“In matters of style go with the current, but in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”
During the completion of my history degree, Machiavelli’s book The Prince (Il Principe in Italian) was required reading. My initial reaction to the book was amusement at both the author’s audacity and his attempts to ingratiate himself to powerful men like Lorenzo de Medici.
When The Prince was first published in 1513 it was not particularly well-received; rather, the book was labeled as immoral and the work of a warped mind. Machiavelli, though far from being a saint, knew perfectly well what he was creating: a handbook for rulers. Church and secular critics of The Prince were disingenuous: outwardly condemning the book but internally seeing themselves and their motivations exposed by the book’s controversial pages. If authorities were upset it was because Machiavelli had the stones to describe the world as it really operated (presenting the ruled with a unique glimpse in to the motivations of the powerful).
One of the more noteworthy motifs emerging out of Il Principe was the idea it was better for a ruler to be feared than loved. Fear, not love, was a better guarantor of control. The surprising tolerance people have of the modern surveillance state–and its subsequent encroachments upon privacy and liberty–seems suggestive Machiavelli’s dictum continues to have currency. People in Canada, for example, were relatively silent as the Federal Government gutted the Charter of Rights by passing Bill C-51 to deal with the perceived threat of terrorism.
Some critics of C-51 argued it went too far. Others argued it was, more or less, an over-reaction far disproportionate to the actual risk posed to Canadians, e.g. you were more likely to be killed by a moose than a terrorist. So, rather than public outrage, the bill was met with quiet resignation; and the government successfully preyed upon the very human tendency to give fear more credence than it deserves–all for the perceived need for greater security.
In some respects, Machiavelli was anticipating Nietzsche’s notion of the trans-valuation of values, e.g. turning the Christian ethic on its head, i.e. whereas people were taught the value of forgiveness Nietzsche viewed this as weakness arguing that men of prey, the strong, were better off remembering wrongs and repaying evil with evil; whereas mercy was preached ruthlessness is what helped one hold on to power; whereas honesty was understood as a public virtue leaders learned, from both Machiavelli and Nietzsche, that the bigger the lie the more likely it was to be believed. In short men of prey were destined to rule the herd through a combination of fear and propaganda. That’s where you and I come in.
We are the herd.
Throughout history, elites have used approaches like those described in The Prince as a framework for controlling the masses. This blog, and its associated podcast, were established as a sort of counter-balance or “handbook for the ruled” (an Il Populo if you will). This blog presents visitors with some of the tools they’ll need to help recognize unwanted corporate interests where they exist; and, ideally, help people preserve democracy for future generations. The blog’s creators are genuinely concerned by the troubling relationship between corporate power and democratic governments. In as much as it was necessary to separate church and state at one time, it appears there’s a pressing need for a little more distance between the economy and state to be established. Each contributor to Peasants & Emperors has a genuine love of liberty, for freedom and for the rule of law; and we all agree with Winston Churchill, that although democracy might not be the most efficient form of government, it is definitely the best available considering the alternatives…
The Peasant & Emperors Team