Machiavellianism: A Discourse with Leon Romano

Today’s issue is a rather creative diversion from my usual writings. I will be engaging in a dialogue with my fellow comrade and sensible thinker, Leon Romano [You can check out his work here], to discuss and expand on various themes concerning Machiavellian reasoning, utility, and practice in the modern world. To stimulate a creative and organic conversation, with the hope of exploring and bringing to light various concepts and perceptions. Furthermore, we intentionally kept the form of this dialogue relatively boundless within the confines of Machiavellianism, adapting to the natural course of the written exchange. Nonetheless, I shall propose a point of origin from which we can make a start to this conversation to avoid unwanted ranting.

ArtfulPrudence: Firstly, I would like to express thanks to Leon for taking on this piece of writing. Leon Romano’s writing is evocative, rich and profound. I happened to have stumbled on his work by mere accident months ago and have found myself deeply resonating with his reasoning and articulation. 

Anyhow, as our point of departure, I would like to draw reference to an excerpt from Machiavelli’s The Prince, where he observes, “You must understand, therefore, that there are two ways of fighting: by law or by force. The first way is natural to men, and the second to beasts. But as the first way often proves inadequate one must have recourse to the second. So a prince must understand how to make a nice use of the beast and the man.” 

Upon reciting this, one of the opening connections I make is to Jung’s concept of the shadow, which fundamentally represents those aspects of our personality which we would rather conceal than expose. Such traits are usually attributed to immorality and unrighteousness and our attitude towards said vices tends to be one of terror and unease rather than an open spirit of inquiry towards their potential usefulness. 

Furthermore, what Machiavelli is pointing at through his utterance is the capacity for a man to be wholly integrated with his ‘dark’ side (I suppose this is why integrity is generally so indispensable for man). The capacity for immorality is immensely useful when it is calculated and tempered by caution, chiefly for man. Without such a propensity for vice, man is not fearlessly in-tune with that side of himself which is aggressive and harsh, able to impose force, protect, and preserve his lineage. In spite of that, such a faculty must be polished by discrimination and good judgement, employed with caution, necessity, and intention.

Leon Romano: I thank ArtfulPrudence for his invitation to this dialogue. I am impressed by his body of work and feel likewise about his writings, so I am glad to have been invited to contribute. 

The issue of Machiavellian morality and utility is a very interesting matter that I consider to be of importance to men. A greater understanding of this subject is certain to contribute to the betterment of men, their character, might and eventually their sense of duty and capacity to achieve. Throughout history the teachings of Machiavelli have been villainized and he has been equated with the devil himself, considered by some to be immoral and callous. Yet nothing could be further from the truth and any man that has ever held power has been forced to acknowledge the necessity of cunning, ruthlessness and pragmatism for the sake of the common good. 

The divergence occurs when it comes to the issue of to what ends these methods are used. These methods are equally used by both the forces of good and the agents of evil. It is therefore wise to consider the serious disadvantage you put yourself at if you allow for evil to make use of all available methods and tools, but you limit yourself to the adherence of self-imposed restrictions that hinder your ability to achieve and combat the enemy.

I have said before that all righteous men must have the capacity to strike fear into the hearts of their opponents, to keep evil at bay and justice intact. To not only face danger, but to become danger itself if the situation necessitates it. In the words of Machiavelli, you must be capable of being both beast and man. Each man is naturally gifted by the strength, fierceness and courage of masculinity. It would be unwise to reject this gift and impose upon yourself boundaries that restrict your ability to use the beast to achieve your goals.

ArtfulPrudence: To briefly expand further on the notion of the beast in man as it relates to Jung’s concept of the shadow, there is a well known saying that if a man’s origins don’t reach down to hell, he has not reconciled his polarity – such a man lacks profundity and depth as a consequence of internal conflict or discord. Such a dispute takes place when a man is still in denial, fearful and apprehensive of his design. When there is internal denial, there is contradiction and dismissal of something which must be attended to and accepted. Acceptance, in this aspect, is liberating; a form of transformation rebirth which unravels a man’s character and elevates it towards something which is, in its totality, upstanding. To be both beast and man, as Machiavelli says, is to consolidate both the barbaric and the benevolent, the merciful and the vicious. 

There will be circumstances where benevolence is more suitable than cruelty, other times where imposing cruelty is inevitable and benevolence inadequate. In the absence of either, you have an unstable and unhinged disposition which is not wholly adapted to combat the ruthlessness which likely affairs demand of man. Life is polarity, and unless you come to strengthen, stabilize and unite your opposites, you will find certain affairs to be burdensome and taxing, not necessarily because they are laborious, but because you lack the appropriate characteristics that would prove beneficial in a said event. 

One must remember, good and bad are inseparable in nature. That preconceived notion that one must expose his virtues and conceal his vices is in itself a manifestation of duplicity, why should someone be dishonest about his dishonesty? I’d rather trust someone who’s frank about his dishonesty than someone who deliberately conceals his dishonesty; which once more, is a manifestation of more dishonesty. We see such custom without a break in western culture, the terrible hypocrisy and double dealing of ordinary people trying to pretend to themselves that they are principled and absent of vice – what a falsehood. The irony of it all is that their continual secretion is hypocritical and by no means righteous. 

