The Toxic Legacy of Machiavelli’s The Prince (1/2)

by Philip Jonkers

Part 1 of 2
Introduction
Pragmatic Morality
Importance of Reputation
Debasing Human Nature
Fox and the Lion
Direct Top-Down Toxic Influence
Imitation of Toxic Character
‘Kingdom of Heaven’
Propagation of Toxic Treatment
Cyclically-Reinforced Toxic Influence
Internal Rule
External Rule
Part 2 of 2
The Legacy’s Sinister Roots
Machiavellian Idolatry
Origin of the Machiavellian Shadow
Perpetual Suffering
Love is Nothing, Fear is Everything
Machiavellian Kind of Love
Conclusion


The Prince

“…if a Prince succeeds in establishing and maintaining his authority, the means will always be judged honourable and be approved by every one.” (Chapter XVIII)

Introduction
Founded on the above dubious moral axiom, which may be translated as, The end justifies the means (A), in the 16th century Niccolò Machiavelli formulates the classic dissertation on how to acquire and preserve raw political power, come hell or high water. By his own volition and on a proverbial silver salver, the tactical philosopher annex historian humbly offers to his highly esteemed ruler, the Prince(*), a self-guaranteed fail-safe recipe for robust rule — elegant in writing yet gloomy in meaning. Drawing from an extensive variety of modern and historical ruler-ship examples, combined with a deductive reasoning that is consistently lucid albeit infused with demeaning prejudices and stereotypes in its evaluation of human nature, Machiavelli distills a set of strategical rules and instructions for any ambitious ruler to abide by in order to secure and hold on to governing power.

In this analysis I focus on Machiavelli’s treatise in the function of being a literal instruction manual for power acquisition. Courtesy of the universal range of its applicability, it should be kept in mind that not just members of aristocracy could seek to benefit from this work but potentially anyone who has power aspirations as well as lack of scruples. In today’s upper regions of power The Prince may, for example, draw to its teachings: politicians and government officials, military commanders and intelligence officers, bankers and stock brokers, industrialists and corporate moguls but also members of religious orders and church leaders more interested in expanding temporal power than in improving intimacy with God. In the lower echelons of power The Prince may attract organized crime figures, gang-bangers eager to ascend in prominence, cult leaders and other flavors of dilettante megalomaniacs.

While abstaining from delving into such academic questions as to whether The Prince was actually intended as a work of satire or whether or not Machiavelli’s ruler actually came to read it, I set out to explore the moral and psychological foundation and ramifications of this sinister work of instruction.

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“…if he has taken those measures, and has lived in the way I have recommended, and if he never abandons hope, he will withstand every attack…” (Chapter XIX)

Pragmatic Morality

Strikingly confident in the validity and accuracy of his own formulas, Machiavelli advocates (see, e.g., Ch.XV) a type of goal-oriented morality that by necessity is purely pragmatic, i.e. consistent with the moral axiom A, and thus diametric or antithetical to idealism, at once considered unsuitable to work with. To accommodate his practical conception of what an effective Prince, or ruler, is to be about, Machiavelli proceeds to redefine the concepts of virtue and vice, good and evil.

Upon reviewing the case of the brutal self-made Prince Agathocles the Sicilian, he is sure to, on the one hand, condemn the application of unbridled cruelty and immorality. “To slaughter fellow-citizens,” he admits in Chapter VIII, “to betray friends, to be devoid of honour, pity, and religion, cannot be counted as merits, for these are means which may lead to power, but which confer no glory.”

Then, on the other hand, in Chapter XVII he seeks balance by stating:

“…every Prince should desire to be accounted merciful and not cruel. Nevertheless, he should be on his guard against the abuse of this quality of mercy. Cesare Borgia was reputed cruel, yet his cruelty restored Romagna, united it, and brought it to order and obedience; so that if we look at things in their true light, it will be seen that he was in reality far more merciful than the people of Florence, who, to avoid the imputation of cruelty, suffered Pistoja to be torn to pieces by factions.”

