Ethical Transvaluation and Consequentialism

By Helen Ciacciarelli


As secularized accounts of morality’s social origins, the theories of Italian Renaissance political thinker Niccolo Machiavelli and the 19th century German continental philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche call for a transvaluation of morality. If we analyze their systems of thought through the distorting, reductive lens of conventional modern connotations, we see the repugnancy of Nietzsche’s sexism or anti-Semitism or the cold, calculating, seemingly self-interested tactics of Machiavelli; as a consequence, we fail to delve deeper into the complexity of these works. This dismissive approach needs to be unlearned and replaced with a more detailed examination of how these figures redefine the notions of good and evil as the foundations of their philosophy and political theory, respectively. Over the course of describing their ethical theories and the ways in which they transvalue the moral standards of their times and attempt to show that vice can legitimately constitute virtue, I would like to explore the question: to what degree can Nietzsche and Machiavelli be defined as consequentialists? Finally, I will touch on the relationship between transvaluation and consequentialism.

Transvaluation Defined

One of the reasons that Nietzsche and Machiavelli have been studied for so long is the sense of theoretical novelty and innovation stemming from their transvaluations; both thinkers seem particularly sensitive to the importance of re-evaluating standards and social mores which facilitates philosophical progress. The concept of “transvaluation” is usually attributed to Nietzsche, rather than Machiavelli; however, the term aptly applies to both. In On the Genealogy of Morals Nietzsche explicitly states the project of such a genealogy, or history of morals, and writes about the “need” for a transvaluation, which he defines as a “critique of moral values, the value of these values themselves must first be called in question... (20) Nietzsche’s project involves seeing value from the perspective of a meta-cultural stance. The process of transvaluation is essentially a re-assessment of concepts; one takes a step back from the internal, socially constructed systems of value to look at the larger picture, even if this means tearing down their foundation. There is also a shift from a view of morality as something that has objective, intrinsic worth to a view of it as having a subjective, socially and extrinsically determined worth.

Transvaluation: What is being “Transvalued”?

Nietzsche and Machiavelli, in their renunciation of traditional “popular morality”, criticize the Christian ethics which permeated their respective time periods in order to make way for new secular modes of thinking (On the Genealogy of Morals 45). Christian values are precisely what the two aim to attack and transvalue. Machiavelli draws on his own transvaluation of values for the purposes of providing a blueprint for the success of the state. Just as Nietzsche describes a moral dichotomy (slave morality and noble morality), Machiavelli explores two sets of morality: traditional Christian ethics and a political morality. He rejects the former in lieu of acceptance of the latter. Bernard Crick acknowledges that there are two seemingly incompatible spheres of morality, which he divides into the Christian and the Pagan worlds. There exists a conflict between Christian ethics, or “morality of the soul”, and political Pagan morality, or “morality of the city”, and one is forced to operate within one sphere or the other (Crick 67). Machiavelli points out the often mutually exclusive natures of both spheres and is emphatically anti-Christian. A political thinker more than a systematic philosopher, he never undertakes the task of attempting to reconcile the two spheres. This negative view of Christianity is further promoted in The Discourses, in particular sections 11-15. In these sections, Machiavelli makes an important distinction: he is not anti-religion, although he is opposed to Christian dogma. What makes Christianity so distasteful to him is the underlying element of passivity. Such a biblical command as “Turn the other cheek” is completely at odds with Machiavellian principles. Machiavelli’s play La Mandragola delineates the importance of action with the protagonist Callimaco, who says, “I’ve got to try something, be it great, dangerous, harmful, scandalous” (17). It is of further interest that Machiavelli’s works are grounded in unflinching secular realism. Focusing on the present world, he rejects the Christian view that life on earth functions as a spiritual test for soul-making and developing morally significant characters in order to ultimately gain entry to Paradise in the afterlife. As Mansfield states, Machiavelli is interested in establishing prosperity in the world of the here and now (Machiavelli’s Virtue 48). Let us act, he seems to be saying, as if there is no “next world”, and do our best to work with the present conditions. However, on a more general level, Machiavelli recognizes the social utility of religion; it inspires the armies, gives them courage, and unites the people under a common ideological bond. Religion for Machiavelli is a positive thing if it acts a catalyst for the people to political action, but deleterious if it leads to stasis (as Christianity does, according to Machiavelli’s interpretation).

