Machiavelli’s The Prince has been outsold since its publication (1532) by only one other book: the Bible. The popularity of this “how to” manual for governments, CEOs, and mid-level bureaucrats and managers striving to claw their way to the top is undisputed. Problem is: most erudition on Machiavelli and his writings ends up in European history. In my humble opinion: a major mistake. If there was ever a historical figure that deserves to be cloaked in the uniform of global history it’s Niccolò Machiavelli. If there was ever a European central to the history of the Americas, once again we need look no further than the native Florentine, Machiavelli.

Especially “Chapter 5,” entitled, “The Way to Govern Cities or Dominions that Previous to being Occupied, Lived Under Their Own Laws.” It’s a mere 456 words, a very short chapter, but it gets right to the point.

Want to keep the lands you just occupied? You have but three choices.

“The first,” said Machiavelli, “is to ruin them.” and here he held up the example of ancient Rome. Remember Carthage? No? That’s because the Romans utterly destroyed the place, even to the point of adding salt to their soil so that nothing would grow. But Machiavelli also demonstrated an ancient Rome that had created puppet states in occupied Greece. Here, Machiavelli said, “they did not succeed.” The Romans, fed up with continuous Greek uprisings finally set about “ruining them” in order to keep in possession of them. Machiavelli_AF

“Second,” says the author, “is to go live there in person.” On this account Machiavelli is not too forthcoming, but he does differentiate between the type of lands occupied, dividing them into one of two types: those formerly ruled by a prince or those once controlled by a republic.

The third way of holding an occupied land according to this 1532 document “is to allow them to live under their own laws, taking tribute of them,” creating a few who will be friendly to your occupation: in other words, a puppet state. Here, Machiavelli points to ancient Sparta as they attempted to hold Athens and Thebes but, in the long run, utterly “lost them.” Though Machiavelli’s instructions on occupying foreign lands dealt with historical accounts wholly within the old world – The Prince nonetheless forced its way upon the new. The Americas: North, South, and Central, became a proving grounds, the “how-to” from Machiavelli’s fifth chapter applied.

Recall the name of that chapter? “The Way to Govern Cities or Dominions that Previous to being Occupied, Lived Under Their Own Laws.” Aztecs, Incas, and scores of others – all enjoying the blessings of their own liberties – fell before European prowess. Spaniards, Portuguese, French, Dutch, and eventually English appear to have employed two of the three tactics listed in chapter five of The Prince. The European powers, in order to lay claim to these new occupied lands, performed rules number one and two: utter ruination while living there in person.

This is, of course, an overgeneralization. These five powers proceeded to occupy their claimed lands within varying degrees of one another concerning these two rules. And there likely does not exist any document by a European government telling their occupiers to use Machiavelli’s rule number one and two from chapter five. Additionally, the Spaniards were well on the way to decimating the natives prior to the publication of The Prince in 1532 (though the book was completed in 1513, it was not published until Machiavelli’s death). But for anyone who reads the Devastation of the Indies (1552) by Las Casas, it certainly appears that – at least in the case of the Spaniards – these European powers were following and applying those Machiavellian dictates down to the letter.

In fact, and especially in the case of Spain, the victories over the Aztecs and the Incas filled Spain’s treasury vaults with American gold and silver. Spain immediately used these riches to fund new armies, threaten its neighbors, which ended up with a combined French and Spanish army that surround Machivelli’s home city, Florence. The Florentine state collapsed in 1512, Machiavelli arrested and tortured, and thus the book The Prince which he wrote while recuperating at a friend’s villa in Tuscany the following year. None of this would have occurred were it not for the wealth extracted from the New World. In both its creation, and in its application, The Prince is an inherently global document with implications well beyond European borders.

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