Posts Tagged ‘Machiavelli’

Obama, Harry Reid, and Machiavelli

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The New York Times published an article today that I think resonates with both Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and Hobbes’ “Leviathan.”  The article explains a bill regarding the media that was just passed in Argentina.  Under the new law, broadcasting power will no longer be controlled by a small number of companies, which proponents of the bill say will benefit the public by “diversifying the airwaves.”  However, others who have examined the bill think its true intention is to give the government more control over the media.  The president now has the responsibility of selecting members of a group that will regulate broadcasting.  Furthermore, since this group holds the power to grant new licenses, it could pick and choose which companies will and will not be allowed to broadcast.

I think Machiavelli would support the Argentinean president in enforcing this law because at the end of the day, it should help her to stay in power.  I do not think it will create discontent or hatred in Argentina’s citizens because the control the President can apply through this law is subtle; it is not out-and-out oppressive. 

I would argue that Hobbes would also agree with, or at least understand, the new legislation.  The President could use this law in several ways to gain what Hobbes says people want.  She could prevent companies from broadcasting anything that portrays her in a negative light, thereby gaining recognition and possibly causing others to value her more highly.  The lack of opposition would also promote peace in her ‘commonwealth,’ or country.


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I think it is undeniable that in America the notion of fear plays a constant role in the election of leadership. While it may seem odd to say that in this modern day and age our government is elected not through who the public likes, but who the public fears, one need not look further than the role panic played in the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004 to be convinced. In fact, it seems that President Bush and his staff took a page right out of what could be seen as the “Machiavelli playbook” (which is, of course, colloquially called the Karl Rove Playbook) to ensure their victory. While their actions may differ from the advice Machiavelli gave to the Medici Family in the early sixteenth century, they certainly had many roots in “The Prince.” Their actions focused much more on having Americans fear what could happen to them should they be removed from power than on gaining widespread love from the public. A number of questionable decisions were made to ensure that they would remain in power for four more years.

By 2004, President Bush’s reputation could likely not be revived in the eyes of the public. From the outset of the Bush Administration, the legitimacy of his candidacy was in question. The election that put him in power was controversially decided in the Supreme Court, and many saw this election as an opportunity to finally defeat him. Now in the midst of two wars, neither of which had a foreseeable end, he was seen as an extremely vulnerable incumbent president. His opponent, Sen. John Kerry, was showing almost equal poll numbers in April of 2004, 7 months before the election. [1] This is when there was a stark change in strategy on the Bush campaign.

President Bush started using the memory of September 11, 2001 to woo back voters. He reminded American voters that since 9/11, America had not been attacked and that to change leadership would embolden the enemy in ways that would prove deadly to many Americans. The government also began to raise security levels in many different government run organizations to help foster this notion of danger. [2] Despite never directly saying anything specifically, they made it very clear that you were either with President Bush or against America. To support John Kerry was to support attacks on the American public.

All of this culminated on the eve of the election in 2004 when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield, and Attorney General John Ashcroft, asked Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, to raise the terror warning level to a higher level. [3] This was blatant politicizing of a system that was supposed to be in place to protect American citizens. The system was set up to allow Americans to see the threat of a terrorist attack at any given time. Ridge was encouraged to raise the level despite a lack of reason other than to incite fear.

In his just recently published book, The Test of Our Times: America Under Siege…and How We Can Be Safe Again, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge says, “at this point there was nothing to indicate a specific threat and no reason to cause undue public alarm.” [4] Sec. Ridge did not end up changing the terror warning level (as he believed it to be wrong and that they would face backlash over such an action) but this was simply the climax of many different actions that put fear into the hearts of Americans, persuading them to vote Republican.

In the end, Machiavellian notions of fear prevailed. It convinced enough voters that to change leadership would be ultimately deadly for innocent Americans. Whether John Kerry would have been any more or less successful at preventing acts of terror against the American public cannot be said for sure. What can be said, however, is that George W. Bush and his allies were able to persuade more voters that to vote for Kerry (a probably more loved candidate) would be detrimental to their own interests.

