[Morgoth discusses the real politic advice given in Niccolo Machiavelli’s book, “The Prince” and its usefulness today for nationalists.
Machiavelli advice was centred on achieving and maintaining power through whatever means necessary, discarding normal morals and principles if they got in the way of that.
Morgoth goes into the benefits and limits of this, citing critism from Fredrick the Great, and examples in popular culture such as Lord of the Rings, and The Game of Thrones. He ends with:
“If Machiavelli was kicking around in the dissident Right today, what would his advice actually be?”
I would say his advice would be to achieve power by doing whatever it takes, because the alternative is to be destroyed by an enemy with absolutely zero morals and principles.
Aug 14, 2020
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Published on Aug 14, 2020
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Thanks to Theberton for the intros and outros
[Intro music and imagery by Theberton]
Hello again there folks.
A few months ago I did a podcast for a website, where I was talking about Machiavelli. And in preparation I read Machiavelli’s book The Prince. Now I’m not entirely sure whatever happened to the podcast. I never heard anything else about it. But I was left with quite a lot of notes, and summaries, and things jotted down that I prepared for doing the discussion. And I did also re-read The Prince again, which I read a long time ago. And I thought I would just sort of put it together in a video of my own, because he’s such an interesting character with so many interesting — but it has to be said very controversial and often dark — ideas.
But I mean, Nicolo Machiavelli, just the sort of the basic, is that he was a Italian renaissance diplomat, political philosopher, and writer. And he operated in Italy, obviously during the renaissance, and he it was a very troubled time in Italian history. You had Florence and you had Venice, and you had these all these different houses against each other. And Machiavelli was brought in and studied this. And what he became really famous for was his study of power and how power works.
And in the modern era in our era, now if you say “Machiavelli”, “Machiavellian”, it’s assumed that it’s gonna be some shadowy whisperer, or some string pulling backstabber! Something dark and sinister about it. And the strange thing is that wasn’t actually Machiavelli’s intention. But I think another thing, a sort of entry point, is that when you get into Machiavelli you’ve got to remember the climate that he was operating in. Which was dominated by especially the Catholic church, but also more sort of late medieval ideas of honor, and virtue, though he uses that word slightly differently, moral codes.
And the reason why Machiavelli became so interesting, but also so controversial, is that he approached politics and power from the perspective that if you are going to get ahead, if you want to first get power, and then maintain power, then you actually you’re going to have to get rid of all of your moral presuppositions, or your religious understandings. You’re gonna have to see things not in an idealized way, but in a purely realistic way! And he’s a realist!
And so you can’t afford a cling onto notions of morals and honor. These kinds of things have to go, otherwise you’re gonna lose. And in The Prince, he plucks various tales and various parts of history in order to make that point. And he talks about Rome and Greece, and then the history of Europe also. And in my notes here I’ve picked out a few that I’ve got prepared. And so he can seem quite harsh, but he isn’t sadistic. In fact, being a sadist is a sign of weakness in his world view.
But I mean, early on in The Prince he makes the point, so really within a few, the first few pages, is that he advises the Prince, the Prince is the avatar, that’s the figure who is in power. And Machiavelli’s looking at all of the threats that he could face and how he deals with these things. And so one of the most controversial things, of many — the Catholic church actually banned The Prince — is that Machiavelli will say:
“Upon taking power the Prince then has to kill the family of the person that he’s just deposed.”
Now this isn’t, because he’s evil! It’s a kind of important to remember, that it’s not like to be evil, or to be sadistic, but just for the pragmatic reason that have you don’t want to be sitting there while you’ve just bumped off the previous prince, or king, and you’re now sitting on his throne.
The problem that you’re faced with is that he’s going to have brothers, and cousins, and family, and a wider circle of people out there, who are now, … Well there’s also going to be in the nobility, which is another problem, which we will come onto. And they’re all going to be out there plotting against you.
So Machiavelli advises that you depose the king, the previous prince, whatever, you kill him. And then you immediately wipe out his surrounding family, but you don’t drag it out, and you don’t be sadistic. And then, you shower the people with goodies! You make sure they’re happy! You make sure they’re entertained. They’ve got some theaters going on. You don’t middle in their traditions, and you don’t meddle in their laws!
