Machiavelli is the Devil



I was in Columbia the other day and I bought a book called 10 Books That Screwed Up The World: And 5 Others That Didn’t Help. Benjamin Wiker, the author, examines 15 foundational books that persuasively justify bad ideas.  Mr. Wiker suggests that the best way to inoculate one’s self from these ideologically diseased works is to read them.  In case you’re unpersuaded that this is necessary, Wiker explores  the arguments of each of the books and alerts the reader to their trendy current mutation.  The chapters are long enough to give you serious food for thought, but short enough to reach a wide audience. Mr. Wiker is a good stylist and he deftly distills abstract thoughts into concrete sentences.  His first chapter is a punchy take on Niccolo Machiavelli’s infamous book The Prince.  I liked what he said so much that I did this painting.

The Prince is both controversial and strangely popular.  It is controversial because it rationalizes the separation of power from ethics and popular because many folks want this rationalization.  Wiker writes, “Machiavelli knew evil.  But then, so did many others, in many other times and places … What makes Machiavelli different is that he looked evil in the face and smiled.  That friendly smile and a wink is The Prince.”

Here’s how the worship of power seems to unfold.  Power seduces because we prefer “what is mine” to “what is right.”  The more personalized our moral code, the harder it is to do wrong.  Since we think highly of our personal virtue, we give our desires little scrutiny.  Soon, we focus our energies to acquire power so we can do what we want i.e. “good.”  In the end, our attempts at Utopia kill 6 million Jews, or 100 million dissenters, or we fly a plane full of innocents into a building full of innocents.  Such actions get the thumbs up from Machiavelli.  Wiker says, “Machiavelli convinces the reader that great evils, unspeakable crimes, foul deeds are not only excusable but praiseworthy if they are done in the service of some good.  Since this advice occurs in the context of atheism, then there are no limits on the kind of evil one can do if he thinks he is somehow benefitting humanity.”‘

Machiavelli is a devil because he repeats the old lie that the ends justify the means.  It’s not new.

Matt 4:8-9

“Again, the devil took him [Jesus] to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.'”

Here is Wiker’s succinct take on Machiavelli:

“His great classic The Prince is a monument of wicked counsel, meant for rulers who had shed all moral and religious scruples and were therefore daring enough to believe that evil–deep, dark, and almost unthinkable evil–is often more effective than good.”

In conclusion Mr. Wiker contends that Machiavelli lit the fuse that runs through Rousseau, and Marx, and Nietzsche, and that ultimately set off the powder keg of the 20th century.  He fathered the lie in political science that was first told by the father of lies: “It is best to exchange personal goodness for personal power.”  Thumbs down for Machiavelli.

Work in Progress shot:

EDIT: A Machiavellian word from Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals

“It is a world not of angels but of angles, where men speak of moral principles but act on power principles; a world where we are always moral and our enemies always immoral; a world where ‘reconciliation’ means that when one side gets the power and the other side gets reconciled to it, then we have reconciliation.”

Merry Christmas

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been watching the Senate Debate this week instead of shopping for Christmas presents.  I get a kick out of those Democratic Senators who whine that Republicans won’t let them vote early and spend Christmas with their families.  The Republicans of course shrug their shoulders and ask for unanimous consent to adjourn the 2009 session and postpone the vote until they reconvene in 2010.  Of course everyone objects to everything.

Picture 32

This is Harry Reid as Scrooge who apparently hates Christmas and he won’t let any Senators or Staffers on capital hill go Christmas shopping because he has to ram something through in time for Obama to claim credit for it in his State of the Union address (and he doesn’t want his Senators to rub shoulders with their constituents before they vote).  It’s the first time the Senate has been held 25 consecutive days since WWI, and the first vote on Christmas Eve since the 19th century.  I started this piece for fun this week and I’ve worked on it amidst Christmas obligations.  I figured I’d put up a screen capture of the piece unfinished (before it becomes untopical).  I think I’ll finish it after Christmas and file it as a portfolio piece.


