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What Would Machiavelli Do?

Original political prognosticator has advice for voters as Trump, Clinton cruise

Would Machiavelli vote for Donald Trump? (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
Would Machiavelli vote for Donald Trump? (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton start to turn their attention to a more-and-more likely general election matchup, what would the original political gamer, Niccolo Machiavelli, think of this year’s rough-and-tumble presidential race?  


Clinton, Trump Win Big in New York
One could reread “The Prince,” Machiavelli’s manifesto for political maneuvering in 16th century Renaissance Italy — or refer to “How to Choose a Leader,” Maurizio Viroli’s new book breaking down the godfather of political science’s advice on selecting the leaders of a thriving republic.  

Here are a few select pieces of advice from Machiavelli, followed by a brief expansion:

  • “Citizens ought to ‘keep their hands on the republic’ and ‘choose the lesser evil.'”

Hasn’t there been enough about Trump’s hands, already? In all seriousness, this just means “wise citizens must be vigilant and keep their eyes fixed on public matters, if they want to prevent their republic from becoming the private possession of a few individuals,” in Viroli’s explanation of this passage.

  • “Judge by the hands, not by the eyes.”

Again with the hands! But how Viroli breaks this down isn’t about Trump’s insults of his opponents, but rather, “Politicians are to be judged by looking at what they are and what they do, not by their appearances.”

  • “Whoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.”

Worth noting here are some of the changes in Trumpland, from de-emphasizing campaign manager and reporter-grabbing Corey Lewandowski to hiring old political hands like Paul Manafort to manage the securing of delegates.

  • “How by the delusions of seeming good the people are often misled to desire their own ruin; and how they are frequently influenced by great hopes and brave promises.”

Anyone for building a wall between the United States and Mexico? How about free college tuition? Promises, promises.

  • “Prolonged commands brought Rome to servitude.”

This is music to the ears of people running as outsiders.  


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