In any case, I digress. In connection with the notion of the beast and man, Machiavelli also intimates that a man must have the capacity to terrorize and discern, to rouse fear in others as well as possess a heightened discrimination to evade miscalculation – he goes on to say, “The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.” To be unnerving while lacking shrewdness is insufficient, but so is shrewdness while lacking formidableness. You see, shrewdness and formidableness must have each other’s backs to both fluster and unnerve the enemy, as well as elude his pitfalls and utilize them. The fox is canny, the lion menacing, infuse both and you have a wholly dangerous man who is feared for his savagery and respected for his intelligence. (Vladimir Putin is an exemplary figure who epitomizes this archetype.) 

It is important for a person to acknowledge that everyone has drawbacks which could be leveraged, whether for better or worse – these vulnerabilities should be treated with care so as not to lessen the force of our strengths or make us ignorant of our useful faculties. In addition, one should not be stupid with his manner, brazenly laying bare his weaknesses in the open so as to seem transparent or conspicuous. Such conduct lacks caution and sense. If you knew that a sore will aggravate if left without a bandage, you would not dispose of the bandage to let the sore inflame. In the same way, you should not strip your weak spots and let them germinate. If you are aware of your weaknesses, you must endeavour to renew them by deliberately shunning away from endangering them, while diligently reforming them to your benefit. 

Leon Romano: It is unfortunate to find that many have a superficial understanding of Machiavelli’s teachings and believe its application requires you to be a heartless savage. All of Machiavelli’s lessons are out of a practical necessity, taking into consideration the realities of man’s nature and accepting the cunning ways in which men obtain and maintain power. From the quotes ArtfulPrudence has shared, Machiavelli repeatedly and purposefully makes clear that a certain duality is required to attend to one’s affairs, to be both man and beast and fox and lion. We must be righteous, kind and compassionate to those that deserve it and when it is possible, but we must equally be capable of unleashing hell unto those that wish to sabotage and destroy us.

To put it as simply as possible: To be good, requires one to understand evil, and to use evil for good requires one to be capable of evil first. It matters not whether you disapprove of Machiavelli’s methods, if you are not applying them then they will be applied against you. Machiavelli made this clear in the following passage from The Prince: “Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.” He goes on to also state: “One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.”

Ultimately every ambitious man is forced to face the truth about the dynamics of power. Whether one wishes to acknowledge and accept Machiavelli’s teachings or not, they are universally applicable and inescapable to those climbing the ladders of power. Machiavelli understood that ruthlessness and deception are an art form inescapable to the ambitious. For it is through ruthlessness that man can transcend the boundaries inhibiting the inferior opponent. Either you are willing to do what must be done to ensure the right outcome or they will be dictating the outcome to you. Understanding this reality is of great importance. No matter how much you wish to assume the goodness in others or insist that they are well-intended, it will make you the prey of the ruthless.

It must also be stated that it is crucial not to allow this to corrupt your heart and soul. For if these lessons are misunderstood, they could very easily be abused in service to evil. Machiavelli’s knowledge and lessons are a miraculous gift, but they come with social and moral responsibilities. They are not to be used frivolously and chaotically, leading only to destruction. Only men that are both wise and decent, can be trusted to know when it must be enacted and to which extent.

ArtfulPrudence: In summation to what Leon has expressed, knowledge and strategy is all about application; if that application is not grounded in honour and good sense, you are bound to meet with misfortune or calamity. Many people read Machiavelli and fail to acknowledge the fine nuances which make his work noble, they make the initial presumption that his writings are intended only to impose immorality, but this is not valid. A person should not read Machiavelli with a myopic perception of good and evil, especially if he can’t fully comprehend the depth of his teaching which gives it its essence – Machiavelli is amoral, he is not preaching vice in the absence of virtue. Rather, he is articulating the nuances of employing both with shrewd wisdom and proper discrimination to be generally good and selectively bad, when necessary. 

I believe his teachings, if tempered by honour and sense, can prove to be transformational when bestowed to the right person with the appropriate traits. As Machiavelli says, you do not learn to be bad so that you can no longer be good – you must develop the basic equilibrium to know how to employ both with a dash of caution and good sense. Among the many who are not good, your goodness may demonstrate inadequate and thus demands of you to employ an element of ruthless monstrosity, not because you’re generally a monster, but because you must be fearsome to battle other monsters who want to exploit you for their benefit. As a general principle, a man who has cleverly integrated his ruthlessness with his goodness is more dangerous than a man who hasn’t. Not only that, but an integrated man can impose more good as a consequence of his ruthlessness than someone who lacks that element of danger. 

