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Invisible Ends Justify Secret Means: Homeland, Machiavelli, and the Least of All Possible Evils


In the rhetoric informing Niccolò Machiavelli’s thought and the contemporary War on Terror, the dialectic between ethics and necessity within the framework of the process of secularization represents a cohesive thread. This very dialectic constitutes also the narrative principle presiding Homeland, one of most insightful TV shows having developed a critical reflection about the present time so far. Dealing with terrorist practices and counterterrorism tactics, the series provides an accurate depiction of the fears featuring nowadays Western societies and the means through which American institutions attempt to answer them . This essay proposes a survey of the conceptual core belonging to the ethics-necessity polarity in Homeland, such as the issues of state of exception, reason of state, collateral damage, and the least of all possible evils. All these concepts play a key role both in the development of the narrative and in defining the ethical position of the characters, and consequently to understand the peculiar relationship between reality and the fictional world. As many Italian scholars (for instance Viroli, Ginzburg, Ciliberto) have recently pointed out, they are also at the center of many misinterpreted passages of Niccolò Machiavelli’s work, that have led to a reductive idea of Machiavellianism as a political vision distant from any ethical concern . This contribution will show the importance of Machiavelli’ thought in the understanding of Homeland’s political meanings, also highlighting the importance of complex narratives to help us in making sense of present time politics.