Friday, September 22, 2023
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Practicing Machiavellian strategy

Now I feel like writing about two books which I have been reading time and again till this very day. These books are among the important ones lined up in the shelf that stood abreast of my bed. They are named the ‘Prince’ and ‘the 48 Laws of Power’. Nicolo Machiavelli wrote the Prince and Robert Greene authored the 48 Laws of Power.
I usually hear several educated individuals saying that leaders of every nation in this world keep the Prince beneath his/her pillows. Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an Italian political philosopher, historian, musician, poet and romantic comedic playwright. He wrote the Prince in 1513. Robert Alan Dahl, a political theorist and scientist at Yale university in USA, says that ‘…the most influential book ever written on the characteristics of men in politics is the Prince’. I have two copies of the Prince, which was translated by George Bull in 1986. They are the 28th editions.
The other book, the 48 Laws of Power, is also wonderful and worth reading. It is on sale at World Book stores here in Addis. This book was published for the first time in 1998. I have the one which was printed in 2013; the eighth edition. Greene, an American, is said to be the modern Machiavelli. He has a degree in classical studies.
By the way, I have a piece of information to share with book worms. Please heed what I am saying. Whenever you want to buy books, say from a book shop or wherever you go…street sides…, take a close look at the reprint section of the book. If you see that book which you happen to hold in your hand was reprinted many times, don’t hesitate to peel out your money from your purse and pay for it.
The 39th law of power according to Greene declares that if the prince or the ruler who took hold of the rein of leadership needs to survive in his throne, he should ‘stir up waters to catch fish’. He further enlightens, ‘…The waters are clear and calm, and fish are well below the surface. Stir the waters and they emerge. Stir it some more and they get angry, rising to the surface, biting whatever comes near-including a freshly baited hook.’ The essence of the law is that ‘when the waters are still, your opponents have the time and space to plot actions that they will initiate and control. So, stir the waters, force the fish to the surface, get them to act before they are ready, steal the initiative. The best way to do this is to play on uncontrollable emotions-pride, vanity, love, hate. Once the water is stirred up, the little fish cannot help but rise to the bait, the angrier they become, the less control they have, and finally they are caught in the whirlpool you have made, and they drown.’
Greene observed the practice of this particular law by the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile-Silassie. He said that Haile-Silassie defeated his arch foe, Ras Gugsa using the ‘Stir up waters to catch fish’ technique. Gugsa is the husband of empress Zawditu who was the heir of the throne of the famous emperor Minilik II. After the death of the emperor, Haile-Silassie weakened the warlords who were feared to be stumbling blocks on his way to the throne. The remaining ‘obstacle[s] stood’ in his way were the empress and her husband, Ras Gugsa. ‘…[Haile] Silassie knew the royal couple hated him and wanted to get rid of him…’. So, he stirred the pond and caught the big fish. What he did was that ‘he goaded [Ras Gogsa] in to rebellion by offending his manly pride, asking him to fight people he had no quarrel with on behalf of a man he hated’. This way he stirred up the water. On the other way around he staged a battle ground in which his enemies involved. Gugsa thus made to partake in the fighting in which he was left alone through an intrigue made by Haile-Silassie who bribed several key allies of the Ras (Gugsa) not to show up for the battle. ‘Refusing to surrender, Ras Gugsa was killed in the fighting’ to the relief of Haile-Silassie who immediately announced his new emperorship.
I should bring up my argument that Machiavellian strategies have thus been practiced in this country. I have some testimonies to strengthen my argument. But first… it is good to say a few words about Machiavellian strategies. Machiavellianism derives from the views of Prince Machiavelli. It states that a prince or a ruler ‘should only be concerned with power and be bound only by rules that would lead to success’. It is further ‘defined as a manipulative strategy of social interaction and personality style that uses other people as tools of personal gain’. Prince Machiavelli deduced the rules from the political practices of his time. He stated that ‘morality and ethics are for the weak; powerful people should feel free to lie, cheat and deceive whenever it suits their purpose’. He is rough; is he not?
What we witnessed recently here in Addis Ababa is the ‘stir up waters to catch fish’ style of thing, which still gets the wide coverage of local media. The individuals and political leaders who got together for their common agendas came up with a bone of contention type of announcement that startled citizens. On the other way around they stirred up the pond and let the fishes come out to the surface. What happened then after is crystal clear to everyone of us. Many young Addis Ababans were arrested and sent to prison without due process of law. My point is that such is a picture of the strategies of Machiavellianism being implemented here.
We are saying that the present incumbent seems to be reluctant in taking measures against wrong doers. Yes, actions should be taken as soon as possible before the enemy gets out of control. Supporting this argument, law 15 of Robert Greene states the following. ‘All great leaders since Moses have known that a feared enemy must be crushed completely. (Sometimes they have learned this the hard way.) If one ember is left alight, no matter how dimly it smolders, a fire will eventually break out. More is lost through stopping halfway than through total annihilation: The enemy will recover and will seek revenge. Crush him, not only in body but in spirit.’
NIcolo Machiavelli has also touched on this same issue. ‘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.’
I am also surprised to hear some people saying that certain politicians who were once imprisoned and hailed by the entire nations for their bravery were happened to change their coat all of a sudden and act differently in a different scene. This was reiterated by many citizens in general and some inmates in particular with regret. I personally feel these innocent compatriots should have expected such betrayal from the side of politicians who once acted as friends. Robert Greene is telling us not to ‘…put too much trust in friends…’ but rather to learn how to use enemies. ‘Be wary of friends-they will betray you more quickly, for they are easily aroused to envy. They also become spoiled and tyrannical. But hire a former enemy and he will be more loyal than a friend, because he has more to prove. In fact, you have more to fear from friends than from enemies…’ I hope, by now you are thinking of the renewed relation we have with neighboring Eritrea, which was once designated an enemy.
I think it is common to witness in our real lives such betrayal of intimate friends. By the way, some people who read the 48 Laws of Power think that Robert Greene is evil. But he claims that he is not. He says he is just a realist. “I am not who people expect me to be… I believe I described a reality that no other book tried to describe… I’m not evil-I’m a realist.” – Robert Greene.
Fellow countrymen are also crying aloud that the incumbent has shown negligence in defending attacks foisted by armed opposition elements. But… what if the incumbent is thinking of things related to patience or capacity or other similar political alternatives? As for me, the thing seems to be like one of the laws stipulated in the 48 Laws of Power. ‘If you are unsure of a course of action, do not attempt it. Your doubts and hesitations will infect your execution. Timidity is dangerous: Better to enter with boldness. Any mistakes you commit through audacity are easily corrected with more audacity. Everyone admires the bold; no one honors the timid.’ My point is that…what if the negligence was done deliberately by the government on the basis of this point?
The two political philosophers claim that acting up on Machiavellian strategies should seriously be taken by all leaders of nations as an alternative and best way to get out of political quagmire. They stress that being soft and kind in the political sphere will have bad consequences. Therefore, Nicolo Machiavelli and Robert Greene are of the opinion that leaders should never think of morals and ethics. Machiavelli put this in black and blue. ‘…Politics have no relation to morals… Morality and ethics are for the weak…’ It is harsh; is it not? Yes, it is. After all, is this not politics?

By Haile-Gebriel Endeshaw


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