Thursday, May 15, 2008

Personal Aside: “The Prince” Chortles at Rulers Who Let Underlings Take the Heat for Pursuing Evil. And How Radical Was Martin Luther King?


The Prince.

“Hence it is necessary to a prince if he wants to maintain himself, to learn to be able not to do good…” With these words Niccolo Machiavelli became, in the estimation of scholar Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D, author of “10 Books that Screwed Up the World,” the protagonist of evil who became celebrated in less than a century of his death by Shakespeare (in “Richard III”) as the “murdrous Machiavel” the epitome of the evil statesman.

I told you yesterday that Wiker must have been influenced by someone who starkly resembled my old, late lamented philosophy professor because this book repeats case-by-case the views of the old Benedictine whose philosophy I thought I had lost by my 17-year-old carelessness in tossing away my notes from the academic year 1946-47.

Machiavelli insisted the Prince should not be the heavy, however, should not be hated—in fact, he should encourage his aides to do the dirty work that has to be done. There is an inherent contradiction in his writing i.e. the greatest moral good is a virtuous and stable state. But this is counterbalanced by the injunction that any actions to protect the country, no matter how cruel, are always justified. “Despite recent attempts to portray Machiavelli as merely a sincere and harmless teacher of prudent statesmanship,” writes Wiker, “I shall take the old-fashioned approach and treat him as one of the most profound teachers of evil the world has ever known.”

Example: Chapter 18 which asks if a prince should keep faith, honor his promises, work with what we today call transparency, be honest? Machiavelli concedes that everyone understands it is “laudable…for a prince to keep faith and live with honesty” but the rule that keeping one’s word might be discarded and, in fact, the entire idea of being good is rather naïve. The Prince must not concentrate on being good but seeming to be good. The Prince must be a “great pretender and dissembler.”

One example of what Machiavelli meant was cited in the case of Cesare Borgia, a consummately evil man. He had been named a cardinal but resigned to pursue his political ambitions. In Chapter 7 Machiavelli describes a typical Borgia action. Borgia had a bad reputation, deservedly with his conquered subjects which motivated them to rebellion. One principality Borgia had taken was Romagna which was “quite full of robberies, quarrels aqnd every other kind of insolence.” Borgia wanted to subdue its crime because it is hard work to rule the unruly. But remembering that a Prince must be well thought-of, he sent in a henchman, Remirro de Orco, “a cruel and ready man, to whom he gave the fullest power.” Remirro was the heavy, inflicted discipline but became unpopular in the process. So after Remirro had done his savagery for his boss, Borgia ingratiated himself to the people and became their hero by instituting a ceremony in the piazza where everybody came to watch.

He had Remirro cut “in two pieces” which deeply impressed the people as they watched him hewn in half in the town square. Aha, Machiavelli thought that tactic was just ducky. With one stroke of the knife that cut Remirro in twain, Borgia elevated himself as the steward of goodness in the people’s eyes. “I would not know how to reproach him,” Machiavelli writes of Borgia’s career. “On the contrary, it seems to me he should be put forward as I have done, to be imitated by all those who have risen to empire through fortune.”

Probably the most skilled practitioner of Machiavelli in our time was Franklin D. Roosevelt. Here is a guy who pledged to keep us out of war while running for a third term…and won largely because the voters felt he was skilled to keep us out of war…all the while he was manipulating us to war. Here was a guy who talked about civil liberties while pushing his attorney general, Francis Biddle, to punish unconstitutionally those who talked against him, content to try to get rid of Biddle for practice of unconstitutional means when Biddle followed FDR’s advice. This analogy is mine, not Fr. Ernest’s nor Wiker’s.

Nor is this book merely a treatise on tactics. Christianity, Machiavelli instructs us, causes us to train our energies on an imaginary kingdom in the sky rather than seeking to make the real work more livable. “Machiavelli thereby initiates the great conflict between modern secularism and Christianity that largely defines the next 500 years of Western history and in this respect, ‘The Prince’ shows its mark in all the rest of the books we will examine,” summarizes Wiker.

