Machiavelli for our times

“Aside from lucky circumstances and positive qualities, there are two other ways a private citizen can become a ruler and we should include them in our discussion, though one of these would find more space in a book about republics. They are, first, when a man seizes power by some terrible crime and, second, when a private citizen becomes hereditary ruler with the support of his fellow citizens. ”

–Excerpt From The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Our word for the day is Mach·i·a·vel·li·an adjective: “cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous, especially in politics.”

This is all because of Prof. Carlos and candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. taking Machiavelli’s name in vain.

It began on the pet network of the Powers-that-be, when the professor asked the following question of the candidate, supposedly in aid of probing what, exactly, is the candidate’s leadership style:

Carlos: “Do you think that you are basically an optimist, rather than a pessimist? Number two, do you think you are basically a high risk taker rather than a low risk taker? You’ll notice that the two are related. And the third question is, are you a Machiavellian?”

The result, (according to Interaksyon, and my own transcribing) was an exchange that went like this:

Marcos Jr.: “Well, ah, the first question is if I’m an optimist, ah, or a pessimist. I’m essentially an optimist. And the reason I’m essentially an optimist, um, because especially when you talk about the country, I, we, we can, we are opti– I am optimistic because we are, our biggest asset is the Filipino people and I uh, it’s not, it’s not gonna, (applause) I uh, try to be very objective about it Ma’m I have traveled all over the world, I have not met a better people than Filipinos in every (cheering) every possibility. Uh, am I, am I risk taker or not, when it comes to national issues I um, tend towards the conservative only because a mistake will cause so much suffering to so many people in other words you have to be very careful with the decisions you make, and it’s not something you do off-hand, you think about it very hard, you talk to as many people as you can, and you make absolutely certain that you have have done everything that you can absolutely do, ah, to make whatever your plan is, to make it work. Am I Machiavellian? Well, I’ve studied him quite thoroughly, and I know very many Machiavellians in my life.” (Smile.) “But uhm, I… I….”

Carlos: “This is Machiavellian in terms of taking every means uh, to uh, produce an end. Not the other Machiavellian you know, uh, the bad Machiavellian.”

Marcos Jr.: “Well… ah, hee, hee hee, certainly, we have to be, we have to be aware of everything that is going to help whatever it is that you are hoping to achieve. And as on national scale, that means you have to understand very well what the situation is on the ground.

“Ganito kasi ang sitwasyon ng mga tao, eh tanungin niyo sila… nasa gitna pa ng pandemya, walang trabaho ‘yang mga ‘yan, umaasa pa rin ‘yan sa tupad… Sa [unintelligible] etc. O papano tayo lalabas niyan, where will be ano… what are the other countries doing?

“Kailangan maging maingat sa ano… so I suppose, uh, in the same sense as you save those questions for later, it’s a way of being careful and being very, very knowledgeable about what other things that have to come into play so that you will achieve success… whatever the success, however you will define success. So in that sense, yes ma’am, I am a Machiavellian.”

At which point Prof. Carlos plugged a book and tried to book a consultation.

Say what? An inside joke goes like this: Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is Clarita Carlos’ idea of a smart person. This is a variation on an earlier joke, Clarita Carlos is a Marcos Loyalist’s idea of a smart person. 

I myself have enjoyed reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, and re-reading this book because like so many, I find passages from it very useful in reflecting on power. I thought this is as good a time, as any, to share some of these passages. As well as to point out a couple of interesting opinions.

The French say of their presidents, that their presidency is an elected monarchy. Something similar could be said about our presidency, and so, In meeting Machiavelli, let’s start with Chapter IX, “Monarchy with public support”:

[W]here a private citizen becomes king in his own country not by crime or unacceptable violence, but with the support of his fellow-citizens. We can call this a monarchy with public support and to become its king you don’t have to be wholly brilliant or extraordinarily lucky, just shrewd in a lucky way. Obviously, to take control of this kind of state you need the support of either the common people or the wealthy families, the nobles. In every city one finds these two conflicting political positions: there are the common people who are eager not to be ordered around and oppressed by the noble families, and there are the nobles who are eager to oppress the common people and order them around. These opposing impulses will lead to one of three different situations: a monarchy, a republic, or anarchy.

[A]ng mga taong naging prinsipe, hindi dahil sa panlilinlang o matinding karahasan, kundi sa tulong at kagustuhan ng mga kapwa niya mamamayan. Ang tawag dito ay isang sibil na prinsipado, at hindi purong virtù o purong kapalaran ang kailangan para makuha ito, kundi mapalad na kalistuhan. Nagiging pinuno ang isang tao sa ganitong uri ng prinsipado dahil sa tulong ng mga maharlika o ng mga karaniwang mamamayan. Ito ay dahil ang dalawang magkaaway na uring ito ay makikita sa loob ng lahat ng bayan, at ang kanilang alitan ay nagmumula sa kagustuhan ng mga maharlikang alipinin at apihin ang mga karaniwang mamamayan, at ang pagtatanggol ng madla sa kanilang mga sarili para sila’y hindi abusuhin at pangibabawan ng mga mayayaman. Mula sa dalawang magkasalungat na hangaring ito ay maaaring magmula ang isang pamahalaang makahari, pamahalaang demokratiko, o anarkiya.