Nietzsche’s obsession with the flaws of Christianity is concisely and elegantly formulated in the “In Attempt at a Self-Criticism” in The Birth of Tragedy:

Christianity was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life’s nausea and disgust with life… Hatred of ‘the world,’ condemnation of the passions, fear of beauty and sensuality… For, confronted with morality (especially Christian, or unconditional, morality), life must continually and inevitable be in the wrong, because life is something essentially amoral. (23)

For Nietzsche, Christianity is so destructive to the interests of man because it is rooted in a denial of life, and, moreover, constitutes a kind of perversion in that it restrains the instincts of human nature. The Christian religion teaches that natural sexual impulses and human evil are things of which we should be ashamed, and as such, it is necessarily life-negating; life, Nietzsche points out, encapsulates more than simply what human moral constructs deem “good.” To truly be considered life-affirming, we have to recognize that life is intrinsically supramoral, and we must embrace both halves of the whole, the light and the dark. Nietzsche attempts to critique morality; if the so-called purpose of morality is to label and prescribe what is beneficial as good, he advises that we critique the value of values to determine if the good is actually beneficial. Nietzsche tries to tear down the Christian traditional ethical concepts of self-sacrificing, self-denying moral goodness. Nevertheless, there are positive ethical assertions being posited.

Transvaluation: The Ethical Theories of Nietzsche and Machiavelli Explained

The Genealogy of Morals is a historical, psychological, etymological account of the origins of the meaning of morality. Nietzsche’s approach leads him to a documentation of control conflicts between socio-economic classes, a power-fueled process of assertion and retaliation, or competitive desires for supremacy. Moral valuation, according to Nietzsche, actually splits into a dichotomy relative to two social groups: the aristocracy, or the highest order in the social hierarchy, and the lowest rank, which is that of the slave. The aristocratic sense of the good is synonymous with power and centralized in self-affirmation. Using language as an instrument or expression of power, the aristocracy proves their supremacy by identifying and labeling as good the very actions the ruling class takes, notably making no distinction between the action and the executor of the action. From the noble’s self-justifying perspective, he is inherently good, and thus his behavior is but a perceptible manifestation of his good nature, rendered good by the mere fact that it originates from him, the source of goodness. In master “Roman” morality, power equates to goodness. Occupying the opposite end of aristocratic ethical values is “badness”, which is more or less all that is not the aristocracy, namely the lowest social class. The plebian is deemed bad automatically on the grounds that he is by definition deprived of power, and therefore indisputably separate from the aristocracy and their concept of goodness. The noble regards the commoner with indifference, seeing him as being of no consequence. He is actually incapable of feeling enmity towards the lower class, as he is not considered worthy of his attentions.

Slave morality consists of the polarities of “good and evil”, rather than the aristocratic valuations of “good and bad.” Under this reactionary ethical system, the slave despises the aristocrat, who in his eyes possesses the ability to choose weakness, yet remains in power. The weak, resenting the powerful, delude themselves into believing that their weakness is virtue, while the seemingly unattainable power is renamed vice, and thus gain superiority in the only sense they are capable: the transvalution of the pre-existing aristocratic morality. By redefining the aristocratic good as “evil”, the slave himself secures a degree of control over the nobles, the self-validating social tyrants. He linguistically transforms his impotence and subjection into his very sense of worth (On the Genealogy of Morals 56). This moral value generates from hatred, and the slave’s joy consists in the suffering of the nobles. Slave morality is, in contrast with self-affirming aristocratic morality, spiteful, vindictive, and actively negating. Furthermore, the slave’s good is in fact his evil; it is rooted in hate and malicious delight in diminishing the authority of and even inflicting pain upon the oppressive nobles, exemplifying our traditional concept of vice. In Nietzsche’s phrase “beyond good and evil” we see his desire for philosophy to move beyond a slave conception of morality (Ibid., 55).

