But I Don’t Want

To Be EVIL!!!

“Is the Machiavellian necessarily an evil person?” you ask. 

“No, Machiavellianism has nothing to do with evil,” I reply. “Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the concept of evil has no place in Machiavellianism.”

“Then why does the dictionary say that Machiavellianism is “characterized by subtle or unscrupulous cunning, deception, expediency, or dishonesty?” 

“Because the world has been lying to you about Machiavellianism for five centuries,” I reply.


 Machiavelli shocked the Christian world by suggesting that important decisions should be made and critical actions should be undertaken based on their impact on your life, without regard to a formal code of ethics, religion, or philosophy. This troubled leaders of the Church, who taught that the purpose of life was to obey the Church and its teachings. It also troubled the leaders of the State, who taught that the purpose of life was to obey the State and follow its laws. Those who were threatened by Machiavelli’s boldness declared, falsely, that Machiavelli preferred evil, deceitful, or treacherous means. That is not true. Machiavelli simply observed that the successful people he knew well had all used deceitful or treacherous methods to get what they wanted or keep what they had, including leaders of both the Church and the State. Therefore, he went on to say, a person who dreams of success should be prepared to lie, cheat, or steal - or be prepared to give up her dream. A person who dreams of success should also expect to deal with the treachery of the State, the deceit of the Church, and the mischief of those who live around her. Many people objected to this description of the world and human behavior. It seemed too cold to the people and too accurate to their leaders.

This is not a vampire. This is an actress wearing a lot of makeup and false teeth. As for “evil,” it is a silly idea that has no place in your mind. Think about it. “Evil” is a fantasy concept, like the concepts of the vampire, the ghost, the fairy, the free bonus offer, and penis enlargement. They simply don’t exist. The word “evil” does not describe anything that you will ever encounter in the real world. A person who views the world from a Machiavellian perspective may do things that some people think are evil but others think are good. A Machiavellian acts in the manner that she thinks is appropriate or useful in the particular situation, all the while anticipating how others will respond or react. Machiavellians do not spend time thinking about what is the good thing to do or what is the evil thing to do. Don’t be wringing your hands over ethical details while the wolf steals the baby. Mrs. J. B. Mellon, phony medium, poses with her spirit guide in 1893.

 However, each of us has a list of actions that she considers to be evil. There is no reason for a Machiavellian to think, do, or say things that she considers to be evil. Don’t do anything that will still be giving you guilty nightmares twenty years from now. Except in the most extreme and improbable situations, you can find another way. Life is complicated, and we are often compelled by events to take bold actions whose consequences will change lives forever - our own and the lives of those whose happiness is important to us. Life requires us to think carefully and deeply about the people around us and the things that happen to us.


 Is murder evil? I think so. Was my father evil when he murdered Nazi soldiers in France in 1944? I don’t think so. What about my grandfather, who murdered German soldiers in the same parts of France in 1917? I don’t think so. The German orphans and widows whose fathers and husbands my ancestors murdered probably think they were monsters, even after all these years.

 Was Harry Truman’s decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan, prompting Japan’s quick surrender, evil? On V-J Day, my Nazi-killing father and his Nazi-killing rifle were on their way to Japan to participate in the planned invasion of that island. Instead of going to Tokyo or being killed on the way, my father was quickly discharged from the Army and sent home. A month later, he married my mother in a small, sweet ceremony. After four months of enthusiastic effort, he impregnated her with me. His fellow veterans were busy doing the same thing. Those two atomic bombs saved me and many thousands of baby-boomers from having never existed, so I don’t think they were evil. Remember, I could never have come into existence unless that particular sperm cell penetrated that particular egg. Every person’s DNA is unique, so they tell us. I could not have been conceived at any other moment in the history of the universe. I toast Mr. Truman’s memory every year on my birthday, but I suspect that many Japanese residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki would not lift their glasses with mine. If you think the bombing of Hiroshima was evil, would you be willing to give up your life to change history for the better?


Because of this, thousands of American soldiers went home, got married, and impregnated their wives with baby-boomers.


Was the murder of Saddam Hussein on an Iraqi gallows evil? Now that is an example of ethical fine print. Rather than thinking about it, you should use your ethical brain cells for something more important. The ends usually justify the means, and a world with one less Stalinist dictator in it is a better world, no matter how it happened.


