(These thoughts were sparked while listening to CBC Radio, “Ideas” (Paul Kennedy) “Machiavelli: The Prince of Paradox,” broadcast 6 November 2013 in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the writing of The Prince.1
Satire: “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”
So, was Niccolò Machiavelli2 being satirical (or not) when he wrote The Prince?
Perhaps context and history can give us some clues.
1. Machiavelli chose not to publish The Prince during his life; and there is no evidence that it was ever given to its addressee: the “Magnificent Lorenzo, son of Piero de’ Medici.”
2. This Magnificent Lorenzo was the son of a usurping family that presided over Machiavelli’s torture before his time of exile in which he wrote The Prince.
3. Machiavelli lived in a time of vanity and violence, pride and paranoia. Come to think of it—which Machiavelli probably did in the many hours of his self-described communion with history—this Medici period of vanity and violence, pride and paranoia was just another long stretch of never-ending, historical déjà vu.
4. A review of the “long-term security” and “survival” of so-called “statesmen.”
5. Reading Jonathan Swift’s, A Modest Proposal (1729)3 in the same sitting as The Prince (1513).
So, for the sake of those who believe The Prince is “a work on statesmanship” and that it “systematically analyze[s] the requirements of power and survival” (being the words of Mr. Henry Kissinger at min. 1:10-1:27 of the “Ideas” broadcast ), let’s look at an abbreviated sample of power and survival:4
|Sennacherib (681 BCE)||King Saul (while fleeing, circa 1007 BCE)||Cyrus the Great (slain in battle, 528 BCE)|
|Xerxes I (465 BCE)||Robespierre (1794 CE)||Alexander the Great (poisoned? at age 33, 323 BCE)|
|Pompey the Great (48 BCE)||Mussolini (1945)||Nero (suicide, 68 CE)|
|Julius Caesar (44 BCE)||Vidkun Quisling (1945)||Napoleon (dies in exile, 1821)|
|Caligula (41 CE)||Hideki Tojo (1948)||Hitler (suicide, 1945)|
|Emperor Dominian (96 CE)||Ceausescu (1989)||Pol Pot (dies while under house arrest, 1998)|
|Kaiser Wilhelm II (1914)||Saddam Hussein (2006)||Idi Amin (dies in exile, 2003)|
|Nicholas II of Russia (1918)||Gadhafi (2011)||Pinochet (last years under house arrest, 2006)|
So, perhaps the “requirements of power and survival” need a little less delusion (by Kissinger and friends) and a little more systematic analysis.
Of course, some “Princes” do manage to survive their tenure of (tyrannical) power by the practice of so-called “judicious” excesses, yet how often are they plagued with continual paranoia, if not outright madness? Thus, in the light of history (which often unfolds in the dark), is it not stupefying to view The Prince as some formula for secure statesmanship?
But, even if Machiavelli were not mocking the Magnificent Lorenzo (et ilk), I submit that the facts of history do. Tyrannical rulers seem more susceptible to being deposed than “democratic” ones, and manifest as much, if not greater, paranoia.
So, let’s line-up the dead “statesmen / Princes” of history and ask:
Are we naive, delusional, and / or fools-worthy-of-mockery to believe there is power and security in the prescriptions of The Prince?
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_assassinations ; http://list25.com/25-of-historys-deadliest-dictators/ ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassinations