable however whether it is real love driving that person’s desire to payback what they owe. It would seem to me, after all, that a sense of compulsion tends to squeeze out feelings of love. The other kind of love applies to the love the subjects have for their Prince. But this kind is really a one-way street, the subjects are to love their ruler but the ruler is not expected to reciprocate. Indeed, upon Machiavelli’s advice, the Prince is to base his rule on fear rather than bank on the love his subjects may have for him; and it can therefore be presumed that the Prince is not too keen to return the insincere love of his subjects; except perhaps in a broad impersonal way when–during grand public spectacles, where he shows up and waves his hand to the crowd every once in a while–the Prince’s reputation as a benevolent, generous ruler of the people and for the people stands to benefit. Which brings me to the point I’m trying to make. The subjects are not really loving their Prince the way a person loves another person in a direct, personal and intimate way. It is more accurate to state that the people are more engaged in worship, and not of the Prince as a human being either, but rather an embodiment of an idealized abstract semblance of a Prince who is present yet distant and impersonal. In terms of idolatry, the people are to worship a perfected image of the Prince, undeservedly augmented with all manner of flattering features while cleansed of any incriminating flaws and insulting blemishes–an idol expressly made suitable for consumption by a naive and gullible public yearning for a heroic savior and protector. So what the people “love” is in essence merely a propagandized mental abstraction, a promoted figment of the imagination, rather than a tangible and accessible human being. And worship is not real love either since it is, on the one hand, motivated by the hope of gaining favors and, on the other hand, the fear of being punished for failing to live up to the idol’s suggested expectations and demands. Functionally speaking, worship is what a poor beggar professes in order to make a few of his many roving masters cough up a few pennies so to be able to make it through the day–unlike love, the spirit of worship is manipulation the aim of which is to gain favors and merciful recognition for the self.

Machiavellian love therefore seems to be an instrumental kind of love, an impostor kind of love (the stuff of bribes and begging), more than genuine love: which is freely given and is free from coercion and a sense of obligation. It’s a conclusion that does not come out of the blue when one considers the harsh prison-like conditions of medieval communities in which love is expected to thrive in. Poetically put, the rugged lands of the Machiavellian principality lend themselves poorly to be hospitable to the flowering of love.

The great tragedy is that The Prince its barren and cold reception of humanity is perpetuated when it serves in the capacity of being a model for rule. In the Machiavellian worldview love means nothing whereas fear, as the source of political power, means everything…. and so fear is what the world will know.


To some unknown degree, the world is a callous and perilous place precisely because its inherently toxic and morally retarded Machiavellian rulers, big and small, so consider it and actively either so shape it or so keep it by the ruthless, myopic and self-aggrandizing ways in which they wield their power and influence.

Used English translation:

Part 1 of 2 Part 2 of 2

*) With a person engaging in worship, in the context relevant here, is understood the gathering of that person’s attention (commitment of time and directed mental energy) together with that person’s means to morally develop and sacrifice both personal assets to an idol/image which is perceived to be without flaws and beyond criticism.


The Toxic Legacy of Machiavelli’s The Prince (1/2)

Part 1 of 2
Pragmatic Morality
Importance of Reputation
Debasing Human Nature
Fox and the Lion
Direct Top-Down Toxic Influence
Imitation of Toxic Character
‘Kingdom of Heaven’
Propagation of Toxic Treatment
Cyclically-Reinforced Toxic Influence
Internal Rule
External Rule
Part 2 of 2
The Legacy’s Sinister Roots
Machiavellian Idolatry
Origin of the Machiavellian Shadow
Perpetual Suffering
Love is Nothing, Fear is Everything
Machiavellian Kind of Love

The Prince

“…if a Prince succeeds in establishing and maintaining his authority, the means will always be judged honourable and be approved by every one.” (Chapter XVIII)

Founded on the above dubious moral axiom, which may be translated as, The end justifies the means (A), in the 16th century Niccolò Machiavelli formulates the classic dissertation on how to acquire and preserve raw political power, come hell or high water. By his own volition and on a proverbial silver salver, the tactical philosopher annex historian humbly offers to his highly esteemed ruler, the Prince(*), a self-guaranteed fail-safe recipe for robust rule — elegant in writing yet gloomy in meaning. Drawing from an extensive variety of modern and historical ruler-ship examples, combined with a deductive reasoning that is consistently lucid albeit infused with demeaning prejudices and stereotypes in its evaluation of human nature, Machiavelli distills a set of strategical rules and instructions for any ambitious ruler to abide by in order to secure and hold on to governing power.

In this analysis I focus on Machiavelli’s treatise in the function of being a literal instruction manual for power acquisition. Courtesy of the universal range of its applicability, it should be kept in mind that not just members of aristocracy could seek to benefit from this work but potentially anyone who has power aspirations as well as lack of scruples. In today’s upper regions of power The Prince may, for example, draw to its teachings: politicians and government officials, military commanders and intelligence officers, bankers and stock brokers, industrialists and corporate moguls but also members of religious orders and church leaders more interested in expanding temporal power than in improving intimacy with God. In the lower echelons of power The Prince may attract organized crime figures, gang-bangers eager to ascend in prominence, cult leaders and other flavors of dilettante megalomaniacs.

While abstaining from delving into such academic questions as to whether The Prince was actually intended as a work of satire or whether or not Machiavelli’s ruler actually came to read it, I set out to explore the moral and psychological foundation and ramifications of this sinister work of instruction.


“…if he has taken those measures, and has lived in the way I have recommended, and if he never abandons hope, he will withstand every attack…” (Chapter XIX)

Pragmatic Morality

Strikingly confident in the validity and accuracy of his own formulas, Machiavelli advocates (see, e.g., Ch.XV) a type of goal-oriented morality that by necessity is purely pragmatic, i.e. consistent with the moral axiom A, and thus diametric or antithetical to idealism, at once considered unsuitable to work with. To accommodate his practical conception of what an effective Prince, or ruler, is to be about, Machiavelli proceeds to redefine the concepts of virtue and vice, good and evil.

Upon reviewing the case of the brutal self-made Prince Agathocles the Sicilian, he is sure to, on the one hand, condemn the application of unbridled cruelty and immorality. “To slaughter fellow-citizens,” he admits in Chapter VIII, “to betray friends, to be devoid of honour, pity, and religion, cannot be counted as merits, for these are means which may lead to power, but which confer no glory.”

