This week two topics have interfaced for me. On one hand, I’ve been reading students’ material concerning the Messianic expectation at the time of Jesus. On the other hand, I finished reading Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, written about 1500 years after Jesus’ time on earth.
The Messianic expectation among Jesus’ contemporaries as well as Machiavelli’s The Prince contemplate what qualities are deemed necessary for “successful public leadership.” Although Jesus preached and taught about the Kingdom of God, He did not satisfy public expectations and so infuriated the established leadership that finally He was executed by crucifixion. Then there is Machiavelli, who claims that being a successful prince, or ruler, requires conformity to specific parameters very different from what Jesus taught and illustrated by the bulleted list below.
As you read them, ask two questions – First, does Jesus incarnate any of the list? Second, does leadership (political or otherwise) in our time and place incarnate any of the list? Then, draw your own conclusions, and feel free to make comments at the end. . . . So, now to some of the Machiavellian code of conduct for a prince:
- Is [it] better to be loved than feared, or the reverse? The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved. . . . Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present.
- Men must be either pampered or annihilated. They avenge light offenses; they cannot avenge severe ones; hence, the harm one does to a man must be such as to eliminate any fear of revenge.
- If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.
- Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.
- Since men love as they themselves determine but fear as their ruler determines, a wise prince must rely upon what he and not others can control.
- Princes should delegate unpopular duties to others while dispensing all favors directly themselves. I say again that a prince must respect the nobility, but avoid the hatred of the common people.
- People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance.
- The new ruler must determine all the injuries that he will need to inflict. He must inflict them once and for all.
- A prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with [the qualities of being] merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you. Everyone sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.
- It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.
- It is well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, religious, and upright and also to be so but the mind should remain so balanced that were it needful not to be so you should be able and know how to change to the contrary.
- A prince must not care about the infamy of cruelty in order to keep his subjects united and faithful; because with very few examples he will be more merciful than those who, because of too much mercy, allow disorders to go on, from which spring killings or depredations: because these normally offend a whole collectivity, while those executions which come from the prince offend an individual.
- A prince must scheme to give himself the fame of a great man and of excellent judgment in every action.
- A prince is esteemed when he is a true friend and a true enemy, that is to say, when he comes out in favor of one against another without hesitation.
Back to the questions mentioned earlier – First, does Jesus incarnate any of the list? Second, does political leadership in our time and place incarnate any of the list?
Your comments are certainly welcome.