So what you the point here is that to remove the problem which is the first prince, you then destroy his family, so that they’re not going to come after you, they’re not going to plot against you. But then you want the transition into securing your place to be as quickly as possible, and then you’re going to keep the people happy! Which is a big thing with Machiavelli.
But again not particularly, because he cares much for the masses, he doesn’t, but, because of just pragmatic reasons. So from this perspective you can see that somebody who’s more religious, would be absolutely outraged by just the sick cunning of it! And there were!
But where it gets controversial for all involved here, in political science, Machiavelli is oftentimes seen as the person who invented modern political science in Europe, where you look at things in a purely realistic way.
So I’ve raided a couple of online universities and I thought we could just have a look at some of the summaries of the chapters that they got, because it compresses it nicely. And the thing about what I like about Machiavelli, is that superficially you can think:
“Well, it’s hundreds of years old.”
And it comes across as being a bit sort of weird when you’re talking about militias, and fortresses, and nobles, and peasants. But the concepts are actually very, very, apt for where we are now.
So the one of the summaries that I quite liked of his chapter on this part on “Nobles and Peasants”. So you’ve got the Prince at the top, then under The Prince in renaissance elite, you have the nobles, and then at the bottom you’d have the peasants. And so it is:
“When private citizens become rulers, through the favor of their fellow citizens, these may be civil principalities. One can reach this position through the favor of either the common citizens, or the nobles.”
There’s a distinction between the two, of course:
“Because the two classes are found in every city. The nobles want only to oppress the people, and the people want only to avoid oppression.”
It’s constantly like this! It’s a very harsh, and like just straight to the bone world, there’s no fluff!:
“From these opposing impulses can come three results. A principality, a republic, or an anarchy.
When the nobles feel the pressure from the people, they try to make one of their own the Prince, in order to protect their privileges.
When the people feel they cannot resist the nobles, they try to make a fellow citizen Prince, in order to protect their rights. You can never satisfy the nobles by acting honorably. But you can satisfy the people.
Regardless of how a prince comes to power, he should make every effort to win the good will of the people, or in times of trouble, he will have no hope. A prince must not delude himself about the reliability of the people, but nonetheless a prince who makes good preparations and knows how to command, will never be betrayed by them. A wise ruler will contrive to keep all his citizens dependent on him, and on the state. And then he will be able to trust them.”
So this is an interesting one for where we are now. Particularly with what’s going on in the news cycle, what we see going on in politics.
What Machiavelli’s, what they’re getting at, is that Machiavelli understands that to the Prince, in the position of power, if you look at the princes at the top and then under him you have the nobles, and then on the bottom you have the plebs, the masses! Just the standard people.
And so there’s a temptation there, because the nobility are closer to the Prince, and that you can be flattered by them, and you can get sort of entangled in their webs, and their schemes. But they’re also closer to the seat of power, if they want to replace the Prince himself.
So from Machiavelli’s perspective the lesson here is that the nobility, or rather the middle, are much more dangerous to the Prince than what the people are. And so what it says is that you have to make the people depend on you. And then you can actually get around the problem of the nobility, by pandering more to the people.
And so what you see is that what Machiavelli’s going for here, is a top and the bottom versus the middle structure, which is in my opinion, exactly what we see in the West today. So another term is what people call bio-Leninism.
Let’s just take it from the perspective of the what’s happening in the news. If you look at the elite in the West today, and there at the top. Let’s just leave aside who we are now, it’s sort of the principle. But yeah, it does play a factor here, or who is disproportionate. What you can see if you look at something like “Black Lives Matter” and all of the minority groups, political correctness will always favors what would be this sort of class, that they have imported, who they pander too. And then in the middle, would be, well to be honest, it’s White people.
And so you can see that, in actual fact, Machiavelli’s take on this is what we’re living in the West today. And if you’re a European person, you find yourself in the middle of it! You find yourself in the middle of that sandwich!
So, for example, the elite will use someone like Black Lives Matters, just as an example, there’s a lot of these groups against the middle. And then, it’s this pincer movement. And that secures their position of power! Because if the White people in America, or the Europeans in Europe, if they actually collectivized themselves, and began to really demand change they would have to put it on the top, not the bottom. To constantly moan about what’s happening at the bottom is a trap, because then it gives the elites to say:
“Well we are going to have to clamp down on you, because you are oppressing the people at the bottom!”