While Nietzsche criticizes conventional morality and even morality in general by boldly claiming that “every morality is, as opposed to laisser aller, a bit of tyranny against ‘nature’ also against ‘reason’”, he never successfully escapes from the very oppositional thinking which he so adamantly detests (Beyond Good and Evil 100). Nietzsche, although he claims to despise morality, is clearly making a positive moral assertion of his own. The “life-affirming versus life-negating” opposition that is so salient in his writing forms a kind of new morality in its own right. Leila Haaparanta, in her article A Note on Nietzsche’s Argument, attempts to reconstruct Nietzsche’s critique of moral philosophy in strictly logical terms and also offers insight on his positive ethical theory and supports the interpretation that Nietzsche is asserting a life-affirming morality (494). Nietzsche observes that the polytheistic religions of antiquity are superior to Christian monotheism because in that epoch “There was only one norm, man” (The Gay Science 191). Nietzche’s morality, then, may be reduced to a simple and noble calculation: a true morality justifies man as perhaps an intrinsically moral being. It is his very natural instincts which Nietzsche labels as morally good, and the conscious repression of them as amoral. His moral prescription is essentially that vitality and natural impulses are the only ethical standards by which we should live. We have to accept the chaos and the dissonance, i.e. not only what is deemed by Christian values to be “good”, but also the “evil”.

In Book I of The Discourses, Machiavelli promotes his own view of the origins of morality. Like Nietzsche, he identifies the establishment of moral terms with power conflicts and social classes. In the earliest days of human history, people lived in primitive independence of social structure, organization, and law (106). As populations began to increase, so did interactions between people, until eventually more or less isolated individuals or small groups of individuals banded together in the name of the utility-steeped purpose of increasing the chances of survival. They chose a leader, a man of mental and physical distinction, to augment a sense of social cohesiveness and guide them as an early stages executive figure. This figure, not doubt, was a paradigm of the Machiavellian idea of virtu1; he exemplifies the political role in Machiavellian thought which Pitkin identifies as the Founder, “a male figure of superhuman or mythical proportions, who introduces among men something new, good, and sufficiently powerful so that it continues beyond his lifetime on the course he has set” (The Founder 52). As such, the people felt a sense of obligation and indebtedness to their leader, or Founder, for the prosperity of the collective. After the establishment of governments, Machiavelli explains, people formed a notion of justice based on the way their leader was treated. Thus original concepts of good and evil were rooted in other individuals’ exhibitions of gratitude or ingratitude towards the Founder; when instances of ingratitude arose, men were filled with resentment for the ungrateful, and came to associate ingratitude with evilness and vice, while instances of gratitude shown to their leader induced valuations of goodness and virtue (The Discourses 107). Laws were created to accommodate these vicarious feelings, i.e. to punish the ungrateful and reward the grateful. Justice for Machiavelli is a purely subjective term revolving around the well-being of the leaders of the state. Moral judgments were formulated by the appropriation of gratitude towards the Founder, who had made social success possible, not because of inherent goodness or badness, and it is these relativist foundations of traditional morality which Machiavelli seeks to expose but also manipulate to the advantage of the whole.

Machiavelli’s transvaluation of values is most apparent in the infamous work The Prince. Espousing the ideals of civic duty and the common good, Machiavelli’s notion of virtue is inextricably bound up with classical republicanism. Good and evil are transvalued according to ends, i.e. the noble republican goal of liberty, preservation and expansion of the state, and the overall well-being of the people within the state are re-defined as the good. What society traditionally deems to be “evil” is even, at times, a necessary means to achieve the good. Evil in Machiavellian terms constitutes what is harmful to the republic.

