Tuesday, December 1, 1998

Strange bedfellows: Palm resources for the political animal


By Craig Froehle and John Swain

Despite the barrage of phone calls from their mothers on last month's taboo-breaking article on human sexuality, our columnists continue to tackle those subjects that are best avoided in polite company. This month they examine the world of politics and the resources that are available for the Palm organizer, a subject sure to provoke their families into moving without leaving a forwarding address.

Politics as literature

Probably the most notorious, and perhaps misconstrued work regarding the manipulation of the political state is Niccolo Machiavelli's masterpiece, The Prince. Written at the dawn of the 16th century, The Prince is almost synonymous in modern society as a "How-To" manual on the operation of a corrupt, totalitarian government. This perception is so strong that Machiavelli's name is now a seemingly permanent fixture in our lexicon as an adjective for craftiness or deceit. The irony is that The Prince was born on paper as an attempt to find employment by an out of work politician.

Niccolo Machiavelli was a Florentine, born in 1469. As far as history can determine, his childhood was uneventful. The political climate of his youth, however, was a charged and dangerous time. His youth coincided with the height of the Florentine Renaissance and a rapidly changing Italian political landscape.

As a young man, Machiavelli certainly watched as Florence was forced to accept humiliating terms of surrender to a victorious French invasion force. The resulting exile of the ruling Medici family invoked an intense period of strife and anarchy. The blurred lines between religion and politics proved an ever-volatile combination.

Of note was the rise and fall of Girolamo Savanarola. A Dominican friar, Savanarola believed that he was sent as a guardian from God to raise the consciousness of the Florentine people to their impending doom. His power and popularity grew to such extent that when the Medici family was expelled in 1494, Savanarola ruled the city. His influence extended quickly to Italy at large. Ultimately Savanarola's political ambitions ran afoul of the Pope, who sought to control the friar's influence. In the end, after continuing to practice as a priest despite his excommunication, Girolamo Savanarola was tortured and hanged. It was against the backdrop of Savanarola's execution that Niccolo Machiavelli first entered politics.