In Chapter XV, he further blurs the line between vice and virtue when he reasons that the Prince is to never hesitate:

“…to incur the reproach of those vices without which his authority can hardly be preserved; for if he well consider the whole matter, he will find that there may be a line of conduct having the appearance of virtue, to follow which would be his ruin, and that there may be another course having the appearance of vice, by following which his safety and well-being are secured.”

In Chapter VIII, on the issue of “cruelty being well or ill-employed”, Machiavelli again expresses recognition in the virtue of a tempered cruelty:

“Those cruelties we may say are well employed, if it be permitted to speak well of things evil, which are done once for all under the necessity of self-preservation, and are not afterwards persisted in, but so far as possible modified to the advantage of the governed. Ill-employed cruelties, on the other hand, are those which from small beginnings increase rather than diminish with time.”

In Chapter XV, the Prince is encouraged to abandon idealistic goodness (to be good for goodness’ sake), and instead adopt a pragmatic goodness (to be good when it is both feasible and fruitful):

“…the manner in which we live, and that in which we ought to live, are things so wide asunder, that he who quits the one to betake himself to the other is more likely to destroy than to save himself; since any one who would act up to a perfect standard of goodness in everything, must be ruined among so many who are not good. It is essential, therefore, for a Prince who desires to maintain his position, to have learned how to be other than good, and to use or not to use his goodness as necessity requires.”

Although idealistic goodness is to be regarded a vice, the appearance of goodness when it may be the opposite of goodness in actuality, Machiavelli proclaims in Chapter XVIII, is to be embraced a virtue.

In short, the Machiavellian Prince is to be benevolent only if it serves to ensure his safety or suits his endeavors of securing power; and, serving the same goals, to feel justified to act in malice when and where the need arises, although at the same time seeking to not overdo it.

Importance of Reputation

Placing much stock in a reputation that is befitting to he who rules with a glorious rod of iron, in Chapter XIX Machiavelli declares:

“A Prince is despised when he is seen to be fickle, frivolous, effeminate, pusillanimous, or irresolute, against which defects he ought therefore most carefully to guard, striving so to bear himself that greatness, courage, wisdom, and strength may appear in all his actions. In his private dealings with his subjects his decisions should be irrevocable, and his reputation such that no one would dream of overreaching or cajoling him.”

Concerning internal governance of the State, while seeking to maintain a favorable public image, in Chapter XXI Machiavelli advices the Prince “to choose such ways of rewarding and punishing as cannot fail to be much spoken of. But above all, he should strive by all his actions to inspire a sense of his greatness and goodness.”

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Debasing Human Nature

Machiavelli’s view of the common “vulgar” people is at once soberingly bleak, condemnatory by default and saturated with paranoid distrust. For instance, in Chapter XVII he states:

“For of men it may generally be affirmed, that they are thankless, fickle, false, studious to avoid danger, greedy of gain, devoted to you while you are able to confer benefits upon them, and ready, as I said before, while danger is distant, to shed their blood, and sacrifice their property, their lives, and their children for you; but in the hour of need they turn against you.”

Whether the Prince is better to be loved than feared, it “might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.” “Men are less careful”, he goes on to explain, “how they offend him who makes himself loved than him who makes himself feared. For love is held by the tie of obligation, which, because men are a sorry breed, is broken on every whisper of private interest; but fear is bound by the apprehension of punishment which never relaxes its grasp.” But this latter conclusion seems to indicate a very peculiar low-quality kind of love. Rather than the kind that is freely given and comes with no strings attached, Machavelli’s kind of love seems to be more akin to bribery, i.e. bought affection. After all, a bribed person is also held by a “tie of obligation”, a bond which also lacks durability because it is founded on shame and comes with a burden, that of compulsory future reciprocation to the briber. In an attempt to unburden himself (including conscience), the bribed person may be tempted to exploit any opportunity to sever the tie prematurely; thus confirming Machiavelli’s prejudice that indeed such kind of ties are “broken on every whisper of private interest”. Love does not rank high in Machiavelli’s book. Further arguing the importance of fear over love, he states, “since his being loved depends upon his subjects, while his being feared depends upon himself, a wise Prince should build on what is his own, and not on what rests with others.”

