Despite having distinct and diverse personalities, famous leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Alexander the Great, Joseph Stalin, George Washington, and Steve Jobs all had one thing in common; they were able influence followers and convert skeptics regardless of their particular leadership style. The underlying question is whether leadership can be defined by one particular style? Are you an effective leader if you lead by example as compared to leading by delegating responsibility? Is leading by force more effective than leading by collaboration? Could MLK Jr. have been more effective fighting for civil rights if he took on the personality of the aggressive Black Panthers as compared to his famous passive aggressive methods? Would Stalin have gained a sustainable following if he led through democratic processes as compared to embracing Socialism as he murdered millions of his followers in order to accomplish his self-imposed goals? In my opinion, I believe a leader can only be successful in the long term if his style matches the goals and objectives that are culturally acceptable by his followers. As an example, I do not believe that a Machiavellian style of leadership from the President of the United States of America could be successful given our cultural norms and expectation of freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
Machiavelli believes that rulers should prefer to be feared rather than loved. In a New York Times article, authors John T. Scott and Robert Zaretsky portray Machiavelli’s ideal that “the proper aim of a leader is to maintain his state.” Although Machiavelli was not malicious in his intent, he believed that the entire purpose of a regime was to gain control and leadership over the population. And while not necessarily true, most aspects of a Machiavellian ruler were malicious. Machiavelli ultimately wanted his leaders to lead through the “effectual truth.” However, his methods ultimately entailed finding a conclusion to a situation regardless of the methods taken to complete the action.
The true question is what type of methods should our leaders utilize today. I believe that with the media age in today’s politics, a society where ends justify the means would not work. For example, Richard Nixon’s presidency is a perfect example of to failure successfully implement Machiavellian aspects. As stated in Michael Long’s article in the Huffington Post, Nixon was a 20th century Machiavellian. In office, Nixon utilized Machiavellian techniques regarding religion. Nixon was recorded saying that he wanted his officials to only invite well-esteemed religious figures to his White House convention. Nixon tried to bring these services together to resolve the tension between the religious Democratic groups. In chapter 21 of Machiavelli’s the prince, Machiavelli notes that “using religion as a plea, so as to undertake greater schemes” is acceptable. Nixon’s Machiavellian concepts can also be seen during Watergate. During the Watergate scandal, Nixon attempted to rob, destroy, lie and cheat in order to advance on his opponents and cover up for his flaws. The Government also found 1,200 pages of transcripts proving Nixon’s guilt and he was forced to become the first president to resign. Nixon tried to do anything possible to be successful but his actions had an extremely negative affect and resulted in his resign and reputation as one of the worst and most corrupt presidents in the history of the United States. In a somewhat Machiavellian move, Nixon attempted to do anything that it took to be successful, but ultimately failed miserably due to the technology, belies and media of this age.
The Presidential term of George W. Bush is another example of an unsuccessful demonstration of Machiavellian beliefs. According to Paul Krugman, George W Bush is “Machiavelli’s president.” President Bush was portrayed as a cooperate CEO that could unite the nation through solving broad issues. However, his terms mainly focused on his personal agenda and he was not able to build a consensus around larger issues, like the Iraqi invasion and Hurricane Katrina. Bush was perceived to be more focused on preserving his power than trying to help the nation. He was ultimately a great politician that maintained his power, but was incapable of solving the larger-scale and global issues. Bob Burnett, the author of this Huffington Post blog, adds that “bush the politician, will gain high marks from all those for whom Machiavelli’s teachings remain the final word in effectiveness.”
The depiction of Machiavellian ideals is clearly apparent throughout American politics. I agree that some politicians, not necessarily presidents, will utilize the techniques of Machiavelli and be successful. But, the ultimate success of a leader is defined his ability to introduce sustainable change, motivate other to go beyond their own abilities. In a Democratic country, presidential success is reliant on how the population views. And therefore, presidents who are promoted by their self-interest and try to resolve issues by whatever means necessary are ultimately unsuccessful in American politics.