Is the sexual molestation of children evil? I think so. Was Joseph evil when he married and presumably copulated with the thirteen year old virgin Mary in the year zero and regularly, we suppose, thereafter - producing James and Jesus’s other siblings? I don’t think so. Back in those days, when a girl started menstruating she was considered a woman. Little Mary - like other 13 year old brides - certainly expected to serve her older husband’s sexual needs and present him with children. Even younger brides were not uncommon then - or now - in that part of the world.


Is the torturing of animals evil? I think so. Is shooting a pig evil if it is done only so that a surgical intern can practice Happy Pigsremoving a bullet from a gunshot victim? I think so, but you may not. The intern certainly doesn’t think so and neither does the medical college. Neither do gunshot victims. What if the same pig is shot and operated on a second time? What about a fifth time? This is, after all, how surgical interns get their training, as we all should know. Student surgeons have to practice on somebody. Now the pig - if it could think and speak its thoughts - it would surely tell you that anyone who shoots the same pig six or seven times (so an inexperienced, fumbling medical student can practice removing bullets from various parts of its body and head) is the very incarnation of slobbering, malicious, monstrous, Satanic Evil. The pig might suggest that shooting and removing bullets from Saddam Hussein would have been better than killing him and burying him. After all, he was a monster. All pigs are innocent creatures.


Is denying food to a child evil? I think so. Is withholding fattening food from a morbidly obese ten year old boy evil? I don’t think so, but the boy will definitely think so.


Is telling a lie evil? I think it depends on the lie. Joe Camel has a sweet babe, don't you think?All things are relative. Is it evil to lie about sleeping with a woman so as to protect her reputation in the little Bible-belt town in which she lives? I don’t think so, but you might think that the little slut should be horsewhipped in front of city hall. Is it evil for a politician to lie about the policies she really intends to implement if she is elected? I think so, but she doesn’t think so - she thinks that you have to lie to the hayseeds every now and then or no one would ever get elected.


Is the administration of poison to innocent people evil? I think so. Are the executives of marketing firms that produce cigarette advertising evil? I think so, but you may not, especially if you are a smoker - or a marketing executive. Is the prison guard who injects poison into the veins of a convicted killer evil? What if the convicted killer is discovered to be innocent the day after his execution? Is the guard retroactively guilty of murder? Is an Islamic terrorist who plans to dump radioactive materials in the Albuquerque water supply evil? I think so, but many Muslims would consider her to be a saint. Is ordering a hamburger evil? Ask an animal rights activist or a vegetarian.


Everything is relative. Everything depends on the situation, the time, the place, the people, the culture, the context. An action cannot be judged without considering the entire situation in which it occurs. No matter what you do, a large part of the human race would condemn your action. Therefore, you must select the action that fits the situation. Wasting time thinking about good and evil leads nowhere. That is the essence of Machiavellianism.


On This Page: This chapter on evil methods was one of my favorite chapters to write. I hope it convinced you to rethink your ideas about evil and good.

A Machiavellian Proverb - Clear some storage space in your brain. This is a big one.

But, I don’t want to be evil! - Is Machiavellianism as bad as everyone seems to think? Don’t believe the propaganda you’ve been hearing for 500 years.

Slander! - Psychologists are also part of the anti-Machiavellian conspiracy. Read the latest scandal.

Want to be good instead of evil? Read the Commandments of Goodness.


A Machiavellian Proverb


The ends usually justify

the means.



This proverb contradicts a commonly expressed wisdom, which assures us that the essence of the game is how well you play, not whether you win or lose that matters. It is the character building aspect of the game, not the reward of victory, that motivates us to play. In the game of life, it is adherence to a moral code of behavior (the rules of life) and working hard that are more important than winning.

I note, though, that those who compete most aggressively - in business, sports, and politics - do not seem to care anything about character or rules. It is only winning that matters to them. I also note that cheating is often the preferred way to win. In the business world, bribery, accounting flummery, pointless lawsuits against competitors, and flagrant manipulation of the law via campaign contributions are preferred to honest competition in the marketplace. In sports, forbidden and often illegal strength enhancing drugs are quite common. A common proverb among those in college and professional sports, I have been told, is “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” In politics, character assassination, lying, and back room dealing are much preferred to forthright discussion of issues and policies. This is an outrage to all honest citizens, who never cheated in school or university, always drive under the speed limit, never lie on a tax return, pay their maids at least minimum wage, report the maid’s income to IRS and Social Security, and always return an accidental overpayment - people like you and me, for example.

score_board_resizedTo the Machiavellian it is whether you win or lose that matters, and how you play the game is only of secondary importance. We are not talking about winning and losing in the sense of keeping an imaginary score. We are talking about the game of life, not Ping-Pong or football.