And when acting in the capacity of being a protector of the people, as may be the case in civil (democratic) Princedoms (Ch.IX), the Prince may profit from a beneficial form of dependency. While the people look up to their Prince in fearful awe, Machiavelli explains that “since men who are well treated by one whom they expected to treat them ill, feel the more beholden to their benefactor, the people will at once become better disposed to such a Prince when he protects them”. This relationship between Prince and people, in which the former on occasion relieves the latter in times of need by providing protection, while at same time basically holding them hostage using coercion and threats of punishment, forms the very essence of trauma bonding (also called: Stockholm Syndrome). Further stressing the virtue of dependency on the State, he concludes, “a wise Prince should devise means whereby his subjects may at all times, whether favourable or adverse, feel the need of the State and of him, and then they will always be faithful to him.” Hence, the Prince is encouraged to exploit the use of functional fear and at the same time to make himself (and the State) indispensable to his people by posing as their savior and protector.

In Chapter XVII, he reaffirms the perception of the base nature of the Prince’s subjects by claiming that “men will sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony” and, in Chapter XVIII, that “men are so simple, and governed so absolutely by their present needs, that he who wishes to deceive will never fail in finding willing dupes” and “the vulgar are always taken by appearances and by results”.

As a consequence, Machiavelli argues that because the Prince’s State consists of subjects who, in the main, are persistently treacherous and unreliable, self-serving and opportunistic, shallow and materialistic, as well as naive, ignorant and gullible, he himself is therefore perfectly justified and licensed to also stoop to their presumed savage level by ruthlessly exploiting mentioned flaws so as to be able to thrive himself. In chapter XIX, Machiavelli writes:

“a prudent Prince neither can nor ought to keep his word when to keep it is hurtful to him and the causes which led him to pledge it are removed. If all men were good, this would not be good advice, but since they are dishonest and do not keep faith with you, you in return, need not keep faith with them; and no prince was ever at a loss for plausible reasons to cloak a breach of faith.”

Although Machiavelli accuses the vulgar people of greed, he has no qualms to urge the Prince to himself become liberally rapacious, just so long as it goes at the expense of outsiders and not his own people.“[So] long as neither their property nor their honour is touched, the mass of mankind live contentedly”, he asserts in Chapter XIX. In Chapter XVI, in the context of war, he clarifies:

“Because for a Prince who leads his armies in person and maintains them by plunder, pillage, and forced contributions, dealing as he does with the property of others this liberality is necessary, since otherwise he would not be followed by his soldiers. Of what does not belong to you or to your subjects you should, therefore, be a lavish giver, as were Cyrus, Cæsar, and Alexander; for to be liberal with the property of others does not take from your reputation, but adds to it. What injures you is to give away what is your own. And there is no quality so self-destructive as liberality; for while you practise it you lose the means whereby it can be practised, and become poor and despised, or else, to avoid poverty, you become rapacious and hated. For liberality leads to one or other of these two results, against which, beyond all others, a Prince should guard.”

Due to their perceived crooked nature, the vulgar hordes that form his subjects perfectly deserve, Machiavelli seems to urge, to suffer control by means of force and fear — as if they are dangerous and capricious animals, for which domestication efforts must be perpetual and can never afford much respite.

Nonetheless, the Prince at the same time should not overdo casting fear to the point where he becomes an object of hate. In Chapter XVII he warns:

“[A] Prince should inspire fear in such a fashion that if he do not win love he may escape hate. For a man may very well be feared and yet not hated, and this will be the case so long as he does not meddle with the property or with the women of his citizens and subjects. And if constrained to put any to death, he should do so only when there is manifest cause or reasonable justification. But, above all, he must abstain from the property of others.”