Man has an inherent virtue to protect; to keep his relatives and loved ones safe, he must be dangerous enough to know how to make others fear him; if not by law, then by force. If it is the latter, he is inevitably compelled to unleash the inner monster within, for better or worse. To be ruthless, then, is simultaneously to be merciful, because a man who is capable of both is worthy of high regard and admiration. Even still, ruthlessness alone is not enough, it too must be tempered by perception; you should know which battles to undertake and which to avoid, which are beneficial and which are useless. Furthermore, you should cultivate a capacity for foresight: the ability to detach from the immediate condition and strategize your next few moves, not only to hold the upper hand, but to consider whether a war is worth fighting, so to speak. You can’t teach swiftness; it comes through experience, but the ability to rapidly make a calculated decision is very useful, a sharp acuteness circumvents foolishness, in many respects. 

I would like to elaborate further on Machiavelli’s remark, namely that “One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived.” Truthfully, a man who is competent in cunning will never run out of stooges, why? Because certain people like to be deceived, they simply don’t want to be made conscious of it. What’s more, a cunning man knows how to keep them ignorant of this verity while renouncing any impression that he might be leveraging their ignorance. A cunning man knows the triggers, he understands human nature; he knows, for instance, that by appealing to their interest to reach his end, or by endowing them with a favour before asking for something are enticing baits that play on people’s emotions. The emotionally vulnerable, especially, are easy to exploit because they are almost too sympathetic and caring to turn down an offer or fail to comply with a tempting lure. Such people allow themselves  to be exploited, because they don’t possess sufficient cruelty to take a countermeasure to their benefit, thus they end up complying against their will because the alternative is too heavy a burden on their emotions. 

Leon Romano: The beauty of Machiavelli’s teachings is that it is applicable to essentially all affairs in life. Whether it be statecraft, business or even interpersonal relationships. Even though his most famous work, The Prince, was written for a monarchical ruler, the Machiavellian approach and knowledge grants one the capacity to think in the grand scheme of things — to see the bigger picture.

It relieves one of hopeless idealism and grounds you in the reality we actually find ourselves in, allowing you to accept the true nature of man. Acknowledging the beauty whilst remaining aware of the ugliness. A true understanding and acceptance of the uglier parts of humanity allow one to leverage it in his favour. Machiavelli did not shy away from the uglier parts of man and had the following to say on it: “For this can generally be said of men: that they are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceivers, avoiders of danger, greedy for profit; and as long as you serve their welfare, they are entirely yours, offering you their blood, possessions, life and children… when the occasion to do so is not in sight; but when you are faced with it, they turn against you.”

Machiavelli made it abundantly clear that the wise and ambitious man must take into consideration the wickedness and selfishness man is capable of, and that we must understand and accept this reality. We are not to shy away from using the same methods that it is utilizing against us, but must instead learn to leverage these realities in our favour. We do not find ourselves in an imaginary ideal, we never have and never will. For virtue will always continue to coexist with vice. It matters not whether we wish for it to be different or not, it is the reality we find ourselves in. Machiavellian methods are thus not a matter of choice, but a necessity in life.

We exert far more power over our lives and our eventual faith with this understanding in mind. Acceptance and awareness of this reality elevates one to a greater capacity to influence the world around him. To shift the odds of fortune and to bend the will of men in his favour. 

To conclude I leave you with a summation of this by Machiavelli: “How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.”

ArtfulPrudence: To wrap up this discourse, I would like to add a few more remarks that harmonize with what Leon so eloquently set forth. Namely, that Machiavelli recognized what man is capable of doing as well as what he has done. His teachings are not idealistic in nature, they are rather pragmatic and clear-sighted; which is why, I believe, many find it hard to grapple with his reasoning; it gives a critical account of how things are, not as he wished them to be. Time and again, Machiavelli gave account of what makes man wicked and detrimental, he understood the extents of avariciousness and deception and he deliberately cautioned others against them in his writings. 

More than anything, we should rid ourselves of the notion that there is such a thing as virtue without vice, this is simply wishful thinking. They are two sides of the same coin, as it were, and a whole person is one who has integrated both. Man will not prosper whenever he attempts to eliminate one for the other, for this will only take away from its polar opposite, and that too is counterproductive. Most of all, a good life should be aligned with virtue, but not absent of vice. The inevitable vices which come with power are beyond our control, but those things which we can control and which don’t call for ruthless action, are to be treated with righteousness, honourableness and integrity. Wise words and heroic deeds. It is one’s capacity to discern circumstances with perfect lucidity and reason that ennoble his nature and undertakings. 

Largely, people go through life living in opposition to their inherent strengths and potential; they don’t live as they ought to, but as their bigotry compels them to. Confronting Machiavellian teachings and applying them is taxing, it is not a walk in the park, it requires restraint and persistence, it also requires an indifference to prejudice – these duties are not easy, as they are meant to be exacting, calling for a mark of self-control and scrutinization. Is it harder than complying with prejudice? Absolutely, but that’s not the only reason why Machiavelli’s teachings aren’t in the forefront – it requires a fertile intellect and perception coupled with a sense of openness to comprehend them. 

Truthfully, if you share such knowledge with people who lack these qualities, they will not know what to make of them, not to mention consider them or apply them. That being so, the only people who deserve them are the ones who seek them and have an unlatched curiosity and sensitivity; since the people who don’t will either disregard them or misuse them – but they might attempt to comprehend them with little fortune.

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