And the people at the bottom are going to say:
“Well we are being oppressed by the whole system!”
In actual fact, what’s happening is the top is incentivizing the bottom to attack the middle, because the middle is the problem! The middle is where the vulnerability for the elite lies! So this is, in my opinion, exactly what we see in the West today.
There’s another one that I really liked, and this is Machiavelli himself that I’m gonna read out. And it’s on the subject of mercenaries, which again it may seem a little bit off-kilter, but it gives you another look at what Machiavelli says. So this is actually Machiavelli. And it’s a funny one, as well:
“Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous! And if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm, nor safe, for they are disunited, ambitious, and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies! They have neither the fear of god, nor fidelity to men! And one’s own destruction is deferred, only so long as the attack is.
For in peace, one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is that they have no other attraction, or reason for keeping the field, than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers, whilst you do not make war. But if war comes, they take themselves off, or run from the fro!”
[chuckling] So this is one of my favorite parts of the whole book. Machiavelli has got nothing, nothing, but contempt for mercenaries! And like I say, when you hear talk of mercenaries and auxiliaries, it sounds a little bit dated, but it isn’t, because the message of what he’s saying here is that, if the Prince can’t trust people who he pays, like that, he has to make the people love him.
So the point is, is it possible to pay a man to die for you? Well, the fact is it isn’t. And as Machiavelli says, they’ll take the money, that’s for certain, but they’re not actually go out and die for you. When it comes down to it the mercenaries will run for it. Just like Machiavelli said, because you can’t pay man to die for you.
So there’s a lesson here. It’s one thing to say well he would have rubbed the Christian the wrong way, the Catholic Church was very annoyed by this. But here you can see there’s another angle. And it’s the angle which says:
“Money will get you everything.”
It won’t! You can’t buy men to die for you, because they just won’t do it! There’s not enough money. They may do a bit, they may get into a bit of danger, but they’re never going to be as useful as people who have a respect for the king, and find the pride to fight for him, and because he takes care of them, and you’ve got that symbiotic relationship. That’s never going to be achieved with just money! And it’s an important lesson.
And this is also in terms of real politic. It reminds me of another story from Norman Foster’s, “Europe a History”, in which he talks about the Soviet Union. So in the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Block, the Warsaw Pact, the way they would control it, so they had all of these various nations under their control.
And now in theory they were “all workers of the world” in the socialist paradise. And nationhood was a problem, and long has been for Marxism, the old classic Marxism. Nationhood, patriotism, has long been a problem for that. And so the way the Soviet Union went about controlling this was they would have, for example, Polish troops would be deployed to Hungary, Hungarian troops would be deployed to Latvia, Latvian troops will be put in Czech Republic, and so on, and so on. They would be scattered around like that.
And the reason for that is, because they wouldn’t have as much loyalty to the people on the ground there. So if Moscow decided to clamp down on Poland, let’s say, and Poland was stuffed full of Polish troops responsible for doing it, responsible for carrying out the “punishment beating”, if you like, then you’ve got a very high chance that the Polish troops will turn around start shooting the Russians, let’s say. They would side with the people on the ground.
And so a way you get around that is to station all these armies all over the place, and then they’re more likely to do that. You can go again which is why so many people are kind of paranoid about this idea of if the European Union creates it’s own army, then who will the soldiers actually be? Will they be from Turkey, or something like that? You see these conspiracy theories going around. Or will it be that if the European union went like that and really in that direction, would it be where German troops were deployed to Spain, and so on, just the same thing over again.
But it amounts to, again like a realist approach to this, because in theory it shouldn’t matter, especially in the Soviet Union. But in theory it shouldn’t matter, but in reality it does. So if you were a sort of Marxist ideologue and you were convinced, and you said:
“Well we are all just the workers of the world united. We are all just socialists, it doesn’t matter what goes on the ground here and there.”
This is what Machiavelli is calling out, because he’s saying:
“Well that this is your ideology speaking, and it isn’t speaking the facts on the ground.”
Of course, they someone like the Soviet Union could learn and probably did from Machiavelli. But it’s the difference between the facts on the ground being realistic about the situation, and seeing through your ideology, or your moral codes, or whatever it happens [to be] and also in this part the economics, finances, greed and money!
