Two Princes

Machiavelli’s Prince is rife with recommendations that its presumably power-hungry readers employ treachery and violence to achieve their selfish ends.

Amidst all the murder and mayhem, there is perhaps no more chilling passage than one in which Machiavelli explains what limits do (and do not) apply to such villainy.

Cautioning princes not to render themselves hated as well as feared, he insists that they will always succeed at avoiding infamy if they abstain from their subjects’ women and property.

In other words: the people can be counted on to tolerate any crime on the part of the powers that be, so long as they themselves are left alone.

Machiavelli “trusts” the people in this particular way because he believes they are more “decent” than the ambitious few, but not less selfish. Though the common man is averse to bloodshed, all that truly matters to him is that he be permitted to enjoy his own personal pleasures with minimal interruption.

Whatever justification the prince concocts for killing his enemies, most people will genuinely believe him, and the few who see through his lies are easily intimidated by “the opinions of the many that are supported by the majesty of the state.”

This holds true even when the enemy of the state is someone’s father. If the ruler rationalizes Daddy’s murder, and leaves his victim’s estate to the designated heir, he will not wholly alienate himself even from the aggrieved family, for “men sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.”

Cynical as Machiavelli’s doctrine is, there is nothing in it that should shock Christians.

Consider the blind man whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath. When questioned, his parents pled ignorance of the affair, “because they feared the Jews” (Jn. 9:22). Let their dear son be expelled from the Synagogue, if he must; his prudent elders are not about to risk personal cancellation for his sake.

The Apostle of Charity tells us that Christ did not entrust himself to the crowds who followed him, “for he knew what was in man” (Jn. 2:24-25). Without God, man is nothing.

Machiavelli and his princely apes exult in exploiting the blindness of men. They have their reward, and may keep it. As for me and my house, I pray we will learn to serve a Prince who sees the blindness of our eyes, and opens them.

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