Serving Florence unsentimentally as a member of the Ten of War, Machiavelli knew that a city amid enemies cannot distribute totally equal knowledge at every moment. Perfect societies may exclude untruth: in the work of existing ones, secrecy and lies have their place. Alongside his remark that one gross lie will repeatedly deceive individuals who fancy that accepting it offers them sectional advantage, it may seem to endorse mendacity unconfined. But no such advantage exists among the people as a whole—and so corruption may be checked. Machiavelli’s real position is that lies and secrecy must be used with strictest moderation: that abuse makes them habit-forming, and for the addict no safe dose exists.

 

Bruce Page is the author and co-author of several books, including The Murdoch Archiplelago, published by Simon & Schuster in Great Britain in 2003. He has worked for several newspapers, including the pre-Murdoch Sunday Times of London, where he led the paper’s investigative teams. He was editor of the magazine New Statesman between 1978 and 1982.