Re: Machiavelli as a proto libertarian
Thank you for splitting the string. I thought that the discussion about Ron Paul was interesting in its own right, but off topic.
Machiavelli was the first truly modern political or social scientist that emerges from the medieval period with his combined use of empiricism and rationalism with the resulting secularization of political life and thought. However, let us be careful not to cast Machiavelli as amoral. Clearly, his recognition of a ‘bad man’ and ‘evil ways’ for what they were demonstrated his ability to make a distinction from a man who is not ‘bad’ and from ways that are ‘not evil.’ He adduces the ‘bad man’ and the ‘evil ways’ in the manner of scientist undertaking the study of his subject.
In The Prince, Machiavelli was addressing the question of how society is governed and how the participants do behave and therefore how a ruler must act if he wishes to survive. He was not addressing what society should or ought to be and was not advocating for a particular policy, he was merely documenting the practice of the time as he found it.
Although the quote “The end justifies the means” does accurately describe the method Machiavelli’s describes in The Prince, the quote is not accurately attributable to Machiavelli. In the original text of The Prince, Machiavelli wrote “Si guarda al fine” ” which more accurately translates to “One must consider the end result.” This is not the same as saying that the ends justify the means. With this formulation, it could be said that the ends may not always justify the means, how ironic.
Surely the problem of good and evil is fundamental to the human condition. I apologize in advance for being so presumptuous, but I believe that we can conclude that there is and has been evil in the world that cannot be characterized as a matter of good versus good. We must not shrink from calling out evil when it is made so obviously manifest. Surely, we can label genocide, mass murder and mass forced starvation for the evils that they obviously are and not as a different version or a different opinion of what is good.
Libertarian principles have not, to my knowledge, led to genocide, mass murder and mass forced starvation. However, it is demonstrably true that statist policies have led to exactly these evils. We must be careful not to tread too far down the road of moral relativism in thinking that ethical and moral choices are a bifurcation of goodness. We run the risk of conflating the good with the bad under the label of one ‘good’ versus another ‘good’. This will only cloud our vision and obfuscate our analysis. I think we can agree on this much at least but I believe that your point is that it gets a bit more difficult to discern good from evil as we granulate the analysis. Can we make a distinction between good and bad as we move away from the obvious evils writ large? Do we have the tools of analysis that allow us to differentiate good from bad at a more granulated level when the difference are not always so obvious, or must we settle for merely saying that “The problem has not been good versus evil, but good versus good - "good" being defined differently by different good people.”? That is, one man’s good is another man’s evil? This is an unsatisfactory as a final conclusion.
I do believe that there is a tool of analysis that can aid us in distinguishing a good from an evil at a more granulated and nuanced level; at a place where the differences are not so obvious that reasonable people can agree upon them. This tool of analysis is based on the historical method and concept of an organic self-organizing society, spontaneous order if you will. In formulating this tool I borrow heavily from F.A. Hayek who eloquently elucidates these principles in Law, Legislation and Liberty.
The key is to understand that tradition, properly understood, informs us as to the rules of order and conduct that work best. Each generation transmits to the succeeding generation information about the rules of order and conduct that work best for the advancement of human civilization (good) and the actions that do not work well or are inimical to the advancement, moral and material, of human civilization (bad). I will leave any disquisition pertaining to the ugly for the discussion forum pertaining to art.
The notion that business is conducted on a good faith basis is built into the framework of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC). Why is this? It is because it has been found that business proceeds more smoothly and efficiently when it is conducted in good faith. The smooth and efficient conduct of business leads to increased material wealth, a good, ceteris paribus.
We learn this from tradition, by tradition I do not mean mindless habit. The meaning of tradition in this context is the process by which rules of conduct and order are tested, sorted out, and transmitted. The ones that are found to be good, those advances the human condition are maintained and the ones that are found to be bad, inimical to the advancement of the human condition, are discarded over time. Other ‘goods’ that have been found through this historical process are, the rule of law, respect for private property, sanctity of contracts (keeping a promise) to name but a few. These are preserved are carried on from generation to generation. The burden of proof is on those would overthrow these rules, not those who would conserve them. To name a few of the ‘bads’ that have been found, tested and discarded as rules of conduct and order include such concepts as might makes right, the ends justify the means, arbitrary law, personal rule. Where these persist, we can objectively observe a suboptimal social order, e.g., North Korea.
My conclusion is that we can distinguish between good and evil and thus advance the human condition, or degrade the human condition based on our choices. Machiavelli starts us on this path.