This is something that should resonate among us. Our perpetual state of crisis owes a lot to the insatiable greed of the political class. Presidents in the Marcosian mold desire to establish a principality; the oligarchy, in reaction, desires self-government; the contention between the various functions often teeters our country on the edge of anarchy.

I’ve mentioned in the past that Rodrigo R. Duterte wiped the floor with his rivals in a debate, when he said, “the problem of this country is leadership.” We tend to view leadership in terms of “decisiveness,” or “will,” that is, in terms of coercion: at least with regards to those we believe get in the way of governance; as for other character traits, perhaps the paramount political one in our culture, is that of generosity, which is what we want a leader to demonstrate to the public that confers power. In Chapter XVI, “Generosity and meanness,” Machiavelli observes:

Nothing consumes itself so much as generosity, because while you practise it you’re losing the wherewithal to go on practising it. Either you fall into poverty and are despised for it, or, to avoid poverty, you become grasping and hateful. Above all else a king must guard against being despised and hated. Generosity leads to both. It’s far more sensible to keep a reputation for meanness, which carries a stigma but doesn’t rouse people’s hatred, than to strive to be seen as generous and find at the end of the day that you’re thought of as grasping, something that carries a stigma and gets you hated too.

Tunay ngang wala nang mas nakapipinsala pa kundi sa pagiging malaya sa pagwaldas ng sariling yaman, dahil habang nagpapatuloy ang isang prinsipe sa pagiging bukas-palad, lalong nauubos ang kanyang kakayahan para ipagpatuloy ito. Sa kadahilanang ito, ang isang prinsipe ay maaaring mamulubi’t maging kadusta-dusta, o para takasan ito ay maging mapandambong at kasuklam-suklam. Sa lahat ng mga bagay na dapat iwasan ng isang prinsipe, galit at pagkamuhi ang nangunguna, at ang lubos na pagiging mapagbigay ay daan sa dalawang ito. Samakatwid, mas mabuti pang makilala sa pagiging kuripot, at umani ng kahihiyang walang halong pagkasuklam, o maging lubos na mapagbigay, na matutuloy lamang sa pandarambong, at magdudulot hindi lamang ng kahihiyan kundi pati na rin ng labis na pagkamuhi.

On this score alone, Machiavelli can be read as an indictment of Crony Capitalism. Another grave and related problem is when any president gains a reputation for meanness (stinginess, whether when it comes to praise, or perks), which inspires not hatred, but resentment, which Machiavelli might have added is worse than hatred.

From Chapter XVII, ““Cruelty and compassion. Whether it’s better to be feared or loved,” come these thoughts, beginning with his most famous question and answer:

These reflections prompt the question: is it better to be loved rather than feared, or vice versa? The answer is that one would prefer to be both but, since they don’t go together easily, if you have to choose, it’s much safer to be feared than loved…

Mula dito ay ang katanungang, mas mabuti ba na kayo ay mahalin kaysa katakutan, o katakutan kaysa mahalin? Ang sagot ay ang isang prinsipe ay mas gugustuhing maging pareho, nguni’t dahil bihirang mapagtugma ang dalawang katangiang ito, gusto kong sabihin na mas ligtas para sa isang pinuno kung siya’y katatakutan…

How could a sitting President bring Machiavelli’s advice to mind? In a negative sense, that is, in terms of what causes presidents to lose power, by inspiring the middle class to mobilize, because its primary motivation would be, as Machiavelli states, the fear of losing their patrimony. When a President loses the reputation for self-control, then out of a survival instinct, those with private property to protect engage in political action. On the other hand, power can be gained, if a presidential candidate were to portray himself as one who would protect the hard-earned gains of those with some property –again, the middle class. I bring these up because, as one politician told me, “the masses elect presidents, the middle class removes them.” In either case, power can be conferred, and removed, by the public; to obtain it then retain it, becomes a central preoccupation of leadership.

Continuing the passage above:

All the same, while a ruler can’t expect to inspire love when making himself feared, he must avoid arousing hatred. Actually, being feared is perfectly compatible with not being hated. And a ruler won’t be hated if he keeps his hands off his subjects’ property and their women. If he really has to have someone executed, he should only do it when he has proper justification and manifest cause. Above all, he mustn’t seize other people’s property. A man will sooner forget the death of his father than the loss of his inheritance. Of course there are always reasons for taking people’s property and a ruler who has started to live that way will never be short of pretexts for grabbing more. On the other hand, reasons for executing a man come more rarely and pass more quickly.

