31 March 2015
Machiavellian Advice for Barack Obama
Being a political leader is one of the most difficult positions to attain and fulfill. Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Qualities of the Prince is one of the most controversial political books in Western Civilization. It acts as a guidebook and gives straightforward advice on dealing with the realities of life as a politician. Throughout history many political figures have used the advice contained in Machiavelli’s work as a model for their head political figures. Although some of Machiavelli’s advice is no longer applicable in modern politics, much of his advice could be useful to many political leaders, even the current president of the United States, Barack Obama.
The first topic discussed in the book is the Prince’s, or any leaders’, military obligations. Machiavelli believes that the preparation of war should be a priority for the politician. Machiavelli believes that a prince’s preparation for war “can be done in two ways: one by action, the other by mind”, and that “he must always be out hunting, and must accustom his body to hardships in this manner; and he must also know the nature of the terrain” (Machiavelli, 222). The physical aspect is no longer required of the modern politician. Politicians no longer need to be physically fit, because they no longer physically fight alongside their troops. However, Machiavelli also suggests “he must examine the reasons for their victories and for their defeats in order to avoid that latter and to imitate the former” (Machiavelli, 223). Politicians should always continue to study geography, war tactics, and the past actions of great leaders in order to determine which actions led them to victory and which actions led to defeat. Knowing the mistakes that a military has made in the past can prevent politicians and military leaders from making those same mistakes. Although Machiavelli’s advice on military obligations isn’t completely relevant anymore, his advice about leaders being mentally prepared continues to be relevant in today’s military tactics. An example of this quality comes from the capture and execution of Osama bin Laden. Machiavelli believes that “…never in peaceful times must [a prince] be idle; but he must turn them diligently to his advantage in order to be able to profit from them in times of adversity” (Machiavelli, 223). Although president Bush was unsuccessful in dealing with this particular issue, Obama jumped on the opportunity to defeat this terrorist as soon as there was word of his whereabouts. The moment Obama heard that bin Laden might be in Pakistan, the area was studied, and a plan was formed, and a highly trained group of soldiers was sent into action (Phillips). This plan was highly successful and eliminated one of the nations most infamous enemies. Today, this is considered one of Obama’s greatest achievements while in office. In this instance, Obama followed Machiavelli’s advice to never take a break on military matters, and although it was a long endeavor, it eventually led to triumph.
Another section of the Prince deals with generosity and miserliness. Machiavelli believes that “in order to not have to rob his subjects, to be able to defend himself, not to become poor and contemptible, and not to be forced to become rapacious, a prince must consider it of little importance if he incurs the name of miser” (Machiavelli, 226). Although Machiavelli believes that it is good to be generous, he doesn’t believe that a leader should be labeled as being generous, because it will eventually make the leader greedy. He also believes that too much generosity leads to a lack of resources and higher taxes. Machiavelli believes that the solution is to balance between generosity and greed, preferably tipping towards the less generous side, to avoid hatred from the people (Machiavelli, 225). Barack Obama displayed this quality when, instead of instating universally free