"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."
- John DiIulio, former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives1
In stark contrast to earlier political philosophers, Machiavelli makes no pretense about being concerned with anything other than the acquisition and maintenance of power. Indeed, Machiavelli
is perhaps the first writer not concerned with an overarching philosophy other than pure power politics. To Machiavelli, the ends of ruling a state successfully triumphed any moral considerations
about the means. The Prince
is not, as it has been characterized occasionally, a paean to evil or depravity - but rather a blueprint for a cutthroat political calculus that does not even consider any limits on the acquisition of power
. It is amoral
, not immoral
- like a modern corporation
competing for the slightest advantage in the marketplace, there is no place for anything other than success - or else competitors will depose you.
Our dear friend Niccollò's treatise is probably a fairly accurate analysis of the tasks needed for rulership during the time he was writing. That is, if you want to be an amoral conquering despot in a time and place where the populace grants legitimacy without democracy, The Prince
is probably a pretty good (if rough) guidebook. Thinking about it, that sounds like a fairly good description of the Bush Administration
's (unstated) plans for Iraq. If only Rumsfeld
had remembered this little gem, the administration might not have had such a difficult time with the Iraqi Exiles and the Kurdish Peshmerga:
And since the matter demands it, I must not fail to warn a prince, who by means of secret favours has acquired a new state, that he must well consider the reasons which induced those to favour him who did so; and if it be not a natural affection towards him, but only discontent with their government, then he will only keep them friendly with great trouble and difficulty, for it will be impossible to satisfy them.
Of course, the administration seems to have learned its lesson, as they asked the Peshmerga to disarm2
, and we are starting to hear about how Shiite Ayatollah Sistani3
is a good, democracy loving Islamic Fundamentalist, not like those mean democracy hating Shiite Ayatollah's in neighboring Iran, whom we continue to loathe.
Another avenue where Bush could have saved time
by just paying attention in Philosophy Class
is religion. Machiavelli encourages rulers to seem to be merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, and religious, but to always be ready to act in ways contrary to these virtues in order to maintain his power and control over the state. Hypocrisy is an essential virtue to be the executor of political power:
A prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, the end justifies the means.
George W. Bush lost his first bid for congress (as a pro-choice run-of-the-mill business-friendly Republican
), but learned a lot before winning the Texas Governorship in 1994, instrumental in his win (and later campaign for President) was a newfound way of talking about religion, focusing on his "deep, personal faith". As detailed in the September 2003 issue of GQ magazine4
Doug Wead, a political adviser to the senior Bush in 1987, had written a series of memos on how to communicate with evangelical Christians. Wead's motto was "signal early and signal often," meaning that references to God in speeches and contacts with celebrity evangelicals sent a message to this important political group that would pass over the heads of non-evangelicals.
"George would read my memos, and he would be licking his lips saying, 'I can use this to win in Texas,'" Wead said.
Bush learned well, and it is taken as an article of, well, faith, that he is a very religious person - even though a fair reading of his actions since taking office would suggest anything but mercy, faith, integrity, humanity, and religion (unless I missed the part in the Gospels where tax cuts for the wealthy
were an integral part of the Kingdom of God). But this impression persists even amongst his critics - who on occasion even attack the President for being too religious
. Niccollò would be proud.
One would wish, however, that our current overlords would have read and learned from The Prince
's instructions on Liberality and Meanness
. Machiavelli seems to be talking in this section about long range planning, and a Presidency driven only by political considerations
would be expected to ignore this, but he does have an awfully good point about the necessity of being able to pay for your own wars
1. Suskind, Ron. "Why Are These Men Laughing?" Esquire Magazine Jan. 2003
Reprinted at the author's website: http://www.ronsuskind.com/newsite/articles/archives/000032.html
2. Noah, Tim. "Kurd Sellout Watch: Day 355" http://slate.msn.com/id/2095840/
3. He's one hip Grand Ayatollah too, with a web presence: http://www.sistani.org/html/eng/
4. Sorry, I don't have a better citation for this, GQ doesn't keep articles online. This paragraph taken from this website: http://www.consortiumnews.com/2003/120103.html