Machiavelli’s Prince was written in the sixteenth century ostensibly as advice to the rulers of Florence — especially Lorenzo de Medici — about how to achieve and maintain power. Or it may have been written to alert the common folk about what their rulers were up to. It is so vivid and frank that people like Jean Jacques Rousseau have been tempted to insist that it is satirical: surely, politics isn’t that rough and cut-throat! The Catholic Church disagreed with Rousseau and banned the book soon after it appeared. For my part, I think Machiavelli was being quite honest: politics is, indeed, a matter of doing whatever it takes to achieve the desired objective. And the “objective” is always to gain and maintain power. In his day, it was the Medici family who pursued that goal. In our day it is the corporations where the CEOs make 475 times as much money as their average employee and “morality” is a word never used.
In fact, there is a most interesting and provocative parallel here that might have missed a great many readers of Machiavelli’s classic. The Medici were the wealthiest family in Florence. Today’s power-brokers are the very wealthy, as was the case in Machiavelli’s day. Money is power. Thus, while we like to delude ourselves about democracy resting upon the power of the people, Machiavelli would insist that the people who have the power are, in fact, those who hold the purse strings. The people simply go through the motions and exercise the very few options open to them.
Thus, while you and I might bemoan the fact that the planet is suffering from severe attacks by greedy people and something must be done and the quicker the better, as long as people like the Koch brothers are the ones who decide what will be done, the planet must suffer. They hope to stack the political deck with hand-picked puppets and rid the country of restraints on “free enterprise” — by such as agencies as the EPA. To be sure, today’s movers and shakers failed to achieve all they hoped for during the past election, despite the millions of dollars they spent to guarantee that the puppets they had selected for public office were successful in the national elections. But they have sworn that this will not happen again in the mid-term elections. And given their determination together with the money they have at their disposal, success seems inevitable. The vision of the fore-fathers that was framed in the Enlightenment optimism of the eighteenth century, the vision that assured those who embraced their new nation that the people will in fact rule in this Democracy — as reflected in Madison’s statement in Federalist Papers that those in positions of political prominence would be removed if they failed to attend to the voice of those who elected them — turns out to have been a pipe dream. Sad to say.
In then end, then, those of us who care about our planet and our country will have to sit by with hands tied and watch those who rule — who are, in fact if not in principle, the movers and shakers of today. They are the ones who hold the reins of power by means of the amount of monies they have to spend on electing puppets who will respond only to the pull of the strings that are wielded by the power-brokers themselves. And, of course, those same people could care less about the planet or their country. They care only about the bottom line. They are blinded by greed and the love of power and care only about what will bring them what they want. So let’s not fool ourselves. Machiavelli told us all about it centuries ago, and things have not really changed that much since then. Those who have money and power seek only to maintain their positions of strength while the rest of us seek the latest diversion they provide us with.
Does this mean that I, personally, will no longer hope for real change, that I will no longer send in my piddling amounts of money to help support those few politicians who seem to have something resembling a conscience? Certainly not. One must free one’s hands and continue to swim against the tide if it is certain to be heading in the wrong direction. I will continue to hope and I will continue to struggle and raise my shrill voice. But though I am not a pessimist or even a fatalist, I am a realist who has learned from the wisest and brightest of those who have passed before me. I have a pretty good idea how things will turn out.
Hugh, it falls on various truthseekers like you and others to share the overarching truths and concerns. Our leaders do not know the issues like we would hope they would and every one is looking to solve the issue of the day and then forget about it. So, we must be the ones that tell them they need to pay attention. I agree it is a very uphill battle. By the way, I borrowed your solar energy jobs comparison to the coal industry. Thanks for the data point. BTG
yes, follow the money and one finds the puppet master manipulating the strings while most watch with mouths agape and in awe. i think there are some people who are so weary from swimming against their own personal currents and undertows, that they delegate their power to others. they might not be fatalists, but they are tired…
then there are those who wisely inform and educate others through quiet ways. you might not be able to stop the bursting of a dam, but you are able to awaken and warn us if we’re too busy fighting the current to notice.
You are so kind!
Usually, my seat is back stage behind the curtain. I am now standing front row and applauding…loudly with cheers to you and jeers to those who think they’ve got my future in their bag. I haven’t finished singing yet…
I think I can hear you…! Many thanks.
Hugh, excellent as usual, a strong indictment of our times and our system. The consequences are so high, on the damage to the planet, that we must indeed swim hard against the tide.
Although the realist in me also looks at Washington today and is sickened, I have to hold some hope that there’ll yet again be a leader with the courage, charisma and popular support to shut some of this down. We have had a few who’ve led us out of similarly bleak, God-awful periods (although maybe not with the global consequences we have today).
But Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, some of the abolitionist and civil rights leaders, even our first president, Washington — who had to contend with all kinds of grubby and greedy rich know-it-alls in Congress and out — were able to stand up to very powerful people and institutionalized corruption and stave off the abyss, sometimes even move us forward. It’s a longer shot today, perhaps, with today’s big money being almost incalculably big.
I share your hope — to a lesser extent, I suspect. The leaders you mentioned led at a time when the people were more willing to follow, there was less separatism, and the corporations didn’t wield the power they do today.
An insightful article. Thanks. Each time I have promoted one of my trainees to a senior position I have given them a copy of The Prince to read, learn and inwardly digest. Some do, and some don’t, but you ignore his words at your peril in a job that requires political widom. Tony
Thanks, Tony. I taught a graduate level course in Business Ethics and several of the students chose to read The Prince for their term paper. They saw fascinating parallels between Machiavelli’s world and today’s world of business.