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Machiavellianism on Recent African Unrest

January 30, 2011

In “Prince”, Niccolò Machiavelli advanced a variety of political and martial strategies, which, at least from his perspective, would foster the restoration of the Medici family’s principality in Florence. His tactics mainly depended on manipulating the virtù over the subjects that one may desire to influence and/or maneuver. In the course of the manipulation, one may have to resort to “fortuna”  to achieve goals.

The Machiavellian viewpoints suggest the ends justify the means. The Florentine politician elaborated in Chapter 18 that “in general, men judge more by sight than by touch. Everyone sees what is happening, but not everyone feels the consequences. Everyone sees what you seem to be; few have direct experience of who you really are”.  From an inverse angle, the recent African unrest could support his obeservation. As President Mubarak angled for passing the presidency to one of his sons,  more than 80 million Egyptians still had little access to quality life in terms of acquiring stable food supplies and improved latitude as their ancestors did 30 years ago. The success of popular upheavels in the neighboring state fueled their ambition into actions.

The presidency of Mr. Mubarak was a vivid description of  “fortuna” as explained by Machiavelli. Although President Mubarak might have perfect personalities and so did his two sons as the potential successors, all of them lacked “fortuna” in the Machiavellian context, to transform their charisma into the well-being of populace. As far as Machiavelli was concerned, it was entirely their responsiblity to miss the “fortuna” to “plan ahead for stormy weather while the sun shines” in the last 30 years(chapter 24). Therefore, the legitimacy of the semi-dictatorship gradually diminished, and would probably vanish after a sudden outbreak of national insurrections, as Machiavelli claimed in chapter 25, “men flourish when their behavior suits the times and fail when they are out of step”. If the Egyptians are satisfied with their living conditions, the passing of the presidency will mean for them no more than a form existing in a semi-dictatorship state, a hereditary principality in the Machiavellian context. If the successor could preserve the traditions as Machiavelli recommended and shepherd his people forward with shared values, he would not encounter a host of difficulties in his ruling era. Whereas “fortuna” had departed from the Mubarak family, any bold attempt to retrieve her heart would be on the verge of  a gamble.

So did his counterpart in Tunisia. In fact, the fortune of General Musharraf, the previous Pakistani president, was another good, if not perfect, example to bolster the Machiavellian standpoint:  A ruler can be feared ,but he should avoid hatred and contempt.

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