I, the Prince of Florence, have just encountered one of the toughest decisions of my life. I was walking in the forests just outside of my principality, looking at butterflies. After all, butterfly collection is my hobby. I was wearing my butterfly-catching clothing, and all that I had with me was a butterfly net and, of course, my copy of Machiavelliís, The Prince. I never go anywhere without a copy of this book. I constantly consult it for advice, and I never know when it will come in useful. As I climb to the top of a small hill chasing a beautiful monarch butterfly, I come across a group of twelve people. There are Spanish soldiers, armed with spears and knives, holding ten of my citizens, hostage. I am worried that the Spanish soldiers might be causing trouble, especially since my city just defeated them in a war. I decide not to risk my own life, and I try to slowly make my way downhill, when my right foot slips out from under me, and I crash to the ground. One of the Spanish guards spots me, and approaches me. I fear for my life, and pray that they do not recognize me as the Prince.
The two guards keep me separate from the rest of the group, and have a little conference. I do not speak Spanish, so I could not understand what they were debating, but from the sound of their voices, there was quite a bit of arguing. After a few minutes, laughter comes from the huddle, and the two Spanish guards approach me. They tell me that they were about to kill all of the citizens, but now have a better idea. They will either kill all of the people, and I can
walk away, or I can kill one person, and the other nine are able to walk away. I am relieved to know that they do not know I am the Prince, or else they would have taken me hostage, and I am relieved to know this. The problem is, however, that I have this decision to consider. I am the Prince, and am I going to need to answer to my city no matter what my decision is.
I immediately begin weighing the pros and cons to each of the options. My mind becomes full of ideas, and I have no idea what I am going to do. I ask the Spanish guards for a minute, and I turn around to consult my copy of The Prince. Before making any decision, I consult Machiavelli's guide, and I hope that once again, it will be able to help me. I open the book, and immediately, one phrase seems to jump off of the page, "In either case it will always be well for you to declare yourself, and join in frankly with one side or other." (Machiavelli, The Prince, p. 60).
I know that I need to make a decision quickly, and start quickly flipping through the pages, looking for advice. I know that I didn't have a lot of time before they started getting suspicious, and I made a decision quickly. I did not feel that I could kill any of my citizens, so I decided that I would have to let them all die.
Looking back on the situation, I know that I made the right decision, letting all ten citizens die. First and foremost, I feared for my own life. I figured that my city would be affected much more by my being dead, than just ten citizens. Also, if I were to kill one of my own people, I would feel very guilty. Killing my own citizen would be far worse than knowing that ten people died because of me. My guilt would eat away at my conscious, affecting the way that I govern my city. Another reason that I could not kill a citizen is that it would have been too hard to pick which one to kill. I would hate to split up a family, or even worse, kill a parent in front of his child, and killing a child means he has not had a chance to live his life yet.
Furthermore, killing a citizen would be giving in to the Spanish. It would show that the Spanish guards had control over me, and an effective ruler cannot show weakness. Machiavelli wrote that a Prince needs to strive "so to bear himself that greatness, courage, wisdom, and strength may appear in all his actions." (Machiavelli, p.48). By killing my own citizen under Spanish requests, I would be losing strength, and taking Machiavelli's advice. Also, the Spanish could not be trusted. They might kill the other nine citizens after I kill one, or even worse they could kill me.
One more reason that I would need to allow all ten to die is that it gets rid of all the witnesses. If I were to kill just one, the other nine citizens might recognize me. Word of this incident could spread very quickly, and I might lose control of Florence. I would surely lose my position and Florence would suffer tremendously without proper leadership. By allowing all ten citizens to die, I rid myself of all witnesses, and do not need to worry about my being blamed.
As tough as the decision was to make, it is now, the time after the incident. There is time to make a plan of action. There are no living witnesses, except the Spanish, so there is no hurry to tell Florence, or anyone else, about the situation. I decide that I need to make this situation work to my advantage. It is necessary to make myself look even stronger as a leader, while also showing sympathy to the families of those murdered. Before making any decision regarding this matter, I read Machiavelli's advice book once more.