King: How Radical?

Martin Luther King has been cited by many as supporting only equality of opportunity and not affirmative action. Not so as Dr. Thomas E. Woods, Jr. writes in”33 Questions About American History:” [Crown Forum: 2007]. Woods is a Harvard graduate with a Ph.D in history from Columbia.

As a contemporary eyewitness to King, I recall that his initial foray was quite modest—support of equal opportunity in hiring and service at lunch counters and public transportation. But he grew more radical later on in life and endorsed such ideas as reimbursement for centuries of slavery and segregation. Witness his last book.

King wrote this in “Why We Can’t Wait”: “No amount of gold could provide an adequate compensation for the exploitation and humiliation of the Negro in America down through the centuries., Not all the wealth of this affluent society could meet the bill. Yet a price can be placed on unpaid wages. The ancient common law has always provided a remedy for the appropriatioin of the labor of one human being by another. This law should be made to apply for American Negroes. The payment should be in the form of a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law. Such measures would certainly be less expensive than any computation based on two centuries of unpaid wages and accumulated interest. I am proposing, therefore, that just as we granted a GI Bill of Rights to war veterans, America launch a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged, our veterans of the long siege of denial.”

The King we honor today is the earlier version not the vociferous leader he became.


  1. Machiavelli did the old switheroo on Cicero's dictum:

    Esse Quam Videri to Videri Quam Esse:

    More important to seem than be.

    This moral relativism permeates the DNC -

  2. Is Philosophy defined as a process of governing thought and conduct, or is it a study of human morals and behavior?

    If the latter, the Romans were way ahead of Machie in terms of spreading evil. Might makes right. A theory that still exists today.

  3. I was taught (unofficially) that the practice of referring to the devil as "old Nick" was a tip of the hat to Machiavelli.

  4. Its happening fast...Its accelerating... Its happening right before our eyes and we are powerless to stop it. It is as though it was pre-destined to go down the wrong road. No matter where you turn from your family to the government to society at large, THINGS AREA WRONG, very wrong. It is as though the communal turds have backed up in the societal toilet. And we are all, whether we like it or not, doomed to be enveloped in this hideous mess.

    IF you have a Divorce in your family somewhere then you know what I mean...

    If you are paying the high costs of gasoline with no end in sight, then you know what I mean.

    If you are disallusioned by a police action in Iraq that was sold to your for false reasons which you now have forgot, then you know what I mean.

    If your taxes are out of sight, then you know what I mean.

    If you are voting for people who turn out to be terrible disappointments, then you know what I mean.

    If you see judges do as they did today in California, spitting in the eye of morality, then you know what I mean..

    IF you see your area dying due to Globalization, then you know what I mean.

    If you can't speak the new language of your neighborhood, then you know what I mean.

    IF you see the Republicans in a total way ward state, then you know what I mean.

    Simply put, The Good Ole USA just Ain't anymore!

    Oh it may be good for some nouveau riche hedge fund billionaire, but it is not good for me stuck smack dab in the middle class, seeing my once great country diminish oh so very quickly.

  5. MLK was writing at a time when jobs were denied Blacks purely on the basis of skin color, an innovation of the state called Davis Bacon Act. Actually, it was American apartheid, another tool to destroy Negro families and their forming family businesses, e.g. middle class. Lilly white trade unions were the result-the busting up of which via Philadelphia Plans, etc. was a Nixon project. It was hardly radical to insist on that pursuit of happiness, basic employment-the denial of which characterized Soviet means of repression (and still does).

  6. Well, Federal Court orders have sealed away for many years a great number of historical documents that pertain to this person. So, the truth about him remains radioactive. Suffice it to speculate that where we all have feet of clay his were of the very thick, clinging, concrete-like clay mixed with virulant communism from whom he took advice, at least, and given the orientation of the judge who sealed the records, probably a whole lot more.