Quick Note: This began as a comment to the blog post “Love Me or Fear Me” by serenagr. However, as I began to write I realized that while I was answering the first question she (sorry if I assumed wrongly here) posed, this was more of a new concept all together than a response to the many well thought out questions asked in that post. So I would just like to thank serenagr for the idea that helped me form this blog post. Also, given the short time I wasn’t able to actually obtain a copy of Tom Ridge’s book so all the quotes are from other blog style websites that offered excerpts of his book. Finally, the title is just a play on words of Hunter Thompson’s famous book. I just thought it was funny although this has nothing to do with the content.

Works Cited

1.  “Poll: Bush Vulnerable, Kerry Not Benefiting.” April 14, 2004.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4739326/ (accessed September 30, 2009).

2. Sharma, Versha. “Tom Ridge: I Fought Against Raising Security Threat Level On The Eve Of 2004 Election.” August 20, 2009.http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/08/tom_ridge_i_fought_against_raising_security_threat.php (accessed September 30, 2009).

3. ibid

4. ibid

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On Tuesday Iranian students at Sharif University held an antigovernment protest. The cause for the protest was the controversy with the current president of Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. There are beliefs that he unjustly swayed the election in his favor. The Minister of Science and Higher education, Kamran Daneshjoo, was supposed to pay a visit to the University on Tuesday morning, but due to the protests, the visit was cancelled (for more information please click this link: nytimes article)

The acts of the students and the steps they have taken closely resemble the steps Dr. Martin Luther King outlines in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. The first resemblance would be the simple fact that, as to this point, the protests held by the students have been non-violent. The four steps addressed by Dr. King are the, “…collection of facts to determine whether injustice exist; negotiation; selfpurification; and direct action” (page 2, 2).  In the article it is implied that the government has done some unjust, and what seems to me as Machiavellian, things. Soon after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the election hundreds of former government officials and activist were thrown in jail. Although not for the most thorough of reasons, the Students have collected enough facts and witnessed enough unfairness to say that injustice exists. The students achieved self-purification by openly accepting their punishments of jail time and being banned from attending class. They took the direct action of nonviolent, persistent protests; something Dr. Martin Luther King was an activist for, as long as injustice was proven.

I would also like to take the time to point out the Machiavellian actions the Iranian government has taken. The article states, “Dozens of student activists were jailed or barred from attending classes this month, according to student Web sites, in an effort to intimidate students” (1). In chapter eight of “The Prince” Machiavelli explains the need a ruler has for cruelty (3). In my discussion session we talked about why Machiavelli believes a ruler must use cruelty from time to time. A majority of the class agreed it was a way of establishing and maintaining power. If you kill someone who committed a crime such as theft, then that is an example to all others what will happen to them if they commit the same crime. Cruelty is a way to ensure that as a ruler you have the upper hand and keep your legitimacy as the authority. The Iranian government seems to be following this same idea; if they put some of the student protesters in jail it will send a message to the others what they will face if they continue their actions. The second Machiavellian action taken by the government is that once the new President came to power he made sure to get rid of those who were in power previously, “More than a hundred activists and former government officials were arrested after the election” (1). In chapter seven of “The Prince” Machiavelli lists the things a ruler should do when they come to power, among other things he lists “…destroy one’s enemies…” (page 21, 3). According to Machiavelli, by imprisoning the former officials President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad secured his power as the new leader and showed his people the control he has.

Works Cited

  1. Fathi, Nazila. “The New York Times Log In.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 29 Sept. 2009. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.         <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/30/world/middleeast/30iran.html?hpw&gt;.
  2. King, Martin L. “Letter from a Birimingham Jail.” Letter to Fellow Clergymen. 16 Apr. 1963. Historicaltextarchive.com. Historical Text Archive, 2001. Web. 27 Sept. 2009. <http://historicaltextarchive.com/sections.php?op=viewarticle&artid=40&gt;.
  3. Machiavelli. “The Prince.” Ed. David Wootton. Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub Co Inc, 2008. 9+. Print.

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Niccolò Machiavelli, in The Prince, describes important qualities and attributes a “ruler” must have in order to govern a successful nation. The main quality I want to focus on is “Is it better to be loved or hated as a ruler”. Machiavelli states that an efficient ruler must possess both qualities. However, as he goes on in Chapter 12 he comes to the conclusion that being hated is better than being loved. I feel that a country of people who are truly in love with their ruler will have greater prosperity in the future. If the ruler has found a way to gain the love of his subordinates, there is a sense that they who do anything to protect him and the country even if it means giving up their life. I think the bond of true love wouldn’t be broken in times of despair and hardship, I think it is actually made stronger in those times.

