Wednesday, December 3, 2014
"Shake with your right hand,but hold a rock in your left"
Introduction to Philosophy
The Brain and the Bronze
We have all heard of the phrase “brain and bronze”, which refers to intelligence and physique. We often separate people or ways to solve problems by categorizing them into one of these two classes. I relate this phrase with Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Fox and the Lion”, which refers to cunning and strength. I resemble cunning with intelligence and strength with physique. Machiavelli founded this phrase in his book, The Prince, in which he lays out the best way to govern a civilization. He describes the cunning of a fox when a person can seem honest and good at the book cover, but inside the person is willing to win at any means possible. Machiavelli also coined the phrase “ends justify the means”, as he describes a person willing to do whatever actions it take to complete the task as long as the gains outweigh the losses of the actions taken. This type of thinking and philosophy is known as Machiavellism or a person who practices his teachings, Machiavellian. Mainly appealing to politicians who work in the government setting, Machiavellism is seen as “dirty politics” that includes backstabbing, lying, and total disregard for ethics. The TV show, House of Cards, best shows how politics and Machiavellism can be interwoven to reach person gains at the losses of others. The main character, Frank Underwood, works his way through the political sludge as a Congressman up to the Presidency without ever running for office. Many see Machiavellism as a complete ethical violation, but many successful people read he’s historical book, The Prince. Machiavellism is of the natural process of human beings as animals. As basic primates, we would take advantage of those who could not defend themselves for the personal gain of food, shelter, and water. John Locke touches on this, calling it the “natural state of man”. Also parallel to Darwin’s “Natural Selection” or survival of the fittest, Machiavellism plays off our natural instincts to survive and win.
Niccolo Machiavelli was born May 3rd, 1469 in Florence, Italy. At a young age he was exposed to government and politics, mainly through his parents and family. He learned to write, speak and studied government at a very young age. Growing up in Florence, it was under control by the Medici family, but was soon replaced by the Republic. Machiavelli took advantage of government of Florence and was appointed to second chancery, a position of government in-charge of all official documents. He was also appointed to a military position not long after being in office. During his commandership of the Florentine militia, he insisted on using citizens as soldiers versus mercenaries. He believed mercenaries to be too aggressive and war hungry, which eroded their alliance to the state. His army proved themselves countless times on the battlefield, but their rein suddenly ended at the battle at Prato. Where the Medici family, aided by Pope Julius II, defeated the Florentines. The head of state of Florentines, Piero Soderini, resigned leaving the city-state to dissolve. Machiavelli was stricken of his position as the Medici took over and accused him of conspiracy against the Medici Family. He was took refuge at Sant’Andrea in Percussina where he devoted his time to studying and writing of political treaties and philosophies. This is when he wrote his famous book, The Prince.
The first traces of De Principatibus, Latin for The Prince, were found in 1513; yet, the widely printed version was not distributed till 1532, almost five years after Machiavelli’s death. Machiavelli starts off his book with the governing methods of civilization, identifying republics in chapter one. He often refers to princedoms that analyze other republics in the world. Showing the strengths and weaknesses in the political playground of republics. In chapter two he claims ruling is much easier for hereditary princedoms. Writing that the actions of a hereditary ruler are much broader in scope and have fewer limitations. Machiavelli’s governing philosophy defers greatly from the commonly known examples in Aristotle’s Politics, which categorize all civilizations into three types; oligarchy, monarchy, or democracy. Moreover, Machiavelli denies the existence between good and corrupt forms of government. Commonly interchanging tyrant and prince as if they share the same meaning and principal. In chapters 3-5, Machiavelli describes the distinctions between totally new, mixed states. He lays out several ways to successfully hold a newly founded state in the style of a republic government. The first is to simply invest people and a government to a claimed area of land, insuring its sovereignty. Then organize the state into provinces and local governments, making sure they do not share the same power as overseeing government; this resembles the United States federalism, having a federal government and each state having its own government. His third step is insuring the handicapping anyone of power that could possibly overpower you. Lastly, he states that no foreign power can gain any reputation, allowing all the power to be vested in a small amount of class, in which you have the most power. Chapter 4 focuses on taking control of conquered kingdoms. Machiavelli states it is important to resolved the old bloodline of the king, and claiming your kingship, thus honoring your bloodline as royalty. Chapter 5 looks at conquered free states with laws and established statues. Machiavelli identifies the three best options; the first is to destroy all forms of existing government. Like the Romans who conquered Carthage, destroying the foundation will make it easier to build your own form of government. Second, is to install