Torture In Machiavelli's The Prince

1997 Words 8 Pages
The morality and use of torture has been a growing debate in United States politics, especially since the September 11 terrorist attacks. One popular argument uses the logic of a famous Renaissance philosopher, Niccoló Machiavelli, to justify the use of torture. In his book The Prince, Machiavelli lends advice on how to be an effective political leader. He begins by describing different ways a man, or in this case a prince, can establish and maintain a state: through “fortune” (28), “prowess” (28), or “nefarious method[s]” (28). Machiavelli defines “fortune” (28) as a mixture of luck and chance while prowess consists of the ability to do what is necessary, even if it is deemed unethical or untraditional. On the other end of the spectrum, a …show more content…
Machiavelli describes fortune as “a woman … [who] favors young men, because they are less circumspect and more ardent, and because they command her with greater audacity” (81). In order to counter the force of fortune, a prince must be bold and flexible. Usually, younger leaders have such attributes because they have fewer ties to tradition. Conversely, orthodox leaders who rely solely on habit will quickly lose their positions of power, for fortune waits for no one. Similarly, those who solely depend on fortune to keep their states “will come to grief when their fortune changes” (80). Like the winds of the sea, fortune does as she pleases. Both a stubborn sailor who refuses to change his course and a spontaneous sailor who has no course will likely drown in the storm of fortune. In contrast, a sailor with prowess will be quick to adjust the sails and fix his course in order to take advantage of the winds of fortune. However, having prowess does not guarantee success. As Machiavelli explains, “fortune is the arbiter of half the things we do” (79); using prowess only works half the time. He also compares fortune to a “one of those violent rivers” (79), and although you may have built “dykes and embankments” (79) to prevent flooding, the river of fortune can still destroy your …show more content…
It is clear that the September 11 attacks were an act of fortune that caught the U.S. government off guard. In the early stages, the U.S. used prowess and acted proactively, boldly, quickly, and flexibly, adjusting their sails efficiently to counter the strong storm of fortune. However, when they decided to use torture, the government struggled to appear virtuous in the eyes of the public. Moreover, their continuous and ineffective use of torture galvanized hatred within the Middle East and provoked resentment from the citizens when they discovered the government’s secrecy about their illegal behavior. For these reasons, the Bush administration’s choices would be frowned upon by Machiavelli’s standards. This is surprising, because although it seems that Machiavellian logic is simple to follow, it is truly hard to be a Machiavellian leader and even more difficult to know how to respond to state

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