T Nation

Machiavellian Bush


"In the early 80's, Israel discovered that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. Instead of postponing conflict with Iraq to a time when Saddam Hussein could attack Israel with atomic bombs, the Israelis struck first, and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osiris. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was inspired by the same Machiavellian logic. Knowing they would have to fight America sooner or later, the Japanese chose to attack when they were strong, and we were weak."

"Machiavelli had abundant firsthand evidence from his childhood in Florence to support his conviction that good leaders must always be ready for the next attack."

    - Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, by Michael Ledeen

In the sense that Bush chose to attack Iraq before they could attack another, he seems to follow Machiavelli's philosophy. Machiavelli believed that war is inevitable and it is best to fight wars under conditions that are favorable to you. It is also better to strike before you are struck. The Israeli example in the above quote resembles the US and Iraq last year...except with one major difference - no weapons (yet)!


And the point of this whole thing is?


I'm procrastinating from writing a paper comparing Bush's brains(Rumsfeld, Rove, etc) to Machiavelli as I type this!

Karl ROve and his advisers in think tanks are huge fans of Machiavelli,
in fact I printed a great article from the media database in my library called " The Mayberry Machiavellis" comparing some of Bush's policies to those of good ol' Nicolo.

Don't remember what publ it was in though


Ledeen is kind of distorting Machiavelli there. It's more like "preemptive attack" would conform to Machiavelli's ideas, as any other attack in the state's interests, as all the states grab for power.

Also, Right Side Up, there is a big difference between blowing up a particular site and invading a country. Blowing up a particular site (like Clinton did to Iraq) would not necessarily be part of Machiavellianism at all because no grab for the other nation's power may follow it.

If your whole argument rests on the fact that "Machiavellianism" has become a dirty word, then I think you're relying on connotations instead of actual substance to besmirch the administration.


Bedz - I guess as I read the book I found it interesting and pertinent.


Have you read Machiavelli? You might want to try reading the Mandragola... it's a very short play, and it demonstrates Machiavellian political and social philosophy in a way that he was probably unable to express in his essays. If you speak any Italian, you can read it with no trouble in the original.

The point of the play is that "all's well that ends well." In other words, power may be seized, alliances made, and moralities ignored as long as the end result is that everyone has been made happy.

Keep in mind that Machiavelli was dealing with chaotic, power-hungry city-states, including the Vatican. His interest was in consolidating power, and maintaining it long enough to bring stability to the states. He pointed out that if a Prince needed to expand his powers, because of threat or desire, then he ought to pursue those interests in a way that would favor success. Machiavelli is one of the least understood political philosophers, and really shouldn't be associated with "evil," or "conniving."


Yup, right on nep.

But I did research a few weeks ago and found no positive support for Nicolo at all.
I then did a search for his admirers thruout history and they were all rulers who are viewed negatively, with the possible exception of Napoleon, who is not universally hated or admired.

OK, back to procrastinating....


Machiavellian Bush...an oxymoron to me.

Sure the guy has balls. But Machiavellian IQ? I doubt it.

Maybe Machiavellian Bush Administration, maybe, to reflect the fact that any President is just a puppet/strawman for all of the 12+ advisors thoughts...but Machiavellian Bush? Nope.


You need to reread my post. I spec. mentioned Bush's brains (Rove, Rumsfeld) and Cheney. :slight_smile:


You won't find positive support for him because a) he was villified by the church (since he was basically a protestant reformer), and b) because Strauss called him a "knowing teacher of evil" in his political-philosophy canon.

Just because you can't find supporters for him, doesn't make him wrong. In fact, I wrote a grad paper arguing that Machiavelli actually resolved and synthesized Augustinian and Platonic politics, establishing ethical standards that were beneficial on a state and personal level, without requiring that the two be equivalent.


Nephorm writes:

because Strauss called him a "knowing teacher of evil" in his political-philosophy canon.<<<<

And this doesn't fit with blaming the "neocons" in the Bush administration, Strauss being their supposed guru.


"If your whole argument rests on the fact that "Machiavellianism" has become a dirty word, then I think you're relying on connotations instead of actual substance to besmirch the administration."

BS - I don't think I was making an argument. In fact, my post neither criticizes nor admires Pres. Bush or Machiavelli in anyway. I was merely pointing out what appears to be a parallel.


Doesn't Mach's approach basically boil down "the ends justify the means"?

That was the essence of his philosophy in seeking and keeping power was it not? Correct me if I'm wrong.

Don't think I need to point out that this ideology is inherently dangerous and stupid when applied to nuclear weapons and global imperialism (but I did).

It was Paul O'Neill, former Treasury Sec. under GWB who called Rummy,Rove, Perle & the gang "Mayberry Machiavellis" - and he was on the money.


The main thing to understand about Strauss and the Bush administration is that Strauss believed in a "privileged reading." That is, if you and I were to sit down and read Plato's Republic, we'd get one impression. But in reality, the "true" meaning would be hoarded by a kabal of the powerful, who would only pass the information on to their chosen elite. Most "classically liberal," 'small-d' democrats are against Straussian politics precisely because he seems to believe that all real-politics goes on behind closed doors. But then, I'm not the best read on Strauss, so don't quote me on that.