Then, on the other hand, in Chapter XVII he seeks balance by stating:

“…every Prince should desire to be accounted merciful and not cruel. Nevertheless, he should be on his guard against the abuse of this quality of mercy. Cesare Borgia was reputed cruel, yet his cruelty restored Romagna, united it, and brought it to order and obedience; so that if we look at things in their true light, it will be seen that he was in reality far more merciful than the people of Florence, who, to avoid the imputation of cruelty, suffered Pistoja to be torn to pieces by factions.”

In Chapter XV, he further blurs the line between vice and virtue when he reasons that the Prince is to never hesitate:

“…to incur the reproach of those vices without which his authority can hardly be preserved; for if he well consider the whole matter, he will find that there may be a line of conduct having the appearance of virtue, to follow which would be his ruin, and that there may be another course having the appearance of vice, by following which his safety and well-being are secured.”

In Chapter VIII, on the issue of “cruelty being well or ill-employed”, Machiavelli again expresses recognition in the virtue of a tempered cruelty:

“Those cruelties we may say are well employed, if it be permitted to speak well of things evil, which are done once for all under the necessity of self-preservation, and are not afterwards persisted in, but so far as possible modified to the advantage of the governed. Ill-employed cruelties, on the other hand, are those which from small beginnings increase rather than diminish with time.”

In Chapter XV, the Prince is encouraged to abandon idealistic goodness (to be good for goodness’ sake), and instead adopt a pragmatic goodness (to be good when it is both feasible and fruitful):

“…the manner in which we live, and that in which we ought to live, are things so wide asunder, that he who quits the one to betake himself to the other is more likely to destroy than to save himself; since any one who would act up to a perfect standard of goodness in everything, must be ruined among so many who are not good. It is essential, therefore, for a Prince who desires to maintain his position, to have learned how to be other than good, and to use or not to use his goodness as necessity requires.”

Although idealistic goodness is to be regarded a vice, the appearance of goodness when it may be the opposite of goodness in actuality, Machiavelli proclaims in Chapter XVIII, is to be embraced a virtue.

In short, the Machiavellian Prince is to be benevolent only if it serves to ensure his safety or suits his endeavors of securing power; and, serving the same goals, to feel justified to act in malice when and where the need arises, although at the same time seeking to not overdo it.

Importance of Reputation

Placing much stock in a reputation that is befitting to he who rules with a glorious rod of iron, in Chapter XIX Machiavelli declares:

“A Prince is despised when he is seen to be fickle, frivolous, effeminate, pusillanimous, or irresolute, against which defects he ought therefore most carefully to guard, striving so to bear himself that greatness, courage, wisdom, and strength may appear in all his actions. In his private dealings with his subjects his decisions should be irrevocable, and his reputation such that no one would dream of overreaching or cajoling him.”

Concerning internal governance of the State, while seeking to maintain a favorable public image, in Chapter XXI Machiavelli advices the Prince “to choose such ways of rewarding and punishing as cannot fail to be much spoken of. But above all, he should strive by all his actions to inspire a sense of his greatness and goodness.”

Debasing Human Nature

Machiavelli’s view of the common “vulgar” people is at once soberingly bleak, condemnatory by default and saturated with paranoid distrust. For instance, in Chapter XVII he states:

“For of men it may generally be affirmed, that they are thankless, fickle, false, studious to avoid danger, greedy of gain, devoted to you while you are able to confer benefits upon them, and ready, as I said before, while danger is distant, to shed their blood, and sacrifice their property, their lives, and their children for you; but in the hour of need they turn against you.”

Whether the Prince is better to be loved than feared, it “might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” “Men are less careful”, he goes on to explain, “how they offend him who makes himself loved than him who makes himself feared. For love is held by the tie of obligation, which, because men are a sorry breed, is broken on every whisper of private interest; but fear is bound by the apprehension of punishment which never relaxes its grasp.” But this latter conclusion seems to indicate a very peculiar low-quality kind of love. Rather than the kind that is freely given and comes with no strings attached, Machavelli’s kind of love seems to be more akin to bribery, i.e. bought affection. After all, a bribed person is also held by a “tie of obligation”, a bond which also lacks durability because it is founded on shame and comes with a burden, that of compulsory future reciprocation to the briber. In an attempt to unburden himself (including conscience), the bribed person may be tempted to exploit any opportunity to sever the tie prematurely; thus confirming Machiavelli’s prejudice that indeed such kind of ties are “broken on every whisper of private interest”. Love does not rank high in Machiavelli’s book. Further arguing the importance of fear over love, he states, “since his being loved depends upon his subjects, while his being feared depends upon himself, a wise Prince should build on what is his own, and not on what rests with others.”

And when acting in the capacity of being a protector of the people, as may be the case in civil (democratic) Princedoms (Ch.IX), the Prince may profit from a beneficial form of dependency. While the people look up to their Prince in fearful awe, Machiavelli explains that “since men who are well treated by one whom they expected to treat them ill, feel the more beholden to their benefactor, the people will at once become better disposed to such a Prince when he protects them”. This relationship between Prince and people, in which the former on occasion relieves the latter in times of need by providing protection, while at same time basically holding them hostage using coercion and threats of punishment, forms the very essence of trauma bonding (also called: Stockholm Syndrome). Further stressing the virtue of dependency on the State, he concludes, “a wise Prince should devise means whereby his subjects may at all times, whether favourable or adverse, feel the need of the State and of him, and then they will always be faithful to him.” Hence, the Prince is encouraged to exploit the use of functional fear and at the same time to make himself (and the State) indispensable to his people by posing as their savior and protector.

In Chapter XVII, he reaffirms the perception of the base nature of the Prince’s subjects by claiming that “men will sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony” and, in Chapter XVIII, that “men are so simple, and governed so absolutely by their present needs, that he who wishes to deceive will never fail in finding willing dupes” and “the vulgar are always taken by appearances and by results”.

As a consequence, Machiavelli argues that because the Prince’s State consists of subjects who, in the main, are persistently treacherous and unreliable, self-serving and opportunistic, shallow and materialistic, as well as naive, ignorant and gullible, he himself is therefore perfectly justified and licensed to also stoop to their presumed savage level by ruthlessly exploiting mentioned flaws so as to be able to thrive himself. In chapter XIX, Machiavelli writes:

“a prudent Prince neither can nor ought to keep his word when to keep it is hurtful to him and the causes which led him to pledge it are removed. If all men were good, this would not be good advice, but since they are dishonest and do not keep faith with you, you in return, need not keep faith with them; and no prince was ever at a loss for plausible reasons to cloak a breach of faith.”

