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On Conspiracies (Great Ideas)

On Conspiracies (Penguin Great Ideas) - Niccolò Machiavelli Niccolo Machiavelli wrote a book on conspiracies, and can you tell me, please, how I was NOT going to read this? That's right; of course I had to read it.Actually, the conspiracies part doesn’t take up the entire book; this is one of the Penguin “Great Ideas” series, so it’s a little (120 pages) book of essays, the first and longest being “On Conspiracies.”Love that cover. “A dead man cannot contemplate vengeance.” If Machiavelli had a tattoo, this was it.Niccolo M starts off strong, cautioning the reader not to believe that conspiracies are uncommon... ”Many more princes have lost their lives and their states to conspiracy than to open war, because it is given to but a few to make open war on a prince, whereas anyone can conspire against him.”Supporting this warning, he cites the following historically documented conspiracies:(I’m not sure what the dates were for any of these)1) Lucio Belanti conspired against Pandolfo, tyrant of Siena.2) The Pazzi (a group of more than 50) conspired against Lorenzo and Julia de’ Medici.*3) Pausanias conspired against Philip of Macedon.4) Brutus and Cassius led the Roman Senate to conspire against Julius Caesar.5) In Turkey, a conspiracy plotted the murder of Sultan Bajazet.6) In Spain, a conspiracy attempted to murder King Ferdinand.*7) Jocopo di Appiano led a conspiracy against Messer Piero Gambacorti , Prince of Pisa.8) Scaevinus led a group of conspirators to assassinate (Roman) Emperor Nero.*9) Theodotus led a group of conspirators against King Hieronymus of Syracuse.10) Nelematus led a group of conspirators to overthrow Aristotimus, tyrant of Epirus.11) A group of Aetolians conspired to kill King Nabis of Sparta.12) The Roman Emperor Commodus was killed, somewhat comically they tried to poison him, but he vomited it up, so they rushed at him and choked him to death by a conspiracy of nobles.13) Sitacles, King of Thrace, was assassinated by a conspiracy.14) The brothers of Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara, conspired to kill him.*15) A conspiracy of Athenian youths killed the tyrant Diocles, but his co-ruler Hippias escaped.16) Chion and Leonides of Heraclea conspired against the tyrants Clearchus and Satyrus.17) A conspiracy of citizens in Forli killed the Count Girolamo.*unsuccessfulMan! That's a lot of conspiracies!But should that really surprise anybody? Has there ever been a political revolution in all of history that didn't start as a conspiracy? Okay... so conspiracies should be taken seriously. What other wisdom does Machiavelli have for us? Here’s something interesting: most conspiracies are undertaken by men in close attendance to the prince, because they are in a position to observe and judge his habits and vulnerabilities, because they are in a position to control resources to their cause, they have access to him which most citizens do not (an opportunity to assail him), and because they often have the greatest motivation –since they are the men who would advance in rank or treasure if their prince or his government were removed. This is very germane to more modern conspiracies, because it runs counter to the “loner lunatic” narrative so many modern-era assassinations seem to follow (JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King). The Loner Lunatic story is theoretically possible, but it should be a conclusion of last resort. Occam’s Razor demands that a Loner Lunatic Theory only be considered if more rational explanations (i.e. suspects with motives) have been investigated and disproven. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Yet even after CIA agent E Howard Hunt confessed to the JFK assassination, many people still cling to the idea that Lee Harvey Oswald –a man with no motivation for the crime- was guilty. Niccolo M seems to favor the CIA explanation.Don’t get the idea that Machiavelli is saying conspiracies are easy to pull off. Far from it. The bulk of this essay expounds on all the things which can go wrong in a conspiracy:1) Before the crime:a. You might not find any willing co-conspiratorsb. You might try to recruit somebody who is unwilling, who then blows your coverc. In the course of making plans, somebody may view your behavior as suspicious, and inform the authorities2) During the execution of the crime:a. Conspirators may lose their nerveb. Conspirators may have a change of heartc. Conspirators may be bribed or otherwise enticed to abandon their pland. If unexpected circumstances arise, conspirators may not be able to adapt, or the plans they have made may no longer be effective. There is a good example here of the conspiracy against Lorenzo de’ Medici. Originally he was to be killed at dinner, but his dinner guest canceled, and he went to the church. Some of the conspirators wanted to kill him in the church, but others were shaken by the turn of events and lost their nerve altogether.e. Elements of the plot may not perform as intended. (See Roman Emperor Commodus; the poison that was supposed to kill him only made him vomit.)f. The conspiracy in progress may yet be discovered and broken up3) After the crime: Even if a conspiracy is successful, it may not achieve its aims.a. Authorities or members of the public loyal to the deposed prince may yet discover the conspiracy and wish to punish the conspiratorsb. Conspirators who once cooperated may come to fight over the spoils of their crimec. Overthrow of a prince may destabilize the kingdom, inviting foreign invasionThe other essays in this book seemed like filler, and honestly, most of them didn’t hold my attention very well. None of them had to do with conspiracies.