[A] ruler, and especially a new ruler, cannot always act in ways that are considered good because, in order to maintain his power, he is often forced to act treacherously, ruthlessly or inhumanely, and disregard the precepts of religion. Hence he must be… capable of entering upon the path of wrongdoing when this becomes necessary. ( The Prince 62)

Machiavelli’s concept of good actions and moral behavior is tied to social and political action and a sense of necessity. “Wrongdoing” for Machiavelli should be a term in quotations, since it so-called evil actions are justified and made good by the positive outcomes his actions produce. Bernard Crick articulates this sentiment rather bluntly, but accurately, with his recognition in the introduction to The Discourses that the impetus behind the action of Machiavellian figures is the understanding that “[s]omeone has to take up the dirty work” (64). For example, the people may despise a ruler for raising taxes and call him miserly, but when the state later needs these funds, the stability of the country which his prudence and foresight maintained will outweigh the initial financial inconveniences. Machiavellian virtue utilizes acts that would be classified as Christian evil as instruments to achieving higher goals. Methods of cultivating the collective good vary with one’s position in society; the task of redefining morality falls upon the ruler of a principality or republic. He must exercise virtu and the willingness to take part in such ethical transvaluations as the circumstances demand, while the citizen must demonstrate civic virtue and carry out the deeds which his government requires of him for the betterment of the state. It could even be argued that if there are two spheres are morality, the political and the Christian, the former requires evil and transvaluation, while the latter is concerned solely with goodness in the deontological sense.

Transvaluation of the Concept of Violence: Ethical Behavior Made Compatible with Violence

Machiavelli and Nietzsche’s views on violence clearly stem from their ethical transvaluations, in which they both recognize the need for “evil”. To recapitulate, in Nietzsche’s case, evil is to be embraced simply on the basis that it composes only part of a unity, that is, extramoral life. In Machiavelli’s case, this “evil” is necessary at times to achieve the greater good of the well-being of the republic, and thus “evil” and cruelty become in a sense vindicated, and made good, by the attainment of the ends. Violence is most often viewed as a form of moral evil because it involves humans choosing a wrong action from a set of morally significant actions, and hence it functions as an effective paradigm of Nietzschean and Machiavellian ethical transvaluation theory in application. An expansionist, Machiavelli acknowledges the inevitability of inter-nation conflict, as well as the need for conflict within the state. The former is highlighted in the form of military virtue in The Art of War, in which Machiavelli labels expertise in battle as a necessary evil, but one which even the generals, the executors of that evil, must only resort to it with the utmost reluctance. Furthermore, good generals and soldiers must be first and foremost good citizens. Machiavelli underscores the significance of patriotic necessity-driven motives in warfare. The art of war is not a craft which truly good soldiers will want to pursue in times of peace, and violence is not something which they will actively seek out (The Art of War 18). Additionally, Machiavelli discusses the positive influence of institutionalized conflict on the state’s overall prosperity in The Discourses. He posits that the violence which erupts between the two social groups of the plebian and the Senate actually facilitates legislative progress, and thus leads to the betterment of the republic (113).

Nietzsche views violence as an essential facet of human nature, which is inclined towards cruelty and schadenfreude. In the Second Essay of On the Genealogy of Morals, he describes the origins of guilt. This state arises from a financial relationship: the debtor-creditor relationship. Guilt is, in a modern context, largely associated with the failure to meet a responsibility, but initially it simply meant that the debtor needed to pay off his debt. If the debtor failed to make his payment, the creditor would be allowed to torture him as payment. Punishment functions as sharp and vivid memory aid to fulfill our promises (On the Genealogy of Morals 61). However, morality causes us to brand these creditor instincts as wrong. No longer having the ability to take our aggression out on others causes us to turn our cruel tendencies inward, replacing sadism with masochism. This internalization of cruelty is what breeds bad conscience. Nietzsche departs from Machiavelli in the sense that for Machiavelli, violence is a rather unpleasant undertaking, the only means available of attaining a higher, nobler goal. For Nietzsche, suffering takes on another dimension: it is an end in itself and is to be promoted for its own sake (On the Genealogy of Morals 67). It is in this essay that he explores the idea of a cheerful suffering. His concept of an ideal society would be one devoid of traditional morality, where cruel instincts are allowed free reign, under the sole confines of the debtor-creditor contract. Nietzsche calls for us to do away with moral oppositional thinking, implying that it is preferable to live in such a natural state of ritualized physical violence and torture rather than to cope with the bad conscience of the moral era which traditional morality imposes upon us.