Although Machiavelli accuses the vulgar people of greed, he has no qualms to urge the Prince to himself become liberally rapacious, just so long as it goes at the expense of outsiders and not his own people.“[So] long as neither their property nor their honour is touched, the mass of mankind live contentedly”, he asserts in Chapter XIX. In Chapter XVI, in the context of war, he clarifies:

“Because for a Prince who leads his armies in person and maintains them by plunder, pillage, and forced contributions, dealing as he does with the property of others this liberality is necessary, since otherwise he would not be followed by his soldiers. Of what does not belong to you or to your subjects you should, therefore, be a lavish giver, as were Cyrus, Cæsar, and Alexander; for to be liberal with the property of others does not take from your reputation, but adds to it. What injures you is to give away what is your own. And there is no quality so self-destructive as liberality; for while you practise it you lose the means whereby it can be practised, and become poor and despised, or else, to avoid poverty, you become rapacious and hated. For liberality leads to one or other of these two results, against which, beyond all others, a Prince should guard.”

Due to their perceived crooked nature, the vulgar hordes that form his subjects perfectly deserve, Machiavelli seems to urge, to suffer control by means of force and fear — as if they are dangerous and capricious animals, for which domestication efforts must be perpetual and can never afford much respite.

Nonetheless, the Prince at the same time should not overdo casting fear to the point where he becomes an object of hate. In Chapter XVII he warns:

“[A] Prince should inspire fear in such a fashion that if he do not win love he may escape hate. For a man may very well be feared and yet not hated, and this will be the case so long as he does not meddle with the property or with the women of his citizens and subjects. And if constrained to put any to death, he should do so only when there is manifest cause or reasonable justification. But, above all, he must abstain from the property of others.”

“Not to be hated or despised by the body of his subjects,” Machiavelli explains in Chapter XIX, “is one of the surest safeguards that a Prince can have against conspiracy. For he who conspires always reckons on pleasing the people by putting the Prince to death; but when he sees that instead of pleasing he will offend them, he cannot summon courage to carry out his design.” Thus the Prince has (Ch.XIX):

“…little to fear from conspiracies when his subjects are well disposed towards him; but when they are hostile and hold him in detestation, he has then reason to fear everything and every one. And well ordered States and wise Princes have provided with extreme care that the nobility shall not be driven to desperation, and that the commons shall be kept satisfied and contented; for this is one of the most important matters that a Prince has to look to.”

In Chapter XX, when discussing the merit of fortresses, he reiterates the vice of being hated. “[On] the whole,” Machiavelli states, “the best fortress you can have, is in not being hated by your subjects. If they hate you no fortress will save you; for when once the people take up arms, foreigners are never wanting to assist them.”

With this balanced conception in mind in which casting moderate fear is essential, the Prince should be prepared to adopt a self-debasing animalistic guise, although Machiavelli does not spell it out as such, with the sole aim of reasserting authority when occasion demands. “Be it known,” teaches Machiavelli in Chapter XIX, “that there are two ways of contending, one in accordance with the laws, the other by force; the first of which is proper to men, the second to beasts. But since the first method is often ineffectual, it becomes necessary to resort to the second. A Prince should, therefore, understand how to use well both the man and the beast.” In the same chapter he recommends two specific predatory guises:

“since a Prince should know how to use the beast’s nature wisely, he ought of beasts to choose both the lion and the fox; for the lion cannot guard himself from the toils, nor the fox from wolves. He must therefore be a fox to discern toils, and a lion to drive off wolves.”

Machiavelli indeed does not shun from reducing the human being, subjects and rulers alike, to downright animal status: where he instructs the predatory Prince, cunning and ruthless, on how to carefully and effectively govern his herds of human cattle, recalcitrant and back-stabbing.

Direct Top-Down Toxic Influence

Next I will suggest two direct ways in which the Machiavellian Prince may spread his toxic influence across his dominion.

One may be called imitation of toxic character. Due to his exceptional status of importance, the Prince is subject to be imitated by, in principle, any of his subjects or minions. Indeed, in Chapter VI Machiavelli himself acknowledges the likelihood of this to happen by actually encouraging it:

“For since men for the most part follow in the footsteps and imitate the actions of others, and yet are unable to adhere exactly to those paths which others have taken, or attain to the virtues of those whom they would resemble, the wise man should always follow the roads that have been trodden by the great, and imitate those who have most excelled, so that if he cannot reach their perfection, he may at least acquire something of its savour.”

The character of the Prince is to be composed of the following elements. Most significantly, the sage of slyness insists that the Prince be obsessed with all aspects of warfare and that he, “as many great men of past age have done,” writes Machiavelli in Chapter XIV, should “assume for his models those persons who before his time have been renowned and celebrated, whose deeds and achievements he should constantly keep in mind, as it is related that Alexander the Great sought to resemble Achilles, Cæsar Alexander, and Scipio Cyrus”. Furthermore, the Prince is to never waver although he may break his word at will so long as it does not bring harm to his reputation (Ch.XVIII); he must always appear strong and valiant (Ch.XIX); he should strive to appear honorable and respectable, even venerable.

In other words, the Prince should possess an aura that belongs to a righteous and infallible saint of war. As if he were handpicked, ordained and anointed by God Almighty himself, his minions and subjects are therefore to receive his wish and will as if they were commands in perfect agreement with Providence. Consequently, the Machiavellian Prince is led to embrace a strict segregation, or duality, of good and evil. The will of the Prince and the will of God are taken to be in perfect alignment and any belligerence against the Prince implies belligerence against God; thus defining the one who acts in defiance of the Prince at once an enemy of both the Prince and God and is therefore to be branded evil; and destroying that enemy equates with destroying an enemy of God and is automatically to be hailed as a just and good act. Hence, irrespective of how large a bloodbath it may yield, any hostile act issued by the powers of the Prince directed against the powers of an enemy is always of a good nature, whereas a hostile act issued by an enemy against the Prince is always of an evil nature.

To adopt such a recklessly oversimplified worldview, the Prince has to persist in his dissociation from his own psychic shadow; all those of his character traits and actions that, from an objective and impartial moral vantage point would challenge his aura of immaculate moral supremacy, cannot be consciously accepted in their true light. As an infallible, irreproachable and resolute Prince, he therefore — lest opening up to the risk of being viewed as weak and flawed and thus fear ruin — is to never own up to personal fault or failure; all shame, blame and guilt is either to be ignored, dismissed, denied, shifted onto his blameworthy minions and subjects, or, best of all, conveniently projected unto his enemies, foreign or domestic; thus serving to only further legitimize their persecution.

