Cover image for Machiavelli on modern leadership : why Machiavelli's iron rules are as timely and important today as five centuries ago
Machiavelli on modern leadership : why Machiavelli's iron rules are as timely and important today as five centuries ago
Ledeen, Michael Arthur, 1941-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Truman Talley Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
xxii, 202 pages ; 22 cm
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Central Library JC143.M4 L38 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library JC143.M4 L38 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Niccolo Machiavelli, one of the eminent minds of the Italian Renaissance, spent much of a long and active lifetime trying to determine and understand what exceptional qualities of human character - and what surrounding elements of fortune, luck, and timing - made great men great leaders successful in war and peace.In perhaps the liveliest book on Machiavelli in years, Michael A. Ledeen measures contemporary movers and doers against the timeless standards established by the great Renaissance writer. Titans of statecraft (Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterrand, Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton); business and finance (Bill Gates); Wall Street and investing (Warren Buffett); the military (Colin Powell), and sports (Michael Jordan) are judged by Machiavelli's precepts on leadership and the proper use of power. The result is a wide-ranging and scintillating study that illuminates the thoughts of the Renaissance master and the actions of today's truly towering figures as well as the character-challenged pretenders to greatness.Here is an exceptional book on Machiavelli and his ultra-realistic exploration of human nature - then and now.

Author Notes

Michael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, neoconservative foreign policy analyst and writer, born August 1, 1941. He is Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and served as Special Advisor to the Secretary of State and consultant to the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration. He has written more than 35 books, including The War against The Terror Masters, The Iranian Time Bomb, and Obama's Betrayal of Israel. His latest bestselling book is The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies.

(Bowker Author Biography)



Chapter One The Course of Human Events * * * Human affairs being in a state of perpetual movement, either ascending or declining ... If you're going to lead, you've got to fight. Whether you're on the way up, are striving to acquire greater power, or are at the top, fighting to maintain and expand it, you're involved in struggle. And since, as Machiavelli tells us, "Men are more ready for evil than for good," leaders and would-be leaders are bloody-minded.     The bloody-mindedness derives from ambition, and human ambition is unlimited, that of both individuals and the institutions they create. The struggle for power begins with the attempt to carve out a zone of freedom from others and continues with the extension of domination over others. "First [men] seek to secure themselves against attack; then they attack others." First comes the fight for survival, or for freedom from domination, then comes the "fight for ambition, which is so powerful in human breasts that no matter to what rank they rise it never abandons them." We have seen this process in many of the new democracies after the fall of the Soviet Empire. Heroic anti-Communists like Lech Walesa rather quickly developed a passion for power and continued to fight, no longer for a cause, but for their personal advancement. After defeating the Czech Communist dictatorship, Vaclav Havel became an international hero in part because he was a playwright who vowed to return to his literary endeavors after a brief period in government--but he is still in the Prague Castle.     The goal is power, which means the domination of others, and the winners revel in it, savoring what Machiavelli calls "the sweetness of domination." Power over others is an addictive drug that stimulates the desire for more of it. But that desire can never be fully satisfied; therefore, men, even the most powerful, are always unsatisfied. They want it all, but they can't have it. Since the desire for more power and wealth--the trappings of power--is always greater than our ability to accumulate them, he bluntly observes, "There continuously results from it a malcontentedness." Machiavelli does not believe that the haves are intrinsically different from the have-nots, nor innately superior. To be sure, they act differently, but that is simply the result of circumstance; men are "insolent when their affairs are prospering, and abjectly servile when adversity hits them." He knows that, given the chance, the have-nots will behave just as badly as the haves; it's all a question of opportunity, luck, and the grit, energy, determination, cunning, and tenacity--and sometimes wisdom--of those who maneuver for greater wealth and power.     