The Relevance of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince to Contemporary Society and Politics

The Relevance of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince to Contemporary Society and Politics

Leadership and Human Nature
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Niccolò Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy. He began his work in government as a clerk in 1494. This was the same year that the Medici family, who ruled Florence for approximately 60 years, was exiled. In 1498, Machiavelli became a diplomat for the Florentine Republic. The Medici's banishment was only temporary, and they returned to power in 1512. Machiavelli was suspected of conspiracy and outlawed. It was during this time that he wrote his most famous work yet: The Prince. His theories reflected on how rulers and leaders ought to rule and maintain power. His perspective on human nature can make his concept of a great leader seem cruel and evil. In fact, the word Machiavellian is used to describe a ruler who leads by the philosophy of the ends justify the means. In other words, it is justifiable to do whatever it takes to get and maintain power. The ability to enforce fear and behave evilly or good is essential when one is trying to obtain, preserve or lengthen their power according to the principles of Niccolò Machiavelli. Machiavelli is regarded as the father of modern political theory. His ideas influenced many of history’s greatest leaders. Vladimir Illich Lenin is one of the greatest Machiavellian rulers, for he was able to rule with both force and love. Harry Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, is also often regarded as a Machiavellian ruler. His decision to drop the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki shredded morals and disregarded the principles of evil and good. It was justified by the fact that it sought to achieve one desirable result: to the end the war. Machiavellian principles are used as a guide to leadership and management. His theories are evident in contemporary American politics.

One of the major principles Machiavelli elaborated on is this concept of appearances. Throughout The Prince he is constantly reinforcing this notion that a prince should appear to be all faith, friendship, humanity, and religion but not actually be any of these things. The characteristics people want in an ideal leader contrast with reality. They may want someone who is honest, faithful, and unbiased, but reality indicates that this is not what is best. Humans are self-interested, profit-driven and deceitful. Therefore, if a leader wants to remain in power he must to be self-interested, profit-driven, and deceitful. Machiavelli has a very low opinion of humans; they are easily manipulated and would withdraw their support for you within seconds. A prince or leader must be a mirror of an ideal and perfect person to rule. They must be “a great pretender and dissemble.” This game of appearances can be applied to modern politics. Many politicians of today can be regarded as Machiavellian. For example, people started speculating when former President Barack Obama had a change of heart on homogeneous marriage. Was he pretending to be a Christian just to win votes or did he actually have a change of heart?

In 2006, Barack Obama stated his opposition to same-sex marriage. He made his faith a central part of his campaign strategy in 2008. Many have claimed that Obama misled Americans into thinking that his opposition to gay marriage was because of religious background. Nick Spencer’s “The Mighty And The Almighty: How Political Leaders Do God” describes the effect Christianity has on contemporary political power. The story told by Obama’s former senior advisor David Axelrod claiming that Obama “had always supported same-sex marriage, but had been persuaded to hide his position during his first campaign” verified the belief that the president “lied about his religious beliefs in order to further his agenda.” Some conservatives still find the authenticity of Obama Christian faith questionable. The United States is predominantly a Christian nation, so it would make sense for politicians to make religion a campaign strategy in hopes of winning the votes from the American people. During a campaign stop in Sioux Center, Iowa in 2016, Donald Trump stated that as president he will strengthen the power of Christians as detailed in Business Insider’s Colin Campbell’s article, “TRUMP: If I'm president, 'Christianity will have power' in the US.” He stated: "Because if I'm there, you're going to have plenty of power. You don't need anybody else. You're going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that." Former President George Bush is labeled as a Machiavellian leader because of his decision to invade Iraq in hopes of protecting American territory. In 2003, Bush made the decision to declare war against Iraq. Allegedly, Bush was religiously motivated to end the dangers in Iraq. In an article, “Bush ‘God Talk’ Rumors About Iraq War Spark Controversy And Debate, posted by the Americans United. Bush supposedly stated to “Nabil Shaath, then-Palestinian foreign minister, ‘God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.’ And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George, go and end tyranny in Iraq’…and I did.’” Machiavelli stressed that the only good war is just war. It could be argued that Bush used religious tactics to justify his decision. Do politicians use religion to appeal to the masses and make their decision seem favorable in the eyes of Christians? According to Machiavelli, they do. They make it appear as if God is using them to fulfill his duties. Machiavelli would approve of these tactics. It does not only strengthen the love the people have for their leader, but it makes the leader appear like the ideal ruler.