Gayunman ang isang prisipe ay dapat kumilos para siya’y katakutan sa isang paraan, na kahit hindi siya umani ng pagmamahal ay hindi naman siya kasusuklaman. Ito ay dahil agarang mapapagsama ang pagkatakot at kawalan ng pagkamuhi. Upang makamtan ng isang pinuno ang katayuang ito, hindi niya dapat hawakan ang mga babae’t pagmamay-ari ng kanyang mga nasasakupan. Nguni’t kung papatawan naman niya ng kamatayan ang isang tao, kailangan niya ng sapat na katibayan para mabigyang katarungan ang kanyang gagawin56. Higit sa lahat, hindi niya dapat kunin ang pagmamay-ari ng iba sapagka’t mas madaling makakalimutan ng mga tao ang pagkamatay ng kanilang mga ama kaysa ang pagkawala ng kanilang mga mamanahin. Bukod pa rito ay hindi mauubusan ang isang prinsipe ng mga dahilan na maaari niyang gamitin para kunin ang pagmamay-ari ng iba, at ito ay dahil ang isang taong nagsimulang mamuhay sa pandarambong ay hindi mawawalan ng ikakatwiran para hablutin ang mga ari-ariang hindi naman sa kanya. Sa kabilang dako, ang mga pagkakataon at maaaring dahilan para pumaslang ng tao’y panandalian lamang at hindi laging lumalabas.

Marcos rephrased it on September 25, 1972 in his diary: “There is nothing as successful as success!” There is a very human propensity to always side with the perceived winner, and to turn victory into its own peculiar and superior kind of virtue).

How is this to be done? From Chapter XVIII, “A ruler and his promises,” comes this reflection, which contains perhaps Machiavelli’s most famous passages of all:

Since a ruler has to be able to act the beast, he should take on the traits of the fox and the lion; the lion can’t defend itself against snares and the fox can’t defend itself from wolves. So you have to play the fox to see the snares and the lion to scare off the wolves. A ruler who just plays the lion and forgets the fox doesn’t know what he’s doing. Hence a sensible leader cannot and must not keep his word if by doing so he puts himself at risk, and if the reasons that made him give his word in the first place are no longer valid. If all men were good, this would be bad advice, but since they are a sad lot and won’t be keeping their promises to you, you hardly need to keep yours to them. Anyway, a ruler will never be short of good reasons to explain away a broken promise. It would be easy to cite any number of examples from modern times to show just how many peace treaties and other commitments have been rendered null and void by rulers not keeping their word. 

Those best at playing the fox have done better than the others. But you have to know how to disguise your slyness, how to pretend one thing and cover up another. People are so gullible and so caught up with immediate concerns that a con man will always find someone ready to be conned…

So, a leader doesn’t have to possess all the virtuous qualities I’ve mentioned, but it’s absolutely imperative that he seem to possess them. I’ll go so far as to say this: if he had those qualities and observed them all the time, he’d be putting himself at risk. It’s seeming to be virtuous that helps; as, for example, seeming to be compassionate, loyal, humane, honest and religious. And you can even be those things, so long as you’re always mentally prepared to change as soon as your interests are threatened…

So a ruler must be extremely careful not to say anything that doesn’t appear to be inspired by the five virtues listed above; he must seem and sound wholly compassionate, wholly loyal, wholly humane, wholly honest and wholly religious. There is nothing more important than appearing to be religious. In general people judge more by appearances than first-hand experience, because everyone gets to see you but hardly anyone deals with you directly. Everyone sees what you seem to be, few have experience of who you really are, and those few won’t have the courage to stand up to majority opinion underwritten by the authority of state. 

Samakatwid, dahil kailangan ng isang prinsipe na maging bihasa sa mga katangiang panghayop, dapat siyang mag-asal soro, at mag-asal leon. Ito ay dahil walang laban ang isang leon sa mga patibong, habang ang isang soro naman ay hindi kayang ipagtanggol ang kanyang sarili laban sa mga lobo. Sa mga kadahilanang ito, kailangan niyong maging isang soro para makita ang anumang patibong at maging isang leon para bugawin ang mga lobo. Hindi marunong umunawa ang sinumang umaasa lamang sa pagiging leon. Dahil dito ang isang pantas na pinuno ay hindi maaari, at hindi dapat tuparin ang kanyang salita kung ito ay makasasama sa kanya’t wala na ang mga dahilang nag-udyok sa kanyang mangako. Ito ay isang masamang alituntunin kung mabuti ang lahat ng mga tao, nguni’t dahil sila’y masasama’t hindi tumutupad sa kanilang mga salita, walang katwiran para kayo’y maging tapat sa kanila. Hindi rin mauubusan ng idadahilan ang isang pinuno para pagtakpan ang hindi niya pagsunod sa kanyang mga pangako, at hindi rin mauubos ang mga halimbawa ng mga pangako’t kasunduang nawalan ng bisa dahil sa kasinungalingan ng mga prinsipe, at ang mga laging nagwagi sa mga pangyayaring ito ay ang mga taong bihasa sa paggamit ng mga katangian ng isang soro. Gayon pa man, kailangan ng isang pinuno na matuto kung papaano niya maitatago nang mabuti ang mga katangiang ito, at maging isang tunay na sinungaling at ipokrito. Dahil simple lang ang mga tao’t handa silang sundin ang kanilang mga agarang pangangailangan, hindi mauubusan ang isang manloloko ng mga magpapaloko…

