Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527) grew up in the hotbed of the dawning European Renaissance, the Italian city of Florence, and after an eventful career in the diplomatic service of that city, a career interrupted by an abrupt regime change in Florence, he composed a book of advice, The Prince, addressed to a member of the newly restored ruling family of Florence, the Medici, a person who was an ideal example of the Renaissance Italian prince. Machiavelli’s prince was an epitome of sophistication, born to wealth and high culture, a cultural model of nobility, and his nobility is never questioned. Machiavelli advises any such person who aspires to success as a prince to be prepared to use secrets, lies, violence, and grand deceptions, to be in effect a savage noble. To a modern evaluation Machiavelli’s prince is perhaps not noble in anything but title. He is a straightforward crime family boss.
In 1534 when the English King Henry VIII officially displaced the Pope and the Roman Church hierarchy as supreme supervisor of religion in Tudor realms, it was a natural consequence of the ideas put into circulation in 1513 by Machiavelli in The Prince, implicitly rejecting the senior supervisory authority of the Church and instead justifying and promoting the independent power of great aristocratic and royal families, crime families. Machiavelli’s The Prince made it thinkable for elder sons of such families to abandon the religious culture of chivalry and assert ultimate power without being subordinate to the mystique of religion. Machiavelli counselled princes to rule on their own authority without any supervision by the Church. Henry VIII’s break from Roman authority is a familiar example of that advice being actualized. It was the death-knell of the theocratic empire of Christendom. The central theocratic force of social control, exercised by the hierarchy of Catholic Christianity, was thus finally fractured, and afterward Christendom survived as an increasingly fictitious idea.
The Church did not disappear upon the self-assertion of the Tudors, but ‘household’ arrangements made by reigning families developed into administrative institutions of nation states. The supernatural authority of social supervision became more remote and tenuous. The collectivism of the Church was weakened, with the consequence that more individual enterprise was possible and even required. Crime family state institutions were collective-minded only when armies were required by the sovereign, which was often since military service was important training in subordination for the general population, and good sport for the ones on horses. Otherwise individuals were on their own and normally subject to the exploitation of a local turf-lord or capitalist. That self-assertion by great families was the formation of Europe’s Old Regime from many of the pre-existing institutions of Christendom. Machiavelli’s vision was not modernity but rather one step toward it from the initial condition of Medieval Christendom. Modernity was to be the era of the illusion that professional expertise based on science, rationality, and enlightened institutions could tranquilize the self-interested dominance and control of crime families and their religious cults, the illusion that their alpha-trophy-looting value system could be smoothed into a bearable basis for community life. Machiavelli’s thinking was a movement in that direction. Even though Machiavelli was not entirely modern in his vision of effective political power, he acted out a scenario of modernity by playing the part of a middle-class advisor who devised a partnership between himself, as a practitioner of the scribal or book-based arts, which clever people from any class can make their own, and the wealthy alphas of the horse-and-armour class, with the goal of engineering a sustainable institution of radical inequality.
It is characteristic of the middle class, represented well by Machiavelli, to take that sort of enabling attitude toward the class of ownership crime families. The middle class does not repudiate the controlling overclass but rather accepts it as pack leader, to use a canine metaphor, just as Machiavelli did with respect to the Medici family, offering special assistance based on cultivated skills, normally scribal, literary, legal, and scholarly in nature, consistent with fine clothing and other markers of rising dignity. It serves the interests, aspirations, and self-image of the middle class to promote a manic optimism, which relies on a set of comforting fictions deriving from a conviction that the predatory crime family class can be professionalized and integrated into a meritocracy, the rule of law, and due process, and in a later era even formal democracy. What keeps the whole system working, including the economic functions, is mainly imitating what was done previously, sometimes with straightforward variations, habits or traditions repeated unthinkingly, with many features kept unexamined by popular misconceptions such as “we’re all in this together”, “people reap what they sow”, “our political representatives have our best interests at heart”, or “there is a meritocracy of the most competent people in control”. Acceptance of institutional social inequality is inseparable from such constructs of orientation.
Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543), and Martin Luther (1483-1546) were all central-European contemporaries in the development of post-medieval culture. Copernicus published the unsettling discovery that the Earth is not the centre of the universe but only one of the smaller satellites of the sun. After that group of bold thinkers, a generation went by before the next wave appeared in the persons of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), and Rene Descartes (1596-1650). By the time that later wave appeared, an aristocratic coup, just illustrated by Henry VIII’s part of it, had established a new regime in Europe: what Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-59) called, looking back, the Old Regime. That wave was followed closely by another in the persons of John Locke (1632-1704) and Isaac Newton (1643-1727).
Noble Lies: Forbidden Knowledge and The Noble Elect
There is a relationship between the “noble lie” from Plato’s Republic and the occult idea that only a small group of ‘the elect’ or worthy nobility, unlike the human masses, merit profound spiritual and metaphysical knowledge as well as special immunity and privilege (the essential crime family ethos). People who consider themselves to be among that elect minority feel entitled to promote Plato’s lie of inequality as justice. Machiavelli’s conception of appropriate behaviour for a prince highlights that there are two very different notions of justice, morality, and criminality. From the point of view of crime family ethos the moral problem and the essence of criminality is disobedience, insubordination, or disorder among the masses. From the point of view of the commonality of people the moral problem, the great injustice, is the imposition and institutional organization of inequality and other deceptions by a powerful faction.
Another facet of the “noble lie” is the boosting of “home team spirit”, declarations that this is the best community, the most expressive of justice, the bravest and cleverest and most worthy to survive and shine. For example, in the case of European culture, there is the claim that, at the “fall” of the Roman Empire, civilization was saved by the Irish, instead of by the ancient eastern cities and communities, by Muslims and the people of Iran, India, and China. It is an example of the old crime family fear of Copernican revolution, a fear that people will stop accepting authority and institutions of control if their legitimacy does not derive from being the centre of the cosmos, favoured by nature. (Forbidden knowledge alert.) Of course no collective is the centre of the cosmos, but the interiority of intelligence makes each and every person his or her own universe of orientation and that is where the elemental centre really exists.
Copyright © 2012 Sandy MacDonald. The moral right of the author is asserted.