The Ends and The Means

OPINIONS: Editor Allie Kelly shares her thoughts on an overrated European philosopher. 

“MaCHiavelli.” I said it with an overemphasized “ch” sound, like pronouncing beach or cheese, and immediately regretted it. In that moment, I had singled myself out as the dumbest person in European History class. I clearly hadn’t studied the chapter on 16th century Italy, quickly bringing shame to my family name.

Machiavelli. It turns out this random Renaissance philosopher’s name is pronounced with a “k” sound. And I was a dimwit. I really couldn’t understand what was interesting about this guy. He had a stupid haircut (think medieval page boy with a receding hairline), he gave off a vapid narcissist vibe and he has long since rotted in his grave. Plus, he was asking to be made fun of on the playground with a name like Niccolo Machiavelli. And I was the idiot?

He was asking to be made fun of on the playground with a name like Niccolo Machiavelli.

I later learned that, despite his overcomplicated name and appalling haircut, Machiavelli is one of the most influential philosophers of all time.

Go figure.

He wrote a book called The Prince, explaining that political leaders had to carry out unspeakable violence to protect the greater good. Simply, “the ends justify the means.” It’s like that one ethical dilemma about the train. Thomas the Tank Engine is going to crash—should the conductor veer off the tracks killing the hundreds of people on board, or hit the toddler sitting on the tracks, thereby saving the passengers? To Machiavelli, there’s only one right answer. Kill the toddler. Show no mercy. Run the child over with the train.

Kill the toddler. Show no mercy. Run the child over with the train.

I’m telling you, the Renaissance had a dark side and its name was Niccolo. Personally, I’m not sure that the ends justify the means—from a moral sense it seems iffy. From a political sense, it seems dangerous. But Italian Kings liked the idea. So, here I am, writing about Machiavelli in 2019 while eating chips and guacamole at my kitchen counter.

If the whole “ends justifies the means” business creeps you out a little bit, you still haven’t heard all of what this pretentious European philosopher had to offer. There’s an episode of The Office (US version, obviously) where Michael Scott, the ever-cringy Dunder Mifflin Manager, actually quotes good old Nicolo. Michael is asked if, as a leader, it is better to be feared or loved. Mr. Scott answers in his usual fashion: “Both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”

Yes. Machiavelli, the rodent-looking man with the offensive hairline, is responsible for the question “is it better to be feared or loved?” Yet, Machi’s answer was far less reflective than Scott’s. In line with his usual habit of hypothetical toddler slaughter, he believes the only answer is fear. Terror is the way forward. Intimidation is the key to success. Off with her head and all that shenanigans. Case in point. The kings liked him.

So, here I am, writing about Machiavelli in 2019 while eating chips and guacamole at my kitchen counter.

For the record, I’m with Michael Scott. Encouraging everyone be scared of how much they love me seems like a solid life mantra. And I’ve already wasted precious minutes of my life thinking of different ways to describe the unfortunate haircut of dear Machi—for the greater good, of course. I wouldn’t want Mr. Renaissance to become too self-important. After hundreds of years being admired—Machiavelli is due for a bruise to the ego. Perhaps, just in this case, the ends justify the means.