In chapter eighteen, Machiavelli addresses the issue of Princes' keeping faith. He explains that a Prince must be cunning, like a fox, in order to be successful. I decide that my plan also must be cunning. Machiavelli also explains how it is sometimes acceptable, even necessary, for a Prince to be dishonest:
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. (Machiavelli, p. 46)
While I do not enjoy not telling the truth to the citizens of Florence, Machiavelli explains that it is sometimes necessary not to tell the truth. Now is an acceptable time to lie. In fact, I feel that if I am not dishonest, I will never succeed.
My plan is very simple. I was walking in the woods one day, chasing after butterflies. Chasing butterflies explains why I am unarmed, and without any protection whatsoever. This is the last time I go anywhere without armed guards for protection. Walking up a hill, there are two Spanish guards killing the last of the citizens. I hide in the forest until the Spanish are done murdering. When the Spanish soldiers are celebrating their successful killings, I run from behind and grab their weapons. Killing both soldiers, I leave the hill quickly. I decide that I must make examples out of the Spanish. Florence must appear strong. Foreign soldiers who attack the people of Florence will be revenged. I will help support the families of those who were murdered, showing that I am a sympathetic prince. This allows my citizens to be able to trust me, which makes my lies much more effective.
Despite what I am saying to the public, I do feel very guilty. I feel very bad about what happened on the hill that day. It was very hard to sleep that night, or any night for that matter, knowing that I am partly responsible for the deaths of ten people. I feel very immoral about what I did, but cannot admit this to my citizens. I must show that I am amoral. This allows me to handle most situations very objectively, and make unbiased decisions. Conveying that I feel guilty shows weakness, which a prince cannot show. The moment a prince shows weakness, he loses control of his citizens, and then is unable to effectively rule.
The ends justify the means. Ten people were murdered, but in the end, I came out on top. Florence remains strong, and the citizens are still loyal to me. In the spirit of Machiavelli, I have been a true prince.
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With a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, but still a straight stance and unwavering gaze, I took Pedro's gun and shot a victim straight between the eyes. It had been a frantic moment while I was trying to decide what to do, now that these Spaniards had ruined my butterfly hike, but Machiavelli was there for me, like always. I already knew most of the passages by heart, but skimming through had reassured me Machiavelli would want me to make a strong, but logical, opposition. I took this to mean I should not let the Spaniards see me run away with my tail between my legs, letting my fellow countrymen die at their will, nor should I do anything rash enough to backfire on me, when I knew there was no way I could save all ten people. I felt justified knowing that, at the expense of one, I allowed nine people to live. The way I saw it, if I turned my back on these people to protect myself or weasel out of making a decision, it would reflect on my actions when the whole State is in trouble. As a Prince, it is my obligation to fight for people in need, no matter if they know I am their Prince or not..
I have to admit, at first I did not know what to do. Who was I to decide whether they should live or die? The victim was my citizen and, more than that, a human being that I shot down. Murder is murder, and me being a Prince does not change that fact. But when I felt the worn and tattered copy of The Prince in my back pocket, I remembered my duty was not to moan and grown about the value of human life, but to protect the community at large. As a Prince I no longer counted as a citizen or a human being. My purpose is to lead. Machiavelli knows that, in order to lead with any amount of control, one must sometimes bend the rules to include some instances of violence..
