The Vestiges of Machiavelli

Political discussions in liberal democracies are supposed to be about the battle of ideas, heterodox exchanges, and civil debates. Politicians and leaders present their arguments for a better and productive society through public discourse.

However, recent scandals in Parliament have indicated that it is not really the case. People have forgotten that politicians do not operate under the guises of morality, but manoeuvre based on strategy within established rules of the game — the game of survival in politics. Politics is rife with clever duplicity and manipulation.

Every member of Parliament has two main interests in mind — maintaining power and being perceived as a noble, honest fellow. As Machiavelli once said, “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you really are.”

Should the public expect more ‘Machiavellian’ behaviour as the election campaign goes underway? If so, what can we learn and observe from the late 15th century philosopher’s wisdom?

Political marketing to Machiavelli is a seductive tool and the use of charming to mislead the public. “It is double pleasure to deceive the deceiver” and “one who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.” — A tool the Prime Minister utilises to perfection with her omnipresent slogan, ‘Be Kind’.

Regarding the competence of our leadership, he states that “the first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” If you do not have a competent team, pointless blunders will hit the spotlight, shown by recent resignations.   

Unfortunately, public policy will not be the driver of electoral success. Machiavelli states that “princes have accomplished most who paid little heed to keeping their promises, but who knew how to manipulate the minds of men craftily.” Cunning political strategies are the best ways to preserve or gain power.

Machiavelli always maintained the importance of being effective without being impotently pure. Regarding leadership, he recommends that “Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”

What are the ultimate lessons? Even under liberal democracies, politicians will always use cunning deception to attain or maintain power. Machiavelli was a republican and an astute observer of human nature, that politicians will always strive to serve their main interests — this is just reality.

We must understand that despite the imperfections of our system, liberal democracy still allows us to have a voice in contrast to autocracies. Multiparty systems still provide a check and balance of power on the leadership and their potential to abuse it.

Self-interests are the norms of politics, but if we genuinely want to have competent and effective leadership, the public must understand this aspect of human nature — effective politics require some level of Machiavellianism.  

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