With his resistance to philosophical system, they appreciate his genius in uncovering truths about ethics and power which otherwise remain concealed in the idealizations of most theorists.

Equally important is Machiavelli's message that practical moral thinking is strategic. By this I mean that pursuit of the public good is contingent on available resources and the authority to act.

As a result, the good practitioner is someone with the requisite competence to act effectively for the public good in circumstances that are conflictual, fleeting, and partially out of control.

He observes that Machiavelli's account of the princely virtues builds on the work of classical Roman moralists and draws the same distinction they draw between personal virtues (such as charity and piety) and political virtues (liberality, clemency, good faith). [Note: Quentin Skinner's view]

What Skinner adds is that, when Machiavelli contends that rulers sometimes must act in defiance of the virtues (that is, immorally), it is the personal virtues that Machiavelli sees as obstacles, not the political virtues. (Thus, the good leader is not necessarily a good person.)

When scholars focus on Machiavelli's instruction about consciously committing evil (when necessary), they typically fail to notice this disorderliness and thus the numerous -- and perfectly cogent -- ways ethical conflicts can arise.

The term dirty hands, briefly, refers to situations in which it appears that the morally better course of action is to do something morally wrong. Which, of course, is paradoxical: how can it be morally better to do something morally wrong?

Giorgini notes that Machiavelli never says the end justifies the means, but how then are we to understand Machiavelli's teaching on committing evil?

In a clever rhetorical inversion, Holmes suggests that, to maintain such loyalty, the prudent ruler is"forced to be good."This phrase neatly captures Benner's hopeful reading of Machiavelli, but it reflects the same dichotomous choice: either Machiavelli is completely amoral, or he is unproblematically moral.

Machiavelli goes a step further in his discussion of ideal polities by stressing the virtue of social conflict for preserving liberty.

Machiavelli's view, rather, is that the desire to dominate is less decent than the desire not to be dominated. Because of the natural emergence of both desires (in different classes), the latter -- and its expression in political conflict -- is crucial to maintaining liberty and a well-ordered state. It is important to stress that Machiavelli

It is important to stress that Machiavelli praises only a regulated kind of civic conflict, as may occur in a well-ordered republic, that is, where there are good laws and properly functioning institutions.

I suppose Machiavelli's stance on conflict is troubling to theorists who are inclined to resist the idea that permanent social antagonism is a virtue. But, while Machiavelli does place great emphasis on constitutionalism and the rule of law in a well-ordered republic, he does not lose sight of the inevitable tendencies toward oligarchic control and corruption which generate a need for continual vigilance and even insurgency.