With these thoughts on my mind, I sighed and turned away from the fallen body. The peasants had all scattered and I suddenly felt very alone, which was not what I needed after shooting a man who was once standing just two feet away from me. Being a Prince is a lonely job, but I felt comforted knowing everything I was doing had a greater purpose. There is a passage in the introduction to The Prince that I am particularly fond of quoting, and I think it works well with my thoughts now. It says, "In the final resort [Machiavelli] taught that, in politics, whether an action is evil or not can only be decided in the light of . . . whether it successfully achieves [what should be done]." The words "in politics" help ease my mind. A man does not have to live without morals to be Prince. If my citizens had not been threatened by invading Spaniards, I doubt my princely impulses would have surfaced, and I would have felt no obligation to the peasants. I have no control over their individual lives, just over the state as a whole. Machiavelli teaches me how to lead armies, create alliances, and set a reputation for Florence, not advise people on where to buy the best goat or what to do with their mother-in-law. But since an invasion of the Spaniards could mean a larger death toll than the lives of ten people, I must show them that Florence is not afraid to be vicious when she needs to be. Even though my butterfly clothes concealed the fact that I am the Prince, every Florentine they meet shapes their conception of my State. It might make them think twice if they see someone who isn't afraid to kill without mercyósomeone they might have to deal with in our army. Machiavelli advises me to "quell disorder by a very few signal examples" that will "in the end be more merciful than he who from too great leniency permits things to take their course and so result in rapine and bloodshed" (Machiavelli 43). A Prince needs to appear ruthless when he is ruling, even if his personal morals differ from this. He is powerless to protect the State if his enemies know he would never resort to violence. The Prince plainly states that a good ruler needs to be able to turn his back on his word, slaughter when he feels necessary, invade peaceful towns, etc. Machiavelli was the first writer who so bluntly addressed the fact that morality and politics need to be separated. I did not want to kill one of my citizens, but I felt it was necessary in order to stay strong in front of the Spaniards, so I did. Still, Machiavelli does not advise using World War III to stop a couple of Spaniards. His method is not to be out for blood and guts, but he has no problem ordering a full blown attack if it is needed for survival. He wants me to "understand how to use well both the man and the beast" or, how I liked to think of it when I raised Pedro's gun, use the beast for the man (45). .
A Prince is still a man, and, if he has any morals, he must be satisfied that his evil has amounted to something more than the death and destruction he sees. I must rely on the fact that Princes "ought not to quit good courses if he can help it, but should know how to follow evil courses if he must" (46). I have often lain awake at night, after sending men to their death and worse, wondering if I had done the right thing. Would God ever forgive me? But then again, had I even sinned because my actions were of a Prince and not a normal man? In my personal life, Machiavelli advises me to rule fairly and treat nobles and other citizens with respect. To do otherwise, "to slaughter fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be devoid of honour, pity, and religion," are methods "which may lead to power, but which confer no glory" (21). Every night I feel justified because I think of the great city of Florence I built and must protect. As long as my public actions are all for the good of Florence, they are good. Machiavelli is not for making a Prince a heartless machine, though. He thinks one of the best ways to be a good ruler is to be loved by the people, and the way to be loved by the people is to let "greatness, courage, wisdom, and strength . . . appear in all [the Prince's] actions" (48). Therefore, both public and private actions should be centered on a morality. Of course I feel guilt about the things I have had to do as Prince, I do not know how it is possible to live otherwise. Only as a Prince I am not allowed to show it. I do not bother with the individual lives of Florentine citizens in my daily work, why should I bother with the individual deaths of Florentines? It is not my job. Do I think murder is right? No, I don't. Do I think defending my State and preventing a national tragedy is right? Yes, that is something I feel is worth doing. But even if the Spaniards did not come with the intent of terrorizing Florence, I would still be satisfied knowing I had saved nine people's lives instead of letting ten go to their deaths. A Prince's morals, according to Machiavelli, are essentially "accepting a less evil as good" (61)..
It helps me to think of my life as having a different set of morals than ordinary citizens. My objections in life are different; therefore the set of rules that guide me should be different as well. Normal citizens do not have to invade lands to take over new colonies, lead armies, or think about the punishments of those who commit sins, but Princes do. Deaths, bribery, deceit - all are an everyday occurrence in my job. Once I accepted that, I realized it was still possible to kill people and hold a set of morals at the same time. A Prince needs to work for the good of the State in your public life and, less important to your duties as Prince, but still important for your soul, follow a conventional set of morals in your private dealings. Some might say Machiavelli's advise about public actions are not really moralistic because they all have a selfish motive. They help you maintain your position and reputation, stay in favor with the nobles, and expand your land, but I say, in a country that was "without a head, without order, beaten, spoiled, torn in pieces, over-run and abandoned to destruction," it is by no means completely selfish to be the leader and save its citizens (69). True, the Prince benefits, but the people more so. They do not have to do the work to fix it; they wait for a leader and then wait for the results..