So what we see in Machiavelli is a recurring pattern where men are blinded to how power actually functions.
They may have a religious view of the world, and they will use that framing in order to get power, in order keep power, or it may be as we saw with the mercenaries, the idea that you can pay somebody. And then the crux of that, is that you expect them to carry it out, because you are so naive to think that the world is such an idealized place that these men, who you’ve paid to fight on the front lines and die for you, will be honor bound to give their lives, because you gave them money!
Machiavelli’s calling all this stuff out! The same with ideology.
And so in that way he raises a very interesting question, because what if you actually want to do good in the world? He in this way Machiavelli isn’t good, or evil, he’s just talking about power. It may well be that you are a genuinely good person and you want to make the world a better place, but your own morals, or your own ideology, is getting in the way of making that happen. This is what’s brought into question here.
So in a way Machiavelli is like the polar opposite of a “purity spiraller”. A purity spiraller where, you see it on the internet, where somebody comes out with the most hardcore things that you can ever imagine, or they will stick to the absolute crux of their ideology, to the cost of absolutely everything else! Even though it means, and it usually amounts to them thinking that, because they have this “truth”, as they perceive it, on their side, then eventually good must flow! Then eventually truth will find the way, and that I will be righteously sitting in power, or my movement, my ideology, will eventually become hegemonic for the simple reason that I have truth on my side, and I’m never gonna budge from that!
Machiavelli would view this kind of, … And on top of that, just the idea of casting everybody out who isn’t perfect, get rid of them! Get rid of them all! And you end up, you’re not gonna go anywhere!
Machiavelli would think something like this was beyond retarded, because it has no understanding of how power functions, they are completely redundant, they’re never going to get anywhere!
On the other hand, if you go in with nothing, you’re going to enter into another world. You’re going to create a different kind of problem, which is kind of a nihilistic one. Which I think is the where the main criticisms of Machiavelli come into. And we’re going to get onto that a little bit in a moment. Because there was some very powerful people replied to Machiavelli from around Europe, across the centuries.
So another interesting chapter is on fortresses, which may seem especially redundant these days, but it actually isn’t. Because if we think of the fortress as the citadel where the elite reside, in our own time it becomes clearer in the view. So it says:
“Princes have tried various tactics to maintain power. Disarming their subjects, dividing their subjects into factions.”
And again you see the top and the bottom versus the middle, divided into factions:
“Encouraging their enemies, winning over the suspicious, building new fortresses, and tearing down fortresses. New princes must never disarm their subjects, for if a prince arms his people, their arms become his. If a prince disarms them, the people will hate him, and he will be forced to employ mercenaries.”
So again, a recurring theme is that if you want to be — which is where he’s going to lead you here — if you want to be genuinely comfortable, and it’s a very cynical move, but to keep power, not to win the love of the people, in and of itself, to make a happy clappy world, it’s all about maintaining power. And they are on your side and they love you, then they’re going to fight to the death for you, because you protect them. And so in it may seem a little bit weird for somebody like Machiavelli, with his reputation, to say:
“Yeah, you have to have the people, they have to have arms, they have to be able to protect themselves.”
Because in a psychological trick there, because they’re not going to actually fear the king. They’re going to start and fear you when you take away their weapons and make them defenseless. I know there’s a bit of a libertarian angle on this. But then what’s worse for the power, and it’s all about the power, the worst for the Prince in power is that once the people begin to fear him, dislike him, they’re not gonna defend you, they can’t be trusted anymore. And then you’re gonna have to go, once again, to the hopeless, cowardly, mercenaries, who are gonna take your money and run off!
So all of this can be avoided if you just keep the people happy. And then on top of that he’s gonna go on, and conventional wisdom says, this is the summary:
“Creating factions is a good way to control a state.”
This may have been true when Italy was more stable, but not in Machiavelli’s time, when faction cities are threatened by invaders, they quickly fall.
It’s an interesting one given what’s going on in the West, the way the populations have been changed in the West. If we actually had to face a great war, what would happen? Well as they say here, it would fall apart.
“Because rulers become great by overcoming difficulties. Some believe that a prince should secretly encourage his enemies, so that when he overcomes them, his reputation will be greater.”
So you can see this is about making a controlled opposition. Machiavelli has got absolutely no qualms whatsoever about if you have a weak enemy and actually encourage them and get them to get them a little bit of attention, only so that’s somewhere down the line you can publicly execute them all!