“Not to be hated or despised by the body of his subjects,” Machiavelli explains in Chapter XIX, “is one of the surest safeguards that a Prince can have against conspiracy. For he who conspires always reckons on pleasing the people by putting the Prince to death; but when he sees that instead of pleasing he will offend them, he cannot summon courage to carry out his design.” Thus the Prince has (Ch.XIX):

“…little to fear from conspiracies when his subjects are well disposed towards him; but when they are hostile and hold him in detestation, he has then reason to fear everything and every one. And well ordered States and wise Princes have provided with extreme care that the nobility shall not be driven to desperation, and that the commons shall be kept satisfied and contented; for this is one of the most important matters that a Prince has to look to.”

In Chapter XX, when discussing the merit of fortresses, he reiterates the vice of being hated. “[On] the whole,” Machiavelli states, “the best fortress you can have, is in not being hated by your subjects. If they hate you no fortress will save you; for when once the people take up arms, foreigners are never wanting to assist them.”

With this balanced conception in mind in which casting moderate fear is essential, the Prince should be prepared to adopt a self-debasing animalistic guise, although Machiavelli does not spell it out as such, with the sole aim of reasserting authority when occasion demands. “Be it known,” teaches Machiavelli in Chapter XIX, “that there are two ways of contending, one in accordance with the laws, the other by force; the first of which is proper to men, the second to beasts. But since the first method is often ineffectual, it becomes necessary to resort to the second. A Prince should, therefore, understand how to use well both the man and the beast.” In the same chapter he recommends two specific predatory guises:

“since a Prince should know how to use the beast’s nature wisely, he ought of beasts to choose both the lion and the fox; for the lion cannot guard himself from the toils, nor the fox from wolves. He must therefore be a fox to discern toils, and a lion to drive off wolves.”

Machiavelli indeed does not shun from reducing the human being, subjects and rulers alike, to downright animal status: where he instructs the predatory Prince, cunning and ruthless, on how to carefully and effectively govern his herds of human cattle, recalcitrant and back-stabbing.

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Direct Top-Down Toxic Influence

Next I will suggest two direct ways in which the Machiavellian Prince may spread his toxic influence across his dominion.

One may be called imitation of toxic character. Due to his exceptional status of importance, the Prince is subject to be imitated by, in principle, any of his subjects or minions. Indeed, in Chapter VI Machiavelli himself acknowledges the likelihood of this to happen by actually encouraging it:

“For since men for the most part follow in the footsteps and imitate the actions of others, and yet are unable to adhere exactly to those paths which others have taken, or attain to the virtues of those whom they would resemble, the wise man should always follow the roads that have been trodden by the great, and imitate those who have most excelled, so that if he cannot reach their perfection, he may at least acquire something of its savour.”

The character of the Prince is to be composed of the following elements. Most significantly, the sage of slyness insists that the Prince be obsessed with all aspects of warfare and that he, “as many great men of past age have done,” writes Machiavelli in Chapter XIV, should “assume for his models those persons who before his time have been renowned and celebrated, whose deeds and achievements he should constantly keep in mind, as it is related that Alexander the Great sought to resemble Achilles, Cæsar Alexander, and Scipio Cyrus”. Furthermore, the Prince is to never waver although he may break his word at will so long as it does not bring harm to his reputation (Ch.XVIII); he must always appear strong and valiant (Ch.XIX); he should strive to appear honorable and respectable, even venerable.

