Millbank Student Riots - the ghost of Machiavelli speaks

Posted on: 11 November 2010 by Alexander Hay

As students riot in London, OlderIsWiser gets an expert opinion - from the ghost of Niccolo Machiavelli!

This wonderful image care of the very talented Geoffrey Janes @ So, Niccolo, how's undeath treating you?

MACHIAVELLI: Buon! Very buon! I've been having a rare old time of it since I died in 1527. Mainly observing mankind's follies, needless to say. Oh, and scaring old women.

ME: And your career is as busy as ever?

MACH: Tell me about it! The Prince is still selling like hotcakes, and I hear Jim Henson Studios is doing a Muppet version of my play, La Mandragola!

ME: Good to see you're still in the game. Anyway, what do you think about yesterday's student protests, and what does it say about our coalition government?

MACH: Well, it's a bit rubbish really...

ME: Tell me more!

MACH: Well, as I say in The Prince, Chapter 16 - "a prince should guard himself, above all things, against being despised and hated" and 50,000 angry undergrads screaming 'TORY SCUM!!!' as the Millbank Tower gets smashed up says David Cameron hasn't done a very good job with that one.

ME: True, but don't you also say in the Chapter that liberality is a vice that will ruin a prince over time? Someone will have to pay for university education.

MACH: Yes, but remember too that in Chapter 19 I say: "It makes him hated above all things, as I have said, to be rapacious, and to be a violator of the property... of his subjects."

Making young people pay through the nose for their education is in effect robbing them of their future property, but also the wealth of their parents who support them. Furthermore, people would rather forgive the loss of their fathers than what they will inherit from them.

ME: Isn't taxing people for the education of others just as bad, though?

MACH: Ah, but if we pay for universities from taxation, the cost is spread wide and so the population is less harmed than if your young people are robbed directly for their studies.

ME: That sounds a lot like an argument for a graduate tax

MACH: You mean the rich will begrudge paying what they owe their prince? After all, the main argument against a graduate tax is that the rich will flee the country to avoid paying it. However, as I say in Chapter 9, the nobles are few and the people many. So just leave the people alone and don't rob them and you will be strong. The nobles can then get knotted. Remember, all those bankers will leg it to New York or Geneva if it all goes wrong anyway.

ME: It doesn't help that Cameron is a sort of 'noble' himself, of course.

MACH: Well of course. He preaches free markets and the Big Society, but what he really means is that he favours that which favours his fellow nobles, or at least their purses. Once enough of the people realise this, he will be done for.

ME: Cameron goes on about necessary cuts and how we must all make sacrifices...

MACH: In Chapter 8 I say, if you must be cruel, be quick and do it in one go and don't do it again after. Let the people recover and they will forgive you. Instead, Cameron thinks he can stagger it over five years. He will simply make the anger last longer.

ME: Or he could raise taxes a bit, and cut a little less.

MACH: That too. Cameron remains in thrall to his fellow nobles though, who are very attached to their wealth.

ME: The problem lies in the rich who won't pay more tax then?

MACH: Like your bankers? Oh yes. And Cameron deems them the most powerful people in the land, and so he sides with them. They lack loyalty though, as demonstrated by those bankers you bailed out in 2008 still awarding themselves huge bonuses. As I also say in Chapter 9, he “should fear them as if they were open enemies, because in adversity they always help to ruin him.”

ME: So Cameron's a bit of a one-termer then?

MACH: Yes, but no.

ME: Pardon?

MACH: He has all the vices I have illustrated above. But he shows genius in one way.

ME: Really?

MACH: In two words, Nick Clegg.

ME: Ah! He's using Clegg as a fall guy?

MACH: Yes! And Clegg has sacrificed the support of the people in return for – what? Like Louis XII, he made his enemies strong, lost his friends and squandered what he had for a pyrrhic victory. And need I remind you of Messer Ramiro d'Orco?

ME: Oh dear.

MACH: Yes! Cesare Borgia made him his hatchet man in the Romagna and let him do all the unpopular things needed to control it. Then, once he had outlived his usefulness, Cesare stitched d'Orco up like a kipper in a kangeroo court. The people of the Romagna loved Cesare for getting rid of his toady and so he killed two birds with one stone. Then they found d'Orco murdered, cut in two as it happens. Metaphorically speaking, that will be Clegg's fate too.

ME: And Dave is very good at not being there when things go wrong...

MACH: Yes, like that time with the Bullingdon Club... If he were to let others take the blame in this fashion and breed less hate in the people, he may yet be a successful prince. But I doubt he will - the man's a total culo as we say in Italy.

ME: And that's it for this interview. Before you fade into the aether, do you have any last words?

MACH: Yes, I'll be on tour in the New Year with my spoken word revue, 'Tortured Horribly By The Medici'. I'll also be spending a lot of time standing close to Silvio Berlusconi and pointing at him, laughing and crying at the same time.

ME: Niccolo, it's been a pleasure.

MACH: Ciao!

THANKS TO: Geoffrey Janes @ for the use of the image.

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Alexander Hay

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