But normally in sort of dissident political movements on the internet, this is a thing, the “controlled opposition” thing. And you can think of certain figures out there, saying things which will rile people up a little bit. But from the perspective of the power, it’s actually they are there to be punished! So you may say:
“Well look at this person he’s been de-platformed, or this person has been sent to jail, how can they be controlled opposition?”
This is missing the point, from the Machiavellian point of view, from the Prince in power, the reason they are in jail, is because they’re controlled opposition. The reason there was such a big, let’s say somebody with a huge YouTube channel gets banned, or somebody who’s very prominent out there, hosting rallies, and aggravating the leftists, and all of this, if he goes to jail, it’s precisely, because they are so prominent that they are being stamped down on! Because it gets everybody else back in line, and it makes the government look powerful. It makes the Prince look powerful to put down his enemies in front of everybody, so, you know what’s what.
And they have to do it from time to time. So that’s why the controlled opposition is there. Not so much, there is an element in these days, but it’s not entirely about marginalizing genuine opposition, it’s also about putting on a performance. It’s about showing the people who’s boss! Which is what Machiavelli advocates here:
“Some new princes find that those who are first suspect, prove more useful than others in governing the state. They are anxious to prove themselves to the Prince. Those who help the Prince gain power may have done so out of dissatisfaction with the prior state. And the new state may also fail to please them.”
So once again, we have to watch out for the nobles, because they are closer. It could well be that the nobles. or the people in positions of power, but not at the top, have manipulated things to make sure that you are then sitting there. And they may decide to remove you as well.
So once again, it goes back down to the people at the bottom. Keep the people happy, and use them against the nobles. Always keep an eye on the nobles, because they’ve got the power to put your head on the chopping block.
And this again we see it here, it’s going to move on:
“Princes often build forts to protect themselves from plotters and sudden attacks. If a prince fears his subjects more than foreign invaders, he should build fortresses. The best fortress however is not to be hated by the people.”
The biggest example of this, there’s quite a few of them. But if you think of how ostentatious, how beautiful, but at the same time ridiculous, the Palace of Versailles is in France, which was completed before the French aristocracy was all beheaded by the people!
Like, didn’t they read Machiavelli? Because what’s been explained here, they’ve removed themselves away from the people, they’ve built the most ridiculous, gigantic, palace in Europe, although it is very beautiful. And then they find that the population is against them. The population doesn’t have bread, they’re starving. And then they look at Mary Marie Antoinette, with all these ridiculous hairstyles, she’s just spending the entire budget of the country on dresses. They know all of this is going on and then at the same time when they complain about it they’re fobbed off, although that quote about “let them eat cake” is fake apparently.
Nevertheless, it’s a perfect recipe where they are no longer among the people, they are not loved by the people, they are rubbing the people’s faces in it. And they were wiped out! That’s a bigger story for another time. But it perfectly encapsulates what went wrong!
So Machiavelli says, and elsewhere in The Prince, he also says that the Prince should actually live a very meager life, he should be poor, essentially. He should be poor, and he should live among the people.
Now this may seem a strange thing, especially with Machiavelli’s reputation. But what he’s getting at, as always, is that it’s not the money, it’s about the power! Money is more important than power. So if you live a very basic life and you live it close to the people, having that power, because the people then love you, they see you’re not sort of squandering all of the taxes, and they feel at ease with it. You’ve let them have their laws, they’ve got their weapons, you are in a position of quite a lot of power there, because they all defend you to the death!
While at the same time, they’re not going to think that they’re being robbed, and you don’t need the fortress which removes you from the people and makes you seem aloof.
So because of the fact that you’re in that position now, you’re in a very secure position. The problem that you’ve got is the nobles, of course! But the people will protect you from it. So he’s got it all figured out! It’s very clever!
A critic of Machiavelli though, was none other than Frederick the Great of Prussia. So there’s a summary here and says:
“Frederick’s argument is essentially moral in nature. He asserts that Machiavelli offered a partial and biased view of statecraft. His own views appear to reflect the largely enlightenment ideal of rational and benevolent statesmanship. The king, Frederick contends, is charged with maintaining the health and prosperity of his subjects.