Machiavelli and Nietzsche’s recognition of the essential nature of violence is a direct result of their ethics, and has caused many to accuse them of simply being immoralists. While it may appear that both Nietzsche and Machiavelli are not actually positively asserting a moral code of their own, Nietzsche’s is a kind of life-affirming, humanity-affirming morality, and Machiavelli’s is a classical republican morality. While he operates according to reason of state, the concept that different standards of morality apply to the political arena, Machiavelli is clearly not devoid of idealistic motivations, as frequent charges of realpolitik would suggest, and like Nietzsche, who, despite explicitly voiced aversions to moral constructs, he is not calling for a complete abolishment of morality. Machiavelli’s agreement with such extreme instances of violence, particularly the sons of Brutus case, in which he praises the conduct of a man who killed his two sons because they were acting against the state, strikes the modern Western reader as radical (The Discourses 393). To refute immoralist charges, we must take into consideration Machiavelli’s admonition against the employment of excessive violence, or cruelty that does not serve a noble end (The Discourses 132). Machiavelli emphasizes the importance of the ends, and condemns action for the sake of action, or violence merely for the sake of violence. In Machiavelli’s world, everything that is noble serves a greater political purpose, and every action should be justifiable to be considered worthy and good. In the process of maintaining any state, violence is a fundamental component, and Machiavelli does not attempt to sugarcoat its undeniable necessity. The Machiavellian leader maneuvers around the problematic rigidity of traditional morality to live according to the exigencies of the moment (The Discourses 430). Republicanism becomes an epistemological matter; the populace often do not know what is best for them, and it takes a leader equipped with virtu, a preternatural understanding of actions which will bring about the best consequences, to know when to transvalue and resort to violence.

The Problem of Determinism: Evidence against the Formulation of Positive Ethical Theory?

The concept of free will plays an important role in any ethical theory, and has been an object of contention in the philosophical traditions of both modernity and antiquity. The crux of the problem appears to be: if a philosophy relegates the concept of free will to a mere fiction and takes a deterministic approach, then it logically follows that, since we have no control over our actions, we cannot be held morally responsible for them. If this is the case in Machiavelli and Nietzsche’s theories, then what role can any kind of moral code play? I would argue that determinism does not provide an impediment to the formulation of their ethics.