The drive to expand is therefore built into all human institutions. Power and wealth are there for the having, and if you don't get them, somebody else will. It's an illusion, a potentially fatal illusion, to believe that your family, your country, your business, or your team, once comfortably and successfully established, can live happily ever after. You cannot opt out of this game. "It is impossible for a republic [or, in fact, any other human institution] to remain long in the quiet enjoyment of her freedom within her limited confines," Machiavelli lectures us, For even if she does not molest others, others will molest her, and from being thus molested will spring the desire and the necessity of conquests, and even if she has no foreign foes, she will find domestic enemies amongst her own citizens. Turmoil Change--above all, violent change--is the essence of human history. Machiavelli tells a story of the origins of political systems that is all about constant turmoil. Early on, when there were few people, we didn't need governments, because mankind was scattered in small bands. But after a while larger groups formed, and each chose the strongest, bravest man as its leader. In that condition of rudimentary government--a primitive form of enlightened despotism, or the Good Czar--men learned to distinguish "what is honest and good from what is pernicious and wicked." He's not talking about ultimate values, but about politics, about the relationship between ruler and subjects: The sight of someone injuring his benefactor evoked in them hatred and sympathy and they blamed the ungrateful and respected those who showed gratitude, well aware that the same injuries might have been done to themselves. Hence to prevent evil of this kind they took to making laws and to assigning punishments to those who contravened them. The notion of justice thus came into being.     Once the laws were in place, we no longer needed a warrior in charge; indeed, it was better to have a more prudent leader, one primarily concerned with preserving justice. That was the first Good State, its goodness guaranteed by laws rather than by the qualities of a single leader. But it didn't last. After a while, leadership became hereditary, and subsequent leaders sank into degeneracy, devoting themselves to excesses of "extravagance, lasciviousness, and every other form of licentiousness." The people hated the corrupt new leaders, and the leaders, fearful of the righteous indignation of the people, created a tyranny. This was a Bad State, and thankfully it did not last either.     Good men, "conspicuous for their liberality, magnanimity, wealth, and ability," organized conspiracies against the tyrant and rallied the people. Once the tyrant was overthrown, the leaders of the revolution were determined to avoid the concentration of power in the hands of a single leader, and so organized a virtuous aristocracy that took care to reassert the primacy of the old, good laws. The aristocrats "subordinated their own convenience to the common advantage and, both in private matters and public affairs, governed and preserved order with the utmost diligence." Another Good State--it, too, destined to fall in short order.     New aristocrats then came to power who "had no experience of the changeability of fortune," and took their power for granted, assuming it would last forever. They sank into degeneracy, just like the descendants of the Good Czar. Power became hereditary, greed and licentiousness became widespread, civic rights were disregarded, and an evil oligarchy took over. In time, the people came to hate the oligarchs, and, inspired by a suitable leader, destroyed them. And since they had by now learned that the Good Czar became a tyrant, and the noble aristocrats became corrupt oligarchs, the people created a democracy, with safeguards against the accumulation of power by either a strong individual or a limited group. This was the third form of good government, and it, too, was short-lived. Within a generation, democracy degenerated into anarchy, and a new strong leader emerged to restore order, thus starting the cycle all over again.     If there were no foreign enemies, the cycle might go on forever, but in practice, very few states survive long enough to return to Go. During one of its moments of degeneracy, weakness, or chaos, a stronger neighbor takes it over or wipes it out.     It's a political fairy tale, and like all good fairy tales it tells us some basic things about ourselves. Machiavelli reminds us that all political systems are fragile and can be toppled from either within or without. Given the history of the race, it should surprise no one when rulers fall, or when one country is conquered by another, or even when mass uprisings take place. Such events are in the nature of politics, because each type of government is fundamentally defective. The good ones--the Good Czar, the noble aristocracy, and the pure democracy--tend to be short-lived, while the bad ones--the Bad Czar and the oligarchy--are hateful and vicious, provoking violent opposition that eventually leads to their ruin. Anarchy simply opens the door to a new tyranny.     As nations and empires come and go, so do the other ambitious human enterprises. Eastern Airlines is gone, along with Pan Am, once the greatest airline in the world. Packard automobiles are gone, along with the gorgeous Bugattis, Studebakers, and Dusenbergs. Fokker is gone, along with Curtis Wright, Douglas, Grumman, McDonnell, Sud Aviation, Vickers, and De Havilland, all glorious successes in bygone days of aviation, all either vanished entirely or gobbled up by their enemies. Great banks like BCCI, First American, and Banco Ambrosiano are gone, too, and Woolworth stores, archetypes of our national life, have closed all over America. Royal families are gone to their graves, like the Romanovs, or into exile, like the Italian House of Savoy and its counterparts from Greece, Libya, Bulgaria, Albania, Iran, and Romania. George Bush, at one time the most popular president in the history of the United States, was defeated a few months later by Bill Clinton, an obscure governor of the inconsequential state of Arkansas.     The tempo may vary from moment to moment, but stability exists only in the grave, not in this life. It therefore behooves the man or woman of action (Machiavelli is well aware of the greatness of women), and especially those who would lead great enterprises, to be ready at all times to change strategies and tactics. As Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do."     