Machiavelli implied that it is fine for a prince to be good, but only in a state where everyone is good and honest. However, since we live in a world of evil and selfish humans it is necessary to behave evilly. According to Machiavelli, a prince must be neutral, so he can behave immorally or moral when he must. In The Prince, he stated, “Hence it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.” The prince, as Machiavelli describes him, is moral. He is not necessarily cruel or righteous. He must be morally neutral so that he can behave in a way that is evil or good if necessary. Humankind, in general, is evil so we must be comfortable with having to do immoral things. During the 2002 mayoral election for Newark, New Jersey, councilman Cory Booker felt strongly about his positive “stick with the facts” image and thought that it will be sufficient in defeating four-time Mayor Sharpe James. In the documentary, Street Fight, Booker soon realized he stepped into a ring with a pit bull. The veteran mayor’s campaign was filled with illicit tactics and mudslinging. James accused Booker of conspiring with the KKK and the Taliban, collaborating with Jews to take over Newark, and being a Republican. James even went far enough to question Booker’s ethnicity and incited that his opponent wasn’t “black enough” to run a city like Newark. Booker’s campaign took many hits. Local businesses owners who displayed Booker signs were shut down and raided. Residents who held meetings in their homes were threatened with eviction. During the name-calling and slandering, Booker stayed true to his positive image and continued to shut down James’ wild allegations. He did not behave like a “lion” but more like a “fox”. As Machiavelli stated a leader has to be both a lion and fox “because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves.” James was able to do both. On May 14th, 2002, Booker lost the election. James did what was necessary to remain in power. His methods weren’t morally justified but it was effective. Booker addressed his supporters after the defeat, saying that they, “have now slipped a small end of a larger wedge into the door of this political machine.” American politics are known to be dirty. This principle can also be applied to material and business success. In Michael Walden’s book, Battleground, he explains how unethical people can be successful in the business world and corporate business scandals are proof of that. One of the examples he used was Andrew Fastow. Fastow, former chief financial officer of Enron Corporation, an energy trading company, disgraced his legacy when he was convicted and charged with fraud. Although he was eventually caught, his unethical behavior kept him wealthy and an honorary figure in the business world for years. Walden elaborates on how corporate businesses have one goal in mind: to make money. Since financial performance, not ethical, is rewarded, “it is very easy for ethical standards to get compromised”. This correlates with Machiavelli’s notion that the ends justify the means. Are consequences of one's action morally relevant to the action itself? Fastow achieved what he wanted to do and that was to obtain millions and millions of dollars. Disregarding the fact that was fired and convicted, his unlawful and unethical behavior helped him achieved that goal just like Sharpe James’ mudslinging helped him secure another term. Many people may not find James and Fastow’s actions moral and are appalled at their actions. This would not be so shocking to Machiavelli. To him, this world is filled with unrighteous people. People may want to live in a good world filled with good people, but their actions say otherwise.

We all have a vision of how society should be and how we all should be righteous. Machiavelli exposes mankind of their hypocrisy. This is evident when he states: “…because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil." Machiavelli is saying that this vision of how we should be does not correspond to what we are and what we do. Machiavelli’s principle can be applied to America’s obsession with reality shows. In her book “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV”, Jennifer Pozner slams reality shows and proclaims the need for higher quality television. She argues that “reality TV exacerbates media’s superficiality” rather than adding any type of depth. Pozner’s argument may be true but people are going to watch what they want. The National Geographic Channel and Discovery Channel may offer content that is more educational than the content presented on VH1 or MTV, but statistics show that educational content is not what consumers are attracted to. Pozner presented the fact that “in January 2007, CBS Evening News reported that more people watched American Idol on Fox than saw President Bush’s State of the Union speech on ABC, NBC, and CBS combined”. The Kardashians are publicly ridiculed and declared as trashy. However, it does not stop millions of people from tuning into their successful reality show, stalking their social media accounts or purchasing their products. It is true; we should be exploring educational content. We should be reading Shakespeare. There should be marketing of scholastic programming. However, that is not what is going to happen. Machiavelli is saying that is how we ought to live but not how we are currently living. Advertisers are going to promote what people want to see and not what they need. Just like Sharpe James’ goal was to win and Andrew Fastow’s goal was to be wealthy, businesses main goal is to make money.