Samakatwid, hindi kailangang taglay ng isang pinuno ang lahat ng mabubuting katangian na aking inisa-isa kanina. Lakas loob ko rin na sasabihing kahit makasasama kung ang lahat ng mga kalugod-lugod na katangiang ito ay mahahawakan at patuloy na susundan ng isang prinsipe, magiging kapakipakinanabang naman kung lalabas, o tunay ngang taglay niya ang mga katangiang ito; na siya’y maawain, tapat, tahas, makatao’t maka-diyos. Subali’t ang kanyang pag-iisip ay dapat maliwanagan na kung hindi niya kailangan ang mga katangiang ito, alam, at kaya niyang maging kabaligtaran ng mga ito…

Dahil dito ay kailangang mag-ingat nang lubos ang isang pinuno sa kanyang pananalita para hindi lumabas sa kanyang mga labi ang kahit na anong bagay na hindi nagpapahiwatig sa limang nabanggit na katangian; at para sa lahat ng mga nakakakita’t nakakarinig sa kanya, kailangang siya’y lumabas na lubos na maawain, tapat, makatarungan, makatao’t maka-diyos. Subali’t, sa lahat ng mga katangiang kailangang magmukhang taglay niya, ang huli ang pinakakinakailangan. Karaniwan na sa paghuhusga ay mas ginagamit ng mga tao ang kanilang mga mata kaysa sa kanilang mga kamay, sapagaka’t lahat ay nakakakita, nguni’t iilan lang ang nakadarama. Nakikita ng lahat kung tila ano kayo; subali’t kakaunti lang ang nakakakilala sa kung sino ka ba talaga, at ang iilang ito ay hindi maglalakas loob na salungatin ang palagay ng nakararaming napapailalim sa pangangalaga ng maringal na pangalan ng pamahalaan.

From Chapter XIX, “Avoiding contempt and hatred,” advice that I believe is crucial. The importance of self-control, the danger of avarice and greed, and the political death-spiral that is engaging in vendetta:

As I’ve already said, what most leads to a ruler being hated is seizing and stealing his subjects’ property and women; that he must not do. As long as you don’t deprive them of property or honour most men will be happy enough and you’ll only have to watch out for the ambitious few who can easily be reined back in various ways. You’ll be held in contempt, on the other hand, if you’re seen as changeable, superficial, effeminate, fearful or indecisive. So a ruler must avoid those qualities like so many stumbling blocks and act in such a way that everything he does gives an impression of greatness, spirit, seriousness and strength; when presiding over disputes between citizens he should insist that his decision is final and make sure no one imagines they can trick or outwit him.

A ruler must guard against two kinds of danger: one internal, coming from his own people; the other external, coming from foreign powers…

In fact, one of the most powerful preventive measures against conspiracies is simply not being hated by a majority of the people. People planning a conspiracy must believe that killing the ruler will be popular; when they realize that, on the contrary, it would be unpopular they lose heart, because conspiracies are always beset with endless difficulties. Experience shows that for every successful conspiracy there are any number of failures. A conspirator can’t act alone and can look for accomplices only among people he believes are unhappy with the situation. But as soon as he reveals his intentions to someone else he’s giving that person the chance to improve his position, since obviously there are all kinds of advantages to be had from betraying a conspiracy. When you reckon that the benefits of betrayal are assured, while joining a conspiracy is a risky and extremely dangerous business, the man will have to be a rare friend indeed, or a very bitter enemy of the government, if he’s going to keep faith.

Ang pagkamuhi, kagaya ng aking nabanggit ay bunga ng pandarambong at pagsunggab sa mga babae’t ari-arian ng kanyang mga nasasakupan. Hindi niya dapat hawakan ang mga ito, at kung hindi sila pagkakaitan ng kanilang dangal at pag-aari, ang karamihan sa mga tao’y mananatiling masaya. Dahil dito, ang kailangan na lang labanan ng isang prinsipe ay ang ambisyon ng iilang kaya niyang pigilan sa pamamagitan ng mga sari-saring pamamaraan. Siya’y magiging kasuklam-suklam kung siya’y ituturing na salawahan, hangal, binabae, duwag, at walang-katiyakang magpasiya, at katulad ng isang barkong umiiwas sa mga batuhan, ang isang pinuno ay dapat lumayo sa mga katangiang ito. Dapat siyang magsumikap upang kadakilaan, katapangan, karangalan, at kalakasan ang makikita sa kanyang mga gawain. Sa kanyang personal na pakikitungo sa kanyang mga nasasakupan, kailangan niyang ipakita na ang kanyang pagpapasiya’y hindi mababali, at itaguyod ang pagkakakilalang ito nang walang maglalakas-loob na siya’y linlangin…

Ayon sa mga kadahilanang ito, dalawang bagay ang dapat alalahanin ng isang prinsipe: una ay mga bantang panloob na maaaring magmula sa kanyang mga nasasakupan, at pangalawa ay mga bantang panlabas na galing sa mga dayuhan…