In other words, the Prince should possess an aura that belongs to a righteous and infallible saint of war. As if he were handpicked, ordained and anointed by God Almighty himself, his minions and subjects are therefore to receive his wish and will as if they were commands in perfect agreement with Providence. Consequently, the Machiavellian Prince is led to embrace a strict segregation, or duality, of good and evil. The will of the Prince and the will of God are taken to be in perfect alignment and any belligerence against the Prince implies belligerence against God; thus defining the one who acts in defiance of the Prince at once an enemy of both the Prince and God and is therefore to be branded evil; and destroying that enemy equates with destroying an enemy of God and is automatically to be hailed as a just and good act. Hence, irrespective of how large a bloodbath it may yield, any hostile act issued by the powers of the Prince directed against the powers of an enemy is always of a good nature, whereas a hostile act issued by an enemy against the Prince is always of an evil nature.

To adopt such a recklessly oversimplified worldview, the Prince has to persist in his dissociation from his own psychic shadow; all those of his character traits and actions that, from an objective and impartial moral vantage point would challenge his aura of immaculate moral supremacy, cannot be consciously accepted in their true light. As an infallible, irreproachable and resolute Prince, he therefore — lest opening up to the risk of being viewed as weak and flawed and thus fear ruin — is to never own up to personal fault or failure; all shame, blame and guilt is either to be ignored, dismissed, denied, shifted onto his blameworthy minions and subjects, or, best of all, conveniently projected unto his enemies, foreign or domestic; thus serving to only further legitimize their persecution.

Those who look up to their Prince in admiration and seek to emulate him jeopardize embracing his characteristically pretentious and haughty self-alienating psychopathology. As they follow suit in seeking to immobilize their conscience, they likewise hazard sabotaging the one innate means which would be effective in preventing their growing shadow-feeding habit of venting the wrathful fruits of their increasingly troubled psyche onto whosoever happens to have the nerve of crossing them, or maybe even for just something as innocent as entering into their presence. Shame and guilt is not, or only reluctantly, to be recognized and is thus all too eagerly relegated unto other poor souls, who in turn, may just find themselves inclined to do the same to even other poor souls. The Machiavellian self-deluding and self-deceiving Princely attitude boils down to the building up of a feverish allergy for the acceptance of personal shame and guilt, unconsciously considered too toxic to own up to. A person having such a disposition becomes ever more a stranger to their own psychic inner core as it is walled off from one’s own conscious inspection to prevent the experience of overwhelming pain, remorse and grief.

Thus the person seeking to emulate their toxic ruler pushes him- or herself to become ever more a stranger to their own inner psychic core and by necessity becomes ever more superficial, ever more prone to be swayed by mere appearances and image-impressions of reality, and by losing contact with their own inner feelings ever more loses the capacity to feel pain when another feels pain; and as they lose that ability to have empathy they cannot help but become ever more selfish and more inclined to seek solace in materialism; ironically, these are all epithets which Machiavelli accuses them of already possessing from the get-go. This attitude, by way of spreading through imitation, may become ever more fashionable and may end up affecting all those who fall under the rule of the Prince. Hence it follows that straightforward character imitation may very well be one of the root mechanisms causing society to become more Machiavellian.

As a side-issue which has some relevancy to the topic at hand: The 2005 motion picture called Kingdom of Heaven, see the still-picture above, serves as a great illustration to this condition of tenacious psychic self-delusion. In this epic film European crusaders battle with Muslim forces over control of Jerusalem. The commander of the crusaders, King Baldwin IV, happens to be a leper. For sake of argument, let’s forget that in the movie Baldwin IV is portrayed as a relatively sympathetic and righteous ruler. In the fact that he suffers from leprosy, while dressed in full albeit only lightly armored regalia, we find a symbolic representation of the meaning embodied by the crusader. The covered up disfigured body of the leper king — including, most significantly, a facial helmet outwardly showing a pristine almost angelic face hiding a hideously blemished face — may be taken to represent the psychic shadow being too horrific to be exposed to the outside world and therefore in need of being covered up by a compensatory attractive and pious facial image. In addition, the crusaders, as the self-proclaimed anointed representatives of God, see themselves perfectly justified in their quest of trying to defeat the alleged enemies of God, embodied in this case by Muslim warriors led by Saladin, who unsurprisingly similarly like to see themselves as licensed agents of God (Allah). It’s a film that wonderfully captures the artificially created duality of good versus evil. Men are taken to belong to either of two distinct, clearly separated categories: good and evil; where men of each category are led to think that the men of the other category are evil, agents of the devil, whereas they are good and righteous knights of God.