The ideologies of Machiavelli’s The Prince continue to live on through contemporary society and politics. The guidance he offered rulers is still applied today. His suggestion to act as if you obtain all the characteristics the people want basically sums up America’s political system. Humans are fascinated with appearances. They want leaders with all the great attributes: honesty, faithfulness and integrity. A great leader must pretend to be these things because that is how they will rise to power. However, to maintain that power they must be able to use good and bad interchangeably. Being good all the time can lead to ruin. Sharpe James appeared to be the voice of the people without being the voice of the people. Cory Booker proved that countless times throughout his campaign. Crime and poverty was rising in Newark, New Jersey at the time even though the establishment of a performing arts center was bringing tons of money into the city. However, Booker lost his first mayoral election trying to live up to his good image and James won because he had no problem getting dirty. Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election and shocked the nation. Many people thought: “How can someone who is so outspoken and impulsive be selected as the leader of one of the greatest nations in the world?” It was his ability to appear as “fox” and “lion” that won so many people over. Although Machiavelli was a pessimist of human nature, his evaluation of humans proves to be true. Not only can his principles be applied to politicians and corporate businesses, it is also relevant to contemporary society. We live in a society in which the things we ought to do is not what we really do. Our affection is won by those who appeal to us the most. However, we are quick to turn on our beloved leaders during difficult times. We do not possess the traits we wish to see in a leader. Five hundred years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote a manual on leadership that is still pertinent today.


Cover Image Credit: R.M. Illustration

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An Open Letter to the Person Who Still Uses the "R Word"

Your negative associations are slowly poisoning the true meaning of an incredibly beautiful, exclusive word.
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What do you mean you didn't “mean it like that?" You said it.

People don't say things just for the hell of it. It has one definition. Merriam-Webster defines it as, "To be less advanced in mental, physical or social development than is usual for one's age."

So, when you were “retarded drunk" this past weekend, as you claim, were you diagnosed with a physical or mental disability?

When you called your friend “retarded," did you realize that you were actually falsely labeling them as handicapped?

Don't correct yourself with words like “stupid," “dumb," or “ignorant." when I call you out. Sharpen your vocabulary a little more and broaden your horizons, because I promise you that if people with disabilities could banish that word forever, they would.

Especially when people associate it with drunks, bad decisions, idiotic statements, their enemies and other meaningless issues. Oh trust me, they are way more than that.

I'm not quite sure if you have had your eyes opened as to what a disabled person is capable of, but let me go ahead and lay it out there for you. My best friend has Down Syndrome, and when I tell people that their initial reaction is, “Oh that is so nice of you! You are so selfless to hang out with her."

Well, thanks for the compliment, but she is a person. A living, breathing, normal girl who has feelings, friends, thousands of abilities, knowledge, and compassion out the wazoo.

She listens better than anyone I know, she gets more excited to see me than anyone I know, and she works harder at her hobbies, school, work, and sports than anyone I know. She attends a private school, is a member of the swim team, has won multiple events in the Special Olympics, is in the school choir, and could quite possibly be the most popular girl at her school!

So yes, I would love to take your compliment, but please realize that most people who are labeled as “disabled" are actually more “able" than normal people. I hang out with her because she is one of the people who has so effortlessly taught me simplicity, gratitude, strength, faith, passion, love, genuine happiness and so much more.

Speaking for the people who cannot defend themselves: choose a new word.

The trend has gone out of style, just like smoking cigarettes or not wearing your seat belt. It is poisonous, it is ignorant, and it is low class.

As I explained above, most people with disabilities are actually more capable than a normal human because of their advantageous ways of making peoples' days and unknowingly changing lives. Hang out with a handicapped person, even if it is just for a day. I can one hundred percent guarantee you will bite your tongue next time you go to use the term out of context.

Hopefully you at least think of my friend, who in my book is a hero, a champion and an overcomer. Don't use the “R Word". You are way too good for that. Stand up and correct someone today.

Cover Image Credit: Kaitlin Murray

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5 Thoughts You've Probably Had About The Government Shutdown If You, Like Cardi B, Are Paying Attention

I'm not sure if Trump thinks he's playing a real-life game of "The Sims," but I can assure you that a wall will not keep out those that are truly determined to get in.

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2019 — what a time to be alive, am I right? Normally I would use that phrase sarcastically, but each day I am more and more confused, transfixed, and curious (with just a dash of anticipation) about our current state as a society and the direction we're going. Even though most of the time the world seems like sh*t, you've got to admit that out of all the times in history, the current one we're in has a lot of cool perks. I mean, 70 years ago, who would've guessed that there'd be computers and a world wide web filled with endless information and apps that allow 125 million people to see cute pictures of Kim Kardashian's baby. And compared to life in the 1600s, an airplane seems just as extraordinary as the second coming of Jesus.

We're making a lot of wonderful and exciting progress, like our advancements in medicine, but for some reason, we've hit an impasse in terms of social improvement. Not even three years ago would I have guessed that the U.S. would elect an unqualified, most likely racist, reality TV star as president, but alas, here we are, which brings me to his latest antics.

The government shutdown.

Despite how bleak the future seems, a little part of me is just a tad grateful that I'm alive to see this all go down. Like everyone else, however, I've had quite a few thoughts about it all over the past few weeks...