On the one hand then, Machiavelli erred by assigning too great a value on princely machinations, that Frederick claims ended in disaster. As the king’s evil actions are taken up by his subjects. On the other hand, and in support of the first idea, Frederick points out the numerous cases in which Machiavelli had ignored, or slighted the bad ends of the numerous malfactors he describes and praises.”
So, Frederick’s issue, and he isn’t the only one, is that when you have this kind of cynicism and manipulation at the top of the society, it’s going to trickle down and it’s going to rot everything in that society! The cynicism is going to spread. From Frederick’s point of view, the king, yes he has to be beloved by his people, but not in the cynical, manipulative, manner in which Machiavelli proposes, where he also kind of pretends to adopt their religion, which he doesn’t actually do. It’s all cynical, it’s all performance, it’s all fake!
“No! This will spread. This will get out and this will rot the whole society.”
And so we can move on I think, and have a look and play around with some ideas from popular culture, to see how Machiavelli’s ideas have been represented there.
When George R. Martin came to write “A Song of Ice and Fire”, “Game of Thrones”, he said that he didn’t want to rip off “Lord of the Rings”, instead he wanted to make the anti-Lord of the Rings, which is an interesting thing to say.
But what exactly is it that he meant? Because they’re both high fantasy, they’ve both got magic, and these kinds of things.
Well, what he meant was that in Lord of the Rings there is moral absolutes. There is a definite good, and there is a definite evil! And most of the drama, most of the action, in Lord of the Rings, centres around the grey zone between the two of them. And so a constantly recurring theme in Lord of the Rings is corruption! And the ring is corruption itself.
So, for example, Frodo struggles long and hard against being corrupted. Is he gonna fall completely into darkness? Or Worm Tongue is corrupted. Saruman is corrupted. Gollum is split straight down the middle between good and evil. He’s been torn apart by the two of them, and he represents where the good and evil came together.
But on the side of good you have Gandalf, or Galadriel who are incorruptible. They would have to be completely destroyed, or on the other side you have Sauron and the Witch King who are completely evil! And there isn’t really any, there’s no space for compromise! One, or the other will have to be completely annihilated. So in Lord of the Rings you have these moral absolutes and they’re engaged in a fight to the death.
What you find in Game of Thrones, is where the moral absolutes of Lord of the Rings meet in the middle, the grey zone, where the character no longer knows which side is good, and which side is bad. That’s how these things become so powerful, because the character doesn’t simply doesn’t know which side he’s on anymore, and they get lost! It’s the grey zone in the middle.
Well, in the case of Game of Thrones it’s all in the grey zone! There is no longer the polar opposites, the north and south of good and evil have been removed entirely! And so what you find instead is that it’s a world without these moral positions at all!
And so, here enters Machiavelli back into the frame once again. Because in Game of Thrones, all of the characters, pretty much, are Machiavellian. And it’s literally called “The Game” which is also something that somebody like Frederick the Great would criticize Machiavelli for.
Instead of having virtue, and honor, and goodness, and truth, and beauty, he saw it all as just a game of power! But that’s exactly what Game of Thrones is!
And so, just to go back on Frederick the Great’s point, is an interesting one, because in Game of Thrones, in George RR Martin’s creation, we actually have that. At least, all right, the first few seasons before got a little bit rubbish! And it got rubbish, because you can’t really bring it to a satisfactory conclusion, because there isn’t an object of good, or evil then, to be destroyed, and for everybody to live happily ever after! So they had to kind of conjure one up.
So this then raises the question of the Game of Thrones itself, and how that it actually goes a little bit further. And you’ll see that a character like, the good characters, like Ned Stark, is beheaded! He’s attacked, he’s executed at the end of Season One.
And then in the following Seasons, you see that all of the Starks have gone, except for the two girls, pretty much. And the lesson to be taught there is that Ned Stark in particular, but the Stark family in general, are really the only good guys. And this is why it’s so jaw-dropping, or it was when it came out. And it was a great interesting show, that basically the good guys had been killed off. And this is what everybody got surprised by it. Because you don’t see that very often.
But there’s also a lesson there. Ned Stark died, because he kept his word, because he was a man of honor! And when he went down into the into King’s landing, where all of the intrigue, and all of the gossip, and all of the low cunning of the city dwellers, the proud man of the north didn’t really stand a chance! His morals, his sense of virtue, his honor, didn’t get him anywhere! It got him betrayed, and then executed! And then later on his family as well.