I think it is clear that, as a Prince, I live by Machiavelli's word. As time passes, and my experiences as Prince accumulate, I become more and more amazed at the wisdom behind his words. When I was a younger and less experienced Prince I thought I would be able to be a powerful ruler without all the violence that Machiavelli says a Prince needs to initiate. I thought somehow I could escape that because I had good intentions and that was all I needed. All I have to say to that now is . . . I was young and inexperienced. It is like Machiavelli says, "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" (46). It was a wisdom I did not have in my early days. Now I have seen enough of the world to witness the wickedness that is unavoidable. A Prince does not have to live without morals; he just has to live realistically in order to survive.
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You've always loved butterflies. When you were a little boy, you'd chase
them around the forest. But you also had to play other games and go to
school and there wasn't much time to be an avid butterfly collector. Now,
you're twenty years old and Prince of Florence. Now, you have plenty of time
It's a Sunday afternoon and church just let out. You have many things
you could do: sentence someone to die, tax people, start a war with England.
But you don't. You change from your princely purple robes to your
explorer-like butterfly gear. You sneak out the back of the castle, alone,
butterfly net firmly in hand, and frolic happily into the forest.
As you walk merrily along the path, you see a rare Buckeye butterfly
floating in the breeze. It veers left, trying to escape you, but you run
after it. Butterflies are no match for a prince. The butterfly makes a
sharp turn and heads for an open green meadow. You follow it. But as you
enter the grassy space, your attention quickly shifts from the butterfly to a
group of people standing near an old oak tree. You approach them, and you
immediately notice that there are two men who are wearing all black clothes
and black berets. There are ten people standing near the tree with their
hands tied. The men in black are speaking in Spanish. They see you and one
of them, Pedro, starts speaking.
"Who are you? What are you doing in the forest?"
"Catching butterflies," you explain perfectly logically. "What about
"We're about to kill these people," he says, pointing towards the ten
Italian citizens "Care to join us?"
"Sure." You say, aware the butterfly is already on its way to Milan.
"Wait a second. Since I stopped by, why don't you let these people go free?"
"Hmmm" Pedro contemplates. He is obviously the brains behind the
operation and you use that term quite loosely. "Well, no. But, in order to
give you a paper topic for class, here's what we will do. If you kill one of
these ten people, the other nine can go free. We'll give you a moment alone
to think it over."
You are astounded by your present situation. You retreat to a small
out-of-the-way corner of the forest where no one can see or hear you. You
need time to think. You see a picture in your head. An image is running
through your mind, like a movie. Perhaps you could be as swift and agile
as Harrison Ford in "Indiana Jones." You can use the net to hit one of the
Spaniards and you can kick the other one where it hurts. Then, you can untie
the prisoners and sing the "Indiana Jones" theme song as you and the grateful
citizens dash off into the horizon. And then, you wake up.
You realize the dynamics and importance of the situation and decide you
need help deciding what to do. You reach into your princely pocket and pull
out your copy of Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince. Much like your American
Express card, you never leave the palace without it. Thoughts of Harrison
Ford fly out of your mind, when you think about Machiavelli. He is a god
among men. And his book, The Prince, is your bible. You flip to chapter
fifteen, knowing that it offers excellent advice about the responsibility of
a prince. You begin to read.
"Many men have imagined principalities that never really existed. Yet
the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live… [f]or a
man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come ruin, since
there are so many men who are not good." Boy, you think, what an optimist!
You realize that Machiavelli is beginning to mount one of his major points-
that people imagine moral utopias that don't exist and those who strive to
live so ethically fail. Just as you prepare to get back to your book, Pedro
appears from the meadow and tells you that he doesn't have all day.
"I don't have all day! I have places to go and people to kill."
"I know, I know. But it's a big decision. I mean, well, since you are a
mass murderer from another country, I guess I can trust you. I'm not a man."
Pedro is taken aback. "I knew they had weird people in Italy, but this
is a little too weird!"
"No," you clarify. "What I mean is I'm not just a man. I'm a Prince of
"Yeah," replies Pedro, "and I'm the first Jewish pope."
"Really?" you cry. "Remarkable!"
Pedro ignores your idiocy and instead proceeds with his original request.
"Okay, your highness. What'll it be? Are you going to kill one? Or let them
"I'm going to kill one."
"How did you come to that decision?"
