Chapter 13: Dangerous Lobbyists

Following on his chapter about problems with mercenaries (consultants), Machiavelli wrote about other types of soldiers used by princes and states: Chapter XIII: Concerning Auxiliaries, Mixed Soldiery, and One’s Own. We don’t have similar municipal analogs for auxiliaries today, except perhaps volunteer firefighters. Lobbyists, however, can be seen in this light.

“Auxiliaries, which are the other useless army…”

Lobbyists, like consultants, are also mercenaries working for outsiders. They promote and sell their clients’ products, services and goals to governments. Some may also be consultants, hired as lobbyists. Their loyalty is always suspect.

Every major developer brings a bevy of lobbyists to a site development meeting or a council presentation. Some may be planners, or architects, but all lobby for the developer. Special interest groups may employ them, too, to gain a higher profile for their cause. The OLG – Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation – has teams of slick lobbyists to present its case for gambling and sell the benefits of slots and casinos in municipal backyards.

Councils can get beaten into submission by a seemingly endless stream of lobbyists reading PowerPoint slides word for word, or bedazzled by the glitter of charts and graphs carefully doctored to prove their point.

Auxiliaries, in Machiavelli’s day, were soldiers of another state, usually loaned or rented to an ally. They did not always obey their host’s commands, and sometimes caused problems by turning on their hosts. Lobbyists are the soldiers of another state today.

Auxiliaries are to mercenaries as lobbyists are to consultants, but Machiavelli labeled them as more dangerous because they arrive better organized than the mercenaries, and have more independence. Consultants are on your payroll, at least for a while, but lobbyists aren’t, so they don’t have to cater to your wishes. Instead, they promote the will of others:

“Auxiliaries are much more hazardous than mercenaries. With them the ruin is ready made; they are united under the command of an outsider…”

Consultants (mercenaries) are independent contractors, and depend on being in your pay before they can do any work. They are less organized than lobbyists (auxiliaries)when it comes to pushing and promoting themselves, thus less able to harm you:

“When mercenaries have conquered, they need more time and better opportunities to injure you; since they are not all united, and they are found and paid by you…”

The difference between lobbyists and consultants is who buys their loyalty. You, at least, buy that of the consultants.

“In conclusion, in mercenaries indolence is most dangerous; in auxiliaries, courage is the threat.”

In other words, lobbyists are most dangerous when they’re brave and aggressive, which is pretty much all of the time, otherwise why would anyone hire them? They always present their case as if it’s in your municipality’s best interests to adopt their client’s cause.

Better to Lose with Staff than Win with Lobbyists

So strongly was Machiavelli opposed to using outsiders to fight your battles that he said a wise ruler would rather lose a fight with his own staff than win it with the aid of auxiliaries. He wrote that such a victory was in reality not a win for the state at all, just a win for the lobbyists:

“The wise prince, therefore, has always avoided auxiliary troops and relied on his own forces. He would rather lose with his own armies than to conquer with the arms of another, judging that a victory won with the arms of others is not a real victory.”

A victory by any means is a victory, you say. Not so, says Machiavelli. The credit for a victory won by the arms of others will not be given to you, but rather to the lobbyists. Their reputation will shine brighter, not yours.

Machiavelli’s favourite ruler, Cesare Borgia, preferred to use his own forces to fight his battles. His reputation as a leader was at its peak when his army consisted of his own soldiers and no outsiders. He was,

“…never esteemed more highly than when everyone saw that he was complete master of his own forces.”

You only have two options: to heed the advice of the lobbyist, or to reject it. If you accept it, it will weigh you down in the future or cause some other grief to your municipality:

“The arms of others either fall from your back, or they weigh you down, or they bind you fast.”|

Han Fei Tzu lists as one of the Ten Faults of a ruler:

“To take no account of internal strength but rely solely upon your allies abroad, which places the state in grave danger of dismemberment.”
Han Fei Tzu: Sec. 10: The Ten Faults

Whose interests do your own council, municipal staff and board appointees promote? Their own: their positions, their jobs, their services, their tax rates, their streets, parks, museums and hockey arenas. Their self-interest is easy to predict and it’s constant.

Those lobbyists with their hearty greetings, free lunches and tickets to ball games and bottles of whisky, will offer ideas and projects filled, like the Trojan horse, with unseen trouble. Whose interests are they promoting? Not yours.

Lobbyists are paid to ignore your interests if they don’t jive with their employer’s goals. They’re paid to subvert your needs into theirs. They’re not evil: they’re just doing their job.

Beware Greeks bearing gifts, was the advice after the affair of the Trojan horse. Robert Greene’s rule shows how lobbyists can entrap you:

“Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victim. One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A timely gift – a Trojan horse – will serve the same purpose.”
Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power: 12

Machiavelli adds that you have to be pretty sharp to detect the poison hidden in the honeyed words of a lobbyist:

“But the scanty wisdom of man, on savouring a dish that tastes good at first, cannot notice the poison that is hidden in it.The prince who cannot recognize evils until they are upon him is not truly wise; and this insight is given to few.”

Human nature being what it is, it’s difficult for us to believe that the friendly, garrulous lobbyist buying us dinner and drinks is actually trying to entrap us into buying into his or her plans. Even when these outsiders present what seems to be good advice, Machiavelli, quoting a maxim from Tacitus, warns that it will never be as good for you as advice from your own people:

“Nothing in human affairs can be so uncertain or unstable as fame or power not founded on its own strength.”

Even spin doctoring won’t keep your reputation intact indefinitely if it’s not founded on solid material. People get wise, eventually.

In both chapters 12 and 13, the message is clear: using other forces and outsiders to do your work or your municipality’s work is inferior to using your own resources. Your staff owes its allegiance to their community; mercenaries and lobbyists to whomever pays them.

Machiavelli concludes that,

“No principality is secure without having its own army; without one, it is entirely dependent on good fortune, not having the valour which would defend it in adversity.”

Shun lobbyists, especially lobbyists bearing gifts. Like consultants they’re not to be trusted.
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