Machiavelli; right, wrong, or neither?

As I have read through many of the blog posts I noticed a theme. Many blogs connected the Machiavellian reading we did, and the traits its highlights regarding good leadership, to a modern day leader, either in real life, or a fictitious character. Often times the leaders, while effective, are sly, cunning, and deceitful, which are just some of the characteristics Machiavelli describes. A perfect example of this is Francis Underwood, who is the main character in House of Cards. While I do love this show and am enthralled by the fast paced story line, it reminds me of my favorite show which is similar in some ways and different in others. In the show West Wing, the main character Josiah Bartlet is President of the United States and the similar fast paced story line follows him and his staff in their journey through his two terms and his attempts to better this nations.

Francis Underwood; constantly scheming

The main difference in the two shows was once described to me like this; If West Wing is your dream of what Washington should look like, House of Cards is your nightmare.While Frank Underwood, uses blackmail, bribery, and manipulation to gain power and eventually take the presidency, Josiah Bartlet uses honesty, compromise, and hard work to get things done while he is in power. These two characters show the perfect juxtaposition of the two most common ways to rule. Unfortunately what we see today is an increase in politicians and leaders who work like Francis Underwood. I was curious as to why this is.

President Josiah Bartlet at his desk in the oval office.

Is this a more effective method? Unfortunately, we aren’t able to tell from the leaders in West Wing and House of Cards as these are two fictitious characters. My guess, though I would be happy to see opposing arguments in the comment section, is that it totally depends on setting. If everyone around you rules like Josiah Bartlet, then ruling like Francis Underwood would lead to you being ostracized and losing all effectiveness and power. However if everyone around you rules like Francis Underwood, than ruling like Josiah Bartlet would put you at a severe disadvantage. Unfortunately, it is my belief that American politics today are moving towards Francis Underwood, partially due to the hyper polarization of congress and partially to the significant increase in dependency, within politics, on money. The Hyper polarization causes a me vs. you mentality that leads to politicians doing whatever it takes for “their side” to win even though “their side” should be the American people as a whole. With money and politics so intertwined there is so much more at stake for politicians which, again, leads to them doing whatever is necessary. When party lines were less defined, and money and politics were more separate it was possible to people to lead like Josiah Bartlet, which I believe, if possible, is the best way to lead.


2 thoughts on “Machiavelli; right, wrong, or neither?

  1. I really liked how you connected our discussion of Machiavelli to House of Cards and West Wing. I watch House of Cards and I completely agree with your point that Frank Underwood is a great example of an extremely corrupt politician. Underwood’s strategies are extremely cut throat and although we don’t like to admit it, they are used in politics today. I do agree that the setting of where a politician is in power determines how they function as a leader, but I also think that it depends on actions of other recent politicians. If an area has had politicians like Underwood in the past, their entire political system will function in this manner and a new person would not be able to gain the respect needed to serve as a leader. On the other hand, if a politician like Underwood was in power and the people in that area were frustrated with their government, they may elect a politician who’s policies and strategies greatly contrast the previous politician’s. In a democratic society, the type of politician elected ultimately depends on the views of the people and their satisfaction with how their government is being run.


  2. I think this a very relatable and strong connection between Machiavelli’s theories on leadership and these two leaders with opposing leader styles. Clearly Machiavellian strategies must be used by Frank Underwood, because as the conniving politician in which you described him he definitely seems to emulate Machiavelli’s “the means justify the ends” philosophy. Although, I find it almost naive to believe that the best politician is that like Josiah Bartlett; someone whose motives and strategies are completely pure and good natured. Sometimes the best way to get something effectively and efficiently done in American politics is through Machiavelli’s “dirty hands” theory. This would entail a politician doing something morally questionable in order to obtain a goal that is morally sound and very beneficial for the citizens of this country. Overall, I liked seeing the contrasts drawn between these two very different fictional politicians and how that tied into what we learned about the preferred political styles of Machiavelli.


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