Originating in a complete alienation from one’s own shadow, the defective and oversimplifying worldview which emerges from it serves as a rationale for sensing the hideous and evil aspects of one’s own psychological nature to be present not in oneself but only in one’s enemy. It’s a state of mind that contradicts any rigorously honest self-examination, for we are all individually capable of wishing and doing evil regardless of what blessed group we find ourselves belonging to. In the words of Gulag-camp survivor Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Another direct way in which the Machiavellian Prince may release his toxic influence could be called propagation of toxic treatment; which actually is a special kind of imitation. By virtue of his implied flawless sense of justice, whoever the Prince accuses of whatever crime or transgression, automatically is found guilty and the people typically at once (are forced to) accept any attributed punishment as fair and deserved — after all, it has been so decreed by their divinely-inspired Prince. Cruel, toxic treatment, including acts of humiliation, in a power structure is infectious and tends to disperse over the hierarchy which, in principle, sprawls over the entire realm.

Here’s a brief outline as to how it may work: Let’s say the Prince on occasion humiliates one of his generals for failing to live up to the high expectations of the Prince, or by way of taking the blame for a lost battle, or whatever reason applies, justified or unjustified. To regain psychic balance and redeem a sense of honor and restore loss of face, the wounded general, in turn, may try to find comfort in a similar act of venting his incurred frustration, grief and anger onto one of his own lessers, say one of his subordinate officers. This now also humiliated officer, in turn, may feel the urge to do the same to one of his own lessers and so on and so forth until the chain-reaction of humiliation percolates all the way down to the bottom layer of the hierarchy; in a worst-case scenario, the entire realm reverberates the shock-wave that originates in the blaming and shaming Prince. If done repeatedly, habitually, the destructive influence emanating from the Prince may manifest, to varying degrees, in psychic corruption of potentially anyone falling under the dominion of the Prince. Hence the Prince may see to a progressively Machiavellian corruption of all those who reside in his realm, initiated by his own cruel hand.

To make matters worse, serving to further justify the spreading of his toxic influence, the Prince has an active interest for all those who fall under his wing, subjects as well as minions, to likewise become strangers to their own shadows as much as possible. So long as they also have a superficial and short-sighted mental disposition they might just be discouraged from scrutinizing their ruler and be instead consumed with pursuing materialistic goals or be distracted by mindless entertainment or other forms of harmless tripe and triviality. However, by being alienated from their own shadow they may very well be encouraged to look for it in others through the psychological mechanism of projection; should they be so inclined they must at all times be dissuaded from setting their searching eyes on their ruler, who is at all times to remain without tarnish. Indeed, the Prince is to become an object of hatred and contempt for as few of his people as possible. Addressing the vice of being hated by many, Machiavelli emphasizes in Chapter XIX, “for as Princes cannot escape being hated by some, they should, in the first place, endeavour not to be hated by a class; failing in which, they must do all they can to escape the hatred of that class which is the stronger.” As to the optional need of his people to project their troubles unto others, the Prince thereby has an interest to have their focus fixed unto an acceptable, even desirable, group of scapegoats — personae non grata of the regime: spies, traitors and criminals, to be found preferably among the disposable ranks of the vulgar subjects, or, as occasion presents itself, in the form of the odd troublesome minion in need of getting out of the way.