Those who look up to their Prince in admiration and seek to emulate him jeopardize embracing his characteristically pretentious and haughty self-alienating psychopathology. As they follow suit in seeking to immobilize their conscience, they likewise hazard sabotaging the one innate means which would be effective in preventing their growing shadow-feeding habit of venting the wrathful fruits of their increasingly troubled psyche onto whosoever happens to have the nerve of crossing them, or maybe even for just something as innocent as entering into their presence. Shame and guilt is not, or only reluctantly, to be recognized and is thus all too eagerly relegated unto other poor souls, who in turn, may just find themselves inclined to do the same to even other poor souls. The Machiavellian self-deluding and self-deceiving Princely attitude boils down to the building up of a feverish allergy for the acceptance of personal shame and guilt, unconsciously considered too toxic to own up to. A person having such a disposition becomes ever more a stranger to their own psychic inner core as it is walled off from one’s own conscious inspection to prevent the experience of overwhelming pain, remorse and grief.

Thus the person seeking to emulate their toxic ruler pushes him- or herself to become ever more a stranger to their own inner psychic core and by necessity becomes ever more superficial, ever more prone to be swayed by mere appearances and image-impressions of reality, and by losing contact with their own inner feelings ever more loses the capacity to feel pain when another feels pain; and as they lose that ability to have empathy they cannot help but become ever more selfish and more inclined to seek solace in materialism; ironically, these are all epithets which Machiavelli accuses them of already possessing from the get-go. This attitude, by way of spreading through imitation, may become ever more fashionable and may end up affecting all those who fall under the rule of the Prince. Hence it follows that straightforward character imitation may very well be one of the root mechanisms causing society to become more Machiavellian.

As a side-issue which has some relevancy to the topic at hand: The 2005 motion picture called Kingdom of Heaven, see the still-picture above, serves as a great illustration to this condition of tenacious psychic self-delusion. In this epic film European crusaders battle with Muslim forces over control of Jerusalem. The commander of the crusaders, King Baldwin IV, happens to be a leper. For sake of argument, let’s forget that in the movie Baldwin IV is portrayed as a relatively sympathetic and righteous ruler. In the fact that he suffers from leprosy, while dressed in full albeit only lightly armored regalia, we find a symbolic representation of the meaning embodied by the crusader. The covered up disfigured body of the leper king — including, most significantly, a facial helmet outwardly showing a pristine almost angelic face hiding a hideously blemished face — may be taken to represent the psychic shadow being too horrific to be exposed to the outside world and therefore in need of being covered up by a compensatory attractive and pious facial image. In addition, the crusaders, as the self-proclaimed anointed representatives of God, see themselves perfectly justified in their quest of trying to defeat the alleged enemies of God, embodied in this case by Muslim warriors led by Saladin, who unsurprisingly similarly like to see themselves as licensed agents of God (Allah). It’s a film that wonderfully captures the artificially created duality of good versus evil. Men are taken to belong to either of two distinct, clearly separated categories: good and evil; where men of each category are led to think that the men of the other category are evil, agents of the devil, whereas they are good and righteous knights of God.

Originating in a complete alienation from one’s own shadow, the defective and oversimplifying worldview which emerges from it serves as a rationale for sensing the hideous and evil aspects of one’s own psychological nature to be present not in oneself but only in one’s enemy. It’s a state of mind that contradicts any rigorously honest self-examination, for we are all individually capable of wishing and doing evil regardless of what blessed group we find ourselves belonging to. In the words of Gulag-camp survivor Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Another direct way in which the Machiavellian Prince may release his toxic influence could be called propagation of toxic treatment; which actually is a special kind of imitation. By virtue of his implied flawless sense of justice, whoever the Prince accuses of whatever crime or transgression, automatically is found guilty and the people typically at once (are forced to) accept any attributed punishment as fair and deserved — after all, it has been so decreed by their divinely-inspired Prince. Cruel, toxic treatment, including acts of humiliation, in a power structure is infectious and tends to disperse over the hierarchy which, in principle, sprawls over the entire realm.

Here’s a brief outline as to how it may work: Let’s say the Prince on occasion humiliates one of his generals for failing to live up to the high expectations of the Prince, or by way of taking the blame for a lost battle, or whatever reason applies, justified or unjustified. To regain psychic balance and redeem a sense of honor and restore loss of face, the wounded general, in turn, may try to find comfort in a similar act of venting his incurred frustration, grief and anger onto one of his own lessers, say one of his subordinate officers. This now also humiliated officer, in turn, may feel the urge to do the same to one of his own lessers and so on and so forth until the chain-reaction of humiliation percolates all the way down to the bottom layer of the hierarchy; in a worst-case scenario, the entire realm reverberates the shock-wave that originates in the blaming and shaming Prince. If done repeatedly, habitually, the destructive influence emanating from the Prince may manifest, to varying degrees, in psychic corruption of potentially anyone falling under the dominion of the Prince. Hence the Prince may see to a progressively Machiavellian corruption of all those who reside in his realm, initiated by his own cruel hand.

To make matters worse, serving to further justify the spreading of his toxic influence, the Prince has an active interest for all those who fall under his wing, subjects as well as minions, to likewise become strangers to their own shadows as much as possible. So long as they also have a superficial and short-sighted mental disposition they might just be discouraged from scrutinizing their ruler and be instead consumed with pursuing materialistic goals or be distracted by mindless entertainment or other forms of harmless tripe and triviality. However, by being alienated from their own shadow they may very well be encouraged to look for it in others through the psychological mechanism of projection; should they be so inclined they must at all times be dissuaded from setting their searching eyes on their ruler, who is at all times to remain without tarnish. Indeed, the Prince is to become an object of hatred and contempt for as few of his people as possible. Addressing the vice of being hated by many, Machiavelli emphasizes in Chapter XIX, “for as Princes cannot escape being hated by some, they should, in the first place, endeavour not to be hated by a class; failing in which, they must do all they can to escape the hatred of that class which is the stronger.” As to the optional need of his people to project their troubles unto others, the Prince thereby has an interest to have their focus fixed unto an acceptable, even desirable, group of scapegoats — personae non grata of the regime: spies, traitors and criminals, to be found preferably among the disposable ranks of the vulgar subjects, or, as occasion presents itself, in the form of the odd troublesome minion in need of getting out of the way.