Nietzsche’s views of free will are extremely complex; for the most part, he claims that free will is an empty idea, but other aspects of his work would suggest otherwise. On the one hand, we see Nietzsche’s professed disbelief in free will in On the Genealogy of Morals: “there is no ‘being’ behind doing, effecting, becoming; ‘the doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed—the deed is everything” (45). It is a human prejudice to distinguish an action from the subject, Nietzsche says. However, in reality, there is no causal chain involving two separate entities: a performer of an action and the action itself. There is no free will that enables the subject to choose to act or to refrain from acting in such a way, as with action, there is always necessity. Contrastively, in Aphorism 341 of The Gay Science, Nietzsche presents the idea of eternal recurrence, the concept that life repeats itself over and over again into eternity. Instead of lamenting this “greatest weight” to no end, Nietzsche suggests that we revel in this escape from the unbearable weightlessness of nihilism. The fact that every event and thought inevitably occurs again and again regardless of human actions or attempts to evade it is not in fact a source of anxiety or depression. There seems to be an element of choice here, beyond the overwhelming determinism. Through amor fati, love of fate, we can in a sense choose to transcend the conditions beyond our control, as Nietzsche declares, “I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth!” (The Gay Science 223).We may not be able to ward off eternal recurrence, but we can freely control our psychological attitudes towards it. In other words, we can choose to fatalistically despair, resigned to Hamlet-like nausea at the futility of human action, or we can laugh like the ubermensch in the face of the eternal recurrence (Beyond Good and Evil 68). Similarly, free will in Machiavelli emerges with restraints, but still intact. Prevalent throughout his works is the figure of Fortuna, a female personification of fortune. Departing from the medieval view of a Fortuna who turns a single wheel that determines the Fate of men, he constructs a worldview marked by a plurality of options. According to Pitkin’s view of Machiavelli, there are multiple wheels “so that it may be possible for men to choose among them, or to jump from one to another… the stress on activism and human choice in Machiavelli’s vision is really new” (Fortune 146 Pitkin). With Machiavelli too, then, there is some wiggle room for free will. Furthermore, in Chapter XXV of The Prince, Fortuna is described as not only a fickle and cruel woman, but also a viciously raging flood. Executing virtu and foresight, as well as carefully preparing for the future, can eliminate some of the woe brought about by Fortuna. Of course, there is always a degree of unpredictability, as there are clearly many variables working against any given person, no matter how much virtu he practices, but Machiavelli stresses in his constant exhortation to action that we can and must do our best to conquer the half of human behavior which is within our power to control (85). We can conclude, then, that in both Machiavelli and Nietzsche’s thought, free will is given some degree of validity, and this enables the development of their particular moral codes.

Nietzsche and Machiavelli’s Consequentialism as Ethical Egoism and Ethical Altruism

Despite the shared basis of transvaluation in their ethical theories, Machiavelli looks beyond the self for the moral justification which he assigns to human behavior, while Nietzsche is primarily concerned with the self. These views of the value of the individual versus the collective lend themselves to a self-oriented form of consequentialism, or ethical egoism, and a common good-oriented consequentialism, or ethical altruism. Consequentialism is a broad category of normative ethics which is based on the idea that the value of an action derives not from any intrinsic value to the action, but from the consequences that arise from it. The value of an action, then, is extrinsic and not intrinsic. Machiavelli’s political ethics would be best characterized as ethical altruism.2 The clearest formulation of his consequentialist orientation is in The Discourses: “ It is a sound maxim that reprehensible actions may be justified by their effects, and that when the effect is good… it always justifies the action” (132). This work in particular highlights Machiavelli’s other-regarding love and altruism. In Section 9 of Book I, he presents his concept of the ideal leader: one whose sense of self-interest drops out completely for the attainment of the common good (Discourses 132). This leader must eliminate his sense of self and his own desires, as he exists for the service of the republic.

While Machiavelli’s works are steeped in the classical republican value of the greater good, a kind of ethical altruism, in The Gay Science, Nietzsche presents his ideal of the lonely intellectual immersed in the vita contemplativa, the contemplative life. Furthermore, in On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche rejects the judgment that the herd, the majority, should be considered above the interests of the nobles, the minority (56). Placing this kind of noble individual above the relatively ignorant, intellectually unremarkable masses, he values the process of self-development, or self-becoming. Nietzsche refuses to equate the “good” with the “useful” or “expedient”; nevertheless, he certainly is concerned with the consequences of behavior at the level of the individual. How we choose to behave determines whether or not we will, in his terms, become who we really are, that is, come closer to the ideal of a true self. Failing to act on our own impulses and learning the habit of obeying the interests of others above our own results in the breeding of bad conscience. Nietzsche’s morality is one defined by ethical egoism, the view that it is right to always act in our own best interests. We should always say “yes” to ourselves, as to deny our own desires is unnatural, or un-vitalistic, and hence unethical. Whether an action is right or wrong depends on whether or not it is good for the self.

