Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Machiavellian Thoughts On Rove's Departure

(This is a post I didn't put up when it was current. It's nice to be ornery)

Several recent opinion columns about Karl Rove's departure from the Bush administration have compared him to Niccolò Machiavelli, the author of The Prince, a sixteenth century how-to book about ruthless political leadership. These quips most likely play on the assertion that Rove was the architect of Bush's rise to power. They also describe some of the near-mythical qualities some attribute to Rove as a secret master-mind working coldly and quietly behind the scenes.

Whatever the truth of that matter might be, it is interesting that the ruthless leader Machiavelli most admired, Cesare Borgia, did not fare well in actual life. He began promisingly enough to be thought of as the model of Machiavelli's Prince:

Cesare also seized (1502) Piombino, Elba, Camerino, and the duchy of Urbino, and he crowned his achievements by artfully luring his chief enemies to the castle of Senigallia, where he had some of them strangled. By killing his enemies, packing the college of cardinals, pushing his conquests as fast as possible, and buying the loyalty of the Roman gentry, he had hoped to make his position independent of the papacy, or at least to insure that the election of any future pope would be to his liking.

But the end of his life was nowhere nearly as successful:

Cesare was struck in 1503 by the same poison (or illness) that suddenly killed his father. Cesare recovered; however, his political power had suffered a fatal blow. Pius III, after a short reign, was succeeded by Julius II, an implacable enemy of Cesare Borgia. Louis XII then turned against him. Julius demanded the immediate return of what territory remained to Cesare and had him temporarily arrested. Returning to Naples, Cesare was soon arrested by the Spanish governor there as the result of collusion between Julius II and the Spanish rulers, Ferdinand and Isabella. Sent to prison in Spain, he escaped and finally found refuge (1506) at the court of the king of Navarre. He died fighting for him at Viana.

Cesare Borgia was all of thirty-one years old at his death in 1507. His was not the long and powerful rule that Machiavelli's writings suggest the imaginary Prince would gain from the strategies his book proposes. There is a lesson to be learned from that.