Note also that the moral axiom mentioned in Chapter XVIII and quoted at the very top of this article, bears out an underlying presumption of this shallow psychic make-up of the people — i.e. those who witness historical events unfold and come to judge it retrospectively. Machiavelli implies that people remember conclusions and are keen to forget intermediate steps; the end is the only thing that counts while the means — whether peaceably or bloody, civilized or less civilized, moral or immoral — carry no weight at all; it is an attitude that falls right in line with those who try hard to run away from their own shadow. It remains to be seen, however, whether Machiavelli’s observation is a just and accurate assessment of the psychological makeup of the people he writes about; or if it is, heaven forbid, perhaps more accurate to instead suggest that it is a prejudicial projection from Machiavelli’s mind unto the people and that it in actuality is greatly indicative of either his own dubious psychological nature or of those he seeks to address and impress through his work, i.e. any Prince drawing lessons from The Prince. Then again, perhaps the truth applies both ways.

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Cyclically-Reinforced Toxic Influence

Wikipedia defines a self-fulfilling prophecy as “a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.” According to the sociologist Robert K Merton, who coined the phrase and formalized its structure, a self-fulfilling prophecy “is, in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come ‘true’. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.” In other words, a positive or negative prophecy, strongly held belief, or delusion—declared as truth when it is actually false—may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy. (Source: Wikipedia)

When a ruler draws inspiration and instruction from The Prince by trying to conform his rule to its precepts, due to the influence owing to the ruler, the stage is set for society to likewise actively shape itself in accordance with the Machiavellian model of it. The prophecy that society will be Machiavellian, i.e. inhabited by members who are behaving in a way conformal to the description of them in The Prince, works to become self-fulfilling through the initial influence of its ruler. Specifically, concerning internal rule (domestic policy), Machiavelli indirectly (and nowadays, from the grave) encourages the ruler’s subjects to conform to his prejudicial view of them by way of pressing the ruler to treat them as if they already, from the outset, are consistent with that view. Concerning external rule (foreign policy) a similar process applies by way of Machiavelli leading the ruler down the path of war. Allow me to clarify.

With Machiavelli touting fear as the choice tool of rule bar none, let us focus on fear to illustrate the point. Based on Machiavelli’s distrustful stereotype of the common people, let’s say the ruler decides to introduce modest measures of State security by instituting a network of informants across the realm having as aim gathering information on possible spies, traitors and other undesirable elements; so that they may be routed- and rooted out. The people, in response to this subtle but noticeable increase in State-sponsored harassment and intrusion, may start to harbor resentment for being subjected to humiliating affronts to their domestic peace and invasions of privacy. In addition, the citizens may increasingly become suspicious of one another. As tension and distrust among the people for their own kind mounts, some may give in to the increasing paranoia and decide to rat out some of the seemingly more suspiciously acting fellow citizens. On the basis of data provided by informants, the State then proceeds to arrest the trouble-makers, who, if not acquitted, end up either imprisoned, executed or banished. Consequently — if indeed sentenced — spouses, relatives or friends (etc.) of the removed loved ones may become embittered and disgruntled with the regime and may decide to switch sides and pledge loyalty with a rival ruler or competing political power. So now, unlike before, the realm does harbor real spies, traitors and the like. As loyalty among his subjects therefore slowly but surely dwindles, indicated by increasing reports of suspicious activity and a rising score of arrests, the ruler may feel himself entirely vindicated to respond with upping the ante of State security. Hence we have come full circle and there is nothing in the way for the situation to keep on escalating, meaning that more people will feel compelled to turn on the regime, to which the State, in turn, will feel obliged to respond with more oppression. And even though Machiavelli himself cautions against oppressive rule (Ch.IX) and against becoming hated too much (Ch.XIX), the ruler may nonetheless feel himself forced to resort to more aggressive measures of rule in order to warrant security of an increasingly compromised State. Hence a positive feedback loop emerges which progressively vindicates the Prince’s increasingly severe and oppressive policing measures, thus bringing the prophecy ever more to a state of fulfillment — a process for which the Prince himself is responsible, courtesy of a paranoia implanted by Machiavelli.