And then one of the girls gets sent off to a psychopath, who is then raped. And then the other girl goes off, and not just raped, but treated horribly. But the younger daughter then goes off, Arya goes off, and what you see happening is that the goodness of the Stark family can only even survive in Westeros, in this world, if they too learn the dark arts of manipulation, and stepping outside of having honor, and morality, and instead being purely cynical, and realist, about the world.
So this is actually what Martin was getting at. This was going to be a realist look at the world. He criticized, for example, Aragorn in Lord of the Rings and said:
“Well he may be a great king but what’s his tax policy like?”
So it’s this dispelling of the fantasies, or narrative itself, and bringing back a purely Machiavellian world.
Well, the question is, like would you actually want to live in the world of Game of Thrones? Which gets back to what Frederick the Great was saying. The whole of this place has been corrupted! And it’s a hellish place! It’s a miserable place, without any goodness. And the only upstanding people there are quickly killed off!
And so it’s this never-ending power struggle without any really high ethical codes, or transcendence, at all. It’s a thoroughly miserable, depressing place, but it’s also thoroughly Machiavellian.
And so despite at all, I feel, the argument on the side of goodness, truth, and beauty, does come back in the end.
But let’s take a look at another figure from pop culture which would be Michael Corleone, who I would say, is also a Machiavellian archetype. And he sets out again, he’s going to step outside of a moral framework in order to attain power. And he wants to attain power, in theory, to protect his family.
And what we find happening is that well he ends up a lonely and hated figure who alienates everybody! And he even murders his own brother, which is the main sort of story arc and plot of Godfather II.
And so what you see, over the course of the two movies, is this huge arcing tragedy of somebody who is becoming more, and more, powerful and more, and more, skillful at playing these games, and weaving these complicated webs, he has no moral code at all, anymore. And yet despite it all, it kind of poisons all around him, and alienates them from him. And he becomes this kind of tragic figure who’s literally lost his soul!
So, in a way, the ethical side of this it takes a long time to kick in, but it does come back. And it comes back with quite a wallop!
And so we come to it at last!
If Machiavelli was kicking around in the dissident Right today, what would his advice actually be?
This is made more difficult, because he disliked the notion of ideals preventing people gaining power, which is sad to say, exactly the situation of the dissident Right today. The clash between ideals and pragmatism is something I’ve thought about a lot, especially over the last few years. In modernity it seems like Machiavellian thought dominates everything! Even the words to describe all the values like morals, and honor, seem antiquated and redundant.
Is this just the water we have to swim in, or is it that the dissident Right believes we’re in a struggle between good and evil, and eventually truthful out, and everything will be restored? That we can all go back to the shire and enjoy peace and quiet?
But how can that ever be achieved if your idealism has prevented you from gaining power in the first place? The fact is somebody quietly hiding their power level in a local council has more capacity to do good for our people, who suffer, than a social media personality with twenty thousand followers.
We can learn a lot of uncomfortable truths from Machiavelli, but perhaps the most uncomfortable of all is that just, because you have truth on your side, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win!
And so with that in mind it follows that what matters is power first, ideals second! And while I hesitate to ponder over how Machiavelli would deal with power dynamics in the 21st century, I think he’d advise something more, or less along the lines of the following.
He’d certainly be a populist over a puritan, in the ideological sense on the right, for a simple reason is you get more power with more people. That the entire power structure should be infiltrated by people holding your views, who keep their heads down and do what they can. This is difficult, because on some days they may well be confronted by a situation directly opposed to those views, and they’d have to let it slide for the greater good.
A populist revolt can attack the Prince externally while those working internally can do everything possible to facilitate it, while gaining power themselves. And thus, the peasant and nobles change their positions on the board to surround the Prince.
Or maybe it is that we have to draw a line in the sand. Maybe the whole rotten situation has to be reframed into a moral cause, that will see the whole order overturned? But that will have to wait for another video, and a trip to middle earth!
So thanks for listening folks. And thanks very much to the people who support me financially, because that’s the only reason I can get videos like this one done.
Take care everyone.
[Outro music and imagery by Theberton.]
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Version 1: Aug 21, 2020 — Published post.