On the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, in 1815, the Duke of Wellington was asked by one of his generals to describe his strategy for the next day, so that in the event Wellington fell, the others would be able to carry out his master plan to defeat Napoleon's armies. Wellington was flabbergasted by the question. "If you want to know my plan," he replied, "you must first tell me what Bonaparte is going to do." Wellington intended to win by watching what his enemies did, and then acting accordingly, a flexible strategy entirely in keeping with Machiavelli's view of the world. Successful leaders have to be ready to change their methods, because conditions are very difficult to predict in the first place, and even if you get it right at the beginning, things are going to keep on changing.     "Anyone wise enough to understand the times and types of affairs," Machiavelli tells us in one of his typical "good news/bad news" phrases, "would always have good fortune ... [and] the wise man would rule the stars and the Fates." He doesn't entirely believe this--as we'll see, he is in great awe of Fortune--and he knows that no one is wise enough to understand the times for very long. The imperative for leaders is absolute: get ready to change. The Change Artists On Wall Street or Main Street, as in politics, athletics, or war, success most often goes to the person who sees that he has made a mistake and quickly changes, or to someone who senses that a winning strategy is running out of time, and abandons it, even while others are copying him. Winning leaders are invariably good "game coaches," because they are the first to see how things are going, they quickly figure out why, and then they make the appropriate changes. How many times have you seen a football or basketball game turn around dramatically at halftime? The "halftime adjustments" are just like Wellington's improvisations on the battlefield, once he came under Napoleon's attack.     Some coaches have been able to change their methods in accordance with the players under their guidance. For example, the basketball coach Pat Riley has produced winning teams with radically different styles, each suited to the talent on the team. His championship teams in Los Angeles featured razzle-dazzle ball handling and fast breaks. In New York, the Knicks were a slow, deliberate team whose personality rested on tough defense. Then, in Miami, Riley showed he could win even with mediocre talent that had been decimated by injury and demoralized by the loss of two star players. Using different methods in different circumstances, adapting himself to the changing challenges he found, Riley repeatedly adjusted his way of doing things to the conditions of his times. It's a rare enough phenomenon, but even rarer is the leader who can change careers without a drop in brilliance. We can count them on our fingers.     George Washington was first a political figure, then a military leader, then a great president. Charles de Gaulle and Dwight Eisenhower, distinguished military leaders, became outstanding presidents. Napoleon was a military genius whose contributions to politics and the rule of law--the Napoleonic Code--will long outlast the effects of his military prowess. Colin Powell was a successful military leader who has become a political figure and would like to become president. There aren't many like them. The success of these select few shows how rare are those who excel in more than one kind of endeavor--individuals known as Renaissance men.     Of the current generation of global business leaders, no one embodies the flexibility Machiavelli writes about as well as Bill Gates of Microsoft. Gates set out to become a lawyer but left Harvard in 1975, when a close friend who was a mathematical whiz, Paul Allen, convinced him that Intel's new 8080 microprocessor chip had made home computers possible. Unlike some of their early competitors, who hitched their wagons to specific products or concepts, Gates and Allen set out to please the customer--all the customers they could reach. At each stage of Microsoft's evolution, Gates was building on the work of other people, trying to adapt Microsoft's products to fit well with the latest hardware and the jazziest software. Gates and Allen created the programming language, Basic, for the first really popular microcomputer, the Altair. Basic was produced in as many versions as there were separate microprocessors and separate operating systems. Gates wanted his language in all computers, whatever they were like, and wherever they were operating. From the beginning, Microsoft products were sold in the United States, Europe, and Japan. This strategy required considerable flexibility, as Gates would have to be able to adjust to rapid changes in three very different markets with three very different cultures.     Gates is a great Machiavellian because he built change and flexibility into Microsoft from the very beginning and because, while he ruthlessly fought to dominate the market, he never tried to dominate its direction; he concentrated on understanding where it was headed and then becoming the dominant force in the next phase. Basic was the first example of Gates's strategy; two more followed: DOS/Windows and Internet Explorer. The success of Basic was the result of hard work and a sound fundamental insight into the emerging computer market.     For the most part, leaders do not change with the times, for two very good reasons. First, we can't change our own natures (so if we're poorly suited for the changed conditions, we're doomed). The second reason is, paradoxically, derived from the nature of successful people. Having succeeded in the past, they assume that the same methods that got them there will keep them on top. "It is this," Machiavelli reminds us, "that causes the varying success of a man; for the times change, but he does not." And not merely a man alone; "the ruin of states is caused in like manner."     