For example lets look at the horrific disaster that took place on 9/11. When a terrorist regime hi-jacked United States airplanes and crash them into the World Trade Center, and a few other places. Thousands of people died that morning and families we shook at their roots. However, the United States didn’t tremble, the love and passion that our country holds helped us ultimately win the fight against terrorism. Even though, the Bush adminstration was and still is under question about their motives and intentions in getting involved in the Middle East, the country stayed strong and fought the battle together. Another key is that Bush’s approval rating was at its highest peak during the weeks following 9/11, this indicates that the citizens of the U.S. fully trusted the actions that the government was taking. The trust didn’t come because of fear, it came from the affection which is the underlying theme of our country.

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Machiavelli vs. Makaveli

We have learned the ways of Machiavelli in our beloved Political Science 101 lectures and readings but I am wondering, how many people know the ways of “Makaveli?”

Makaveli is the alias used by the late American rapper, Tupac Shakur, used on his last studio-recorded album The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory. The album was released in November 1996, two months after Tupac was shot and killed but is not considered a posthumous album because it was completed when he was still alive. The main question I want to raise is this: why would Tupac choose the alias of Makaveli? What parallels are there between him and Machiavelli?

Tupac read much of Machiavelli’s books when he was imprisoned for 11 months in 1995. When he made his last album he consciously changed his alias. In fact, the name “Tupac Shakur” is not even on the album cover, only “Makaveli” is. He obviously saw some connections between himself as an artist and Machiavelli’s philosophies.

The first parallel that can be drawn is the mystery behind the aim of their works. Machiavelli’s The Prince can be distinctly interpreted in two different ways based on what class you are looking from. It could be seen as a cry for a job from the nobility or an unveiling of the nature of politics. To the nobility itself, they were able to take it as sound advice and it helped save Machiavelli from his imprisonment. On the other hand, it exposed what people need from governing bodies and shows them what is wrong with theirs.

In Tupac’s work, many things are seen two-faced as well. His songs could be interpreted in different ways based again on your class. It could be seen as a something for the ghetto class to relate to or something to expose the harshness of ghetto culture to higher classes. Both Tupac’s music and The Prince seem to accomplish both interpretations through one art form.

Another large parallel is their views on strategizing concerns. Machiavelli stated that, “people should either be caressed or crushed.” [1] Machiavelli used this phrase in the sense that rulers either needed to be great allies to other countries or to make mortal enemies of them. This requires much strategy as to knowing which states are most important and powerful to turn friend or foe. Tupac was a big believer in this too. He “caressed” his fellow gangsters through the political concept of Thug Life, which essentially was supposed to expose ghetto life to the portion of America that can fix it. Tupac drew parallels between the Thug Life movement’s exposing of ghetto life to when images of the Vietnam War were first shown on TV. [2] The images he created were supposed to inspire action and change to improve the quality of ghetto life just as the images of Vietnam helped put an end to the war. This concept embraced those who were living this lifestyle and somewhat inadvertently alienated upper and middle class people. It was seen as glorifying violent culture and anger towards authorities. Tupac created these polar opposites Machiavelli talked about with the strong masses of the ghettos across America behind him, with a few crooked cops alienated against him.

Machiavelli says in The Prince, “So we may conclude that good advice, no matter who it comes from, really comes from the ruler’s own good judgment, and that the ruler’s good judgment never comes from good advice.” [3] Tupac seemed to be a big believer in this theory throughout his career. People constantly told him he was too violent, tried to spoil him with living the rich life of a rap star and forgetting about the movement he was fighting for, and tried to change his music in both style and topic. Throughout all that, he knew to stay true to whom he was and where he was from regardless of what others tried advise him of.

