Olavo’s Machiavelli

A prince also wins prestige for being a true friend or a true enemy, that is, for revealing himself without any reservation in favor of one side against another. This policy is always more advantageous than neutrality.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli has been credited with wisdom, after a modern fashion. In the passage quoted above, the Florentine sage claimed that being a true friend or a true enemy is always more advantageous. But there is a problem with this advice: How would Machiavelli explain the success of Swiss neutrality through two world wars? Of course, he cannot. The fact is, Machiavelli’s writings are full of maxims that do not prove to be true. So why is he celebrated as an important figure? My own answer is that Machiavelli became important because his cynicism was so incredibly naïve, and he dared to immortalize it in prose. It is not that he wrote the truth; rather, he told us how “cynical people think.” And this is a valuable corrective to naive idealism.

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