…sapagka’t ang pinakamabisang lunas na maaari niyang gamitin laban sa mga pagsasabwatan ay ang kawalan ng galit sa kanya ng nakararami sa taong-bayan. Dahil labis na naniniwala ang mga nagsasabwatan na masisiyahan ang taong-bayan sa kamatayan ng kanilang pinuno, sila’y mahaharap sa hindi mabilang na mga suliranin at balakid, at sila’y maduduwag kapag nakita nila na magagalit ang taong-bayan sa kanilang gagawin. Mula sa kasaysayan ay makikita nating marami na ang mga naging sabwatan nguni’t iilan lang ang nagtagumpay, pagka’t hindi kaya ng isang may balak makipagsabwatan na kumilos nang mag-isa, at makakahanap lang siya ng mga kakampi sa mga tao na sa tingin niya’y hindi rin nasisiyahan. Nguni’t kapag ibinunyag naman niya ang kanyang mga hangarin sa isang taong may hinanakit sa pinuno, mabibigyan ang taong iyon ng isang paraan para mabigyang lugod ang kanyang sarili, at ito ay dahil lubos niyang mapapakinabangan ang kaalamang inilahad sa kanya. Kaya kapag nakita niya ang pakinabang ng pagsusumbong, at ang panganib at kawalan ng kasiguruhan na dala ng pakikipagsabwatan, siya dapat ay isang hindi pangkaraniwang kaibigan o tunay na kalabang suwail ng prinsipe para siya’y manatiling tapat sa mga nagsasabwatan.

In conversation with a friend, Manuel L. Quezon once summed up the presidency and public expectations as follows: “The people care more for good government than they do for self-government…the fear is that the Head of State may either exceed his powers, or abuse them by improprieties. To keep order is his main purpose.” This was, in many ways, a neat, practical summation, of the above.

To continue the passages from Machiavelli above. In a nutshell, so much in lives and treasure has been expended to compensate for what is lacking, that is, good public regard:

To summarize: on the conspirator’s side all you have is fear, envy and the demoralizing prospect of punishment, while the ruler on his side has the authority of the government and its laws plus the protection of his friends and the state. Add to all that the good will of the people and it’s extremely unlikely that anyone will be so crazy as to start a conspiracy. Because, while in general a conspirator has most to fear prior to the coup, in this case, with the people against him, he’s going to be in danger afterwards too and the fact that he’s seen off the ruler doesn’t mean he can expect to escape unscathed.

Sa madaling sabi pangamba, inggit, at panganib na dala ng kaparusahan ang nasa panig ng mga nagsasabwatan, habang ang karangalan ng kanyang katungkulan at katayuan, mga batas, at ang pagtatanggol ng pamahalaan at mga kakampi, ang nasa panig ng isang pinuno. Kung isasama niyo ang tapat na kalooban ng taong-bayan sa mga bagay na ito, imposible na mayroon pang mangangahas na makipagsabwatan laban sa kanya. Karaniwan na sa isang nakikipagsabwatan na matakot bago niya gawin ang kanyang krimen. Nguni’t sa ganitong pagkakataon, dapat rin siyang matakot pagkatapos ng kanyang gagawin dahil sa galit ng taong-bayan sa kanya, wala na siyang maasahan na mapagtataguan.

Chapter XXII, “What a ruler should do to win respect,” is one of the most applicable to Philippine society but not often pointed out:

A ruler’s choice of ministers is an important matter. The quality of the ministers will reflect his good sense or lack of it and give people their first impression of the way the ruler’s mind is working. If his ministers are capable and loyal, people will always reckon a ruler astute, because he was able to recognize their ability and command their loyalty. When they are not, people will always have reason to criticize, because the first mistake the ruler made was in his choice of ministers…

There is one infallible way of checking a minister’s credentials: when you see the man thinking more for himself than for you, when his policies are all designed to enhance his own interests, then he’ll never make a good minister and you’ll never be able to trust him. A minister running a state must never think of himself, only of the ruler, and should concentrate exclusively on the ruler’s business. To make sure he does so, the ruler, for his part, must take an interest in the minister, grant him wealth and respect, oblige him and share honours and appointments with him. That way the minister will see that he can’t survive without the ruler. He’ll have so many honours he won’t want any more, so much wealth he won’t look for more, and so many appointments that he’ll guard against any change of the status quo. When rulers and their ministers arrange their relationships this way, they can trust each other. When they don’t, one or the other is bound to come to a bad end.

Hindi maliit na bagay ang pagpili ng mga kalihim; maaari na sila’y mahusay o hindi, at ito ay ayon sa pagiging pantas ng isang prinsipe. Ang unang pagpapalagay na pwedeng mahubog ukol sa katalinuhan ng isang pinuno ay nakabatay sa katangian ng mga taong nakapalibot sa kanya. Kapag sila’y tapat at may kakayahan masasabi natin na siya’y pantas, pagka’t nakayanan niyang kilalanin ang kanilang mga kakayahan at panatilihin ang kanilang katapatan. Subali’t kung kabaligtaran nito ang kanyang mga kalihim, hindi kanais-nais ang magiging palagay ukol sa kanya, dahil ang kauna-unahan niyang pagkakamali ay ang kanyang paghirang sa kanila…