colonies amongst the civilization that will follow your orders. Thirdly, is to let them keep the existing governing laws, but install a puppet regime to do your bidding. Chapter six through nine look at governing totally new states. Machiavelli says that leaders who rise to power via their skills rather than luck are more secure in their leadership position. By crushing the enemy and competition, they have earned the respect and legitimacy of that position, this is known as “virtue”. He also points out be careful to change an existing form of government due the natural resistance to change by people. It is impossible and unreasonable to think a leader can please everyone, in this case it would smart to follow the thoughts of the majority. If a leader does decided to go against the majority, having a coercive force to enact the changes is the best choice. Chapter 7 focuses on conquest by fortune. As mentioned before, Machiavelli says a leader who rises to power easily often faces hardships in maintaining his power. Though, he points out Cesare Borgia as an example of leader who inherited power but through smart political maneuvering, Cesare secured his power base. Starting a commander of the Army, he soon won their loyalty by increasing their pay and respect among class status. Chapter 8 writes of criminal virtue, which identities how a leader can secure his power status through cruel and unethical deeds. Machiavelli says a leaders calculate the needed actions of evil to eliminate his competition, then execute them all at once to avoid any more acts during his rule. Machiavelli uses Agathocles of Syracuse as an example; Agathocles assembled all of the cities wealthiest citizens and senators a dinner, where he then orders his soldiers to kill everyone. Agathocles successfully destroys any competition and the old oligarchy, securing his rein of ultimate power. Skipping to chapters 12 through 14, Machiavelli focuses on defense and military power. He labels the two most important pillars of a governed state, law and a strong military force. He claims a leader must be able to meet any enemy with a greater army and claim victory. If the leader does not have the resources to raise an army, he must focus on fortifying his defenses. Machiavelli also believes the best armies are formed by the citizens of the states. Like the United States military, it consistence of it’s own citizens and is completely voluntary at most times. Machiavelli also believes a leadership should consistently hunt to familiarizes himself with his land and keep fit for battle. He also says a leader must remain diligent and prepared for war in the time of peace, for when the time comes to battle, he will be victorious. Chapters 14-19 focus on the qualities of successful leader towards his people. He uses the term “verita effettuale” which means, “to go directly to the effectual truth of the thing than to the imagination of it”. Machiavelli states a leader should be virtuous in treating his people with kindness and earning their respect, but should be ready and willing to dissolve those virtues in the time of great need and use fear to control his people. Chapter 16 analyzes generosity verses parsimony. Machiavelli asserts a leader cannot be over generous to his people, for they will only become greedy and not appreciative. This will also hurt the economy and dry resources causing higher taxes upsetting the people. After establishing a level of generosity, a leader cannot go down, unless he wants to upset the masses. He does point out great leaders of Caesar and Alexander whom were generous but used someone else’s resources, often of fallen enemies, to please the people. Chapter 17 looks at cruelty verses mercy. Machiavelli addresses the famous governing question of whether it is better to be loved or feared. Machiavelli is often misunderstood, in believing fear is better than love, but he actually wrote, “The answer is that one would like to be both one and the other; but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far safer to be feared than loved if cannot be both.” He explains his philosophy saying that commitments made in peace are not always kept in adversity; but those made in fear are kept out of fear. Though it is clear Machiavelli defends being a feared leader better than a loved leader. He says “Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than to one who makes himself feared.” Fear offers a secure road to holding power for a leader. The use of lawless actions could hurt a leader’s legitimately, but enforcing harsher laws to cause fear will keep the legitimately while instilling fear. In regulating armies, Machiavelli describes fear as the main pillar of stability. It is imperative for a leader to maintain discipline through cruel or capital punishment. Roman’s often disciplined their soldiers through solitary confinement or capital punishment through crucifixion. In chapter 19, Machiavelli identifies that in order for a leader to avoid contempt and hatred, he must not deprive his people of property and women. He also says a leader can gain and keep the respect of his subjects by legally enacting disciplines, which creates a fear within the civilization. Then create a fear outside the civilization, as in a foreign force threating the lives of his people. The United States is another good example of this type of policy. Through laws and punishment, we share an instilled fear of acting out of order, while simultaneously fearful of outside forces attacking us. This allows the leadership to invest in security and order which strength the scope of jurisdiction of the government and military power to suppress internal insurrections and external threats from foreign enemies. The other chapters talk about prudence and how a leadership reacts to the opinions of the people.
