Wanted: Machiavellian Dictators – several new openings in the Middle East

February 6, 2011

In the Middle East, the U.S. should be looking for a better, more Machiavellian, dictator.  Hosni Mubarak has not been diligent in observing two Machiavellian principles:

  • Use cruelty in such a way that it inspires fear, but avoids hatred.   Avoiding hatred is critical to achieving the second goal.
  • Cultivate popular support.

It is not possible to rule a state in the Middle East by establishing a democratic republic.  Demographic pressures will ensure that the people are perpetually agitated.  Widespread ignorance and the lack of democratic precedents make it unlikely that the masses will make wise decisions.  In addition, Islam provides a precedent for theocracy and any democratic movement is likely to result in religious rule and sharia law.  Sharia law is not only incompatible with western ideas of human rights, but would doom the country to backwardness.  In the Middle East democracy is not a practical option. 
A progressive secular government is an option, but in an environment of perpetual unrest, it can only be maintained by force and harsh (even cruel) measures against the forces of religion, which are always pressing for theocracy.  A secular ruler in the Middle East must be a tyrant.  The only question is how well will he govern.

Niccolò recognized the need for harsh measures.  He said that it is better to be feared than loved.

“In general of men., that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life, and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”


However it is necessary to use harsh measures intelligently.  Niccolò provides two guidelines for the intelligent use of tyrannical force. 
First he  would advise a Middle East tyrant to follow the precedent of a famously cruel but long lived and successful tyrant of classical times Agathocles of Syracuse (Sicily). 

“Those may be called properly used, if of evil it is possible to speak well, that are applied at one blow and are necessary to one’s security, and that are not persisted in afterwards unless they can be turned to the advantage of the subjects. The badly employed are those which, notwithstanding they may be few in the commencement, multiply with time rather than decrease. Those who practice the first system are able, by aid of God or man, to mitigate in some degree their rule, as Agathocles did. It is impossible for those who follow the other to maintain themselves.”

Second, a tyrant should avoid hatred.

“Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred.”
“But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. “

Finally, a proper tyrant must cultivate popular support.

“One cannot by fair dealing, and without injury to others, satisfy the nobles, but you can satisfy the people, for their object is more righteous than that of the nobles, the latter wishing to oppress, while the former only desire not to be oppressed. It is to be added also that a prince can never secure himself against a hostile people, because of their being too many, whilst from the nobles he can secure himself, as they are few in number.”

It is in the business of cultivating popular support that Hosni Mubarak and the other U.S. backed dictators in the Middle East have failed.  The example of Hitler and Stalin show dramatically that even wicked dictators can succeed at being popular with the masses, but it is not necessary to go to such evil extremes.  Fidel Castro has remained in power in Cuba by being feared rather than loved, but also being respected rather than hated, and remaining popular with the people.  Nor are we forced to choose examples of evil dictators.  History affords many examples of dictators whose reigns were constructive and increased the material well being of the masses.  Recent history in Turkey provides a particularly relevant example.  Mustafa Kemal Ataturk imposed a secular government by force and consolidated power by a period of one party rule.  However, his reforms, particularly his educational reforms, transformed Turkey into a modern state.

From the Machiavellian perspective, the problem is not that the U.S. has backed dictators, but that it has backed dictators that ally themselves with the nobles (in modern terms, the moneyed elites).   American backed dictators have helped the elites exploit the people rather than freeing the people from economic oppression.  The U.S. should not be carrying the banner of democracy, but should be promoting popular dictatorships that bring modernity and prosperity to the masses.



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