1. So we're screwed, right?

We briefly had a government shutdown in 2013, but for some reason, I have absolutely no recollection of it (my 14-year-old self was probably too preoccupied with who was posted on my high school's Instagram "thot page." Spoiler alert: I was), so this is like my first experience dealing with one. There have been more than a dozen in U.S. history, but the current shutdown is the longest out of the list. My first thought when hearing about the news was "what the hell does THIS mean?" I immediately jumped to the conclusion that we were in a total state of anarchy, but of course, that isn't even partially true. According to The Balance, a government shutdown is "when non-essential discretionary federal programs close." The shutdown doesn't affect state social services, like the Department of Public Safety, and thankfully for us broke college students, funding for financial aid was approved last September, meaning there's no current effect on student financial aid programs.

However, federal services and agencies like the IRS (don't get too excited... you still have to pay taxes), Department of Labor, Department of Housing and Urban Development, National Institute of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration are completely shut down while the budget process is in limbo. With no current end in sight, this is bound to get very bad, very soon.

Already, hundreds of thousands of government employees have been sent home without pay and will continue to not be paid as long as the shutdown is in effect. People living in low-income housing may be evicted as HUD freezes funds for programs. Without funding, all of these services very well may close. Not only that, but the shut down is costing us money: approximately $1.2 billion every week. I wouldn't normally be worried, but Trump is the exact type of immature and petty to where he'll keep this going until he gets his way (or he's impeached, whichever comes first). His attitude firmly suggests that he's not backing down, and if services do close, there will be terrible effects on affected departments and citizen well-being.

Should we just drink the kool-aid now?

2. All of this over... a wall?

Out of all of the things that a president could request funding for, the one we currently have wants $5 billion for a damn steel wall? I'm not sure if he thinks he's playing a real-life game of The Sims, but I can assure you that real humans are much more crafty than we give each other credit for and that a wall will not keep out those that are truly determined to get in. Trump has said that the wall is the "only solution for a growing security and humanitarian crisis at the border," yet common sense and many politicians/organizations can tell you that that's complete and utter bullsh*t. Not only that, but Trump's whole presidency has revolved around quelling illegal immigration, but no one has stopped to ask why he's only focusing on the border.

How would a wall decrease the number of people who overstay their visas? How would it decrease the number of illegal immigrants who aren't even crossing the border?!

While I am not well-versed in how much of a threat illegal immigration presents to the U.S. people and government, I still am convinced that there are way more important issues that the president should be concerned with. F*** global warming and renewable energy, let's build a wall, right?!?

Trump's obsession with his wall is a pathetic attempt to flex his self-professed prowess and a way to appease his hate-filled fanatics who only voted for him because he promised he could get it done.

What happened to Mexico paying for it? Oh right, that was just more bullsh*t.

3. People actually donated to this sh*t?

I just... People's stupidity and callousness never cease to amaze me. Before GoFundMe rightfully shut this fundraiser down, over 345,000 people actually donated $20 million dollars for a (wait for it) steel wall. Why is this the thing that people feel their money is worthy of being spent on? Imagine if we all banded together to raise $20 million dollars to help end homelessness or food insecurity. Or better yet, pay the federal employees who are getting screwed over by this whole ordeal.

4. How do Trump supporters feel about all of this?

I know that die-hard fans can take a lot of sh"t from their idols, but I think that after a while it's only natural for them to get fed up. Out of the 62 million people who voted for Trump, there's probably a good portion of them who are significantly affected by the shutdown. The ones who are government employees are feeling the brunt of it now, but if this continues on for months or even years like Trump is threatening, then we're all going to feel it and I can't think of any good excuses that someone could come up with in order to justify such a foolish and reckless decision made by the president. To a federally-employed Trump supporter, I can't imagine how it feels to go 26 days without a paycheck because the president you voted for is desperately trying to propose funding for a wall that you want to be built. It's got to be a catch-22, but hell, I feel like almost all Trump supporters are delusional anyway, so they're probably thinking they're undergoing some grand act of martyrdom.

5. Even Cardi B is worried... Now you know we're screwed.

Cardi B took to Instagram recently to post a video of her addressing her worries about the government shutdown. While not eloquently put, the rap princess is really only just voicing the thoughts and opinions of a lot of us out here. If Cardi B is taking the time out of her day to stop popping off at her haters and fantasizing about Offset's peen, then you know that this issue is a pretty big deal. The self-proclaimed gang member and boss bit** has admitted that she's scared. I think that warrants us to all be.

Well, there you have it, folks. Five of my most pressing thoughts about the government shutdown. As it continues, I'm sure they'll be thousands more that pop into all of our heads. But hey, let's look on the bright side -- we've made history; now's the only time we can say the government has been shut down all year.

Hopefully, we won't be able to say it for much longer.

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