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Thoughts on Imperialism with Niccolò Machiavelli

September 24, 2010

I had a chance to speak with Machiavelli the other day and managed to get some of his thoughts on Imperialism. Here’s a look at our conversation:

LondonH: Why do you think Imperialism did not last in the Americas?

Machiavelli: “When you acquire territories in a region that has a different langauge, different customs, and different institutions, then you really have problems” (11).

LH: What advice would you have given these world leaders of Imperialism and Occupation?

M: “One of the best policies, and one of the most effecive, is for the new ruler to go and live in his new territories” (11).

LH: I see, what’s more effective: Imperialism or Occupation?

M: Colonies do not cost much to run. You will have to lay out little or nothing to establish and maintain them….I conclude such colonies are economical, reliable, and do not give excessive grounds of resistance” (11).

LH: Little resistance? What? What about all of the revolutions in the last 300 years?

M: “There is a general rule to be noted here: People should be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do. If you have to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance” (11).

LH: So you’re saying that the Rulers of these revolting colonies should have “crushed” the people?

M: [no comment]

LH: Okay, let me ask you something a little more relevant to today. If you could have given George W. Bush any advice before the United States occupation in Iraq, what would it be?

M: “If, instead of establishing colonies, you rely on an occupying army, it costs a good deal more, your army will eat up all your revenues from your new territory. As a result, your acquisition will be a loss, not a gain…Your army will make more enemies than colonies would, for the whole territory will suffer from it” (11,12).

LH: Clearly, the War in Iraq has costed the United States billions of dollars, but, Nic, can I call you Nic? How did this War last so long without the absolute approval of the American people?

M: “People are by nature inconstant. It is easy to persuade them of something. But it is difficult to stop them from changing their minds. So you to be prepared for the moment when they no longer believe: Then you have to force them to believe” (17).

He walked away after that last statement. I don’t think think he liked the fact that I called him Nic.

Page numbers refer to quotes directly pulled from Machiavelli’s “The Prince” translated by David Wootton from “Modern Political Thought: Readings from Machiavelli to Nietzsche” 2008.

One Comment
  1. Valerie Juan permalink
    October 20, 2010 10:46 PM

    “People are by nature inconstant. It is easy to persuade them of something. But it is difficult to stop them from changing their minds. So you to be prepared for the moment when they no longer believe: Then you have to force them to believe” (17).

    Machiavelli was certainly on to something when he said this. It is clear through many examples in society today that there the masses are clear to change their mind the minute an idea goes sour. However, this can be the fault of two different parties: possibly the leader/politician/famous person who advocated or concocted the idea was unable to fulfill its intended goals or “pull it off without any glitches” or the masses are, indeed, naive and followed the mob mentality in approving of a concept they knew too little about.
    For example, you can argue both sides in terms of the Iraq war, as aforementioned in the blogger’s dialogue. One might say that the reason there is so much strife and dissatisfaction over the war is because Presidents Bush and Obama are incapable of achieving their goals in combat, and creating the situation of peace that they promised to do. Contrarily, one could say that people were initially supportive of the war– Bush’s approval rate skyrocketed after he sent troops overseas, post the 9/11 terrorist attacks; the anti-war movement is now just a frustrated reaction from an impatient, impractical people that expected a miracle.
    My ultimate question is this: in response to what Machiavelli states about the nature of people, how can we really trust in the masses to be in charge of the governing body, as Locke suggests? Is it impossible to have a completely just democratic society, such as in the United States today? (regardless of how it may be argued that our “electoral” system is a barrier in controlling the wishy-washy public opinion)

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