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Written by Jim Jordal   
Wednesday, 28 March 2018

MACHIAVELLI RETURNS

By Jim Jordal

Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held, to subdue nations before him, and I will….open the doors before him, and the gates shall not be shut….that you may know that it is I, the Lord, who call you by your name, even the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel my chosen, I have called you by your name: I have surnamed you, though you have not known me. I am the Lord, and there is none else; besides me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known me; that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me: I am the Lord, and there is no one else. I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil. I am the Lord, who does all these things. Isaiah 45:1-7 (editing and emphasis mine)

In this passage, Isaiah details the classic case of God’s sovereignty in human affairs. Cyrus the Great founded the Persian Empire and constituted a scourge upon the world around him. But God takes him down a bit by openly calling the heathen king his anointed, and promising that he would be the power that God would use to free Israel from the earlier Babylonian captivity. Although Cyrus did not know God, nevertheless God knew him and would use him as he pleased.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a student of the Latin classics who thought deeply on questions of applied power and its successes in government and business. In the course of his studies he became convinced that possessing and keeping naked power was the chief goal of many politicians and businessmen. He wrote, not of the socially beneficent moral society desired by reformers and do-gooders, but of societies and leaders as they really were. To men desiring only power, morality was irrelevant unless it was to delude the people into accepting or at least not resisting them. In fact the general idea of leadership was to “get them before they get you.” The leader must also select malleable underlings who wholeheartedly support him, and should ruthlessly remove or destroy any who dare to threaten his empire. The leader should always claim that whatever was done, no matter how arrogant or damaging, was done for the benefit of the people and with their approval.  

After watching and listening to power-hungry political players, you’d almost be persuaded that Machiavelli has returned to take up residence in Washington D.C. If he isn’t there in the flesh, he certainly is in spirit, since his ideas seem to pervade much political thinking and acting. It becomes more obvious each day that lies dominate truth, and power easily topples justice. It seems we’ve created a Machiavellian monster without the presence of the founder, who in spirit lurks behind every action.

Political science classes study Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513) to learn how bad it really could be by comparing the tyrants of history and their stratagems for getting and keeping power. Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin usually turn up as the most successful practitioners of power. During the 1930s Stalin killed about 20 million Russian peasants in his collectivism program for agriculture and because of his paranoia about those plotting against him.

According to classicist Professor Rufus Fears, whose beliefs I quote regularly and am referring to in this article, a successful tyrant needs five main characteristics or abilities: they must be shrewd, dishonest, stingy, cruel, and monstrously egotistic. Machiavelli studied history to learn how potential tyrants use and sharpen these qualities to a fine edge to achieve the power they seek. His findings were that successful power seekers must choose their close political associates with great care, seeking people that will agree totally with whatever errors are being committed, and who will be removed from office for any public disagreement with their cabinet.

Your task as caring citizens is to compare the policies and actions of the present administration in Washington D.C. (tax cuts, global warming decisions, tariffs, guns, social security, and whatever else you care about), with the stated values of Machiavellian leaders. You may be a bit frightened as you do this, since things do not look so good when you do. But just remember as Isaiah said about Cyrus the Great: he didn’t know God, but God knew him and used his to deliver his people. This same sort of thing is happening now and will continue.