Machiavelli’s House of Cards

This fall break, as I sat down late Saturday night to catch up on my newest Netflix obsession, House of Cards, I couldn’t help but think about my Poly-Sci 101 class back at school. I have been taking this course now for close to two months and the concepts I’ve come to understand have changed the way I see many regular things in my life. For those of you who don’t know, House of Cards is a TV series on Netflix that tracks the political uprising of Frank Underwood, house majority whip and the most recent candidate to be passed over for the Secretary of State position. The show follows Frank as he schemes his way into a power position.

Before showing up at school, I viewed Frank’s tactics as ingenious and revolutionary. I even remember running to my dad saying, “Wow I wonder why more people don’t act this way in politics, a lot more people would get what they wanted.” It was not until learning about Niccolo Machiavelli that I understood Frank Underwood was merely employing textbook Machiavellian tactics to scheme his way to the top of the political world.

In his article “The Cunning Critic of Political Reason,” Vincent Barnett compares the name “Machiavelli” as a synonym for the devil. He speaks how anyone who is viewed as “Machiavellian” now a day is someone who uses sly tactics to manipulate situations to gain an advantage over the competition in a situation. Cue Frank Underwood. The House of Card’s star displays Machiavellian tactics as he uses bribery, blackmail, trickery and deceit to gain power over his colleagues in the political realm of Washington DC. Underwood’s ultimate goal is to gain the highest possible seat in the government (the presidency) and will stop at nothing to achieve that goal. Throughout the show, Underwood has done everything from blackmailing senators about their drug addictions to gain their support to working hand-in-hand with a newspaper reporter trading the top stories for the promise that she will publish exactly what he wants. He even resorts to eliminating (killing) competitors that stand in the way of achieving his goal. Underwood displays classic Machiavellian practices as he is as two-faced as they come.

After learning about what Machiavellianism is and how it is displayed in the political sphere, watching House of Cards has become that much more enjoyable for me. To see a topic that I have learned about in school be displayed right before my eyes in a way that interests me is something that embeds that topic even deeper into my memory. As I continue to watch the show I will be sure to look for more Machiavellian tactics used by Underwood and think of my Poly-Sci class each time I am able to pick one out.






4 thoughts on “Machiavelli’s House of Cards

  1. This is very similar to what I wrote about in my blog post. Even though this show is fiction, it is very interesting to see Machiavellian ways being used in modern day politics. What really goes on begin senate and White House doors is not displayed to the public in everyday news, so watching shows like these helps give us a more comprehensive look on politics today. Interesting post!


  2. First off i’d like to say that House of Cards is one of my favourite shows and its become funny to me as everybody loves and cheers on Frank Underwood as he emerges as a political leader when he clearly is the devil. That being said, the way you linked Machiavelli to House of Cards is completely accurate in my mind. Frank Underwood follows his rules as we see him do whatever it takes to reach the top. One other thing I had noticed when comparing the two was Franks original position at the beginning of the show as “The Whip”. The way he handled his responsibilities were again very Machiavellian. He knew that it was better to be feared than loved and through this fear he was able to whip votes in his favour and do his job in the best manner possible, which obviously helped prepare him well for his “takedown”. Another interesting viewpoint is the President and Ex- Vice President. Machiavelli also said to make sure your advisors don’t have their own interests at heart, which Frank obviously did as he drove the two of them apart.


  3. I really loved your analysis of House of Cards and Frank Underwood to Machiavellian. Frank Underwood and his wife both in my opinion have Machiavellian characteristics. His manipulation, sins, and overall philosophy to get what he wants is completely accurate to the definition that “Machiavellian” gives to the public. When people think of the word “Machiavellian” they usually depict a person very similar to Frank Underwood. His demeanor to not take “no” for an answer is actually very common among many politicians; however, Mr. Underwood just shows the exaggerated example of this. As the whip, he knew how to act in a Machiavellian-type manner and essentially pass the bills he wanted to pass. He was feared by his colleagues and made sure to stay feared in this cold “game” of politics. That being said, he always knew what card to play in the “House of Cards” in an authentic Machiavellian way.


  4. I couldn’t agree more with this post. I love this show and have never thought about it in this light. It is true that Frank Underwood shows many Machiavellian traits but i would say that the traits he shows are all the worst traits of Machiavelli. Now a day the word Machiavavelli represents a sort of evil and cheating leader but i think if you read the whole of his texts you will find that he does have some redeeming qualities, something i don’t think Frank Underwood has.


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