by John McHugh
Niccolò Machiavelli wrote THE PRINCE in the 16th century giving a vast insight into the murky world of obtaining power and more importantly retaining it thereafter. Machiavelli separates the real world of politics from the world of ideals and his philosophy could be summed up with the saying “losers fight clean” or “the end justifies the means.” There is no good or evil, right or wrong in the game of politics and power, just success and failure! His work was gifted to the then Prince of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici and chronicles the different attempts to perfect this art by many in various situations.
A lust for power and control has existed within humanity far back into our unwritten history. Gods, religion, royalty appointed by god, military strength, money and democracy are some of the many tools that enable a Prince to hold this power. As he moves away from a belief in a divine right to rule, it increases the importance of being Machiavellian!
Machiavelli advised that a wise Prince would be miserly with his own resources but would appease his subjects by being very generous with the exploited resources of his colonies and would be constantly on a war footing as it’s an eat or be eaten world!
We could be fooled into thinking that humanity has evolved beyond Machiavelli’s philosophies but we don’t have to look too hard to find out that is not the case. The rise of the industrial age combined with Capitalism opened the doors to many new ways of exploiting value out of the natural world and in turn appeasing its subjects and democracy, state education, mass media, consumerism and financial debt all opened a box to many more tools of the Machiavellian trade!
Pin-pointing where the bulk of the power lies in this new system is much more difficult and lies more hidden within the economic realm than within the political realm. Our democratic control extends over a very small section of this power and is largely ineffective due to the structures in place that limit our choice but serves very well in appeasing the masses with the illusion of control.
Change is afoot!
However, change is afoot! No dynasty can last forever and the current dynasty has over extended itself in a great many regards. The exploitation of the natural world as we have known it is no longer acceptable to the masses and with that passes the unlocked resources that were used to pacify us and keep us content. The economic system is also in need of a major reset and the printing of trillions of dollars and euros in the past ten years was just an effort to buy time and prepare for the changing of the guard! A new Prince is now overdue! Right on cue, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson serve the dual purpose of showing that no alternative the current system has to offer inspires faith in its subjects along with both of them possessing the destructive will to collapse the old order.
With change comes opportunity and this opportunity is undoubtedly recognized by a great many wannabe Princes! As it becomes more obvious that the old order is about to fall, the many suitors will start coming forward. It has in fact already started, with many proponents of a third/fourth or fifth Industrial revolution which will use technology to help unlock new value from the natural world without the side effects or environmental costs! The more intelligent suitors realize that it will take more than that to satisfy the masses so there will have to be many very real reforms. The mob are also thirsty for blood which presents the opportunity to conveniently strip the old order of much of its wealth and power. Limits to wealth, the closing of tax loopholes, massive tax avoidance and tax havens and even the promise of much greater democracy and reform of our political system will all be easy offerings as they won’t largely effect the new Prince.
Cryptocurrency and financial and political systems governed by Blockchain or supposedly incorruptible computer aided systems and the rise of Artificial Intelligence will offer the promise of removing the corruptible human influence from all of these systems, the potential for a Prince like we have never seen before….. or maybe we have in the God-Princes of early humanity!!!
To some this might be the dawning of an exciting new age, to others a dystopian nightmare!
Arise the Prince Within
Is there an alternative to releasing control to a new Machiavellian Prince or the great unknown of Artificial intelligence?
The German psychologist Erich Fromm wrote The Fear of Freedom in 1941, shedding light on the psychological conditions that allowed the rise of Nazism.
While Machiavelli’s work deals with the power and control lust within society, Fromm’s work deals with the more prevalent anxiety that accompanies freedom and how societies unconsciously submit themselves to authoritarian rule, be it in the form of dictatorships or to the Tyranny of the Majority! At an individual level, this releases the person of the burden of making decisions and the responsibility that comes with those decisions to the self and other dependents. The anger that stems from any attempts at debate on the role of vaccines in human health is a perfect example of this anxiety.
The author Ida Wylie noted a famous comment from a young girl before the onset of World War 2 stating “We Germans are so happy, we are free from freedom”. Many from Eastern European countries look back with nostalgia on the communist days when they were much less burdened with the anxieties of freedom and fending for themselves in a free market economy!
Institutional syndrome is a label sometimes used to describe the difficulties that people who have spent a long period of time within certain institutions experience in adapting to the outside world and the anxieties that come with it.
All of this leads us to repressing our awareness of certain possibilities in favour of accepting what is socially given, however we can develop the strength within, our inner Prince, in order to take control of our own destiny. The slow unravelling of an old order that we had blindly trusted means we are being gradually dragged out of our false sense of security and our comfort zone with no immediate replacement.
The real genius of Machiavelli’s work was his own deceit, his real purpose for writing the Prince was not to help the ambitious Lorenzo De’ Medici to achieve lasting power but as he revealed in a letter to a friend “If I have been a little too punctual in describing these monsters in all their lineaments and colours, I hope mankind will know them, the better to avoid them, my treatise being both a satire against them, and a true character of them..” Machiavelli realized that freedom was not born through political unity but through the cracks of a ruling class divided upon itself. The world is currently becoming much more polarized, in politics, in agriculture, in medicine and this polarity gives us an opportunity to evolve and develop our inner Prince.
As we learn to accept responsibility for our own roll in the events of the world around us we can gradually make decisions and take the actions to realign ourselves towards the world we would like to see. Self-responsibility is an uncomfortable process and much more difficult than pointing the finger of blame at others but this is now necessary should we wish to find our power.
A poem written by an unknown monk in 1100AD sums it up best:
When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world.
I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation.
When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town.
I couldn’t change the town as an older man, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realize that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.