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The Democrats Find Machiavelli


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American Spectator:

Perhaps it had to happen. The Democrats, with an unpopular leader, down in the polls, and with little hope of an improvement in the economy, have found Machiavelli, the patron saint of seizing and holding on to power at all costs. Chris Matthews, the protagonist of Hardball, has written a book on Jack Kennedy as a leader in the Machiavellian tradition, preferring to be feared rather than loved. Though Bobby was the one who gained a well-merited reputation for ruthlessness, Jack, writes Matthews, "could be pitiless."

It is filled with examples. Jack "had no choice but to destroy" William Burke, the Massachusetts Democratic State Chairman, using the Boston cops to keep Burke out of the room while the state committeemen were voting him out as chairman. Similar tactics were used on the Governors of Ohio, Maryland, California, and Pennsylvania. And when Kennedy became president and Roger Blough, the president of U.S. Steel, defied him by raising steel prices, Blough and his staff were subjected to subpoenas, searches by FBI agents, and threats that their hotel bills and nightclub expenses would be made public.

Dana Milbank, the Washington Post columnist, ends his laudatory column on these tactics by drawing the conclusion: "Sometimes, that's how it must be. Can Obama understand that?"

So much for Republican ruthlessness.

But the trouble for Democrats is that Machiavelli is not good news for Obama. Not that Obama hasn't tried more than a little ruthlessness of his own. While he was in the Senate, for example, Obama was one of the leading supporters of campaign finance reform. When he launched his candidacy and saw he could get the money, he threw finance reform overboard like an empty beer bottle and raised more money than any presidential candidate in history. When he was campaigning, he said that the Afghanistan war was the one that Bush ought to have fought. When the opinion polls turned against it, he announced that 30,000 troops would be returning to the U.S. -- and, surprise, surprise, most of them would come back a month before the election. Similarly, he maneuvered the Iraqi government into saying that they didn't need American troops any more -- largely by telling that government that he wasn't prepared to leave more than 3-5,000 -- so no doubt he will be going round the country next year telling us all that he ended the Iraq war. He must be hoping that this ruthlessness may still be enough to pull him through.

Another problem for Democrats is that Machiavelli believed that public opinion was seldom wrong, and the leader needed to keep on good terms with the people. "Not without good reason is the voice of the people likened to that of God," he wrote, "for public opinion is remarkably accurate in its prognostications, so much so that it seems as if the populace by some hidden power discerned the evil and the good that was to befall it." This is a truth on which American democracy rests. Recent writers like James Surowiecki have noted the remarkable ability of groups of people to predict more accurately than the experts how to come to wise decisions, foster innovation, solve problems, predict the future, and even count the number of marbles in a glass bowl. It is a truth with which a lot of Democrats have struggled, hence the flirtations of Matthews and Milbank with ruthlessness, and the inclination of Democrats like Peter Orszag and Bev Perdue to entrust decisions to commissions rather than the American people.

Another reason why Machiavelli is not good news for Democrats is that he deplores extravagant expenditure. In his chapter on Liberality and Meanness in his best-known book, The Prince, he advises that it may be good to be reputed liberal but unfortunately this carries with it the problem that liberalism is an expensive proposition "so that a prince thus inclined will consume in such acts all his property, and will be compelled in the end, if he wish to maintain the name of liberal, to unduly weigh down his people, and tax them, and do everything he can to get money. This will soon make him odious to his subjects…" Much better, Machiavelli says, for the prince to be thrifty, to cut down on expenditures -- in effect, to tackle the deficit -- and use the money he saves for important matters that will increase his reputation.snip
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Thanks Valin. That was interesting!


Over the years Machiavelli has gotten a bad rap IMO.


May I highly recommend Great Courses: Machiavelli in Context

Taught By Professor William R. Cook, Ph.D.


Meet an Extraordinary Student of History


In the 24 lectures that make up Machiavelli in Context, Professor Cook offers the opportunity to meet an extraordinarily thoughtful and sincere student of history and its lessons, and to learn that there is far more to him than can be gleaned from any reading of The Prince, no matter how thorough.


Although The Prince is the work by which most of us think we know Machiavelli, and although some have indeed called it the first and most important book of political science ever written, it was not, according to Professor Cook, either Machiavelli's most important work or the one most representative of his beliefs. Those distinctions belong, instead, to his Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy, a longer work started at about the same time and which would, like The Prince, not be published until well after his death.


"Everyone who has seriously studied the works of Machiavelli agrees that he ... believed in the superiority of a republican form of government, defined as a mixed constitution with elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.


"Once we recover the context of the writing of The Prince, and analyze it along with the Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy, it will be clear how The Prince can be read as a book designed to guide leaders in the creation—for Machiavelli, restoration—of republican government in Italy.


"Ultimately, Machiavelli's goal wasn't much different from ours. It was to live in a free and equal participatory society, because he believed that was the greatest way in which human beings could live and flourish."


In fact, says Professor Cook, "Machiavelli's republican thought influenced the development of institutions and values both in Europe and in America."




I've bought a number of courses from The Teaching Co., and this is one of the best.

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