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WikiLeaks and other reformers: has Machiavelli met his match?

By Kellie Tranter - posted Friday, 16 March 2012

It's most instructive to read carefully the Stratfor emails WikiLeaks released recently.

Their language and tone are alarming: both brutal and ruthless, in my view they reflect all that is wrong with a world now programmed to a rampant neo-liberal economic model that is underpinned by Machiavelli's philosophy of power.


In an era where governments and private enterprise have merged - or, more accurately, governments have become the proxy force for big business – it is not surprising to discover that the prose of the "father of modern politics" is everywhere in the business section. Books explicitly adopting his philosophy line the shelves: Throwing the Elephant/What Would Machiavelli Do?; The New Machiavelli: The Art of Politics in Business; Management and Machiavelli: A Prescription for Success in Your Business; What Would Machiavelli Do? The Ends Justify the Meanness; The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women; Machiavelli for the 21st Century: "The Next Decade" Review. Only last year Forbes ran a piece '5 Machiavellian Business Lessons From Billionaire Aliko Dangote'.

So Machiavelli's philosophy is now found in the boardroom as well as on the battlefield and in government.

Machiavelli (who himself was tortured, by the way) suggests that whoever becomes the ruler of a free city and does not destroy it, can expect to be destroyed by it. He urges the would-be prince to:

Secure himself against enemies, to gain friends, to conquer by force or fraud, to make himself beloved and feared by the people, followed and reverenced by the soldiers, to destroy those who can and may injure him, introduce innovations into old customs, to be severe and kind, magnanimous and liberal, suppress old militia, create a new one, maintain the friendship of kings and princes in such a way that they are glad to benefit him and fear to injure him, such a one can find no better example than the actions of this man.

In the modern private sector that means "judge us by what we achieve rather than how we achieve it". The focus is on the outcome rather than the form. So when you receive those healthy dividend cheques you should overlook the use of child slave labour, the degradation of environments, the fracturing of societies and the extinction of species. You do note reports like Citigroup's 'The Plutonomy Symposium - Rising Tides Lifting Yachts', highlighting that the most potent and short-term threat to plutocracy - the elite have moved on from democracy - would be societies demanding a more 'equitable' share of wealth, but don't feel unduly concerned because the authorities quickly put down organised protests like Occupy Wall Street that threaten the status quo. You're not concerned about plans by government ministers and the world's largest oil companies to exploit Iraq's oil reserves the year before the country was invaded on a fabrication, or that according to Stratfor emails energy interests smoked out supporters for the Libyan 'campaign'.

I once would have questioned the notion of the IMF and World Bank being tools of a neoliberal onslaught, but if it is true that you must destroy something before you control it, it doesn't get more Machiavellian than Greece. Stratfor's email notes:


Greece's privatization efforts have become central for the new approximately 65 billion to 70 billion euro ($94 billion to $101 billion) bailout package being finalized by eurozone member states and expected to be approved by the June 20 eurozone finance ministers' meeting. As the chief condition of the new bailout plan, Greece's eurozone partners are demanding that Athens speed up its sale of publicly held assets and shift the responsibility of privatization from the government to an independent agency that would, sources tell STRATFOR, have considerable input from foreign governments. In other words, Greece needs to sell about 50 billion euros worth of public assets by 2015 and on terms that satisfy Germany and other eurozone countries, regardless of the preferences of the Greek state that owns the assets or the Greek public that depends on them for employment.

Greece stands conquered by fraud. No arms necessary. Given the role of Goldman Sachs and other financial behemoths in ramping up Greek debt to unsustainable proportions, should we call this "another Wall Street production"? Isn't it a repeat of the Asian crisis: money comes flooding in, debt levels rise, credit suddenly dries up and money flows out, the economy collapses, the "rescuers" come in and "restructure" and the carcass is sold off to "investors" at bargain basement prices.

What is interesting about Machiavelli is that he warned that the powerful can never insure against a hostile populace on account of their number; that the powerful need not be concerned about conspiracies when the people are well disposed, but when they are hostile and hold the powerful in hatred, then they must fear everything and everybody; and that the populace merely want to avoid oppression.

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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