I have just finished watching the TV dramatisation of the ‘The House of Cards’ trilogy. It tells the story of Francis Urquhart, a fictional politician whose ambition and lust for power knows no bounds. Urquhart’s character, created by writer Michael Dobbs, is a classic character study in the dark political arts made famous more than 500 years ago by the Italian diplomat, historian and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli.
In the TV series, Francis Urquhart is superbly portrayed by actor Ian Richardson. Urquhart's rise to the top and the totally cold and calculating ruthlessness with which he exercises power makes him an excellent example of a ‘Machiavellian’ character. In ‘House of Cards’, Francis Urquhart is known by his political colleagues and the media as ‘FU’, and also for his catchphrase: "You might think that, I couldn't possibly comment."
According to the Oxford English Dictionary Machiavellianism is: ‘the employment of cunning and duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct’, and while it is not uncommon in the world of politics, it is standard practice in the criminal underworld.
In the fictional world of Mario Puzo’s ‘Godfather’ trilogy, Machiavellianism achieves its popular literary apotheosis in the character of Michael Corleone. The film adaptation chronicles the rise of the Corleone mafia family from the early 20th century until the 1970s. A key feature of these films is the growth and development of the main character, Michael Corleone, superbly acted by Al Pacino who grows darker and more evil with every Machiavellian act.
It is often said that art imitates life, and a cursory examination of church history shows that Machiavellian behaviour has been prevalent throughout its history. Indeed the machinations of the Borgia family in the Catholic Church may have provided some inspiration for Machiavelli. In a more contemporary setting, the lifestyle and moral compass of many contemporary televangelists would certainly meet Machiavelli’s criteria for sharp practice.
Jim Baumgaertel, editor of the Christian website www.procinwarn.com writes that: “Machiavelli taught that it was good to promote morals and ethics and religious convictions among the people. These were important in order to keep them under control and productive. Morals and ethics maintained stability and order and peace.
The ruler himself, was under no obligation to live by these same morals and ethics and religious convictions. The ruler was above these things. He was beyond good and evil. The ruler had the obligation to do whatever was necessary to maintain and extend his political power.”
As a Scottish born again Christian, I am tempted to ask those who are part of my country’s evangelical leadership elite whether Machiavellian behaviour exists amongst its competing factions.
I suspect that I may get ‘F.U.’s’ response of: "You might think that, we couldn't possibly comment."