Note also that the moral axiom mentioned in Chapter XVIII and quoted at the very top of this article, bears out an underlying presumption of this shallow psychic make-up of the people — i.e. those who witness historical events unfold and come to judge it retrospectively. Machiavelli implies that people remember conclusions and are keen to forget intermediate steps; the end is the only thing that counts while the means — whether peaceably or bloody, civilized or less civilized, moral or immoral — carry no weight at all; it is an attitude that falls right in line with those who try hard to run away from their own shadow. It remains to be seen, however, whether Machiavelli’s observation is a just and accurate assessment of the psychological makeup of the people he writes about; or if it is, heaven forbid, perhaps more accurate to instead suggest that it is a prejudicial projection from Machiavelli’s mind unto the people and that it in actuality is greatly indicative of either his own dubious psychological nature or of those he seeks to address and impress through his work, i.e. any Prince drawing lessons from The Prince. Then again, perhaps the truth applies both ways.

Cyclically-Reinforced Toxic Influence

Wikipedia defines a self-fulfilling prophecy as “a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.” According to the sociologist Robert K Merton, who coined the phrase and formalized its structure, a self-fulfilling prophecy “is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come ‘true’. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.” In other words, a positive or negative prophecy, strongly held belief, or delusion—declared as truth when it is actually false—may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy. (Source: Wikipedia)

When a ruler draws inspiration and instruction from The Prince by trying to conform his rule to its precepts, due to the influence owing to the ruler, the stage is set for society to likewise actively shape itself in accordance with the Machiavellian model of it. The prophecy that society will be Machiavellian, i.e. inhabited by members who are behaving in a way conformal to the description of them in The Prince, works to become self-fulfilling through the initial influence of its ruler. Specifically, concerning internal rule (domestic policy), Machiavelli indirectly (and nowadays, from the grave) encourages the ruler’s subjects to conform to his prejudicial view of them by way of pressing the ruler to treat them as if they already, from the outset, are consistent with that view. Concerning external rule (foreign policy) a similar process applies by way of Machiavelli leading the ruler down the path of war. Allow me to clarify.

With Machiavelli touting fear as the choice tool of rule bar none, let us focus on fear to illustrate the point. Based on Machiavelli’s distrustful stereotype of the common people, let’s say the ruler decides to introduce modest measures of State security by instituting a network of informants across the realm having as aim gathering information on possible spies, traitors and other undesirable elements; so that they may be routed- and rooted out. The people, in response to this subtle but noticeable increase in State-sponsored harassment and intrusion, may start to harbor resentment for being subjected to humiliating affronts to their domestic peace and invasions of privacy. In addition, the citizens may increasingly become suspicious of one another. As tension and distrust among the people for their own kind mounts, some may give in to the increasing paranoia and decide to rat out some of the seemingly more suspiciously acting fellow citizens. On the basis of data provided by informants, the State then proceeds to arrest the trouble-makers, who, if not acquitted, end up either imprisoned, executed or banished. Consequently — if indeed sentenced — spouses, relatives or friends (etc.) of the removed loved ones may become embittered and disgruntled with the regime and may decide to switch sides and pledge loyalty with a rival ruler or competing political power. So now, unlike before, the realm does harbor real spies, traitors and the like. As loyalty among his subjects therefore slowly but surely dwindles, indicated by increasing reports of suspicious activity and a rising score of arrests, the ruler may feel himself entirely vindicated to respond with upping the ante of State security. Hence we have come full circle and there is nothing in the way for the situation to keep on escalating, meaning that more people will feel compelled to turn on the regime, to which the State, in turn, will feel obliged to respond with more oppression. And even though Machiavelli himself cautions against oppressive rule (Ch.IX) and against becoming hated too much (Ch.XIX), the ruler may nonetheless feel himself forced to resort to more aggressive measures of rule in order to warrant security of an increasingly compromised State. Hence a positive feedback loop emerges which progressively vindicates the Prince’s increasingly severe and oppressive policing measures, thus bringing the prophecy ever more to a state of fulfillment — a process for which the Prince himself is responsible, courtesy of a paranoia implanted by Machiavelli.

Whereas the above mechanism applies to a self-fulfilling prophecy concerning internal rule, a similar mechanism applies to the potentate’s external rule. Since Machiavelli urges the Prince to devote himself to become an adept in the art of war, the foreign states which become the focal point of his covetousness may be assumed to respond defensively to any noticeable actualization of the Prince’s belligerent and rapacious ambitions. And in his myopic mindset, he may interpret any defensive acts coming from those states not as such but as acts of hostility and offensiveness instead. Hence the ruler may feel himself justified to even more step up his war efforts aimed to deal with those supposedly challenging and menacing states, which, in turn, feel themselves compelled to increase their own defenses. Alternatively, a Prince itching for an excuse to launch a war may very well be inclined to delude himself into thinking that some foreign state acts in a hostile or provocative manner toward him, when such a perception is really only a figment of his bellicose imagination, and the foreign state is merely led to respond defensively against any acts of aggression coming from the self-deceiving Prince. Hence, both ways for the Prince to embroil himself in war generate a positive feedback loop causing the prophecy about the Prince being surrounded by menacing rival rulers to become ever more fulfilled — again a process for which a paranoid and bellicose Prince is himself responsible. Note that this kind of positive feedback loop also underlies the phenomenon of arms-races existing between any pair of mutually belligerent states having also comparable magnitudes of power at the same time.

Wikipedia states that projection “is the act or technique of defending yourself against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in yourself, while attributing them to others.” Ultimately it is psychological projection, of a paranoid kind, which ignites the positive feedback loops into existence and thus causing the Machiavellian prophecies, concerning both internal- and external rule, to come true in a self-fulfilling way. Let me clarify.