Conclusion: The Relation between Consequentialism and Transvaluation

Having analyzed the ethical theories of Nietzsche and Machiavelli, including their views of the self, free will, and violence, and the anti-Christian sentiments featured therein, as well as Machiavelli and Nietzsche’s ethical transvaluation and versions of consequentialism, I think we can see that there is a relation between transvaluation and consequentialism: consequentialism itself is a form of transvaluation. In Nietzsche and Machiavelli a transvaluation involves the redefinition of moral valuation away from the “intrinsic”, deontological notion of an action’s value. Instead of looking at the actions themselves, they look at whatever causally follows it to determine whether an action is right or wrong. Nietzsche evaluates good in terms of consequences for the self in his ethical egoist picture, while the ethical altruist Machiavelli evaluates good in terms of consequences for others.

Works Cited

Gilbert, Felix. “Machiavellianism.” Machiavelli. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.

Haaparanta, Leila. “A Note on Nietzsche’s Argument.” The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 153. (Oct., 1988), pp. 490-495.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Discourses. Trans. Leslie J. Walker, S.J. Ed. Bernard Crick. New York: Penguin Classics, 1984.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Ed./Trans. Quentin Skinner. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Art of War. Trans. Christopher Lynch. Chicago: Chicago UP, 2003.

Machiavelli, Niccolo. La Mandragola. Trans. Mera J. Flaumenhaft. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, 1981.

Mansfield, Harvey C., Machiavelli’s Virtue. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morals. Trans. Walter Kaufmann and RJ Hollingdale. New York: Random House, Inc., 1967.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House, Inc. 1966.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House, Inc., 1967.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House, Inc., 1974.

Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel. “Fortune.” Fortune is a Woman: Gender and Politics in the Thought of Niccolo Machiavelli, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel. “The Founder.” Fortune is a Woman: Gender and Politics in the Thought of Niccolo Machiavelli, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel. “The Passion of Liberty.” Fortune is a Woman: Gender and Politics in the Thought of Niccolo Machiavelli, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

1 The complex concept of virtu, which is not to be mistaken with the term virtue, has various applications and is prominent in Machiavelli’s works. As such it deserves a much lengthier treatment, but for the purposes of this paper, “virtu” will be used as an equivalent of “prudence” and “ability.”

2 The term “Machiavellianism” is predicated on a portrayal of Machiavelli as indulging in pure self-interest; however, Felix Gilbert looks into the etymological history of the word, just as Nietzsche researches the history of the concepts of “good and evil.” He illuminates the fact that the negative connotations of the word are based on a misreading of Machiavelli and comments that it simply came to mean “evil” in the twentieth-century (Machiavelli 174). In common usage, we tend to attribute Machiavelli with the term “utilitarianism” and a rational-to-the-point-of-inhuman utilitarian calculus. To say that Machiavelli is a utilitarian is really a misuse of the word; people intend to use it to mean the selfishness of the fox’s wiles and the lion’s machismo as methods to attain personal success in a monarchy. Any act which maximizes utility, i.e. increases total happiness, is moral. To think of the republican consequentialist end of the “public good” as interchangeable with “utility” might be a step in the wrong direction. Firstly, utilitarianism has aims of a universal scope, but the utility of all people everywhere, independent of spatial political boundaries, is not Machiavelli’s concern. Machiavelli’s patriotism, his specifically Florentine nationalist sympathies, highlights this concept; Pitkin acknowledges Machiavelli’s sentiment that we should value our own political state above others, and the domestic above the foreign (The Passion of Liberty 153). According to Machiavelli, your state is your moral obligation, not the happiness of mankind. Secondly, Machiavelli is entirely silent on human happiness, and his political theory is not concerned with achieving it. Civic duty and the practice of virtu do not necessarily increase overall happiness, but they will contribute to long-lasting institutions and a flourishing state. The goal of classical republicanism seems to be the satisfaction of the abstract “good” of the people; not their psychological well-being, but solid socio-political structures and greatness of an Empire. There is the overriding notion in Machiavelli’s works that what is “best” for the republic, the attainment of things like economic prosperity and state longevity, does not always coincide with the happiness of its citizens.

Helen Ciacciarelli (’09) is a Philosophy and English Literature major at Rutgers University.

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