There are even some areas of competitive activity, such as the real estate business, in which failure to change, and hence the ruin of the leader, seems almost an integral part of the thing. Real estate values fluctuate with inflation, and anyone who adopts Machiavelli's methods and studies the history of real estate investments quickly sees that periods of inflation are inevitably followed by deflations. Investors who fail to protect against future declines in value can be severely damaged. This has been said over and over again by both analysts and practitioners, yet real estate tycoons continue to fall prey to the should-have-been-expected deflationary swings. They are encouraged in their folly by the tax laws, which almost everywhere take a substantial bite out of capital gains. Not wanting to pay the taxes, the real estate magnates seek to recycle their profits. The typical real estate empire is therefore highly leveraged, as profits are constantly plowed back into new, bigger investments, thereby making it even more difficult to cash out in time.     The most recent example of this recurring catastrophe is the spectacular collapse of the Reichmann empire in the early 1990s. Immigrants to Canada in the mid-fifties, they started a tile importing business, did very well, and invested their profits in Toronto land. These investments did even better, and their firm, Olympia & York, expanded rapidly to become Canada's leading real estate company. By the late seventies they had become a force in the United States and England as well. Barely a decade later, Olympia & York was a vast real estate empire that had become the biggest landlords in Manhattan and embarked upon a multi-billion-dollar project in London known as Canary Wharf. This grandiose undertaking proved to be the Reichmann's undoing. To finance Canary Wharf they borrowed heavily against the paper value of their other holdings and the value of their reputation as infallible investors.     Had the cost of money remained relatively constant or, better yet, declined, the Reichmanns would have succeeded, but interest rates went up, driven by the unexpected fall of the Berlin Wall and the rapid reunification of Germany. The West Germans, forced to absorb the enormous costs associated with the integration of East Germany and obsessed as always with the fear of runaway inflation, raised interest rates on the deutschmark. Other currencies followed suit, and the Reichmanns suddenly found themselves unable to meet the payments on their huge loans. Olympia & York crashed. From being one of the greatest financial empires in the world, Olympia & York became one of the greatest business failures in history. The Reichmanns did not anticipate the change in circumstances and were unable to adapt fast enough when it occurred.     Even great leaders can easily fall victim to a dramatic change in circumstance. Winston Churchill was a demigod during the Second World War, but once the fascists were defeated he was voted out of office. George Bush was judged unsuited to handle the post-Gulf War issues facing America. In part such failures derive from the ingratitude of the people, a subject to which Machiavelli devotes a rhyme: So it happens that often one toils in serving, and then for good service brings back miserable life and violent death. Therefore, Ingratitude not being dead, everyone must flee the courts and states: for there is no shorter road to lead man to weep over what he wished for, once he got it. But most of the time the primary ingredient is the leader's inability to adapt to the turmoil of human events. War, and Other Normal Things We twentieth-century people shouldn't need this reminder; after all, we've lived through the most revolutionary period in human history. This century began with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires and ended with the implosion of the Soviet Empire, and in between the end of colonialism and the defeat of the fascists thrown in for extras. In the past quarter century alone, so many tyrants have fallen all over the world that nobody can remember their names anymore (can you name the last Communist dictators of East Germany and Hungary?). The United States has won three world wars, culminating with the amazing, virtually bloodless victory over the Soviet Empire at the end of the Cold War. Nonetheless, the vast majority of Americans believe that peace is the normal condition of mankind, and are constantly astonished (and sometimes quite annoyed) at outbreaks of war or more limited forms of violence, such as insurrection, revolution, assassination, riots, and the like. You might have thought that this most bloody and turbulent century would have taught us that peace is not normal, and that it is best to prepare for the next war, to be sure of winning it at the least cost. No! Each time, the armed forces have been dramatically reduced, the "boys" have been "brought home," and the public has largely lost interest in foreign policy, believing that this time, at long last, a stable peace has finally been established. In this unfortunate manner, the seeds of the next catastrophe are sown before the defeated enemy's body grows cold.     Peace is not the normal condition of mankind. War and the preparation for war are the themes of human history. Centuries like the nineteenth--when Europe experienced a rare interregnum of relative tranquillity between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the outbreak of the First World War--are rare. Bloody conflicts are history's leitmotif. Any leader who believes otherwise will go to his ruin, or at least risk it.     