Concerning internal rule, encouraged by Machiavelli, the Prince attributes lack of loyalty to his subjects, when in actual fact he cannot face up to his own psychic reality in which it is he himself who is indebted with- and lacks loyalty towards his own people. After all, the Prince needs his people in order to sustain himself as a parasitic entity living off of their toils and blood, while, apart from giving orders and signing laws, producing little in return. In contrast, the case for the inverse: the people needing the Prince, is a lot weaker and they probably, after initial growing pains that accompany newfound autonomy have subsided, would do just fine without having some cocky authority figure constantly bossing them around, telling them what to do and what not to do (in the service of the Prince’s rule). The Prince is nothing but a paper Prince without his people; especially during times of war, when the ranks of his armies need to be filled, is his dependence on them most dramatic. The Prince therefore owes his people more than his people owe him. As such, the ruler is inclined to develop guilt feelings toward his subjects, albeit always kept under the radar of conscious awareness, which likely results in feeding his paranoia for his own people: unmitigated and persistent fears for falling victim to their protests, public exposure, or more strongly expressed forms of objection. These fears for reprisals, including possible rebellion, are not at all irrational since the people have sacrificed so much, and continue to do so, in order to only please and honor their Prince… and what has he given them back in reward for their costly sacrifices of blood, sweat and tears?

Concerning external rule, again cheered on by Machiavelli, the Prince perceives animosity coming from his rival rulers, when in reality he cannot come to terms with his own psychic reality in which it is he himself who harbors animosity and envy towards his surrounding peers — who, the Prince alleges, are in a state of cut-throat competition with him.

So it all starts with a projecting self-alienated Prince. The psychological reason as to why the Prince develops a fierce passion for exercising behavior that is based on projection and shadow-denying will be addressed next.

Part 1 of 2 Part 2 of 2

*) The Prince, derives from the Italian il Principe, resembling the English principle, ultimately deriving from the Latin Primus, meaning first or foremost. By the bye, in Dutch, the King is called vorst, resembling voorste, which also means first, foremost and also traces via Old German back to the Latin Primus.

Etymological Sources: (English) (Italian) (Dutch)

Religion used as a Pacifier for the Poor

“The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his gate,
God made them, high or lowly,
And ordered their estate.” ~ Cecil Frances Alexander

The above rhyme represents an attempt to whitewash the then current and allegedly divinely sanctioned social class composition. For one thing, to claim such class division is according to God’s will is a sure violation of the 3rd Commandment (you shall not take the name of the Lord in vain), and automatically signifies Alexander’s lack of obedience to Christian ethics. Secondly, it works to help prevent the poor from envying the rich — as God supposedly wants the poor to remain poor. It is therefore a strategy that very much benefits the rich. We thus find the likely culprit implied by the obvious answer to the cui bono – who benefits question.

Indeed, Napoleon and Marx basically addressed the very same issue:

“Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” ~ Karl Marx

When the name of God is abused as the poem insinuates, religion indeed very much acts as an effective pacifier for the poor. It works to relieve the anxieties and stresses of living under circumstances marked by poverty and grave inequality. Religion in this function indeed serves to soothe passions of revolt and quell ambitions for social upheaval; desires that are inspired by the discontentment that belongs to living under oppression and exploitation by the parasitic upper classes.

It is this function of religion — a political rather than a spiritual one, of seeking subversion rather than liberation of the people, the worship of power rather than God — that deserves condemnation.

Introducing Three Degrees of Evil

“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.” ~ Socrates

Good versus Evil

A typical setting where good and evil are all too familiar household concepts is offered by religion: God versus the devil, believers versus heretics … . But it does not end there. As the above quote demonstrates, the Greek sages apparently did not shy away from using it either.

So how generally applicable are the terms good and evil?

Good, virtuousness or righteousness versus evil, viciousness or unrighteousness are two diametrically opposed qualifiers used for morally judging an action committed by some intelligently- and willfully operating agent (e.g. a human being, or “God”). To say that some act is good is to voice approval and encouragement of that act, whereas to say that some act is evil, voices disapproval and condemnation. The judgment labels good and evil can however be affixed relative to some moral framework deemed applicable. For example, some religiously defined moral frameworks consider it good to stone women to death as a proper punishment for adultery or even rape. Some systems of morality consider is good to persecute entire peoples that that system deems undesirable at best and detrimental at worst. Likewise some moral systems consider it evil to allow women to enjoy equal rights as men, whereas other moral standards generally considers it good that women are allowed equal rights and equal status relative to men. In other words, what is consider good for some moral standards may very well be considered evil in others, and vice versa.

This article is not about moral relativism however. I believe that treating one’s fellow human being disrespectfully and harmfully constitutes universal evil whereas treating them with kindness and respect constitutes universal good. In order to have universal applicability, a universal morality must incorporate the service to universal human rights, rights that are to be upheld irrespective of race, creed, gender, political preference, sexual orientation, income bracket etc. This means that a universal moral standard necessarily has to be independent of any and all of the existing and possibly competing moral standards, whether they be religious or secular.

This article is about identifying three distinct classes or degrees of evil, judged according to a universal moral standard.

Chemtrails – the practice of spraying toxic chemicals over us, yet not even having the decency of calling it rain.

Can Nature be Evil?

Just a quick note on the causative agents of evil. I am implicitly referring to evil perpetrated by human agents. But more generally, I could have referred to evil being perpetrated by intelligent agents, not necessarily human. It is important to recognise that evil can only be committed by intelligent agents. The idea that evil can be committed by natural agents is fallacious.

“Cloud seeding” – a weather modification technique.

Can natural disasters be called evil? No. It is meaningless to ascribe evil to their causes unless there’s an intelligent agent behind their expression. It’s quite well-known that today the weather can be technologically modified and it’s been widely speculated that HAARP installations may trigger earthquakes and tsunamis. And then there’s another controversial phenomenon known as chemtrails, in which military aircraft release a multitude of poisonous chemicals in order to supposedly modify the weather and supposedly offset the effects of Global Warming. In these instances, whenever there’s an intelligent operator behind artificially induced “natural” disasters or acts of “weather modification” that inflict harm or cause material damage, the operators behind them can indeed be held culpable and their actions are to be branded as evil.

Lightnings are not evil…

But when these disasters are entirely natural, it makes no sense to attribute evil to them. For example, when a lightning strikes your neighbor dead, you cannot sue the cloud or clouds “responsible” for issuing that fatal lightning. When an earthquake hits and claims scores of lives and does untold damage you cannot hold the involved tectonic plates responsible for any sustained losses.

Likewise when someone dies by a gunshot-wound, you cannot hold the death-precipitating bullet responsible. You cannot even pin the sustained death on the gun that fired it. No, it’s the person who willfully aimed and fired the gun who you should be looking for. Bullets don’t have the will or power to kill people, guns don’t have the will or power to kill people. No, it’s people who have the will and power to kill people. Bullets, guns, cannons, poisons, etc. are only the means to carry out acts of killing. The killer, or perpetrator of evil in general, is never a thing, or nature, it’s always an intelligent agent, intentionally acting to either inflict harm or to assist another agent in doing so.