Subali’t para tunay na makilala ng isang pinuno ang kanyang kalihim, mayroong isang paraang hindi pumapalya. Kapag nakita niyo na mas pinapahalagahan ng inyong ministro ang kanyang sarili kaysa sa inyo, at kanyang inaalala ang kanyang pansariling kapakinabangan sa lahat ng kanyang mga gawain, hindi magiging mahusay na kalihim and ganitong uri ng tao’t hindi rin siya mapagkakatiwalaan. Ito ay dahil ang kapakanan lamang ng prinsipe, at hindi ang pansariling kaligtasan, ang dapat isaalang-alang ng sinumang may katungkulan sa pamahalaan; wala dapat siyang ibang iisipin kundi ang mga bagay-bagay ukol sa kanyang pinuno. Sa kabilang dako, para mapanatili ang katapatan ng kanyang kalihim, dapat kilalanin ng isang prinsipe ang kanyang mga ministro: sila ay dapat niyang parangalan, pagyamanin, pakitaan ng kabutihan, bigyan ng mga natatanging karangalan at pananagutan. Dahil sa mga yaman at karangalan na ibinigay niyo sa kanya, wala na siyang ibang hahangarin, at ang mga katungkulang hawak niya ang magdudulot ng kanyang pagkatakot sa kahit na anong uri ng pagbabago. Kapag ang mga prinsipe at ang kanilang mga kalihim ay napapailalim sa ganitong uri ng kaugnayan, mapapagkatiwalaan nila ang isa’t isa. Nguni’t kung iba ang kalagayan nila, ang kalalabasan nito ay makapipinsala sa kanilang dalawa.

Talking to the historian Teodoro Agoncillo, Manuel L. Quezon once summed up a member of his Cabinet like this: “I hired him as a man, but he served me like a dog.” This is the risk of political association and service: without respect, it cannot produce trust.

Finally, from Chapter XXV, “The role of luck in human affairs, and how to defend against it,” this meditation on the fate of princes, in a nation which strongly believes that the presidency is a matter of destiny:

I reckon it may be true that luck decides the half of what we do, but it leaves the other half, more or less, to us…

Going into detail, though, we’ve all seen how a ruler may be doing well one day and then lose power the next without any apparent change in his character or qualities. I believe this is mostly due to the attitude I mentioned above: that is, the ruler trusts entirely to luck and collapses when it changes. I’m also convinced that the successful ruler is the one who adapts to changing times; while the leader who fails does so because his approach is out of step with circumstances.

All men want glory and wealth, but they set out to achieve those goals in different ways. Some are cautious, others impulsive; some use violence, others finesse; some are patient, others quite the opposite. And all these different approaches can be successful. It’s also true that two men can both be cautious but with different results: one is successful and the other fails. Or again you see two men being equally successful but with different approaches, one cautious, the other impulsive. This depends entirely on whether their approach suits the circumstances, which in turn is why, as I said, two men with different approaches may both succeed while, of two with the same approach, one may succeed and the other not.

This explains why people’s fortunes go up and down. If someone is behaving cautiously and patiently and the times and circumstances are such that the approach works, he’ll be successful. But if times and circumstances change, everything goes wrong for him, because he hasn’t changed his approach to match. You won’t find anyone shrewd enough to adapt his character like this, in part because you can’t alter your natural bias and in part because, if a person has always been successful with a particular approach, he won’t easily be persuaded to drop it. So when the time comes for the cautious man to act impulsively, he can’t, and he comes unstuck. If he did change personality in line with times and circumstances, his luck would hold steady…

To conclude then: fortune varies but men go on regardless. When their approach suits the times they’re successful, and when it doesn’t they’re not. My opinion on the matter is this: it’s better to be impulsive than cautious; fortune is female and if you want to stay on top of her you have to slap and thrust. You’ll see she’s more likely to yield that way than to men who go about her coldly. And being a woman she likes her men young, because they’re not so cagey, they’re wilder and more daring when they master her.

[A]king ipapalagay na katotohanang kahit siya ang tagapagpasiya sa kalahati ng ating mga gawain, hinahayaan naman niya tayong pamunuan ang isa pang kalahati o malapit dito, ng ating mga pagkilos…

