Amoral Politics

The Persistent Truth of Machiavellism

By Ben-Ami Scharfstein

Subjects: Comparative Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791422809, 342 pages, March 1995
Hardcover : 9780791422793, 342 pages, March 1995

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Table of contents



1. The Machiavellis Introduced

2. The Machiavellian Legalism of Ancient China

3. The Machiavellian Political Science of Ancient India

4. The Machiavellism of Renaissance Italy

5. Machiavellism Everywhere?


6. Moral Abstractions and Human Realities

7. Nonutopian Observations





After exploring the theory and practice of politics in ancient China, ancient India, and modern Europe, Scharfstein argues that the justification for deception and force is inseparable from political life and assesses the chances for a better political future.


This is a study of how and why politics is amoral. It deals especially with what the author terms Machiavellism—the disregard of moral scruples for political ends that leads to the justification and use of deception and force in all aspects of political life. A comparative cultural study, it examines the theory and practice of politics in ancient China, ancient India, Renaissance Italy, and modern Europe, as well as tribal cultures, in order to test how widespread such political amorality has been throughout history.

Scharfstein concludes that political or ethical theories that do not view Machiavellism as inseparable from political life are inadequate to human affairs and of doubtful relevance to politics. In reaching this conclusion, he explores such topics as why people readily accept political violations of truthfulness and fairness; whether decisive philosophical arguments have been advanced against Machiavellism; whether the use of deception in politics is in politicians' own best interests; and whether the prevalence of Machiavellism rules out the likelihood of a better political future.

Ben-Ami Scharfstein is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Tel-Aviv University. He is the author of The Philosophers: Their Lives and the Nature of Their Thought; Of Birds, Beasts, and Other Artists: An Essay on the Universality of Art; The Dilemma of Context; and Ineffability: The Failure of Words in Philosophy and Religion, also published by SUNY Press.


"The author has done some groundbreaking work, particularly in showing Machiavellism in widely diverse places and historic times and, refreshingly, looked at from very different intellectual perspectives. What I like most about the book is its daring scholarship, entering and seriously operating in the domains of philosophy, political science, and history, as well as psychology, sociology, and anthropology. " — Fred E. Katz, author of Ordinary People and Extraordinary Evil