Attaining her goals is the victory sought by the Machiavellian during her all-too-brief lifetime. The purpose of life is not to compete with others in some sort of endless tournament, where a lifetime score of income and social status is gradually tabulated by the gods. Though competing with others and defeating them is a tactic that is often necessary, competition is only one of many tactical methods. Others include cooperation, solitary effort, team-building, personal growth, personal expression, indifference, deception, leadership, persuasion, etc. To the Machiavellian, life is a sustained effort to attain the goals you have set for yourself, interlaced with as much happiness as is possible. If this can be done without opposition and without the necessity of competing with your opponents, then there is no reason compete for the sake of competition.


In life, attaining your self-determined life goals is victory. Not attaining them is the absence of victory. Defeat is not part of the concept. To the Machiavellian, you (1) attain your goals, (2) keep trying to attain them using ever-changing methods, or (3) set new goals for yourself because the original ones have turned out to be unattainable. Defeat only occurs when you stop trying or stop breathing, whichever comes first.


The ends usually justify the means.


The Ten


(For the Amateur Saint)

Forbidden Behaviors

Killing: You shall not murder.

Sex: You shall not commit adultery.

Theft: You shall not steal.

Envy: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Lying: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Moses, angry over the infidelity of the Israelites, dashes God's Commandments to the ground.

Commanded Behaviors

Ancestors: Honor your father and your mother.


Religious Duty

Worship: Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.

Monotheism: You shall have no other gods before Me.

Paganism: You shall not make for yourself an idol.

Language: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.


From the New Testament


Christ is Tempted by Satan, Ary Scheffer, 1954


Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Wealth: You cannot serve both God and Money... Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.

Humility: ... when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.

Avoid Materialism: ... do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.

Avoid Judging Others:Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Judge a Process by its Outcome: By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.


From the Gospel of Matthew.







The Boy

Scout Oath

(For the Advanced Saint)

Commanded Behaviors

Trustworthy: A Scout tells the truth. He keeps his promises. Honesty is part of his code of conduct. People can depend on him.

Loyal: A Scout is true to his family, Scout leaders, friends, school, and nation.

Helpful: A Scout is concerned about other people. He does things willingly for others without pay or reward.

Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, would certainly be proud of fine young men like these.

Friendly: A Scout is a friend to all. He is a brother to other Scouts. He seeks to understand others. He respects those with ideas and customs other than his own.

Courteous: A Scout is polite to everyone regardless of age or position. He knows good manners make it easier for people to get along together.

Kind: A Scout understands there is strength in being gentle. He treats others as he wants to be treated. He does not hurt or kill harmless things without reason.

Obedient: A Scout follows the rules of his family, school, and troop. He obeys the laws of his community and country. If he thinks these rules and laws are unfair, he tries to have them changed in an orderly manner rather than disobey them.

Cheerful: A Scout looks for the bright side of things. He cheerfully does tasks that come his way. He tries to make others happy.

Thrifty: A Scout works to pay his way and to help others. He saves for unforeseen needs. He protects and conserves natural resources. He carefully uses time and property.

Brave: A Scout can face danger even if he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at or threaten him.

Clean: A Scout keeps his body and mind fit and clean. He goes around with those who believe in living by these same ideals. He helps keep his home and community clean.

Religious Duty

Reverent: A Scout is reverent toward God. He is faithful in his religious duties. He respects the beliefs of others.

Lord Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts, and the Cub Scouts





(For You and Me)


The Meaning of Life: Always remember that the meaning of life is found within yourself, not in an old book. Search yourself carefully. Don’t waste precious years pursuing something that later turns out to have been a waste of your time. Shop the cultural buffet for a suitable religion or philosophy of life if you need one. Choose the philosophy or religion that will help you advance yourself toward your self-chosen goals.


Loyalty is the noblest of human emotions. Surround yourself with people who are loyal to you. Give your loyalty only to people who are precious to you and things that are sacred to you.

Compassion is necessary if you want to understand others. Understanding is necessary if you want to persuade others to cooperate with you.


Human Interaction: A Machiavellian interacts with others in a way that advances her toward her own goals. Being seen by others as friendly and cooperative usually causes them to be friendly and cooperative in return. Behave in a way that stimulates a desirable response from others. Civility and courtesy are the desired behaviors in the absence of a compelling reason to behave otherwise. Rudeness and violence are usually counterproductive.

