Recently, I found a book that reminds me of the Italian-Renaissance philosopher Machiavelli, “The 48 Laws of Power, a modern work written by Robert Greene. His writings lately have challenged me to reconsider the way I approach life. I hazily remember studying Machiavelli while I considered double-majoring in political science at Oral Roberts University. The Machiavellian principle says that human nature is immutable and driven by passions. If we are called, as it says in Matthew 10:16, to be wise as snakes and innocent as doves, I imagine Machiavelli would feed the dove to the snake so it could help that snake get ahead of the others. With paraphrased concepts such as “Never Compromise Your Master Plan,” “Sell Your Dreams to People’s Passions, Not Their Reason,” “Play the Dumb Blonde to Your Boss,” “Honesty is Not Always The Best Policy,” and “Don’t Shout to Everyone What Your Dreams Are Because They’ll Squash Them,” it seems Robert Greene’s work fits in neatly with Western society’s understanding of the rat race: eat or get eaten.
When I think about the writings of Solomon in Ecclesiastes, I see a man disconsolate in spite of all the power and pleasure he has obtained. Here we find a leader on the world stage of his time who concretely understands that the wicked may live long and successful while the righteous may perish, even in vain. The wisdom of Solomon remains that in the end, we all look to the same fate. This 10th-century B.C. premier had an ability to see through conflicts straight to the core of the matter such as the story of the two prostitutes arguing over a dead child and the remaining one each wanted to claim as their own. The king initially won the respect of his people not through force and bravado but with keen decision making and a form of justice. In the end, Solomon’s life principle elucidates that there are no righteous people who do what is right and never sin. He looks to a higher power for guidance in the rat race of life in spite of his at times disheartening outlook.
Where do Machiavelli and Solomon intersect? Both have an acute awareness of the power-structure of government with a foundational understanding that men are weak and broken creatures, subject to corruption and manipulation. These great men realize there is a quantity of good and evil in the world, although the tendency is more often towards evil. Initially at least, Solomon deals with it through a philosophy that looks to God as his source of wisdom for dealing with life. Machiavelli deals with it through a philosophy that endeavors to beat the enemy at his own game. One is mostly moral, the other is somewhat amoral. The two men are worthy of study for their intertwining and diverging views on how to deal with universal issues we all face.
Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a Prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.” Niccoló Machiavelli 1469-1527.
Do not be over-righteous, neither be over-wise—why destroy yourself? Do not be over-wicked, and do not be a fool—why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes. Ecclesiastes 7:16-18
For further reading, I recommend the writings I’ve already mentioned: