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Changing a Government: Thoughts by Niccolo Machiavelli from the Time of Lorenzo de Medici

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Lorenzo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany - The Medici Family
Lorenzo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany - The Medici Family
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Lorenzo de Medici, Patron, Inspiration, and sometimes Nemesis for Niccolo Machiavelli

"He who desires or proposes to change the form of government in a state . . . must needs retain at least the shadow of its ancient customs, so that institutions may not appear to its people to have been changed, though in point of fact the new institutions may be radically different from the old ones. This he must do because men in general are as much affected by what a thing appears to be as by what it is, indeed they are frequently influenced more by appearances than by the reality." Discourse 25

A summary of Discourses 25 -- 27

If a new prince or governor wants to change the form of an existing government, without disturbing or alarming the citizens, he must keep all the outward forms of the original government unchanged. As long as they appear unchanged, the ordinary citizen will fail to notice or be alarmed by their changing functions. People pay more attention to appearances than they do to the realities of the governance. So, the new prince or governor should make as few changes to appearances as possible. The shielding of change is necessary when trying to change any existing government into another form; into a republic, an autocracy, or a princedom.

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When a conquering prince or despot takes over a government, he must change everything as quickly as possible. He must get rid of all existing offices and their personnel, replacing them with offices having different names and functions. Members of the former government must be imprisoned, killed, or exiled along with anyone thought to oppose the new government.

Moving populations and changing the locations of the government disrupt attempts to reinstate the former government.

When the take-over has been accomplished, making a peace with the population and providing the population with security is necessary for the new government to continue past the tenure of the initial rulers.

Very few people are entirely bad or entirely good. Not being entirely bad can be the weakness that will allow the toppling of a despot. When he is confronted by a moral challenge that he is afraid or unwilling to face, his lack of action may destroy him.

Contemporary Reflections:

Machiavelli believed that good governments change into their bad forms and that externally caused regime changes require extreme brutality. In the United States we have changed, unnoticed, from a republic into an aristocracy. In our attempted economic conquest of Latin American we have encouraged the ruthless behaviors described by Machiavelli in The Prince.

Following the Second World War, the United States has witnessed both peaceful transformations within our government and the violent overthrowing of other governments. Since very few people are entirely bad or entirely good, this is also true of the leaders of the United States during the postwar years. These were the years that the changing of our laws have gone unnoticed.

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The transformation of the U.S. republic into an aristocracy had its basis in the corporate power accrued by the WWII war industries and their influence on the legislative branch. During the Eisenhower Administration, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother James Dulles, Director of the CIA, set policies aimed to secure the safety of the United States. Their anti-Communist philosophy formed the basis for postwar American foreign policy as well as domestic policies and the economy.

At the start of the Nixon Administration, the post-war economic euphoria came to an abrupt end. President Nixon introduced economic measures that were a mixture of social equality along with austerity measures that weakened the social safety net, decreased the maximum taxation levels for the rich, and encouraged corporate mergers. His conservative taxing policies were later expanded during the Reagan Administration.

In addition, educational reform under the Nixon Administration focused on technical skills and factual knowledge. Holistic, values-driven, understanding, and questioning of subject matter, along with the creative humanities, were uniformly discouraged. Teaching about the processes and responsibilities for living in a republican form of government along with the founding philosophy of the United States disappeared from the public curriculum.

The lowering of taxes for rich corporations and individuals allowed for more rapid accumulation of wealth by the aristocracy. Shifting education away from principles and values to a technically oriented, factual basis for education evolved in due course into No Child Left Behind program. Removing Civics from the curriculum is instrumental in the public's failure to recognize subtle changes in the United States governance. The development of "dirty tricks" and outright lies within the GOP that influence elections has continued and become increasingly more sophisticated and accepted. These taken together (the conservative economics, single focus in education, and electoral dirty tricks) formed a basis for the transformation of the U.S. republic into an aristocracy.

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Mr. Webster is a 90 year-old retired math teacher who taught for over 30 years. He was the director of an alternative public high school program. He has a BS from the Institute of Design, Chicago and an Ms (math) from the Illinois Institute of (more...)

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