The Prince

The Christian Ethics of Machiavelli

In The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli, the author, generally lays forth a system of ethics for rulers. Given the strength of Christianity at the time that he wrote this work, Machiavelli's instructions to aspiring rulers are surprising. His definition of "goodness," or "virtue," seems to stray far from traditional Christian teachings. In his Summa Theologica II, for instance, Thomas Aquinas directly contradicts some of Machiavelli's claims. Interestingly, however, Saint Augustine, author of The City of God, agrees with some of Machiavelli's code of ethics.

First, what is Machiavelli's code of ethics for rulers? He speaks for the most part on three personality characteristics: generosity, compassion, and integrity. On all three he takes what seems at first glance to be a non-Christian stance.

With regard to generosity, Machiavelli claims that it is best to be considered generous, but that it is dangerous to actually be generous. His case is simple:

...a ruler who pursues a reputation for generosity will always end up wasting all his resources; and he will be obliged in the end, if he wants to preserve his reputation, to impose crushing taxes upon the people, to pursue every possible source of...

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