Conflict is not the consequence of the rational pursuit of self-interest, either by states or by individuals; it flows straight from the deepest wellsprings of human nature. It is not an aberration, nor does it come from a failure of understanding; it is an integral, inescapable part of what we are. It applies to all human activities, foreign and domestic, scholarly and athletic, in enterprise as in the pursuits of people of faith. Woe betide us if we are unprepared for war, either on the battlefield itself or in other forms: domestic uprisings or terrorism, ruthless business or athletic competition. Our challengers, whether new teams in the league or Japanese companies making cheaper and better automobiles, will not be charmed by sweet reasonableness, for they seek domination over us. If you're going to be a leader, you must make a simple choice: either dominate or be dominated.     This being the case, all those noble efforts to prevent war by "educating" people to solve their problems peaceably or by drafting treaties making all war, or certain kinds of warfare, illegal not only are destined to fail but will actually make things even worse. As Donald Kagan tells us in his celebrated study On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace, "Good will, unilateral disarmament, the avoidance of alliances, teaching and preaching of the evils of war by those states who ... seek to preserve peace, are of no avail." Beware of those who, assuming that war is a thing of the past, tell us we must only prepare for peace. They are far more dangerous than those who, understanding human nature, prepare for war. SUNDAY, JULY 6, 1997. PHILADELPHIA (Reuters)--Media mogul Ted Turner took the stage as an Independence Day statesman Friday and called for a national vote on replacing the "Star-Spangled Banner" with a less "warlike" anthem. Turner, who received the annual Philadelphia Liberty Medal for his founding of CNN, urged that "America the Beautiful" be adopted as the U.S. national anthem now that much of the world was free of armed conflict. "It should be changed because `The Star-Spangled Banner' is a war song," Turner said in a medal ceremony.... "Now the whole western hemisphere is at peace, most of the world's at peace. It's time to change with the times because brotherhood is a lot more important than military force and that's what `America the Beautiful' is all about," he said. Ted Turner, of all people, should know better, for his life has been a constant battle as he has built victorious racing ships, exceptional professional athletic teams, and the world's most popular news network. Had anyone said to him, "Don't start CNN, the networks are at peace with one another," he'd have dismissed the remark as unworthy of a serious person. Nations are no less aggressive than entrepreneurs.     Those who pursue peace at all costs and do not take the necessary steps to defend themselves against the next attack risk something Machiavelli deems even more terrible than fighting: defeat and domination by their enemies. If you don't fight, you're going to be dominated by the winners. It's better to be a winner yourself, because you will then dominate, which--for a while, anyway--means you've got at least one less enemy to worry about. The military commentator Flavius Vegetius Renatus had it all figured out in the fourth century: "Let him who desires peace, prepare for war." Kagan echoes the thought: What works best, even though imperfectly, is the possession by those states who wish to preserve the peace of the preponderant power and of the will to accept the burdens and responsibilities required to achieve that purpose. That is why one of the leading Machiavellians of modern times, the Green Bay Packers legendary coach Vincent Lombardi, was right to say "Winning is not the most important thing; it's the only thing." If we are dominated, it's probably our own fault. William Shakespeare, who knew his Machiavelli well, put it in verse: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Those prepared to learn from Machiavelli never make this mistake. The young François Mitterrand, writing to his sister in 1938, the year Neville Chamberlain appeased Hitler and abandoned Czechoslovakia to the armies of the Third Reich, drafted his life's motto: "All leads to this: to win or to lose. As things never remain stationary, not moving means to begin to lose."     Of course, nobody said it was going to be easy. "How hard it is to win!" Mitterrand lamented. "So much patient work is required! Nothing can be overlooked, no little action, no minuscule event." Not to worry; it's worth it. The winners get all the fun, and all the glory. Those who say the most important thing is how you play the game just don't understand, for you will be hailed no matter how you played ... so long as you win. The replays may show that Michael Jordan often got preferential treatment from the referees, but that doesn't dim his glory or diminish the adulation of basketball fans. Jordan got special respect because he was a great leader. He earned his glory by his remarkable string of championships, unique in the history of basketball. Movie stars rarely lead exemplary lives, but their beauty and elegance--Machiavelli would call it grandeur--and their great wealth make them heroes.     