Subali’t sa kagustuhan ko na itakda ang aking sarili sa mga partikular na halimbawa, gusto kong ipakita na may mga prinsipe na matibay na nakaluklok sa kapangyarihan nguni’t dagliang bumagsak kahit na wala tayong makikitang pagbabago sa kanyang mga kilos at katangian. Naniniwala ako na ito ay nagmumula sa mga ikinatwiran ko nang masinsinan kanina, na kapag nagbago ang kapalaran, babagsak ang isang prinsipeng lubos na umaasa sa kanya. Bukod pa rito, naniniwala rin ako na magtatagumpay ang isang prinsipe, na alinsunod sa nagbabagong panahon, ay iibahin ang kanyang pamamalakad, habang mapapahamak naman ang isang prinsipeng salungat ang pamamaraan sa kapanahunan. Dahil dito, makikita natin na sa pagsisikap na makakuha ng yaman at kaluwalhatian, iba’t iba ang mga pamamaraang ginagamit ng mga tao; ang isa’y sa pagiging maingat, ang iba’y sa pagiging mapusok; ang isa’y sa pamamagitan ng karahasan, ang iba’y sa pamamagitan ng katusuhan; ang isa’y matiyaga sa pagkilos, habang ang iba’y kabaligtaran nito; ang bawa’t isa’y nagtatagumpay sa pamamagitan ng iba’t ibang mga daan. Kailangan rin nating makita na sa dalawang maingat na tao, ang isa’y magtatagumpay sa kanyang hangarin, habang ang isa’y hindi; mula sa pangangatwirang ito, maaari na ang dalawang taong magkaiba ang pamamaraan, ang isa’y maingat, habang ang isa’y padalus-dalos, ay parehong maging matagumpay. Ang dahilan nito ay wala nang iba kung hindi ang pagiging angkop ng mga hakbang at pamamaraang ito sa katangian ng kapanahunan. Ito ang nagpapaliwanag kung bakit pareho ang nakamtan ng dalawang taong magkaiba ang pamamaraan, at sa dalawang taong pareho naman ang pamamaraan, ang isa sa kanila’y nagtagumpay habang ang isa’y hindi. Pinapaliwanag rin nito ang pagiging pabagu-bago ng kasaganahan. Kung ang isang tao’y maingat at matiyaga sa kanyang mga hakbang, at ang pamamalakad na ito ay angkop sa kapanahunan, uunlad ang kanyang katayuan. Subali’t kapag nagbago na ang panahon at ang mga bagay-bagay sa paligid niya, siya’y babagsak pagka’t hindi niya iibahin ang kanyang pamamalakad. Dahil walang mayroong kakayahang sumalungat sa mga pamamaraang likas sa kanila at nakagawian, hindi pa kayo makakakita ng isang taong sapat ang pagiging masinop na kaya niyang iangkop ang kanyang sarili sa mga pagbabagong ito. Bukod pa rito, dahil lagi siyang nagtagumpay sa pamamagitan ng isang paraan, hindi niya mahihikayat ang kanyang sarili na iwanan ito. Dahil dito, kapag kinailangan ng kapanahunan, hindi malalaman ng isang maingat na pinuno kung paano maging mapusok, at ito ang magiging sanhi ng kanyang pagbagsak. Nguni’t kung kaya niyang iangkop ang kanyang pagkilos sa pagbabago ng panahon, hindi magbabago ang kanyang katayuan…

Samakatwid, dahil pabagu-bago ang kapalaran habang hindi nagbabago ang mga tao sa paraan ng kanilang pagkilos, masasabi ko na magtatagumpay ang isang tao kapag ang kanyang pamamaraan at ang kapanahunan ay magkatugma, at siya’y mabibigo kapag ang dalawang ito ay hindi na akma sa isa’t isa. Pero ako’y naniniwala na mas mabuting maging mapusok kaysa maging maingat, at ito ay dahil katulad ng isang dalaga, ang kapalaran ay dapat yugyugin at talunin para siya’y malupig. Makikita rin na siya’y agad na sumusuko sa mga mapangahas kaysa sa mga taong mapagkalkula. Samakatwid, kagaya ng isang babae, mas gusto niya ang mga binata dahil hindi sila masyadong nag-iingat, at sila’y mas mabagsik at mapangahas sa pagsupil sa kanya.

There are many concepts to unpack in Machiavelli and perhaps most who encounter him don’t go beyond simple pick-ups along the lines of “it’s better to be feared than loved” and the end justifies the means, etc., a.k.a. The Clarita Carlos-FM Jr. School.

I find this 3 minute introduction quite nice:

The three minute condensed version. There is an expanded, full 43 minute version that you should watch too!

The reader interested in power should read Garry Wills’ The Kennedy Imprisonment: A Meditation on Power. One of my favorite books. A passage from that book is one that has remained joined at the hip with Machiavelli since I first encountered it:

It is not mystical or perverse to say that good luck is bad luck; Machiavelli offered that as the very essence of his realism. Arguing that fortuna could undo even the man of greatest virtuosity (virtu), he gave Valentino (Cesare Borgia) as his example. Valentino was the type of virtu at its highest reach, a model for all who want, at once, “immunity from foes and attractiveness to friends, victory by force or stratagem, the love and fear of one’s people, the obedience and respect of one’s soldiers, the destruction of those who can or might oppose one, innovative measures within an ancient system, harshness joined with charm, the disbanding of old armies to reassemble better ones, the perpetuation of friendly relations with other kings or princes, so that they welcome alliances and shy from opposition.”

That sounds like a description of the Neustadt President, of the Roosevelt whom Burns called lion and fox. Such a range of skills, joined with favoring chance, would seem unbeatable. But Machiavelli lists all these skills to emphasize the fact that good luck made Valentino fail –it made his virtu the means of his undoing. Introduced to a spacious area of action by his papal father, Valentino both commanded and enlarged that sphere –in fact, enlarged it in order to command it. Only his skills could keep so many opponents off balance, and he could do that only by introducing so many new aspects to the game‚ that his opponents were befuddled. Only by reaching for three other things could he grasp the first thing given him. But because everything depended on his superintending intelligence and will, any lapse in either of those qualities would bring the whole enterprise crashing down around him. The attempt at total control led to total collapse if one thing went wrong –in Valentino’s case, an illness that immobilized him at a crucial moment. For this kind of juggler, so deftly keeping dozens of balls in the air, if one drops they all fall. Luck worked his destruction by giving him so many in the first place.

