The causes of and impediments to corporate Machiavellianism

In Freda Utley’s fascinating memoir, Odyssey of a Liberal, she wrote about her youthful interest in Machiavelli:

“In my essay on Machiavelli, I argued that there was not really such a disparity as generally supposed between the Florentine’s advice to tyrants, as expressed in his “Prince,” and his eulogy of Republican Virtues in his “Commentaries on Livy” – the Roman classical historian. As I saw it, when fifteen years old, men are usually ready to condone, or even approve, actions taken by their state or country which they condemn when taken by an individual, so that what seemed admirable “virtue” in the Romans was regarded as wickedness in an individual Italian prince. I wish I still had this old essay of mine. All I can now remember is its main argument that Machiavelli’s precepts for Princes – his description of how tyrants maintain their power, which came to be called “Machiavellian,” – was not different in essence to the precepts and practices of the Roman Republic or modern nation states.”

That’s one incisive high school essay!

If certain unchanging principles apply to ancient Romans, Florentine princes, and modern nations, it isn’t a huge leap to believe that these apply to businesses too. On the other hand, corporate Machiavellianism is arguably even less popular than individual Machiavellianism. These two opposing factors help explain why corporations are only Machiavellian to a moderate degree. And your estimate of this degree is probably correlated with your level of disapproval of it.


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