The last main concept of Machiavelli’s I will delve into is that of the theory, “it is much safer to be feared than loved.” [4] It is hard to say whether or not Tupac followed this theory. He certainly was feared by many people but also loved equally if not more than he was feared. It is clear through his music he did not feel safety but it is also clear he didn’t care. He was shot five times in 1994 but was not killed. This shooting combined with a prison sentence made sure that Tupac knew he was far from safe. However, when he got out of jail, he recommitted to music and started recording more than ever. [2] He did not change the style and emotion in his music from before, showing that regardless of how much danger he was in, he was going to do what he was going to do. He was feared, loved, and by some, hated. According to Machiavelli, this hatred created by his alienation of the upper classes would be his downfall, as Machiavelli believed a ruler should, “avoid those things that will make him a subject of hatred or contempt.” [5]

Tupac used the alias Makaveli and clearly has many parallels to the theories of Machiavelli in The Prince in his attitude, political actions, words, interpretations, and most importantly, music.

[1] Wootten, David. “Modern Political Thought.” Machiavelli, Niccolo. “The Prince.” Chapter 3. Page 11.

[2] Tupac Resurrection. Lauren Lazin. Tupac Shakur. Documentary.

[3] Wootten, David. “Modern Political Thought.” Machiavelli, Niccolo. “The Prince.” Chapter 23. Page 48.

[4] Wootten, David. “Modern Political Thought.” Machiavelli, Niccolo. “The Prince.” Chapter 17. Page 35.

[5] Wootten, David. “Modern Political Thought.” Machiavelli, Niccolo. “The Prince.” Chapter 19. Page 38.

Most of the facts about Tupac were taken from previous cited Tupac Resurrection and my general knowledge of his music catalog.

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(Section 008)

In The Prince, Machiavelli is very clear on what the leader of a conquering nation can do in order to ensure the most profitable and stable relationship after the actual fighting is done. Things are certainly different today than they were in Machiavelli’s times, but that does not mean that he would not have some choice words US officials involved in the management in these engagements. The following is an account of how the War on Terror both diverges from, and conforms to Machiavellian ideas regarding foreign policy.

In chapter 3 of The Prince Machiavelli describes what is the essence of how an invasion should be run, “People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them, there is nothing they can do.” (pg. 11) [Emphasis added] While the US Marines are almost certainly capable of rooting out and neutralizing the remaining resistance fighters in Iraq and the remaining Al-Qaueda militants in Afghanistan, they have not been given the resources or permission to fully engage the enemy, as Machiavelli states they should. Indeed, “U.S. commanders have laid down restrictions on firing weapons, entering mosques and the treatment of detainees in a war often fought at night against an elusive, hard-to-identify enemy.”(Washington Post Article) According to Machiavelli, the US’ reliance on an occupying army in a territory that has not been crushed results in “…enemies who can hurt you, for they remain, even if beaten, in their home. In every respect … an occupying army is a liability.” (pg. 12) This unwillingness to declare “total war” on Terror (Al-Qaeda, The Mahdi Army, etc.) would likely be Machiavelli’s main criticism of the War on Terror, but I do not believe that it would be the only one.

Chapter 5 of The Prince lays out some guidelines on how to govern cities or Kingdoms that you have conquered. Much to Machiavelli’s consternation (in my mind, at least) the US has failed to heed any of his suggestions. The first, and presumably most effective method Machiavelli advocates is simply to raze the city to the ground. Obviously this is not an option in the modern day. The second course of action he advocates is for the victorious leader to go live in the newly conquered province. This is also something I doubt we will see happen. The only recourse, then (at least according to Machiavelli, at least) is to let them to continue to live under their own laws, make them pay us and create a political elite who will remain loyal to the US. Even if Machiavelli didn’t necessarily think this was the best option, (which he clearly did not, as evidence by the quote “He who becomes ruler of a city… and does not knock it down, must expect to be knocked down by it.” pg 16) I think he would agree that it was probably the most realistic option for the United States.

Engaging, conquering and overseeing new territory is a very difficult thing to do successfully. Indeed, Machiavelli says that there is “nothing harder to undertake, nothing more likely of failure, nothing more risky to pull off” (pg 17) than doing just that, and that’s under the best circumstances, and using the best (that is to say: his own) strategy. Considering this, as well as the fact that the US was, and is still, not willing to fully engage agents of Terror in the Middle East, in the way that Machiavelli posits that a successful leader must, I can only conclude that he would be very opposed to the US involvement in the Middle East, not necessarily on moral grounds, but on the basis that it is being run poorly (again, by his standards) and no significant profit can be gained by the United States.

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