Hitler at a Neuremberg rally.

Does Evil Equate to Ignorance?

Does evil simply equate to ignorance as Socrates would have us believe when he uttered the phrase mentioned up above?

I for one, do not think so. To argue against Socrates, let’s focus on the “only evil is ignorance” part. Consider mentally challenged people: mongoloids, retards, imbeciles, and the like. Surely they can be regarded as being ignorant. Would Socrates then regard these people to also be evil people?

Consider next the following thought experiment. Say a leader with great political skills arrives on the scene and manages to become the head of a powerful nation or empire. Unfortunately however, he also turns out to be a very authoritative and ruthless leader, holding sway over his people with a rod of iron. After a period of successful rulership, it so happens that the mental health of the leader starts to deteriorate. But since the people, including the staff, are too afraid to intervene and seize control through a coup d’état, they grudgingly but cowardly allow the leader to deteriorate into a sure state of mental retardation. And because of his newly gained mental deficit, his ability to make rational and just decisions is of course severely compromised. An unavoidable consequence is that under his now troubled command a lot of poor decisions are made and because of it a lot of his people die and suffer. So here now we have a leader who is both ignorant (because of the infirmity of his mental condition) but who nevertheless, also retains the capacity to act with (political) power.

Is it proper to call ignorance, while lacking the power to act, evil? I don’t think so. Ignorance combined with a complete denial of the power to act, as exemplified by a mute and paraplegic mongoloid, equates to practical harmlessness and so it would be improper to attribute evil to them. Moreover, to persecute certain people considered evil, when they actually do harm to no-one, is itself an act of injustice. Indeed it is an evil act. Think for example of the grave violations of human rights that transpired in Nazi Germany when the mentally infirm were subjected to so-called mercy killings (“euthanasia”) under scientifically bogus eugenics programs.

Therefore it is proper to only speak of evil if and only if ignorance is coupled with the power to act.

But even then, not all harmful acts could deservingly be called evil. It is the nature of intention that is also a determinant. If an act is motivated by a deliberate intention to cause harm, then the act clearly and rightfully can be called evil. If there is no such intention but indeed harm is unintentionally or accidentally inflicted, it would not be righteous to attribute evil to what then proves to be but an unfortunate act of misadventure.

H. L. Mencken, American writer.

“It is a sin to believe evil of others, but it is seldom a mistake.” ~ H. L. Mencken
“Everyone who is not understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey must be blind or wrong in his head.” ~ William Golding
“Good can imagine Evil, but Evil cannot imagine Good.” ~ W. H. Auden, A Certain World

Three Degrees of Evil

I hope to have demonstrated that the equation of evil to ignorance is not justified, yielding at best an inadequate definition. A proper definition of evil has to incorporate intention as well as the power to act.

Keeping in mind the preceding considerations, I suggest the following three-pronged definition of evil.

Nazi soldier shooting a woman and child.

“We are each our own devil, and we make this world our hell.” ~ Oscar Wilde

1.Evil by Intent

An individual or organisation commits first degree evil, if that individual or organisation intentionally inflicts harm to another individual or organisation.

Examples: murder; theft; deliberately promulgating falsehoods; persecution of people, e.g. eugenics; hurtful discrimination on the sole basis of race, gender, income bracket, etc.; war; voluntary support of governments or companies that are responsible for first degree evil.

It may be fortuitous to distinguish between various orders of severity, as first degree evil committed by children by and large is not as severe as that committed by adults. Moreover, the severity of a genocide blots out that of one single murder, although of course any single life should never be undervalued. So one could introduce three sub-degrees: junior, senior and major. Where the junior sub-degree refers to evil committed that has no lasting or traumatic effects on the victims, e.g. kids harassing other kids. The senior sub-degree designates the act of inflicting of traumatic evil on 1 to 10 people, e.g. rape of a woman or murder of a person. One speaks of major 1st degree evil when more than 10 people are traumatised one way or another, e.g. a genocide or war.

The Franciscan Order supported the Catholic Ustashe regime and insofar as they were unwitting of the crimes perpetrated by the Ustashes they were guilty of committing 2nd degree evil. Surrounded by monks, in the middle stands Ante Pavelic, leader of the brutal Croatian Ustashes.

“It is always good men who do the most harm in the world.” ~ Henry Brooks Adam

2.Evil by Unwitting Complicity

An individual or organisation commits second degree evil, if that individual or organisation supports another individual or organisation committing first degree evil in such a way that the former is not aware the latter does so.

Examples: unwitting officials/bureaucrats of governments engaged in committing first degree evil; unwitting employees of companies that are more-or-less secretly engaged in committing first degree evil.

Letting people starve to death is an example of 3rd degree evil.

“He who does not punish evil, commands it to be done.” ~ Leonardo Da Vinci
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” ~ Edmund Burke

3.Evil by Apathetic Witnessing

An individual or organisation commits third degree evil, if that individual or organisation is a witness to an act of first or second degree evil but chooses to not intervene.

Examples: bystanders witnessing people suffer and/or die (through rape, murder, starvation etc.) and choose to walk away without coming to rescue in whatever way available, e.g. by calling the police or provide food and shelter; witnessing corporate crime/corruption and choose to not report it to the authorities.

“Fear is the only true enemy, born of ignorance and the parent of anger and hate.” ~ Edward Albert

What Causes Evil?

To finish up, I want to briefly meditate on the underlying causes of evil. In other words:

Why do people intentionally hurt other people?

Apart from probably a relatively few honest and self-aware psychopaths and sadomasochists who do recognise that what they are doing to their fellow human beings can, in fact, justly be branded as evil, I suspect that people for the most part do not realise that their actions may be classified as such, at least not as immoral or unjust evil. People who see themselves as victims or potential victims may relatively easily manage to rationalise away their acts of aggression, acts that can be called evil by objective standards, by reinterpreting them as acts of revenge or even self-defence. As such they likely regard their hurtful actions as morally sound (“good”) rather than morally unsound (“evil”).