"Have you ever read Machiavelli's The Prince?"
Before you give your new murderer friend the chance to reply, you
proceed, "Well, it's this advice book for princes. It provides counsel and
instructions for heads of state. And one of Machiavelli's most important and
original points is that a prince must do whatever necessary to better the
state. So, if I have to kill one to save nine, it's okay."
"How will you decide which one dies?" Pedro asks.
"That's easy. I'll ask for volunteers."
"Who would volunteer to die?"
"Well, if no one volunteers, I'll have to choose one."
"Are you telling me that if a fifteen year-old kid says you can kill him,
you'll do it?"
"Well," you reply thoughtfully, "I'll use some discretion. Plus, I doubt
that anyone would readily offer to die."
"So, why bother asking for a volunteer?"
"Perhaps it is a small point. But if someone willingly dies for
Florence, then what I'm doing may not be seen as murder."
"Do you think Florence will think you're making the right decision?"
"Let's refer back to Machiavelli." You say as you reach into your pocket
and remove your copy of The Prince again. You turn to chapter fifteen, the
last paragraph, and start reading aloud.
And I know that every one will confess that it would be most praiseworthy in
a prince to exhibit all the… qualities that are considered good; but because
they can neither be entirely possessed nor observed, for human conditions do
not permit it, it is necessary for him to be sufficiently prudent that he may
know how to avoid the reproach of those vices which would lose him his state;
and also to keep himself, if it be possible, from those which would not lose
him it…. [a]nd again, he need not make himself uneasy at incurring a reproach
for those vices without which the state can only be saved with difficulty,
for if everything is considered carefully, it will be found that something
which looks like virtue, if followed, would be his ruin; whilst something
else, which looks like vice, yet followed brings him security and prosperity.
Taking a breath, you try and expand on Machiavelli's words. "You see,
Machiavelli, in his infinite wisdom, is quite aware that a prince must
sometimes exhibit qualities that are considered bad, even though it's better
to be virtuous. He admits that committing a sin is bad no matter what. But
he also says that you must be willing to be evil if you want to be a
successful prince. Besides, people don't care how you achieve what you
achieve. If you produce results, you can do whatever you want."
"For the last time," shouts Pedro. "You are not the Prince of Florence!
You're delusional, perhaps. But royalty? Never! Now, let's get back to the
prisoners so you can kill one and I can go on my way."
It's become very warm outside. You're sweating. Pedro hands you a
dagger. You turn towards the ten people, but you don't say anything.
"His highness here," begins Pedro, "is going to kill one of you so the
other nine can go free." Turning towards you, Pedro says, "Whenever you're
You step forward and look carefully at all of the citizens. There are
six men, three women, and a little boy clinging tightly to his mother. You
automatically discount killing the women or the child. You know there's no
law that says you can't kill women, and Machiavelli would certainly find it
acceptable under the circumstances, but there are some boundaries that not
even you are willing to overstep. That leaves you with six men. You pace
back and forth, contemplating the situation, before finally turning to the
men, and speaking.
"I have to kill one of you." You say. You are the master of tact. "Any
The men are quiet and look at each other. No one moves. Just as you
suspected, there are no volunteers.
"Very well, then. I shall have to choose. But first, I need some
answers from you." You proceed. "Which of you are married with children?"
Three of the six men raise their hands. You will spare their lives.
You mentally assess the remaining three peasants. One is older, with
long, gray hair and sad, tired eyes. The next is a man perhaps in his
forties. He is carrying an assortment of tools, and he looks vaguely
familiar. You think maybe he did some repair work for you at the palace
once. The third man is barely a man at all. He looks no older than twenty.
He is wide-eyed and looks more scared than the other two. He has his whole
life in front of him.
You have made your decision. The man is useful and productive, the boy
is still a child, and the old man is weary and has lived his life. You will
kill the old man.
"Sir," you begin. "Can you please come with me?"
The two of you move to a remote area of the forest. As you walk away,
you hear the other peasants breathe a collective sigh of relief. You ask the
old man to turn around and you apologize sincerely for what you're about to
do. You explain by telling him that he would die either way and this way,
he's dying for the good of Florence. You beg his forgiveness.