Lawful Behavior: The penalties for breaking the law, if you are caught, are usually way out of proportion to the benefits. Never be caught breaking the law. Never breaking the law is a good way to stay out of jail. The thoughtful Machiavellian is careful to never get crossways with the law.

Lying is serious business. Being discovered in a lie can be disastrous. Only lie if it is crucially important to do so and there is little chance that you can be discovered in the lie. Plan your lies very carefully and think them through. Never lie spontaneously. The Machiavellian, paradoxically, will lie much less often than most people because she wants to cultivate a reputation for honesty.

Truth: A Machiavellian can always face the truth, even an ugly truth. A Machiavellian avoids self-delusion like poison. A Machiavellian should always tell the truth unless there is a compelling reason to lie.

Sacrifice is contrary to your own self-interest, by definition. Sacrifice your own self-interest only for something that you believe is worth sacrificing for. Think carefully about the motivations of those who ask you to make a sacrifice.

Thriftiness: Track every monetary and non-monetary resource carefully or it will be squandered. Accumulate enough cash to see you through unforeseen emergencies. Use your resources wisely in pursuit of your goals.

Courage: A Machiavellian runs from or avoids danger whenever possible. A Machiavellian fights with all her strength, skill, and cunning when a fight cannot be avoided. It is generally better to crush an enemy rather than merely injure or humiliate her.

Body and Brain: A healthy lifestyle supports a healthy body. A healthy body supports a healthy brain. A healthy brain is worth more than all the gold in the world. Remember, you are your brain.

Cooperation is the grease of life. The ability to encourage others to cooperate with you is a skill that surpasses all others. Cultivate it.



      Case in point, from the PsyBlog Website:


      “… One theory has it that guilt is all about punishing the self, another has it that it encourages us to try to heal the social damage we've done. Still another suggests we are only motivated to act in order to make ourselves feel better about our transgression.

      In a new study published in Psychological Science, Amodio & Harmon-Jones (2007) argue the first two theories are compatible. Guilt, they argue, acts both to punish the self and to help us heal the damage we've done. And they use a thorough experiment involving measuring behavior and electrical activity in the brain to provide evidence for their view.

      Experimentally, the first problem is making people feel guilty in the lab. Here's what the authors came up with. Participants are brought in, have an EEG cap put on their head to measure electrical activity in the brain, and then they are told to watch a series of faces appearing on the screen.

      Some of the faces are White, some Black and some Asian. They don't have to do anything other than look at the faces. The participants have been specifically chosen because they are themselves White but have expressed positive views of Blacks. The researchers have to avoid recruiting racists otherwise the experimental results will be difficult to interpret.

      Afterwards the participants are shown bar graphs supposedly interpreting measurements of the electrical activity in their brains. These indicate that while the participants reacted positively and neutrally to White and Asian faces, they reacted negatively to Black faces. The 'results' seem to show that our liberal participants are somewhat racist - whether consciously or unconsciously.

      These graphs are, of course, just made up.

      Participants are then told the first experiment finished early so would they mind taking part in a different experiment. The second - apparently unrelated study - is actually still part of the first. In this participants choose which of 19 different magazine articles they find the most interesting. Three of the articles are about reducing racial prejudice.

      As you'd expect participants felt guilty about apparently being racist - this was measured in two ways. First they indicated in self-report measures they felt guilty. Second the EEG measures showed a significant reduction in left-frontal activity. This reduction in activity is associated with decreased 'approach motivation'. In other words they just wanted the ground to swallow them up. ...”


The Commandments of Goodness


Want to be a good person? There are plenty of rules to follow. Here we present two lists of rules for those who wish only to be good. The Ten Commandments from Exodus are shown below left. (A somewhat different version can be found elsewhere in Exodus and also in Deuteronomy.) A few passages from the Gospel of Matthew provide some New Testament additions to what Moses brought down from the mountain. The Boy Scout Oath in the middle column teaches a more complete set of goodness behaviors. While the Ten Commandments is the classic set of behavioral rules for those who wish to be good, we seriously recommend the Boy Scout Oath for the more sincere aspiring saints among us. For example, the Ten Commandments forbids lying, but the Boy Scout Oath commands honesty - a subtle difference that demands much more from you than just keeping your mouth shut. The Commandments forbid murder, adultery, theft, and envy. The Oath commands you to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind, cheerful, and friendly. A scout not only has to be good, he has to like it. Some considerations for the aspiring Machiavellian are presented in the third column. There are no Machiavellian commandments, because nothing is absolute and everything is relative. There are, however, considerations that must occur to the Machiavellian in every critical situation.


