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2.10 Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) coined the expression “effective truth” to draw attention to the fact that often our thoughts are guided not by how things really are, but by how we got the idea that they should be. This distance from reality can only lead man to ruin.
For Machiavelli man, even if by nature he is neither good nor bad, in fact tends to be bad; for this reason, a prince who has to govern must know how to face reality and even how to be bad. The politician, if he wants to succeed in governing, must start from the worst presupposition, that is, that all men are evil and that they will show their malice as soon as the occasion arises; if he does not have this courage, he will do better to lead private life. The only limit to the heaviness of political choices is their real effectiveness: there is no need to be too tyrant if this proves to be an obstacle to maintaining an orderly and free state. To avoid the damage of envy and plots for power, wealth and a comfortable life, according to Machiavelli a solution is to maintain a certain degree of poverty among the citizens and always keep war prepared. To follow effective truth, rather than dreaming, it is necessary to be a person who knows how to make concrete and radical decisions; never follow middle ways; better to be too good or too bad, rather than distancing oneself from human reality, in which the middle ways do not exist.
There is no moral outside politics, from which to be guided: the criterion to be inspired must be the political necessity itself. Once the prince has understood how to behave, the ideal that will guide him will have to be drawn from the historical investigation, which has as its principle precisely that of showing reality as it is. The historical investigation leads Machiavelli to consider, as an ideal political situation to be achieved, the free republic, as it was in the early days of Roman power. In summary, with Machiavelli, though through his particular ways of indicating the best behaviors, a criterion for thinking is born which is that of history (which is implicitly opposed to the idea that there are universal metaphysical values or principles): the mentality of the historian is not guided by abstract, theoretical principles, nor by moral values, but rather derives its criteria, from time to time, from the history itself that he studies.
In the world there is also the case, that is, what Machiavelli calls “luck”, but only for half of the things that happen; the other half depends on our ability to be strong, impetuous, fierce. Luck is a woman and she is more friendly to young people because they are more capable of audacity.