…And no President can aspire to the everyday powers of a Renaissance prince (though the modern powers of destruction far outreach anything dreamed of in the Renaissance)….

Wills then describes Walter Rostow’s observations concerning Kennedy’s limitations as commander-in-chief, as shown during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Kennedy, Rostow said, had a “small unit commander’s attitude toward these people” and Wills says Rostow was “chagrined” that Kennedy “really didn’t have a very good visual picture of the whole thing.” At which point, Wills resumes,

The student of Neustadt [that is, Kennedy himself] had come to acquire power, not question it; to enjoy it, not fear it. The possibility that the very reach for power might, with luck, take one into a situation beyond the measure of one’s skill would not occur to a reader of Neustadt’s book. James Reston rather fatuously called [Neustadt’s] book America’s version of The Prince. But Machiavelli warns against the mindless reach for power –the victory that drains one’s resources, the conquered people that are more dangerous under one’s dominion than outside it, the mercenaries added to one’s troops while crippling them, the added fortresses that delude a ruler with a sense of false security. For him fortune was a tricky friend when not a beguiling enemy –better held at arm’s length in either case. When dealing with subject of power he did not say, “Enjoy! Enjoy!” but “Suspect! Suspect!” These are the real lessons to be learned from Machiavelli…

This is the best summary of what Machiavelli really wrote. It is far removed from what passes for Clarita Carlos’ take; it is obviously far different from what Ferdinand Marcos Jr. seems to think of it.

But even here, as far as Wills is concerned, there remains a lot to unpack. (If you’d like to read more on Neustadt and the American presidency as explored by Wills, see my 2007 entry Charismatic expectations in noncharismatic times.)

From Wills, let’s jump to someone else, and then back again in time, to Shakespeare. A more recent piece is Robert Harrison’s What Can You Learn from Machiavelli? He zeroes in on the word that even Wills won’t translate: virtu:

Let me give you some more terms which I think encompass the meaning of virtù in The Prince: I think probably the best word we have in English would be “ingenuity.” The prince’s supreme quality should be ingenuity, or efficacy. He should be efficacious. Another good word for it is foresight, because if you look at the concept of virtue in The Prince you’ll find that the most virtuous prince is the one who can predict or anticipate fortuitous occurrences within his state.

The great antagonist of virtù is fortuna, which we must understand as temporal instability—the flux and contingency of temporal events. In fact, love, as opposed to fear, falls under the rubric of fortune, because love is fortuitous, you cannot rely on it, it is not stable, it is treacherously shifty. Therefore it’s obviously better for a prince to be feared rather than loved, since fear is a constant emotion, which will remain true to itself no matter how much circumstances may shift.

And so, the clincher: courtesy of Shakespeare!

I can’t help but think of one of the great critics of Machiavelli, namely Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s plays are filled with famous Machiavellian villains—Lady Macbeth, Iago, Edmund. Think of King Lear, for example. There are a number of characters in that play who have an explicitly Machiavellian cynicism about politics, who believe that politics is nothing but efficacy, the will to power, naked ambition, pragmatism devoid of ethical considerations. One such character is Edmund, the illegitimate son of Gloucester. Others are Lear’s two daughters Regan and Goneril. And the other is, of course, Cornwall, Regan’s husband.

And I can’t help but think of that scene in King Lear when Regan and Cornwall blind Gloucester by gouging out his eyes, and a servant who is standing by cannot bear, morally cannot bear, the sight of this atrocity, and so draws his sword and challenges his own master, Cornwall, in the name of natural justice. They engage in a sword fight and Cornwall gets wounded by the servant before Regan stabs the servant from behind and kills him. And Cornwall, who was on the verge of realizing his naked political ambitions through all means necessary, however vicious, declares: “I bleed apace, Regan; untimely comes this hurt.”

That line has always struck me as the encapsulation of what Shakespeare envisioned as the tragedy of power, once it’s divorced from ethics: that there’s this element of the unpredictable; that there’s something about the wound that comes untimely; that no matter how much you try to control the outcome of events and prepare yourself for their fluctuating contingencies, there’s always something that comes untimely, and it seems to be associated with death.

The versions of Machiavelli’s The Prince I’ve used are the new English translation by Tim Sparks and the Filipino translation, Ang Prinsipe, by Anthony Lawrence Borja. The translators’ essays on the process they undertook make for fascinating reading: see When Not to Translate by Tim Sparks in The New York Review of Books and Through Machiavelli’s eyes: on leaders, citizens, and Philippine politics by  Anthony Lawrence Borja in New Mandala. If you’d like a freely-available English translation that isn’t so antique-sounding, this one by Jonathan Bennett is one I like. Finally, The Municipal Machiavelli: Machiavelli’s The Prince Rewritten for Municipal Politicians, is an interesting project and blog.

There is, too, of course, Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy. A link will suffice to a piece by Zachary Squire who graduated from Princeton University as valedictorian with a classics degree, is chief investment officer and a founding partner of Tekmerion Capital Management, having previously worked at various hedge fund firms.

Finally, a BBC documentary you’ll enjoy:

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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