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What Niccolo Gave Us

Yesterday was the birthday of a famous politician whom many modern politicians have, knowingly or unconsciously, imitated in their own careers. Yesterday marked the birth of Niccolo.

By the time he was 29, Niccolo was the defense minister. He so distinguished himself in government service that he soon was given diplomatic responsibilities, which put him in company with many powerful heads of state, including powerful religious leaders. (In those days, religious leaders wielded substantial political power.)

But, as often happens among powerful but fickle world leaders, Niccolo fell out of favor with some important movers and shakers. To rescue his flagging political career, he wrote a book on the characteristics of the ideal political leader: that person was amoral, guided in his actions by only the philosophy that the end justifies the means, and that desired end was power, gained by calculated tyranny, self-interest, and political expediency.

Centuries later, tyrants and demagogues continue to practice the political principles that Niccolo set forth in his book.

Niccolo Machiavelli and The Prince.

And actions that one takes for his own gain without regard for right or wrong or who is hurt are described as Machiavellian.

Some people have alleged that Franklin Roosevelt kept a copy of The Prince on his nightstand and read from it regularly. Accurate or apocryphal, that allegation is figurative of many politicians today, and it is what gives government service a bad reputation. And the practice is not the proprietary characteristic of any one part; it’s a bipartisan issue. I’ve lost faith in all political parties.

We see it in practice from the end of one election cycle (which actually is only the beginning of the next cycle), through Election Day, to the implementation of policy after the victors have taken office. We see it in the politicians’ doing whatever it takes to gain and then remain in power.

We see it when politicians do what is calculated to keep their party in power regardless of right or wrong. We see it in their blatant disregard for and disobedience to the very laws they are sworn to uphold. Machiavellians think themselves to be above the law. We see it in their insistence on making the Constitution an ever-changing document, but changing only in ways that support their particular agenda.

We see it in politicians’ unqualified support of an appointee one day and their stabbing him in the back or throwing him under the bus and lying about him the next. We see it in the fabrication of “facts” designed to promote their own agenda regardless of what the truth is.

Machiavellianism is all around us. George Washington was prescient in warning us not to divide into political factions but to work for the mutual good. Although I was once an avid fan of politics and elections, I strongly dislike them today because of the Machiavellian mess that politics has become.

Where are the true statesmen? Where are the candidates who will engage in serious debate about real issues; who, like gentlemen, behave and speak civilly and meaningfully and constructively; who refuse to sling mud and manufacture lies for the sake of power and personal gain?

Sorry to say, it’s been so long since I’ve seen such a person that I might not recognize or believe him or her if I did see one.

Thankfully, I don’t have my confidence in politicians; otherwise, I’d be totally disillusioned. The Bible tells us, in what I’ve heard are the middle verses of the Bible (but I haven’t counted to ensure that this is so; it has to be close, though), “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (Psa. 118:8-9). And to solidify that premise, Numbers 23:19 tells us, “God is not a man that He should lie,” implying that man will lie. I think I’ll put my confidence in God, not man.

Sadly, instead of studying, learning, and practicing the moral truths of the Bible, the ultimate guide for politicians, today’s pols have learned too well the lessons that Machiavelli taught. The precepts from The Prince have become their religiously held dogma and practice.

Thanks a lot, Niccolo!

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