The old man begins by explaining that he understands why you chose him to
die. He tells you not to feel guilty; you had to choose someone. He tells
you that he fought against Spain in the war, but now, has no money and no
job. He also has no family. As he proceeds, his back still turned to yours,
you stick out the sword and stab him. He won't have time to be scared if you
Pedro comes in and sees what you have done. He tells you that he will
stay true to his word and let you and the other peasants go free. He and his
assistant ride away. You have two peasants carry the old man's body into
town. As you walk back in silence, you glance down at your right forearm and
see a little blood. You feel sick. You believe, truly believe, that you did
the right thing for Florence, but you don't feel good. Murdering the old man
was excusable, but not justifiable. According to Machiavelli, a sin is a sin
no matter what, even those sins done for the good of the state. Some, like
what you did, would be understandable, but not condonable. You keep
reminding yourself that you're not a regular person, and that you have
another code of ethics. You are more than yourself. Machiavelli, your
mentor, devotes all of chapter fifteen, called, "Concerning Things for which
Men, and Princes Especially, are Praised or Censured," to explaining how
morality for princes is different than for normal men.
Back at your castle that night, you lie awake and think. What is wrong
with you? How were you sure that the Spaniards were telling the truth? What
if they had killed you too? Didn't Machiaveilli also write, "because [men]
are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you too are not bound to observe
it with them?" You realize that he also said you should do what you have to
do for the good of the state, but how would it be good for the state if you
were killed? You're a religious Christian. How can you be sure that God
won't severely punish you for what you did? But then, you reason, the
Spaniards were probably not going to make the offer if they weren't willing
to keep it. They didn't believe you were a prince and they had no reason to
lie to you. You remember a short passage in chapter twenty-five where
Machiavelli sums up the reason you committed the act, and how you were able
to overcome your religious dilemma:
But I surely think that it is better to be impetuous than to be cautious, for
fortune is a woman and in order to be mastered, she must be jogged and
beaten. And it may be noted that she submits more readily to boldness….
[t]herefore, like a woman, she always favors young men because they are not
so much inclined to caution as to aggressiveness and daring in mastering her.
If you want to be a successful prince, you cannot be timid or weak. You must
be bold, and, like the quote says, challenge fate. Your situation called for
immediate and daring action and you took it. And it saved nine people. The
moral issue and the religious one are important to you as a man, but they
can't be important to you as a prince.
You toss and turn in bed and think about the man you killed. You've decided
what you did was best for Florence, but was it evil? You understand that
you're not an average person. You may have done an evil thing, but your
intentions were good. Machiavelli would clearly say what you did was evil.
He, unlike most politicians, holds no delusions that an act can simply be
made moral merely because of the end results. In fact, he'd vehemently
disagree with the Penguin edition, which says, "In the final resort
[Machiavelli] taught that, in politics, whether an action is evil or not can
only be decided in the light of what it is meant to achieve and whether it
successfully achieves it." But that doesn't mean you weren't excused for
your action. You recall a passage that Machiavelli wrote in chapter
eighteen, which says:
It must be understood that a prince cannot observe all of those
virtues for which men are reputed good, because it is often necessary to act
against mercy, against faith, against humanity, against frankness, against
religion in order to preserve the state.
A prince has a different moral structure. You know that. Machiavelli, like
you, is a consequentialist in politics and an absolutionist in life. He
realizes that you must compromise yourself for Florence, but he knows it's
wrong, and in a perfect world, you shouldn't. He constantly says things
about lying when necessary, using violence only when appropriate, etc.
Machiavelli holds a belief, much like your own, about the concept of a
necessary evil. What happened in the woods that afternoon was not right.
But it was necessary. And because of that, it can be excused. Still, it
doesn't prevent the remorse and sorrow you feel at having taken someone
else's life. You are after all a devout Christian, and you know that murder
in any circumstance is wrong. A major difference between an act that is
justifiable and one that is merely excusable is that there is some allowance
for repentance or remorse on your behalf if it's excusable. If, by choosing
the lesser of two evils, you still commit a sin, you should be sorry and,
given the severity of the situation, you should repent. But an act that is
justifiable does not need atonement. If someone is about to kill you, and
you kill him, there is no cause for you to be sorry. Perhaps it's human
nature that you will be, but only in a case like yours, where the action was
only understandable, is there a need to feel guilty.
