“Politics is a game in which prizes are distributed and burdens are imposed according to skillful use of pressures and counterpressures. Importunity may prevail over reason, expedience over evidence, and power over justice. Many politicians practice their craft according to rules and principles formulated by Machiavelli.” Hans Sennholz
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (3 May 1469 – 21 June 1527) was an Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. Machiavelli glorified instrumentality in statebuilding – good and evil are means to an end – the end justifies the means. Violence may be necessary for the successful stabilization of power and introduction of new legal institutions. Force may be used to eliminate political rivals, to coerce resistant populations, and to purge the community of other men strong enough of character to rule, who will inevitably attempt to replace the ruler. Machiavelli has become infamous for such political advice, ensuring that he would be remembered in history through the adjective, Machiavellian.
Machiavelli’s best-known book, Il Principe, brought about the term Machiavellianism – the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct. It is also a term that some social and personality psychologists use to describe a person’s tendency to be unemotional, and therefore able to detach themselves from conventional morality to deceive and manipulate others. It is one of the three personality traits referred to as the dark triad – along with narcissism – grandiose self-view and psychopathy – selfishness superficial charm.
The Prince is a political treatise, describing the means by which government may gain and maintain its power, in which the effective truth is taken to be more important than any abstract ideal. Machivaelli’s “ideal” government was ever scheming and calculating about political gain and authority. Machiavelli’s persuasion differed materially from that of earlier writers because he rejected the ideal and moral and preferred the real and practical. He allowed the conclusion that politics has nothing to do with morals, ethics, and religion, and that it is incapable of observing all the rules of Judeo-Christian morality.
Machiavelli encourage leaders to attempt to control their fortune gloriously, to the extreme extent that some situations may call for a fresh “founding” (or re-founding) of the “modes and orders” that define a community, despite the danger and necessary evil and lawlessness of such a project. Founding a wholly new state, or even a new religion, using injustice and immorality was the chief theme of the Prince.
For a ruler to rise to power he must “crush” his opponents, he must conquer by “criminal virtue” through cruel immoral deeds such as execution of rivals if it is needed to secure power. He must secure power through one fatal swoop so that over time those conquered will forget, thus securing his rule. Men are, after all, happily absorbed in their own affairs and in self-deception.
He must put down powerful people and conquer free states using their own laws and orders against them – let them keep their illusion of freedom as you reform the existing order. The ruler must appear to be merciful, faithful, humane, frank and religious but most importantly, only seem to have these qualities since it will be necessary to act against them and at times, to choose evil. It is better to be feared than loved since fear is a means to an end and that end is security for his reign.
There must be an illusion that the ruler keeps his word but only keep his word when it suits his purpose or to maintain the illusion. He must at all times be able to lie while keeping the appearance of being truthful. And, once in power the ruler must avoid unstable situations while obligating people to him. Those of weak character can easily be bought but those who shun change must be watched and feared.
Hans Sennholz writes that in the footsteps of Machiavelli many American politicians seek to gain the support of the electorate by any conceivable methods. They chatter, coax, and cajole, and if this is ineffective, they pretend, deceive, and promise the world. Promises are useful things, both to keep and, when expedient, to break. Since people are taken in by appearance, politicians appear devout and loyal; yet, in political theory, it is better to be a clever winner than to be a devout loser. Indeed, many American politicians are instinctively Machiavellian, denying the relevance of morality in political affairs and holding that craft and deceit are justified in pursuing and maintaining political power.
The Machiavellian inclinations of many American politicians seek and find intellectual support from the people who would make government the arbiter of economic life. Many academics would place politicians and their appointees, government officials, in the center of the social and economic order, directing and regulating the production process, fixing prices and “redistributing” income. Once in power and at the levers of political control, Machiavellian politicians are likely to serve their own selfish ends. They seek success by saying what people believe, or can be made to believe, rather than what is demonstrably true. They think of the next election, rather than of the next generation. They look for the success of their party rather than that of their fellowmen. They grant benefits and confer entitlements to the most numerous class of voters, who in turn, pledge their votes for election and reelection. At the same time they impose financial burdens on less numerous classes of citizens who can be ignored at the polls.
The various departments of government are vocal advocates of special interests and bitter enemies of the common interest. In its own way each department promises to provide benefits to its charges at the expense of all other people whom they do not represent. All departments together labor diligently to boost living expenses and lower levels of living.
But above all, they all contend for and live the ways of Machiavellian mores which set politicians and government officials free from the code of morals that governs private conduct.
“In order to get power and retain it, it is necessary to love power; but love of power is not connected with goodness but with qualities that are the opposite of goodness, such as pride, cunning, and cruelty.” Leo Tolstoy