As James Burnham pointed out in his book, The Machiavellians, Machiavelli and his followers were held in low regard for many years because they only described politics as they saw it, but did not prescribe any cures.
In the sense of describing the problem, I would consider Jesus a Machiavellian, although in his case, he not only diagnosed, but offered a cure. These days, politically, what he offered might be considered libertarianism (depending on how you define it) or perhaps classical liberalism, which has nothing to do with the fascist/socialist perversion so prevalent today.
What Machiavelli and his followers, such as Vilfredo Pareto, offered was an analysis of society based on what it is, not on what it is supposed to be. The primary subject of their thought was the struggle for political power between the “elites” (I use that term neutrally) and the masses.
Pareto referred to the elites as either Lions who used force, or Foxes who use fraud. Both used the power of the State to maintain their power and privilege and to oppress and exploit the masses. In other words, politics, as Lenin noticed, is about who does what to whom.
Jesus used some of the same words that Machiavelli and Pareto did. He referred to the elites of his days as foxes and wolves (he once insulted Herod as a female fox – a vixen). He also referred to them as vipers and said they would steal the last cent from widows and orphans (by the way, the “scribes” in his day are equivalent to lawyers who today infest Congress).
Libertarians use the word “State” to describe political power generally, and political power ultimately is the power to turn a man into a corpse. However, the “State,” strictly speaking, does not exist.
What we have instead are various groups who have gained political power, which they use to maintain their power and privilege and use to exploit “the masses.” The use of the word “State,” though, is fine as long as it’s understood what it really stands for – a reification, a word that refers to something that does not actually exist.
Jesus described his followers as sheep and himself as the Good Shepherd. Pareto also referred to the mass of people as sheep, shorn by the Lions and Foxes. The problem throughout history (and I believe this is so obvious there can be no argument) is that nearly all rulers have been Bad Shepherds.
Using the analysis of the Machiavellians – and Jesus – it’s clear that ultimately political power is by far more bad than good. This is why in one of his Three Temptations Jesus rejected the political power over the kingdoms of the world that was offered to him by Satan.
Not once in any of his sayings did Jesus say a good thing about political power, In fact, it was that power that led to his death, when the Roman government and the Jewish elites of his time had him executed. It has always amazed me that even though Jesus was murdered by the State people even today support the State as benevolent, as a never-empty breast from which all goodness flows, instead of seeing it for what it is – the greatest mass murderer in history.
The masses are indeed not only sheep, they are sleep-walking sheep, often being led over a cliff to their deaths. This has been the lesson of history, over and over, and yet the sheep never learn.
The fact that Jesus clearly understood the immense destructive power of the State and never supported it is why I dismiss as non-Christian any “Christian” who supports the State and political power. Most of these “Christians,” unfortunately, are so deluded they believe the State would work just fine as long as they were in control of it. This is not only nonsense, it’s dangerous nonsense.
As Lord Action wrote, power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. Or as I put it, power intoxicates, and immunity corrupts. This applies to “Christians’ who support the State. The devil can quote Scripture to suit his purposes, and as the contemplatives of old told us repeatedly, many people cannot tell the difference between God and Satan, even if they are fanatically convinced they are Christians.
People, as John D. McDonald wrote, are “herd animals, social and imitative.” And herd animals follow leaders, not only following them but
oftentimes idealizing them, even if they are the worst of Bad Shepherds. Even today, there are Germans who still defend Hitler, Russians who defend Stalin, and Americans who defend Lincoln.
We’d probably be better off if the human race had evolved from dogs, with their goofy sunny manic natures. I doubt we could be any worse than we are now.