It is now three in the morning and you're tired. You decide to assess the
situation one last time. You did kill one man. But you saved nine others.
You showed strength and unyielding resolve in a difficult situation. You
have confidence you did the right thing, the appropriate thing, considering
the circumstances. You know it was an evil action, but you feel like you
made the correct decision. Like Machiavelli says, you must learn "how to be
other than good." You drift off into a dreamless sleep.
The next day, you wake up early and go straight to church. Although you have
come to terms with your action, you still must repent. After you're through,
you still feel somewhat tense. You must find a relaxing way to relieve your
stress. You decide to go butterfly hunting. Dressed in your best
butterfly-catching outfit, you take your net and head back to the forest,
praying that there are no more Spaniards in Italy.
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It is a wonderful day to be out in the woods. I have always enjoyed spending what free time I have from my busy job as Prince of Florence out in the woods chasing butterflies. It helps me calm my mind from the hard work and appreciate all of nature.
Suddenly, I spot a butterfly flying about ten feet from me. Slowly drawing my net, I begin to follow it as it moves towards the bushes in front of me. I push through the bushes after it and into a clearing. Wait, where did it go? It has disappeared, flown away from me and off to a different place. I sigh, thinking to myself, "Oh well, I'm going to find another soon." Suddenly, I hear a voice.
"Hey you over there, come here." It is the voice of a rather large, strong-looking man standing across the clearing from me. As I look over, I realize that they are soldiers, although from the accent they seem Spanish. "But that's impossible," I think to myself. The Spaniards were all thrown out of the country a while ago. However, it seems that some of them have stayed, probably to cause trouble.
Then I look up and see more. Behind the soldier who spoke is a large group of people, at least ten more. I hope to myself that they aren't soldiers and that they do not recognize me as the Prince. The soldier who spoke seems to be the leader. He repeats himself, and I begin to walk slowly and cautiously over to the group.
As I reach the group I realize that there are only two armed soldiers, the one who spoke and one other. They both hold swords and the silent one is pointing his at the group of people, who seem to be cowering in fear. They are definitely hostages, and I recognize some of them as Florentine citizens. I realize that all of the hostages probably recognize me, but that the soldiers do not. Then the leader speaks to me:
"Hello citizen, it's good you are here. Pedro, my associate was about to kill all of our hostages, but your arrival may have saved some of them. I have decided to make a proposition to you. If you take the weapon that Pedro gives you and use it to kill one hostage, you and all the others will be allowed to go free. However, should you refuse to kill anyone and just go on your way, Pedro will kill all ten hostages."
I think about the horrible choice set before me and I begin to formulate some alternate plans. I could take Pedro's sword and kill Pedro and his boss, and then lead the hostages to safety, a Hero. No, that wouldn't work, I'd be killed too and that would be even worse. I begin to think of some other ideas that I could use to save everyone. I could knock the leader down and run with the citizens to safety. . . no that wouldn't work, or I could . . . no, that's a terrible idea. As I reject idea after idea I begin to realize that the only feasible choices are the ones presented to me by the two Spanish soldiers. I'm going to have to choose one. Either way, someone is going to die, and it isn't going to be Pedro or his boss.
I then begin to ponder which option I should choose. If I took the soldiers option, I would be killing an innocent person, but I would be saving nine other lives. However it could damage my reputation as the Prince if the surviving hostages did recognize me. If I choose to leave, then all ten hostages' deaths could be on my hands. Either way, I will have to endure some guilt as a result of my choice.
I need to decide whether to make the choice that is best for the people, the Florentine citizens, or the one for me, the Prince. Oh, what a hard decision I need to make. I ask myself, "What would Machiavelli say to do. What advice of his would solve this situation." Then I remember it. The Prince is in my pocket, I carry it everywhere. Machiavelli's guide to how a Prince can be effective is like my own Bible, something I can always turn to for advice on a certain situation. I speak to the soldiers:
"This is a difficult decision, may I have a moment to think about this in private?" The leader quickly responds:
"All right, but be quick about it, we don't got all day. If you don't hurry, Pedro's gonna kill them all and then kill you too."