Here’s my underpainting for Lincoln.  I pasted my drawing to a masonite panel, and painted over the feet, because I felt the little boxy body was sort of silly.  I think I might try some color glazes tomorrow.  I will most certainly mess it up beyond recovery so I captured a shot before I began.

painting blog

Here’s the deal after it dried enough to scan:

LINCOLN underpaint blog

Lincoln Drawing

I did this drawing today, and erased out some quick highlights from a photoshop layer.  I love the asymmetrical nature of Lincoln’s face.  His face seems to bare the burdens of a man that, according to William Herndon, “God rolled through his fiery furnace.”

Ham Lincoln

Edwin Markham penned these words for the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922:

The color of the ground was in him, the red earth,

The smack and tang of elemental things.

Sprung from the West,

He drank the valorous youth of a new world,

The strength of virgin forest braced his mind,

The hush of spacious prairies still his soul.

His words were oaks in acorns;

And his thoughts

Were roots that firmly gripped the granite truth.

Happy Independence Day!

“The worst lesson that can be taught to a man is to rely upon others and to whine over his sufferings.”


–Theodore Roosevelt.


anthony merryblog



Tom Wolfe is one of my favorite writers.  Conservatives like him because he questions the legitimacy of fashion’s right to rule (From Bahaus to Our House, and The Painted Word), and Liberals like him, as near as I can tell, because he’s good at making fun of people.  At that he’s very good, especially those prone to self-importance.








At any rate, the November 2007, 150th anniversary issue of The Atlantic Monthly asked influential writers and artists to assess the American idea.  Many people wrote things unworthy of the topic (Nancy Pelosi wrote a smattering of empty sentences and concluded that the American idea was both new when it was instituted and that it crops up when people try to solve problems. She couldn’t be bothered to suggest what the idea is or to examine its value).  Tom Wolfe however, rolled up his sleeves and got to work answering the question directly.


“Since you asked …,” he writes “the American idea was born at approximately 5 p.m. on Friday, December 2, 1803, the moment Thomas Jefferson sprang the so-called pell-mell on the new British ambassador, Anthony Merry, at dinner in the White House.”


To summarize, Jefferson held a state dinner at a round table with no assigned seating.  This horrified the European ambassadors, particularly the British, because it violated their notions of class, and a round table (as we know from King Arthur) has no head.  It is therefore impossible to rank the guests by their placement.  There is a place of honor next to the host, but this went to Dolly Madison, who frequently served as the White House hostess for the widowed president.  With no assignments, everybody else was left to “take a seat” on their own.


Wolfe argues that Jefferson’s tactics manifest America’s tendency to regard initiative as a virtue.  Initiative is written in the very first chapters of our own national beginning.  In 1776 after the Continental Congress declared independence, the Colonials suffered from a lack of ammunition.  Rather than admit defeat, they did what Americans have always done.  They found a solution.  They found it in a gilded lead statue of King George III.  A crowd of patriots tipped the statue from its marble base and sent it to Litchfield Connecticut where it was melted it into 42,088 bullets.  The ragged Colonials turned a symbol of oppression into ammunition, and the invading British had “His Majesty” shot at them.  Americans’ willingness to act was supported by President Calvin Coolidge (who coincidentally was born on the 4th of July) when he insisted, “The people have to bear their own responsibilities.  There is no method by which that burden can be shifted to government.”


I’m in a play right now, and I’ve posted about it before, but Friday’s performance was special.  Right before intermission, the power went out.  Apparently, a truck hit a transformer.  Jeff, the director, told the audience to talk amongst themselves while he investigated the situation.  On their own, without any organization, the audience began to sing patriotic songs.  Without the play to entertain them, they decided to entertain themselves.  Finally, when it became clear that the power was not guaranteed to come on very soon, flashlights were passed out and we performed under illumination from the audience.


Most probably because the Fourth is so near, I perceived the evening as a metaphor for what makes this country great–the preference of initiative over entitlement and the American tendency to make things work.


The lack of trust in government is increasingly widespread.  After passing the irresponsible Cap and Trade Legislation, proposing new taxes, and raising unemployment by the passage of two bloated stimulus packages (with a third on the way), Congress suffers from an 18% approval rating.  I have faith that deep down American’s strive not for an oligarchy led by an elitist political class, but for a meritocracy led by the initiative and innovation of the American people.  The hope is based upon the great traditions of the Founders.  Take some initiative.  Seat yourself, and have a Happy Fourth of July!