Chapter 4: Flexing Your Muscles

Machiavelli titled his Chapter IV: Why the Kingdom of Darius, Conquered by Alexander, Did Not Rebel Against the Successors of Alexander at His Death. He referred in it to states ruled by a prince and “barons” but to us princes are today’s mayor; barons and nobles can be seen as other council members, as well as appointees and senior staff.

“Principalities… are governed in two different ways: either by a prince, with a body of servants, who assist him to govern the kingdom as ministers by his favour and permission; or by a prince and barons, who hold that dignity by antiquity of blood and not by the grace of the prince.”

Municipalities are either run by council and mayor who direct municipal staff, or by a council and mayor who direct their own internal staff and powerful committees, which in turn direct municipal staff. It’s a matter of separation. Small municipalities usually have the former.

A mayor has the ultimate authority, and garners the most respect, at least in theory.

Lower-ranking councillors are not as well respected. They may be obeyed by staff, but only grudgingly and more out of form than from respect or affection:

“Those states that are governed by a prince and his servants hold their prince in more consideration, because in all the country there is no one who is recognized as superior to him. If they yield obedience to another, they do it as to a minister or an official, but they do not bear him any particular affection.”

Machiavelli makes it clear that there are people who will support a newcomer only to further their own ambitions. They are not the prince’s allies or advisors, and can easily become potential enemies if an opponent offers them sufficient reward to change loyalties.

Machiavelli gives two examples of governance: the Turks and the French. These have parallels in modern bureaucracy, especially in the civil service.

“The examples of these two governments in our time are the Turk and the King of France. The entire monarchy of the Turk is governed by one lord, the rest are his servants. He divides his kingdom into provinces and sends out different administrators, changing them as he chooses. But the King of France is at the centre of a long-established order of nobles, who are acknowledged by their own subjects, and beloved by them. These lords have their own prerogatives, and the can the king only take these away at his peril.”

The Turkish model is more centralized than the Frankish model.

The Turks, Machiavelli claimed, were governed like today’s internal municipal structure: a senior staff member runs a department, with minor officials running sub-departments. Managers and other staff may get rotated to different positions within the department so that none has any long-lasting power or experience in one place. Because they are all salaried employees, and owe their allegiance to their department head rather than a politician, it is difficult to control the service by encouraging dissent and rebellion from within.

You can only control the department by replacing its head with someone more pliable or more supportive to your goals. Replacing a department head may be a tough battle: that executive will have allies on council who oppose you. Dismissals have legal implications that may deter others from supporting you. However, once that is done, the rest of the staff fall into line: the department is easy to control by replacing just one person.

“He who considers both of these states will recognize great difficulties in seizing the state of the Turk, but, once it is conquered, great ease in holding it.”

The French, however, had a decentralized system where individual barons had their own power and their loyalty to the king fluctuated according to personal agendas and what the king did for any particular baron. This is much like our committee and board structure, where a certain independence and freedom are encouraged or even legislated, and council has an arm’s-length relationship that deflects direct control (for example, council representatives may have no vote on a committee).

While it is relatively easy to gain control of any particular board by changing appointments, that will not extend your power to other boards, throughout the administration or far into the bureaucracy. Wresting control of the transportation board will not give you control over the finance committee, or the HR committee, or the parks and recreation department, for example.

The allegiance of any board or committee may be to the mayor, may be council as a whole, to former councils, or may simply be to its chair and its own agenda.

If you do gain control over a board, you have to be careful not to impinge on the privileges and authority it has enjoyed, because that will only cause other boards and committees to unite and fight you in order to protect their privileges from your future predation. It is much harder to gain control over the entire board and committee structure than to gain control over a department. And you can expect the remaining boards and their supporters will conspire against you when opportunity arises.

“The lords that remain make themselves the heads of fresh movements against you, and as you are unable either to satisfy or exterminate them, that state is lost whenever time brings the opportunity.”

The mayor strives to keep control, and to stay on top, while these ‘barons’ push against his or her authority looking for weaknesses and opportunities to rise. The result is often tension and dissension at the table, especially when there is also a clash of agendas and interests compounded by strong personalities.

In any municipality, council members, while not having the same authority and power as the mayor, are nonetheless independent. They were also elected by the people, and usually jockey for power, visibility and media attention during their term. These council ‘barons’ hold one another in “natural affection” as Machiavelli wrote. They are likely to band together to defend themselves against a strong challenger or an autocratic mayor.

The mayor strives to keep control, and to stay on top, while these ‘barons’ push against his or her authority looking for weaknesses and opportunities to rise. The result is often tension and dissension at the table, especially when there is also a clash of agendas and interests compounded by strong personalities.

Disruption by Outsiders
Special interest groups, ratepayers’ groups, or outsiders planning to run in an upcoming election can make use of the malcontents on council, and among staff and boards, to cause disruption, and aid in the overthrow of the incumbent mayor and councillors:

“One can easily enter there by gaining over some baron of the kingdom, for one always finds malcontents who desire a change. Such men… can open the way into the state and render the victory easy…”

Machiavelli warns those ‘barons’ who helped you take power in one election will be problems later, after you’ve taken office. This is especially true if they were accustomed to freedom of action and independence in their own sphere, and more so if they were favoured by the previous administration:

“You meet with infinite difficulties, both from those who have assisted you and from those you have crushed.”

Even if you beat the former mayor in the election, and eliminated that mayor’s supporters around the table, it’s not enough to protect you from conspiracies to bring you down later because the ‘barons’ have long memories of what privileges they had under the former administration:

“It is impossible to hold with such tranquility states organized like France. That was why frequent rebellions rose against the Romans in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities in these states. While the memory of those principalities endured, the Romans always held an insecure possession.”

The same is true with staff who helped you rise. Any staff who betrays his or her neutrality by helping a politicians during an election will be a problem that must be resolved when you get elected. They cannot be counted on to remain loyal to you.

 “(a) Principate cannot be called stable where things are done according to the desires of an individual but are decided by the consent of the many; nor can it be believed that that Republic will endure where those moods of the people are not satisfied, and which, if they are not satisfied, cause the ruin of the Republic…”
The Reform of Florence

The new mayor will have problems with all of them; they will be the cause of what Machiavelli calls the “want of uniformity” in the new council.

So how does the mayor appease these power brokers and ‘barons’ to avoid being overthrown by them next term? Or to prevent turmoil and dissent this term? Machiavelli turned to that topic in his next chapter.
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