These are mild examples of the overwhelming popularity of the victors; the more important cases are political, of which the most dramatic are surely the greatest mass murderers of this century of mass murder, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Hitler was revered by his people, and there was no effective resistance to Nazism until the Germans were defeated on the battlefield. When Stalin died, millions of Russians--the overwhelming majority simple souls, not politically active or ambitious people--stood hour after hour in line to parade past the cadaver lying in state in the Kremlin. Rivers of tears were shed, and the chorus of sobs was incessant. Yet Stalin had ordered the murder of tens of millions of innocents. A similar scene followed the death of Mao, who caused even more to be murdered in the most ghastly ways, even including cannibalism, during the Cultural Revolution a mere thirty years ago. It would be easy to write off these displays of emotion as spurious, the people fearing to be accused of insufficient adoration of the great leader. Yet we know from firsthand accounts, many of them from men and women who rebelled against the Communist tyrannies, that the grief was genuine, as was the reverence felt for the tyrants during their years of grandeur. One such anti-Communist, Alexander Zinoviev, writes that Stalin and the instruments of his terror--the so-called "organs of state security" such as the KGB--had the full support of most of the people, and not because they feared the terror (the "simple" people were rarely directly terrorized, and indeed found in the "organs" the only truly efficient institution in the system to which they could turn for help in solving the problems of their daily lives, such as household repairs). "On the contrary, the `organs' were venerated as the instruments of supreme justice"--that is to say, of Stalin's will.     You might suspect from all this that Machiavelli is like the big-screen version of General George Patton, someone who loves war, even finding it spiritually fulfilling. Not at all. He has created militias, gone to war, and organized both victorious and losing campaigns. Machiavelli is not an armchair general; he knows full well how terrible war is. But he also knows that there can be no satisfactory escape from the fight. John Keegan, the London Telegraph 's military correspondent, would agree. When starting out in this genre, I believed that if the world could be informed of the truths of combat, future generations might be deterred from it. Experience has disabused me. Telling does not deter and knowing does not inoculate. War will always find men to fight it. "One does not remove war or escape from its terrible grasp," Machiavelli advises leaders-to-be. "One postpones it to the advantage of others." Since it's going to happen sooner or later, it's best to fight under the conditions most favorable to you . In the early eighties, Israel discovered that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons. Instead of postponing conflict with Iraq to a time when Saddam Hussein could attack Israel with atomic bombs, the Israelis struck first, and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osiris. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was inspired by the same Machiavellian logic. Knowing they would have to fight America sooner or later, the Japanese chose to attack when they were strong, and we were weak. Our declarations of neutrality were not believed, and would not have helped us even if they had been.     If our leaders had paid more attention to Machiavelli, they might have avoided the Pearl Harbor disaster, for Machiavelli warns that if there's a war going on in your neighborhood, it is more dangerous to be neutral than to take sides. If you stay out, you'll be hated by the loser and despised by the winner. You will be considered "a useless ally and an undreaded enemy," and thus likely to be attacked in the future. The Japanese, driven by the urge to dominate, showed no mercy. Your enemies never do.     Machiavelli had abundant firsthand evidence from his childhood in Florence to support his conviction that good leaders must always be ready for the next attack. When he was just nine years old there was a failed coup attempt, aimed against the ruling family, the Medicis, by the other great merchant bankers of the period, the Pazzi. The plot was well conceived and had powerful backing from none other than the pope, and the archbishop of Florence was one of the principal conspirators. They planned to assassinate Lorenzo de' Medici--the philosopher-prince who became known as Lorenzo "the Magnificent"--and his brother while they knelt in prayer in church, and then proclaim a new government, as troops loyal to the Pazzi closed in on the government buildings. Lorenzo's brother was killed, but Lorenzo himself survived the attack; thanks to a combination of his own courage and the toughness of the Florentine government officials, the people rallied to the Medici and turned on the Pazzi.     The vengeance that was delivered on the Pazzi was of biblical ferocity. The archbishop was seized and hung in his robes from a window high in the governmental palace (there is a sketch by Leonardo to document the details). Many Pazzi were killed in the streets, some literally torn limb from limb, and the unrestrained assault against the Pazzi and their allies continued for weeks. Others were captured and subjected to every imaginable form of torture, including being roasted, feet first, over an open fire. Each time one of the leaders was executed, Botticelli decorated the wall of the Bargello Palace with a small painting of the event, and Lorenzo would frequently add a caption in verse, describing the moral shortcomings of the unfortunate man and giving an account of his death. Even this was not enough to slake the thirst for revenge; the body of the ringleader was torn from his grave and burned to ash, and the ashes were scattered in the Arno River, so that the soil of the city would not be polluted by the flesh of the villain.     The Medici systematically eliminated all evidence of the existence of the Pazzi. Their names were erased from the facades of their palaces, references to them were expunged from lists of praiseworthy citizens past and present, paintings and frescoes with their images were destroyed or covered up. No wonder that the Tuscan word for "fools" is pazzi!     