Machiavelli was not, btw, "the ends justify the means." That sort of philosophy says things like "yes, we must kill off 10% of the population, but if we end famine, that's ok." In other words, one picks certain ends, and then follows any means necessary. Machiavelli believed that politics should gratify all those involved. Indeed, some people did need to be eliminated if they were very problematic (and it's hard to argue against that), but in general, the idea was to pursue the benefit of the state and its citizens.


I think that this thread started out with some flawed logic:

Israel's strike was against a very real nuclear site that was about to go "hot" and, as stated by Saddam Hussein, would produce the ability to "burn" the Zionists (Israel). That was an existential threat, especially in the hands of Saddam Hussein. Israel was justified, as well as efficient. Only one person was killed in the attack...a French scientist! There was no attempt by Israel to invade, conquer and consolidate the spoils, so this wasn't "Machiavellianism" (as presumed by the masses).

Japan's strike against the US was more of a poorly conceived, bumbling attack, as the Japanese believed that war was inevitable because of their imperial designs on China and the rest of the Pacific rim, so they sought to negate America's influenece in the Pacific by "knocking out" the US Naval power in the Pacific arena. Their tactics were wrong, and Japan's miltary got their asses handed to them over the next few years! They should have followed Sun Tzu's philosophy (The Art of War, ~400 BCE) and never attacked a more powerful adversary under less-than-ideal conditions. Duh! Again, not exactly Machiavellian, as far as "The Prince" goes...

So basically, Machiavelli has nothing to do with this whole thread!

Machiavelli is definitely one of the least understood men of western culture. His name has become synonymous with one of his (short) writings "The Prince." But it has to be pointed out that "The Prince" was written to send a message to Lorenzo de' Medici, not the least of which is that Niccolo Machiavelli desperately wanted to appeal to the new rulers, so as to get his unemployed ass a job with the state and away from the strappado (with which he was tortured)! Machiavelli (Florence, Italy) was also a statesman in a time of constant war and foreign invasion, so it should be understood that he viewed the world that way because it was the reality of his day.

Oh, shit! I'm lecturing agin! Sorry 'bout that.


Little Jay - I'm unsure if you find the thread's irrelevance a fault of my own or the author that I quoted, but I simply saw a correlation in my current reading and thought I'd share it.

Perhaps you're a Machiavelli scholar, in which case I'm sure you'd have much more to say on the issue, but the book I'm reading has so far emphasized Machiavelli's judgement that war is a necessary and inevitable consequence of the nature of humans, and as such, leaders must always be prepared for it. Also, it is proper and best to attack if the threat of an attack looms. The Israeli example was what, more or less, spawned the correlation to Bush - we attacked Iraq unprovoked, as a "preventative" measure. It seems, from what others have said on the thread, that Israel's threat from Iraq was far greater than any threat - real or fiction - that we were facing.


Right Side Up, no offense, but I don't believe you.


LittleJay: Just to be nitpicky, an "existential threat" would be if they had wanted to kill Sartre :wink:.

RightSideUp: To say that war is the inevitable consequence of being human is more of a Hobbesian idea, I think, than a Machiavellian one. Machiavelli didn't spend too much time talking about psychology in The Prince, whereas Hobbes spent a lot of his energy investigating motivation. I would argue that if Machiavelli was the proponent of any sort of political psychology, it was that man, by nature, misunderstood his proper interests, and was therefore in need of powerful, clever leadership that could lead him to them (perhaps unknowingly). Again, I refer you to the Mandragola... it's a very short read.


RSU...no, I meant that the quote was flawed...I feel that the author completely goofed his understanding of Niccolo Machiavelli. The man was a statesman and military logistician. He was also a fairly keen observer of politics in 16th century Italy. He was NOT a militant.

You just applied what you read from the article to President Bush. It's still wrong (IMHO), but at least I see where it comes from. No biggie, I just hate seeing Machiavelli's name being portrayed as the epitome of militant (trigger happy) leadership. I do get the sense, though, that your post was meant as a dig at the President. Not that this is verboten on the forum...but I get the sense that you're probably not a Bush fan, eh?

Neo...I like the Sartre dig. Yes, I "got it" man! But I wonder...if the Israelis had pondered Jean-Paul's existenialism in lieu of attacking the Iraqi reactor, would they still be here to give us their conclusions? If so, would they have wished for Iraq to nuke them, in any case?


Short hijack.

I agree with the updates of Machiavelli`s status.

However, for politics of war and motivations, I find that German WWII propaganda/spindoctors excerpts about people are far concise, and most important, truer. While people can call the German WWII administration cruel, it was far more honest and blunt in its assessment of The Crowd than what the average PC spindoctors send in the media nowadays. Both manipulate masses. It`s just that, like advertising, it came more and more subtle.

Sorry, I prefer tell-it-like-it-is management, which is a rarity in this sterile, pussyfied PC world. But that`s just me ;0)

End hijack.