Tag Archives: municipal politics

Quintus Cicero’s Letter on Elections

How to Win an ElectionIn the summer of 64 BCE, Marcus Tullius Cicero ran for the office of consul in Rome. It was a bitterly-contested fight.

His younger brother, Quintus, wrote him a letter – called the Commentariolum Petitionis -  to advise him how to win that election. That “Little Handbook on Electioneering” is today a classic of politics and campaigning in which Machiavelli would have reveled.*

The short ‘book’ is controversial today, not simply for its content which espouses some “dirty” politics in order to win (along with some basic and valid advice), but because of its authorship. Some scholars doubt that Quintus is the author. As Wikipedia tells us:

Many scholars believe that it was not in fact written by Quintus for the purposes proposed, but in fact by a Roman in the Early Roman Empire, between the periods of Augustus and Trajan, as a rhetorical exercise. Such exercises were not uncommon in that time period. Others claim that it was in fact written by Quintus, but with the view to be published, perhaps as a piece of carefully distributed propaganda.

But for non-scholars, it is the frank content that holds the interest more than the authorship. We can measure today’s political campaigns by Quintus’ suggestions. As Peter Stothard writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Quintus’s election book is frank about the gullibility of the masses and firm in its requirement that they be deceived in their own best interests. Rome was a “cesspool of humanity,” and its would-be leaders could be excused of behavior to match. An assumed personality need not be maintained for long. But Marcus, his brother advised, must make himself seem to be a man of the people while reassuring the wealthy that the “new man” knows his place. There has been much modern argument about how democratic Rome really was. “How to Win an Election” shows that a campaigner’s concerns have remained just as constant as the debate about whether any democracy is ever democratic enough.

The letter is available in a modern translation by Philip Freeman (Princeton University Press, 2012) and is well worth reading by anyone interested in politics and history – and in Machiavelli. It is instructive to see that many of Niccolo’s ideas were presaged by a Cicero. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Freeman wrote in the LA Times,

Quintus was in many ways the first political consultant, and his little-known book remains a mostly undiscovered treasure. For centuries his concise guide has been read only by Latin scholars, but it deserves a much wider audience.

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Han Fei’s Ten Lessons

Han FeiLong before Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his now-famous work of political philosophy, The Prince, there was another man writing in a similar vein in China. And his words have important lessons that can prove useful, even today, for our own politicians.

Han Fei was a prince in the Han Kingdom in the third century BCE. He was a member of and spokesperson for the “legalistic” school. In his short life he wrote 55 books – short essays we would probably call chapters today – assembled into the Han Feizi.*

One of the few English-language versions of Han Fei Tzu is Burton Watson’s translation (Columbia University Press, 1964). Reading it today, I am fascinated at the relevance of these ancient words to today’s politics. Even though he was writing in a vastly different political climate, a different culture and a different technological era, like Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, his comments on politics and leadership still resonate in today’s world.

One of his books was called The Ten Faults, and I reproduce here the opening synopsis of that book from Watson:**

These are the ten faults:

  1. To practice petty loyalty and thereby betray a larger loyalty;
  2. To fix your eye on a petty gain and thereby lose a larger one;
  3. To behave in a base and willful manner and show no courtesy to the other feudal lords, thereby bringing about your own downfall;
  4. To give no ear to government affairs, but long only for the sound of music, thereby plunging yourself into distress;
  5. To be greedy, perverse and too fond of profit, thereby opening the way to the destruction of the state, and your own demise;
  6. To become infatuated with women musicians and disregard state affairs, thereby inviting the disaster of national destruction;
  7. To leave the palace for distant travels, despising the remonstrances of your ministers, which leads to grave peril for yourself;
  8. To fail to heed your loyal ministers when you are at fault, insisting upon having your own way, which will in time destroy your good reputation and make you a laughing stock of others;
  9. To take no account of internal strength but rely solely upon your allies abroad, which places the state in grave danger of dismemberment;
  10. To ignore the demands of courtesy, though your state is small, and fail to learn from the remonstrances of our ministers, acts which lead to the downfall of your line.

Change a few words – ministers to councillors, music to sycophants, feudal lords to staff… you can see how well these ideas and admonitions fit into today’s local political arena. So here is my modern analysis of Han Fei’s words.

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Welcome to The Municipal Machiavelli: The Prince Rewritten

MachiavelliThis is an online version of a book I wrote in 2012. My goal was to modernize Machiavelli’s famous work, The Prince, and return its attention to its original audience: municipal politicians. It has not been published in a paper version, yet, but I am still looking for a suitable publisher. I am also working on an e-book  and iPad version should I not find a book publisher.

I chose to publish it in this WordPress format now because, after recent events at the local level in my own municipality, I felt it was of great and growing relevance to the daily political business of municipal governance. I do admit to some tongue-in-cheekiness in my comments in these pages, however.

2013 is the 500th anniversary since the writing of The Prince (it wasn’t published until 1532, after Machiavelli’s death). I felt it only fitting to update Machiavelli and bring back the audience he first wrote for. Municipal politicians are often overlooked when scholars dissect Machiavelli, and that’s a big oversight given who Machiavelli originally wrote for. I hope I can in some small way contribute to restoring him to his audience.

This site is somewhat of a work in progress. I am always tweaking with layout and design, so I apologize in advance if you find it changing rather too often.

I have laid this site out using the chapters and sections of the book, including all of the prefatory material, addenda and bibliography. My chapters parallel Machiavelli’s own in The Prince, although the chapter titles are somewhat different. It has approx. 65,000 words. I am still looking for some historical material through online booksellers, and may add content to the bibliography or additional quotations to the core material, in future. I have an outline for a chapter on Machiavelli and Rhetoric, too.

I use many quotes taken from a wide range of sources to buttress both my own interpretations and Machiavelli’s own arguments – Han Fei Tzu, Sun Tzu, Napoleon, Robert Greene, Cicero and others. Quotations lifted from Machiavelli’s book have often been modified to make them clearer or to phrase them in more modern language. In doing so, I used many different translations of his works to find the most appropriate wording, as noted in the bibliography. More than 450 of the main quotes from the book are displayed in the sidebar quotation widget

I take full responsibility for any misquotes, any mistakes, typos, misinterpretations, and bad ideas.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I am working on a version for e-book, iTunes and PDF. Please contact me if you would like a copy.

This work is copyright 2012 under international law by Ian Chadwick. Please do not reproduce any part of it it without prior permission, except as per fair use clauses and for reviews. Thank you for your consideration. I welcome your comments via email: ichadwick (at) rogers.com.

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Directory of pages in the Municipal Machiavelli