Had the Medici been better prepared, they would have struck first. But they were well prepared to fight once the Pazzi attacked, gave no quarter in the struggle, and achieved a glorious victory. Preparation for Combat So it is not just a matter of being prepared for change, as if change were something that somehow "just happens" (even though, when luck intervenes, it just does). Leaders must constantly be on a war footing, soldiers at the ready, weapons loaded. No accident, then, that successful business leaders are "captains of industry," or that sports are replete with military metaphor, from grand slams in baseball, bridge, and tennis to football's trenches and bombs, the omnipresent "sudden death" in soccer, hockey, and football, and basketball players called forwards and guards. All people involved in these highly competitive endeavors know they had better be ready to fight, because they're certainly going to be attacked. Any businessman or sports leader who permits himself to be surprised by his competition will soon be looking for another job, and the shareholders or fans will celebrate his departure. Paradoxically--Machiavelli often exposes paradoxes where we least expect them--it is political and military leaders who most often seem uncomfortable with their own armies and with the use of force in any but the most desperate circumstances.     In America, reluctance to use military force is typically linked to the "Vietnam syndrome," and indeed the rationale for only using military power in extremis was formulated by men who fought in the disastrous war in Southeast Asia. Having lost domestic political support and been forced to abandon the battlefield, and then having been derided and humiliated upon their return to America, the generation of military leaders who rose to the highest ranks of the armed forces in the late seventies and eighties determined never again to risk American lives in combat unless they were certain of a strong domestic consensus. This typically American notion was originally known as the "Weinberger doctrine"--Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger first presented it in a speech in November 1984--and its central theme was the following: Before the U.S. commits combat forces abroad, there must be some reasonable assurance we will have the support of the American people and their elected representatives in Congress. We cannot fight a battle with the Congress at home while asking our troops to win a war overseas, or, as in the case of Vietnam, in effect asking our troops not to win but just to be there. This mischievous notion was subsequently embraced by General Colin Powell--who added the requirement of a clearly defined "exit strategy"--and was endorsed by virtually all prominent military and civilian leaders in the Bush and Clinton administrations.     Machiavelli rejects the presumption that original expectations will be fulfilled, because the first rule of human events is change. Things will not work out as you expect. Steve Jobs assumed that the Mac and the Lisa would have the same euphoric market reception as the Apple and refused to change his game plan, even when it should have been obvious that the world had changed. The defeat not only was devastating for his company's profits, but, as confidence in him was decisively undermined, it also savaged his own capacity to lead Apple back to the top of the PC world.     Weinberger and Powell knew that events on the battlefield would change, but they presumed that, once you've got consensus, you'll keep it for the whole mission, and everyone will cheer when you get back, so long as you haven't lost too many men and women. Machiavelli proclaimed such a notion to be nonsense, because consensus goes to the victor alone. The people will despise a defeated leader, no matter how great their initial enthusiasm. At the beginning of the movie Patton, the general pronounces the magic Machiavellian words "The American people hate a loser." If you win, you're a hero; if you lose, you're a bum. Consensus at the outset of the operation won't serve you any better today than it did in Vietnam, when initial public support for the war was solid; it remained strong until very late in the day. Public opinion turned against the war only when it became clear that we were not going to win.     The advocates of the Weinberger/Powell doctrine's have tried to get around these objections by dumbing down the concept of victory, as seen in two go-rounds with the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The first was the Gulf War, which one wag has elegantly defined "victory interruptus." The Bush administration, including Powell himself, suddenly and unexpectedly called off our armies just at the moment when Saddam's core force, the Republican Guard, was about to be destroyed, and with them, the regime itself. Not that we didn't want Saddam out of the way; Bush publicly murmured that it would be a fine thing if the Kurds and Shi'ites were to rise and rid the world of the butcher of Baghdad. But when they took the president seriously and started shooting, American military support was nowhere to be seen, and they were slaughtered. As a conscience-balm, we and some of our allies created a safe zone in the north of Iraq, where the Kurdish and Shi'ite refugees could survive, and we parachuted food and cold-weather gear to them as winter set in.     Ever since then, the Bush/Powell apologists have strived mightily to convince the world that we won a wonderful victory, that we were right to permit the Republican Guard to survive, and that it would actually have been a grave mistake for us to bring down Saddam's evil regime, because we would have become mired in a Vietnamlike swamp. But the crucial fact remains: Saddam survived with his military sufficiently intact to stay in power and massacre his enemies. A perilous lesson had been taught to all those who might contemplate challenging the United States: the Americans will not stay the course, they will not fight until true victory is achieved, they will not dominate you. Even if events on the battlefield are ruinous for you, you will live to fight another day.     