Psychologists and Their Anti-Machiavellian Propaganda


 Machiavellianism has been getting some pretty bad press for the last five centuries, and it all has to do with Machiavelli’s observation that people who get ahead in the world usually have to lie, cheat, steal, betray, and murder to get what they want. Machiavelli then went on to advise the Prince that he should develop the ability to lie, cheat, steal, betray, and murder if he wanted to gain power and stay in power. A Prince who is unwilling to do what is necessary to stay in power (and keep his head attached to his neck) should get out of the Prince business and become a cabbage farmer. Can anyone think that this was bad advice to give to a Renaissance Prince?

 Machiavelli was criticized for advising us to make decisions without reference to a formal code of ethics, religious teaching, or philosophy. Machiavelli said that certain techniques worked in certain situations but not in others. Some times, lying, cheating, and stealing gets you what you want when truth and honesty do not. At those times, you have a decision to make: lose honestly or win unfairly. If you have ever cheated on a test in school or broken the speed limit when you were late for work then you are familiar with that choice. Everything is relative to the people, time, place, and situation. If you want to achieve a particular goal, then you must use the methods that get you what you want - or give up on achieving that goal. Machiavelli never advised the Prince to do only good things - especially in a situation where doing good things doesn’t work. Machiavelli never advised the Prince to do only evil things - especially in a situation where doing evil things doesn’t work.


Is it better to lose honestly or win unfairly?


 A group of psychologists developed the idea of a “Machiavellian” personality and a test of how “Machiavellian” a person is. Like an IQ test, the Machiavellianism test produces a score. “High Machs tend to take a more detached, calculating approach in their interaction with other people ... They tend to believe most people are concerned only with their own well-being and to depend too much on anyone else is foolish. They believe some of the most efficient ways to achieve a goal are to use deception, rewards, promises, flattery, and even punishments to manipulate others into doing their bidding. To them, power may be more important than love.” This proves to me that even psychologists are willing to lie to succeed. It is not the goal of the Machiavellian to get a high score on a Machiavellianism test designed by psychologists who have never, apparently, ever read anything by Machiavelli. It is the goal of the Machiavellian to live in a way that is satisfying and meaningful to herself while achieving her self-selected goals. The Machiavellian doesn’t favor any particular method over any other. The Machiavellian favors methods that work in the situation of the moment. While everyone is grateful for the insights into human nature that psychology has produced, don’t psychologists use deception, the promise of reward, flattery, and even punishment when designing their psychological experiments on college freshmen? Do they not often deceive (lie to) their subjects as to the actual purpose of the experiment? Do they not pay (bribe) research subjects to participate in their experiments? Do they not occasionally design experiments in which the effects of praise (flattery) or criticism on a child’s behavior is measured? Do they not occasionally use punishments like a small electric shock to train a subject? Do they not do horrible things to animals - like guinea pigs and lab rats - that would make a serial killer get the dry-heaves? Perhaps the psychologists are really measuring a “Psych” Score instead of a “Mach” score.

If you want to take a quick online Machiavellianism test, you can compare your score to my 89. Another test (my score was 39 on this one) can be taken here. What does it mean if your score is higher or lower than mine? Absolutely nothing.



 Of course, the particular group of scholars who concocted the concept of the “High Mach” personality may well be the finest and most compassionate of people, and there is no connection at all between them and the designers of the experiment quoted above. We only point out that the sociopathic use of human beings is not limited to Machiavellians. Social scientists, psychologists, management experts, college deans, athletic coaches, and bishops - to mention only a few groups - are quite capable of using people for their own selfish purposes. We presume that the college students who participated in the emotional bitch-slapping described above were thoroughly debriefed and enjoyed a good laugh at their own gullibility at the end of the experiment. For a little while, they must have doubted their own knowledge of themselves after being told that they possess feelings and beliefs which, in fact, they do not possess. 


Chapter 8





Download or read online: Machiavelli’s Prince in English translation by W. K. Rowling


Read a brief summary of Machiavelli’s life and works,

written by W. K. Rowling as the Introduction to his translation of The Prince


A readable summary of Machiavelli’s Prince can be found at






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Better Living Through Machiavellianism


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