Whereas the above mechanism applies to a self-fulfilling prophecy concerning internal rule, a similar mechanism applies to the potentate’s external rule. Since Machiavelli urges the Prince to devote himself to become an adept in the art of war, the foreign states which become the focal point of his covetousness may be assumed to respond defensively to any noticeable actualization of the Prince’s belligerent and rapacious ambitions. And in his myopic mindset, he may interpret any defensive acts coming from those states not as such but as acts of hostility and offensiveness instead. Hence the ruler may feel himself justified to even more step up his war efforts aimed to deal with those supposedly challenging and menacing states, which, in turn, feel themselves compelled to increase their own defenses. Alternatively, a Prince itching for an excuse to launch a war may very well be inclined to delude himself into thinking that some foreign state acts in a hostile or provocative manner toward him, when such a perception is really only a figment of his bellicose imagination, and the foreign state is merely led to respond defensively against any acts of aggression coming from the self-deceiving Prince. Hence, both ways for the Prince to embroil himself in war generate a positive feedback loop causing the prophecy about the Prince being surrounded by menacing rival rulers to become ever more fulfilled — again a process for which a paranoid and bellicose Prince is himself responsible. Note that this kind of positive feedback loop also underlies the phenomenon of arms-races existing between any pair of mutually belligerent states having also comparable magnitudes of power at the same time.

Wikipedia states that projection “is the act or technique of defending yourself against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in yourself, while attributing them to others.” Ultimately it is psychological projection, of a paranoid kind, which ignites the positive feedback loops into existence and thus causing the Machiavellian prophecies, concerning both internal- and external rule, to come true in a self-fulfilling way. Let me clarify.

Concerning internal rule, encouraged by Machiavelli, the Prince attributes lack of loyalty to his subjects, when in actual fact he cannot face up to his own psychic reality in which it is he himself who is indebted with- and lacks loyalty towards his own people. After all, the Prince needs his people in order to sustain himself as a parasitic entity living off of their toils and blood, while, apart from giving orders and signing laws, producing little in return. In contrast, the case for the inverse: the people needing the Prince, is a lot weaker and they probably, after initial growing pains that accompany newfound autonomy have subsided, would do just fine without having some cocky authority figure constantly bossing them around, telling them what to do and what not to do (in the service of the Prince’s rule). The Prince is nothing but a paper Prince without his people; especially during times of war, when the ranks of his armies need to be filled, is his dependence on them most dramatic. The Prince therefore owes his people more than his people owe him. As such, the ruler is inclined to develop guilt feelings toward his subjects, albeit always kept under the radar of conscious awareness, which likely results in feeding his paranoia for his own people: unmitigated and persistent fears for falling victim to their protests, public exposure, or more strongly expressed forms of objection. These fears for reprisals, including possible rebellion, are not at all irrational since the people have sacrificed so much, and continue to do so, in order to only please and honor their Prince… and what has he given them back in reward for their costly sacrifices of blood, sweat and tears?

Concerning external rule, again cheered on by Machiavelli, the Prince perceives animosity coming from his rival rulers, when in reality he cannot come to terms with his own psychic reality in which it is he himself who harbors animosity and envy towards his surrounding peers — who, the Prince alleges, are in a state of cut-throat competition with him.

So it all starts with a projecting self-alienated Prince. The psychological reason as to why the Prince develops a fierce passion for exercising behavior that is based on projection and shadow-denying will be addressed next.

Part 1 of 2 Part 2 of 2

*) The Prince, derives from the Italian il Principe, resembling the English principle, ultimately deriving from the Latin Primus, meaning first or foremost. By the bye, in Dutch, the King is called vorst, resembling voorste, which also means first, foremost and also traces via Old German back to the Latin Primus.

Etymological Sources:

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=prince&allowed_in_frame=0 (English)
http://www.etimo.it/?term=principe&find=Cerca (Italian)
http://www.etymologiebank.nl/trefwoord/vorst1 (Dutch)

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