Nonetheless, people do need to be properly motivated in order to commit evil, as attempting to inflict harm on other people generally does not come without risk or cost. After all, people who are attacked may put up a resistive fight and strike back as they fend for themselves. And so the would-be perpetrator of evil, realising that he may get hurt due to his act of aggression, must be properly motivated to deal with any possible adversity. The ideal motivator for promulgating an assault on a fellow human being is plain and unadulterated fear, i.e. fear for getting hurt or sustain suffering in general. If you fear that your would-be victim is itching to strike you too, you may consider it in your best interest to strike preemptively. If fears run high enough, e.g. most notably fear for one’s own survival, the discouragement to attack for fear of being hurt or worse may be overridden by the seemingly understandable decision to strike the “enemy” before he strikes you.

Indeed, it is in a cultural atmosphere of fear that evil thrives best. When people live in fear–fellow human beings, especially strangers–are not rarely regarded as a liability and a threat. Therefore, acts that by objective standards can be regarded as evil, may through the eyes of fear be reinterpreted as justified acts of self-defence. When society is plunged into a collective state of fear and the people are trained to be in awe of their leadership, the local totalitarian establishment, it is likely considered a great honor to be given an opportunity to rise within the hierarchical ranks of that establishment, even if it’s in name and status rather than promotion of position or rank. It is in a face of fear and shame that evil atrocities, such as honour killings following the bringing of familial disgrace, find relatively easy expression.

Death by stoning, an exceedingly inhumane form of capital punishment.

Honour killings, e.g. the backward custom of persecuting rape victims, are considered justified if the victim is regarded to be a libelous member of the family (typically deemed a “whore”) who then are deserving of death after supposedly bringing shame to the family with her supposed penchant for fornication or generally violating familial code of honour. The occurrence of honour killings demonstrate that the perceived status of the family is valued higher than the lives of its (female) members. Risking acts of condemnation from the community, whether likely or not–the patriarchal head of the family proves to be more concerned with the fear of bringing shame to the family, than he is concerned for the well-being of the people he is supposed to look after.

This strange and de facto anti-human attitude is akin to narcissism–malignant self-love, in which the narcissist is pathologically obsessed with his own mirror-reflection, a mere image- or surrogate derivative of the self. And rather than tending to matters of importance, substance rather than image, the narcissist prefers to ignorantly wither away as he caters to inconsequential superficiality. Likewise the patriarch is also blindly focused on merely defending the name (image) of the family–something that compared to safeguarding the well-being of his family members, should also be deemed inconsequential. By holding the name of the family in higher regard than the well-being of the family members, the head of the family can be said to have a narcissistic mentality.

Only a culture in the grip of a suffocating fear for social disapproval could possibly foster such phenomena of detrimental self-delusion. If society were loving in character then the fear for social condemnation by one’s neighbours and peers would be redundant; there would be no risk for bringing shame to the family and honour killings could be regarded to not only have no purpose, they could be recognised for the real affronts to civil and humane conduct they really are. Indeed, an ambiance of love nurtures a relaxed social environment with a natural abundance of tolerance, a desire for understanding and willingness to forgive. The heads of family could then recognise the virtue of being able to care for all family members rather than vindictively persecute the ones who supposedly bring shame to the family.

The Roman Testudo (“diamondback turtle”) formation is symbolic for the act of trading individuality for group-identity in order to increase chances of survival in the face of (imminent) danger….

In the face of imminent danger it is generally considered a good strategy to sacrifice one’s individuality for gaining a group-identity in a bid to ideally enjoy increased survival prospects relative to the more vulnerable “loners.” A consequence however is a revocation of responsibility for one’s actions. When you are part of a military unit for example, the unit commander assumes responsibility for all the members of the unit. You are simply to obey his orders. It is under such responsibility-neglecting circumstances that a whole new class of evil atrocities finds way of expression. By having the possibility to basically switch-off your conscience as you merely follows orders or just do your job, you are in a position to commit acts that you would normally prevent yourself from doing.

In 1971 the psychologist Philip Zimbardo based an experiment around the following question: What happens when you put good people in an evil place? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? The results were shocking as it was shown that normal or “good” people can easily act in an evil manner. Another related psychological test was conducted by Stanley Milgram, who wanted to find out if normal people could be brought to administering lethal shocks to strangers. As was the case with Zimbardo’s experiment, the results were again unpleasantly surprising as it turned out that the majority of people were in fact capable of doing so, as long as they were relieved of having to answer for their sadistic actions.

Other ways of promoting the expression of evil is to degrade or even dehumanise human beings, who are deemed undesirable or inimical, as inferior or subhuman (e.g. “untermensch”) beings. Indeed, an effective technique to motivate one group of people to kill another group of people lies in the success of convincing members of the former group that members of the latter group are not even human but virtual animals. After all, it’s generally considered no big deal to kill a filthy swine, a disease-carrying rat or a pesky roach. See my article Five Steps to Tyranny for more on this.

Why do people fail to come to the rescue of other people who are in need of help?

Fear also lies at the heart of answering this question. I will just leave it by saying that people unfortunately are too cowardly and/or too self-absorbed to be willing to help people-in-need, even when they able to. Under some circumstances, when in general the cost of helping is estimated to be higher than the benefit gained by the receiver of help, it is understandable that people prefer to either walk away or go look for more able potential rescuers. But other than those exceptional circumstances, there is little excuse for able people to refuse to help out.

As to the reasons for the reluctance of people to help other people, cowardice is just another form of fear and selfishness can also be viewed as fueled by fear, namely the underlying fear that other people end up with more goodies than you will and the ensuing animosity for people elicits a fear to socially connect with people. This is what narcissism is all about, in which people are extremely self-absorbed not necessarily because they think so highly of their own external appearance but because they are too afraid to intimately, rather than superficially, connect with other people. Cowardice convinces a person that the perceived cost/risk of helping out is too high, whereas selfishness fails to provide the necessary sympathetic connection between the person and people in need. Needless to say, both factors may reinforce one another–in fact, as they are they both grounded in fear, they often do.

We can thus see that both ignorance and fear lie at the heart of the promulgation of evil. In order to overcome evil, we must first recognise that indeed ignorance and fear are its root causes. Until the moment that we manage to do so, we have no way of preventing or even mitigating its expression.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

“The love of money is the root of all evil.” Perhaps this so-called “the love of money” is best to be reinterpreted not as a love but a fear, namely the fear of not having enough (with respect to greedy peers). As such, the “love of money” is in reality a false love. It’s the kind of “love” that lies at the heart of addiction, in which a successful monetary gain is like a “fix” that may, at best, only give temporary relief amidst a backdrop of perpetual anxiety.