21st Century Princehood

The word “Machiavelli has become associated with words like calculative, ruthless and foxlike. For it is true, Machiavelli was by no means trying to convince the moralist but the power hungry. And while it has been a long time (like a really long time) since he wrote The Prince, for better or for worse, some central concepts of leadership have not changed. To analyze further let’s take a look at one 21st century leader, and how his rule fared under Machiavelli’s rubric; a President that America will never forget: George W Bush.

One of the most important decisions of the Bush presidency was the invasion of Iraq. The Department of Defense and the CIA both pressured the President with evidence that there were WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) present under Saddam. Later evidence showed that “the Bush gang misrepresented the WMD threat to justify its planned invasion of Iraq.” There is much debate as to whether Bush actually knew about the falsification of data by his advisors, but in reality it doesn’t matter. In Chapter XXIII Machiavelli argues that one ought to rule by “by choosing the wise men in his state, and giving to them only the liberty of speaking the truth to him.” Had Bush read The Prince,  he would have known how to hold his own against his advisers. Instead, Dick Chenney, Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet were all easily able to convince the President to stand in front of the nation and lie to the people (see video). By straying away from Machiavelli’s advice Bush led the nation into disarray.  What was at first an invasion, turned into a war and then an occupation, which has lasted 10 years, and has resulted in thousands of casualties for the Iraqis and for the US. Oh and here’s the final cherry on top, no WMD’s were ever found!


Unfortunately for Bush and America, Iraq was not the end of the administration’s troubles. Especially in his second term, Bush supported mainly lax economic policies and deregulation. These allowed for banks to give loans to those who had little credit and other large financial corporations to pursue risky investments. The purpose was to allow the rich, especially those that had backed Bush financially, to become richer, and the poor to well, stay how they were. The bubble burst in 2008 when Bush came on television to tell America to expect an economic recession. And then instead of helping the common man, Bush proceeded to sign a $700 billion bailout and give “golden parachutes” to Wall Street executives, who were responsible for the mess in the first place. These policies contradicts directly with The Prince on multiple counts. First, Machiavelli argues that if it is a choice between the nobles and the people, the leader should always favor the people as the nobles are less in number, move in and out of power and are always greedy. While there is no formal nobility class in America today, the closest parallel is definitely the Wall Street tycoons that Bush bailed out.

They backed him during the election and so he spent his term repaying their favors, but in doing so he lost the favor of the people. This point leads to another one of Machiavelli’s arguments: “above all things [the Prince] must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.”  Literally I doubt that George W Bush ever walked into someone’s house and took their property away, but the crash of the housing market meant that many lost or had their homes devalued. If we expand the definition of property to 21st century terms, Americans also lost their savings and their jobs due to the economic recession. This resulted in a great loss of faith towards the administration, and a scar on the American soul that never really went away. As Machiavelli predicted, the people were not happy at all.

Finally, Machiavelli’s golden rule was that a prince “should avoid being despised and hated” at all costs, as once hatred starts brewing in the masses the ruler starts losing the respect of his people. Within 8 years most Americans’ opinions of President Bush had changed a lot (see opinion poll on right) since the day he won office. The Iraq War and the economic recession were only two examples of President Bush’s oversight. These were coupled with a botched cleanup of Hurricane Katrine, an exponential increase in the nation’s Co2 emissions and an unpopular stance on immigration, to name a few.  While Bush never lost an election the impact of his actions was put on his party. In 2008, the Republicans suffered one of their worst electoral defeats, giving away 365 electoral votes! And even now, while Bush has left office, many believe that his legacy is forever tainted by his actions. In retrospect, whether they were intentional or not, most of his actions were condoned explicitly by The Prince, showing that while times have since changed, Machiavelli’s insight still holds true to politics today.