When the next fighting day arrived for Saddam Hussein, Bill Clinton dumbed down victory even further. In the summer of 1996, Saddam challenged the safe haven in the north, sending hundreds of tanks against the Kurds and Shi'ites there after some of them had assembled resistance groups to challenge his rule. We were well aware of Saddam's preparations, and had promised the anti-Saddam forces--whom we had supported in a halfhearted way--that there would be a speedy and forceful response if the invasion came off.     We watched Saddam assemble his armored column, composed of virtually every operational tank in Iraq, more than three hundred in all. We watched him advance slowly northward, and we sent him warnings of dire consequences. We had plenty of time to send attacking planes from bases in Turkey or from carriers in the Persian Gulf. In open country, with no problems of weather or terrain, the Iraqi tanks would have been sitting ducks for our fighter-bombers. If we had attacked the Iraqi tank column, it would have been a real blow to Saddam, would have sent a much-needed morale boost to his opponents, and would have made it clear to everyone in the region that the United States was serious about defending our friends and advancing our interests. Instead, Bill Clinton told his foreign policy people that his top priority was to avoid American casualties of any sort: no body bags delivered to weeping families back home, no planes shot down over hostile territory, no hostages dragged behind jeeps through dusty streets. Therefore no risk, and therefore no serious action. The cruise missiles belatedly lobbed into radar and anti-aircraft bases in southern Iraq neatly demonstrated the president's obsession with keeping Americans out of harm's way, and its ruinous consequences: freedom fighters died instead of storm-troopers, Saddam was much stronger and we were much weaker than before the Iraqi blitz. In the end, the United States Air Force flew more than two thousand Kurdish and Iraqi chauffeurs, secretaries, janitors, bottle washers, and their dependents--all supporters of the anti-Saddam resistance--to safety on the island of Guam.     Nearly two years later, Saddam once again challenged the United States by expelling American inspectors from Iraq. Once again, Clinton dithered and delayed, sent troops to the Gulf region, threatened harsh action, but in the end did nothing except sign on to an ineffective agreement negotiated by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, that gave Saddam time to relocate his weapons of mass destruction from the sites the Americans wanted to look at.     Finally, in December 1998, Clinton ordered three days of bombing, after Saddam reneged on the latest agreement. By then it was clear to most everyone that Clinton had no serious strategy to deal with Iraq.     In the Discourses, Machiavelli neatly characterizes this kind of behavior: "When these indolent princes or effeminate republics send a general with an army into the field, the wisest order they think they can give him is never to risk a battle, and above all things avoid a general action."     We'll get back to "indolent" and "effeminate" shortly; the point here is that good leaders recognize that conflict is omnipresent, and they rightly prepare to fight and win. Leaders who tell their soldiers that the avoidance of injury is the most important thing are doomed. Nations that spurn victory in the name of safety end in death and defeat. Can you imagine Vince Lombardi sending his champion football team on the field with the injunction, "Don't get hurt"?     Worse still, when you find a leader who acts that way, you can be sure that he's making other big mistakes as well, because the proper use of power is such a central ingredient in any good organization. Indeed, at one point Machiavelli goes so far as to argue that "the foundation of states is good military organization.... Without such a military organization, there can neither be good laws nor anything else good." He's not only talking about armies, but about all leaders, from corporate executives to the armed men and women who provide domestic security by defending institutions and leaders and arresting criminals. Our institutions are not only targets from without; we have to be ready to combat evil in our own midst just as vigorously as we fight foreign invaders. As Mitterrand lamented to his sister, there's an enormous amount of work to do.     Machiavelli is also talking about the selflessness required of all those who serve the common interest. He is alarmed whenever he sees leaders putting their personal desires before the goals of the institutions they command. A good soldier is willing to sacrifice his life for victory, and a good leader must be willing to sacrifice his own personal ambition for the success of the institution he commands. To achieve victory, the first step is to see the world plain, to accept the facts about human nature, and to act vigorously to dominate, lest we be dominated by others.     The second step is an act of humility: to recognize that there are forces we cannot always control. We may win without merit and lose without shame. Sometimes Fortune destroys the best-laid plans of even the greatest leaders.

Table of Contents

Introduction Why World Leaders Need Machiavellip. vii
Chapter 1 The Course of Human Eventsp. 1
Chapter 2 Luckp. 32
Chapter 3 The War of Politicsp. 60
Chapter 4 Of Good and Evilp. 88
Chapter 5 How to Rulep. 112
Chapter 6 Freedomp. 142
Conclusionp. 185
Notesp. 189
Acknowledgmentsp. 195
Indexp. 197

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