Nicolo Machiavelli: The Prince: On Colonization. (04/10/2001).
As perhaps everyone knows, Machiavelli has acquired a certain reputation for advocating the use of political power without restraint from any kind of moral or ethical impediment whatsoever. His view is that any act is justified as long as it secures and maintains political power in the hands of whomever happens to possess it at the time. An act of extreme cruelty, if it maintains power, is justifiable. An act of extreme kindness, if it serves the same purpose, is justifiable. If the masses are starving, for instance, the Machiavellian Prince can either feed them or hasten their demise, depending on which course of action best suits his own needs of maintaining power at the time. Since there is only one objective, every political act is judged according to how well or how badly it meets the needs of securing that goal. Machiavelli, then, has written a limited kind of situational ethics based on the single imperative of securing and maintaining the rule of an individual over a collective of citizens in a state or nation.
On the subject of colonization, Machiavelli says essentially what one would expect-that it is a cheap and effective way for a foreign power to exert its influence over a weaker neighbor without much risk of retaliation. To say at the same time that he originated the idea of using colonies to invade other nations would be to give him credit for a concept that had already existed in Western civilization since the time of the Roman expansion into Europe. What he says about the utility of colonies for the purpose of seizing control over foreign principalities, apart from a few marginal differences, can be found as early as 250 A. D. in the work of the early Christian Father Tertullian who records essentially the same ideology. The difference might be that Tertullian used a moral argument about reducing redundant populations caused by lechery who could be sent to the colonies to ease the stresses of overpopulation in the homeland; while, Machiavelli advocated using them to spearhead an invasion force directed against the overthrow of the ruler of an existing principality or as a force to maintain power once the ruler had been overthrown. He says that
"A prince does not spend much on colonies, for with little or no expense he can send them out and keep them there, and he offends a minority only of the citizens from whom he takes lands and houses to give them to the new inhabitants; and those whom he offends, remaining poor and scattered, are never able to injure him; whilst the rest being uninjured are easily kept quiet, and at the same time are anxious not to err for fear it should happen to them as it has to those who have been despoiled." (Chapter III)
As an architect for the colonization of the Western hemisphere, since The Prince first appeared in 1513 A. D., Machiavelli can hardly be faulted. That European affairs and the events resulting from them did not go quite so smoothly in the Americas as he envisions here with respect to other parts of Europe itself can best be explained by the fact that the invaders had not conquered the indigenous population before they began to seize the land and property they coveted. Taking too much, they offended too many, and were forced to spend the next 300 years eradicating the ones who objected. Machiavelli makes it clear what forces of human personality motivated colonization:
"The wish to acquire is in truth very natural and common, and men always do so when they can, and for this they will be praised not blamed; but when they cannot do so, yet wish to do so by any means, then there is folly and blame." (Chapter III)
One supposes here that "folly and blame," even if it took 300 years to accomplish the goal, cannot be said to characterize the actions of the Europeans in the Western hemisphere, since they were able eventually to annihilate all objections to their desire to acquire that which did not belong to them in the first place. Hence, the Machiavellian thing to do now is to praise the victors and celebrate the victory that was wrought when they "despoiled" 50 million native Americans of what they foolishly believed was theirs by right of 20,000 years of prior occupation.