"OK, I respond, and then I withdraw to the woods nearby where I can look over Machiavelli's masterpiece without my identity being revealed to the soldiers. I page through the book quickly, furiously searching for the information that I need to solve my problems. After a few minutes, Pedro comes over to me and without saying a word motions that my time is up and I need to make a decision. He then hands me the sword. Ignoring him, I continue to turn the pages of The Prince, looking for an answer to my situation.
"Come on hurry up," yells the other soldier, "you need to decide now."
I continue to page through my book as I walk towards the group of hostages, sword in hand. I do not reveal the identity of myself or the book to anyone. Finally, I find what I am looking for, and I close the book and place it back in my pocket. Then I drop the sword to the ground and walk away. It seems that I am oblivious to the screams of the hostages I hear I as I leave, but actually I spend the time worrying about my decision, and whether it was the right one.
Now, days later as I sit in my study at the palace in Florence, I am still attempting to justify to myself the decision to leave those citizens to die. I have my copy of the Prince open in front of me as I search for passages from the book that support me.
I find one in chapter 15: "Of the means by which men, and especially Princes, win applause, or incur censure"(76-77). In this chapter Machiavelli writes, "for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil. Hence it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity" (76). To me, this means that I can be a moral ruler, so long as it does not harm me or my principality. In this light my decision was correct because although it cost more lives, an ostensibly evil act, it was better for me as the prince because the surviving members of the group who recognized me may have then caused trouble for me as the prince and as a murderer of the other member of their group, the one I would have killed.
Although finding information that supports me in the debate relieves me, it isn't enough. One small quote won't satisfy my guilt, and I feel that I need to look for more. So, I return to The Prince and continue to read "my Bible." My reading does not go to waste, as I find more information to help my cause. In chapter 19, "A Prince must avoid being despised and hated,(89-100)" Machiavelli writes, " . . . that a prince should endeavor, as has already been said, to avoid anything that would make him odious and despised" (89). This makes me breathe a sigh of relief, as it states that what I did, I needed to do, as to avoid the surviving hostages spreading hate throughout the principality directed at me. I continue to read Machiavelli's history of governments overthrown because the Prince was despised by the people and I begin to realize to myself that had I chosen to kill one of the hostages, the others may have spread the news around all of Florence, until I was hated by all my subjects, at which point, my principality would be at an end, like many rulers in history (99).
I am much relieved after finding that Machiavelli seems to agree with my decision, until I find a passage earlier in the book. In chapter 17(81-84), Machiavelli seems to indicate that when given a choice, a Prince should attempt to be merciful and not cruel. It seems to me that my decision was not a merciful one, and that I have made the wrong decision, but that can't be. Machiavelli said that a Prince could be evil if necessary on the prince's behalf, and it seems that my decision was made to save my skin, not to hurt other people. As I continue reading chapter 17, I find that Machiavelli seems to support my decision using the example of Cesare Borgia:
"was reputed cruel, yet by his cruelty he reunited the Romagna to his states, and restored that province to order, peace, and loyalty; and if we carefully examine his course, we shall find it to have been really much more merciful than the course of the people in Florence"(81).
This helps me, as it shows that Machiavelli taught that even if it is required for a prince to show some cruelty to advance himself, his kingdom is then improved, and that is more merciful.
Now I know that some people might say that what I did was evil because the cost 10 lives was greater than that of the other choice, which would have been 1 life plus my principality, but I understand that Machiavelli's book is a guide to being a prince, which is a much harder job than being an ordinary, everyday citizen, and requires special rules and guidelines as to the decision making process. I cannot always think of morality while running a kingdom, one must do what is best for the kingdom, and thus, its prince, whether it is moral or immoral. Thus, my decision, although it may seem evil, was not evil, rather it was necessary to keep my principality free of problems and enable me to continue being an effective prince. Thus, my decision required the knowledge of the type of task it is to run a government, and was the correct one.
I lean back, relieved. Having convinced myself that the choice I made was better of the two for the situation that I was in, I am now able to relax and refrain from worrying about it. I can continue to go about my princely ways and return to the hard work of government in Florence.
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