The last couple of chapters of The Prince focus on the virtue of “the fox and the lion” sect of leadership. The fox refers to the cunning of an intelligent leader who portrays himself to keep the best interest of the people first. Often overcoming situations by playing to the emotions of kindness and concern of his people. The lion is having the strength and tenacity to make tough decisions that might not be in the peoples’ best interest or even hurt the people. Machiavelli says that keeping your promises and being loved is ideal if possible, but if a leader is unable to do this, he must combine human qualities with animalistic ones. In Nigel Warburton’s A little history of philosophy, he describes Machiavelli’s the fox being the cunning one who spots out the traps, and the lion being the strength and terrifying. Being the lion all the time will only cause you to fall into traps, but being the fox all the time will only allow you to be taken advantage of. Machiavelli claims that people are inherently gullible and want to trust you, so by appearing as honest and kind but actually breaking your promises and taking advantage of the people to maintain your power.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt is one of this country’s greatest Presidents in the arguably since Lincoln. FDR was not only a good President; he was also a ruthless politician who wielded both the cunning of a fox and strength of a lion. Roosevelt started his political career as a New York State Senator and this is where he established his inner lion. He also served as assistant Secretary of the Navy during World War I and was failed candidate for Vice President. In 1921, FDR was crippled by polio from the waste down. This would have crushed most men’s ambitions of serving in public office, but not Roosevelt’s. He moved to be elected Governor of New York in 1928, then to President in 1932. FDR was very progressive for the 1930’s, as most of the social polices we have today drive from FDR’s social views. In the book, Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox, James MacGregor Burns describes Roosevelt’s first 100 days in office, more commonly known as the New Deal, were of the utmost political success in history. Burns says “the classic test of greatness in the White House has been the chief executive’s capacity to lead Congress.” FDR consistently showed his inner lion and fox while implementing the New Deal. Showing large support and generosity to the people through the Great Depression, while maintaining strong leadership in the White House and Congress. Burns says Roosevelt was often attacked as a “traitor” and faced scrutiny from opposing parties, which labeled him as communist. Having a calm and collective approach to challenges, burns coined the phrase “Rooseveltian agility”; often showed when members of Congress threated to not vote in favor of House or Senate bills. Franklin Delano Roosevelt has left a lasting impression on the political world, even to be known as the modern day Machiavelli.
It is no question that Machiavelli’s philosophy of governing is still practiced today. Perhaps one of most modern examples of a Machiavellian is the TV show House of Cards’ star, Frank Underwood. In this political schemed spin off the original House of Cards, which takes place in England, a Democrat from South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District works his way up to the Presidency. As the House of Representatives majority whip, which Frank describes as a “plumber” that pushes the sludge of votes to pass a bill on the floor. Frank’s support of the recent President-elect was to secure him the nomination of Secretary of State, but only to find out that plans changed and he was not nominated. Outraged and feeling betrayed, Frank invites an elaborate plan to gain control of the White House, building his house of cards. Frank and his wife, Claire, repeatedly use the cunning of fox and power of a lion to move up the ranks of politics. Often best described as a sociopath, showing no remorse for the killing of animals, winning at the hardships of others, or feeling no signs of empathy for other’s losses; Frank Underwood shows his true Machiavellian attributes. The series starts when Congressman Underwood kills a suffering dog who was just recently hit by a car with his bare hands, saying “There are two kinds of pain; the sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain, the sort of pain that’s only suffering, I have no patience for useless things”. The Machiavellism is shown best when the Congressman explains that good leaders know when do to the unpleasant thing yet necessary for the greater good. This resembles Machiavelli’s philosophy of good princes good the best interest of his subjects and showing virtue, but knowing when to end that virtue and do whatever is necessary to win. Frank plays 3D chess and identifies the pawns in Congress, using them to his advantage. The Congressman uses the open spot of Pennsylvania’s Governor to bait a lowly “pawn” to fill its seat. Congressman Peter Russo was the best choice for the spot. Russo was a struggling alcoholic and feel into temptation very easily. Frank helped him get clean and build his campaign for Governor, only to crush him by hiring a prostitute to tempt him into alcohol and drugs weeks before the election. Absolutely crushed and depressed, it was the perfect time for Frank to kill Russo, making it look like suicide. This sudden news struck the Vice President, the former Govern of Pennsylvania, rather hard and with guidance from Frank Underwood and permission of the President, the Vice President stepped down to run for Governor. This opened the VP chair in which Frank took advantaged of and won over the President. Underwood’s actions show his Machiavellian scheme to gain power through the downfall of others. Frank and his wife are the only ones who know of his grand plan to the Presidency; showing an excellent face of trustworthiness, yet scheming and back-stabbing on the inside. The Congressman talked about his view of good policy, saying, “In Gaffney we had our own brand of diplomacy; shake with your right hand have a rock in your left.” 
Though some may see the practices of Machiavelli evil or unethical, he has made a lasting impact on the politics and leaders in the world. Seeing his teachings practiced through kings of England, France, Spain and even modern day Presidents like Franklin Roosevelt tells us something must be right. Harnessing the cunning and intelligence of a fox is essential to big political progression, while keeping the strength and sternness of lion as FDR regularly showed. Being a Machiavellian crafts you for the obstacles you will surely face while in public office. Though I only focused on the positives of Machiavelli’s philosophy, there are some downfalls to practicing it. There have been thousands of successful leaders who’ve had to sacrificed for the greater good of the people. As Frank Underwood would say, “The higher the mountain, the more treacherous the path.”
Burns, James. Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox. Vol. 1. Orlando: Harcourt, 1984. Print.
Gilbert, Allan. Machiavelli's Prince and Its Forerunners, Duke University Press. 1938. Web
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Florance, Italy: Antonio Blado d'Asola, 1532. Print.
Spacey, Kevin, perf. House of Cards. Narr. Kevin Spacey. 2012. Web. 4 Dec. 2014
Warburton, Nigel. A Little History of Philosophy. London: Yale University Press, 2011. Print.