Populist Authoritarian Readings of Machiavelli's Prince: From Interwar to the Present

By Graciela E. Lee
2021, Vol. 13 No. 09 | pg. 1/1


In his book, The Prince, written in 1513, Niccolò Machiavelli argued for the autonomy of politics from religion and ethics, essentially creating the discipline of political science. His ideas enjoyed great popularity in the following centuries, and were both admired as well as despised by a large number of philosophers and politicians. My purpose in this paper is to examine the reception and interpretation of Machiavelli's ideas in the interwar period onto the contemporary era, paying particular attention to the populist authoritarian ideologies of Mussolini and Trump's regimes.

To develop a new contribution to the studies of Machiavelli's science, I analyse these actors, isolating how their rhetoric has borrowed or differs from Machiavelli's own, then compare their rhetoric to the contextual political struggles of their environment. I hope that my findings will provide a foundation through which we can develop a more mature idea of how Machiavelli's ideas may be relevant to our present political environment, or if our present-day is too post-Machiavellian – too distanced from the appropriate political sphere to find Machiavelli of use.

In the present day, it seems there's been an unprecedented influx of strong leaders – strong leaders, strong diplomats, strong political campaigns, and strong personalities. Not all of these qualities are mutually exclusive, though it does appear that those in power who exhibit themselves primarily through their “strong personality” possess more controversy and instability than those who are of the other character types. One man, however, seemed to cover all the above bases in his various roles – as a diplomat, strategist, poet and playwright – though he seemed to shine brightest in his role as a political philosopher. Niccolo Machiavelli endured and stirred many controversies in his time, through the tumultuous 16th century warring Italian states. Machiavelli is presently lauded for this contribution to the world of politics, to the extent that he is widely considered the founder of modern political science with respect to his prevailing reputation of seemingly brutal objectivity in terms of political morality – his disregard of a moral frame of reference in favour of a grounded, reality-based political stance is perhaps his most essential quality.

The work that most contributed to this fame would be the posthumously published “The Prince.” It's especially exciting to read the works of Machiavelli now, The Prince in particular, considering the historical backdrop of his creations; at the time of his prolific writing, the humanist movement had taken hold of Italy's cultural and philosophical traditions. Moral and worldly virtues stood tall next to the religious and given their infancy within the realm of societal customs, sparked a huge following amongst the mass interest. The questions Machiavelli accumulated throughout his most infamous work, “The Prince” - whether a prince should aim to be loved or feared, should be virtuous in the religious sense or full of political virtú – are those that the humanists would have tackled as concrete, realistic problems that needed solving. Had Machiavelli been alive when this work was published, would likely have been for him to have faced even further political exile than what he had already endured.

But in our contemporary society, we may now be able to appreciate the way that Machiavelli consciously separated ethics from politics. To him, the actions of the state could not be judged by individual morals; there couldn't be black and white discrimination on what was good/evil. In The Prince he takes great care to cater his writing to the interests of the state rather than the private citizen, and as such left little room for discussion of what was morally correct – he even took the time to explicitly denounce the traditionally “virtuous” qualities that princes were thought to need in the public eye. What he advocated for in its stead, was a carefully crafted plan of action directed by virtú, the talent and ability of a prince to achieve his goals.

To have such a honed focus on the capabilities of a person in power could prove to be more crucial now than ever before – given the recent rise in far-right populist/fascist politicians and political parties, the following paper will argue that the populist qualities of Machiavelli's political theories must be investigated in order to find their relevance in the modern political sphere.

To build the foundation from which we could work through this idea, I looked to Machiavelli's most prominent considerations throughout the prince –statecraft, the art of war, and principles of maintaining power. What was most striking to find while reading The Prince, is that the work can take different meanings depending on the lens through which the readers view it. Translating the nature of Machiavelli's ideas (being set in the 16th century warring Italian states, as it was) could prove difficult before changing the direction of approach. It wasn't until the populist focus lent itself to the book that I was able to find outstanding similarities between the ideals within The Prince and the modern era of today's politics. This is because the roughly defined populist ideology, that of a general battle between ‘the pure people' and the ‘corrupt aristocracy' was readily mirrored by Machiavelli's idea of ‘The Prince and his people' against ‘the nobility' – an ideological likeness that has seen itself repeated generation after generation in various forms and regimes. So, for the purpose of applying this populist lens alongside the various authoritarian interpretations of Machiavelli's ideals in “The Prince,” I have conducted this study by examining the ways in which the populist qualities of Machiavelli's ideology in The Prince have suited themselves to the thought and practice of certain interwar authoritarian and contemporary authoritarian figures; Mussolini and Trump.

Populism, an ideology that considers the world split into two antagonistic groups - the “pure people” and the “corrupt elites” – argues that politics should be an expression of the “pure people's” will, reflective of their interests and not the elites'. The ideology saw the peak of its interest in the 1930's when populist parties were recorded around the globe at a rate of 40% vote share against establishment parties. Now, in 2021, we've seen the highest return of interest in populism since the 1930's with a rate of 35% vote share against establishment parties (Dalio, R. 2017). In stating this, I would call to mention the truest populist in present memory – Mussolini. In the 20 years he held power at the helm of Italy's fascist police state, he was demonstrably the essential populist leader; opportunistic, a real wordsmith with a violent temperament, embodying the spirit of unification and charisma, he postured himself the saviour of Italy on the promise that he alone would return the nation to her former glory (BEN-GHIAT, R. U. T. H. 2021). This particular ability of Mussolini to personify the Italian will through his dramatic personality and disciplined form was perfectly suited to the desperate hopes of a nation embroiled in the despair of war.

What was so Machiavellian and essentially populist in his nature, was that Mussolini was instinctively conscious of the Italian people's sentiments – he was able to reckon the political forces of the time with the social relations of the nation's people, preying upon the two to generate a totalitarian hegemonic order. The effective combination of the two spheres allowed Mussolini to not just force his fascist regime on the broader Italian society, but to garner the consent of the majority of the people to do as he pleased (Gramsci, A., & Buttigieg, J. A. 2011). Throughout The Prince, Machiavelli was convinced of the same. His advocation for the reformation of militias and mobilisation of the peasantry was fundamentally grounded on the idea of the need of a popular force – one that, naturally, was to be executed by the will of the people.

But a necessary distinction must be made between these two figures. Benito Mussolini orchestrated a reactionary dictatorship where a revolutionary dictatorship was advanced by Machiavelli – Mussolini was calling for the return to the old glory and wealth of Italy pre-World War II, whilst Machiavelli had argued for a prosperous advance away from Italy's past. Whilst Mussolini's populist fascism held true to certain Machiavellian conceptions of politics in the sense that he rejected conventional moral norms and conceived of the art of war as a central component of the regime, Italian fascism developed from vastly separate intellectual and political traditions of the 20th century (Rees, E. 2014). The most overlapping value seen in both ideologies is that even as Mussolini saw fascism as a cure for Italy's suffering and Machiavelli saw his theories as a cure for Italy's instability, both were looking for their nation's salvation.

Of course, Mussolini's programme rode on a number of greater differences, such as the liberation of Italy from the ills of all “forces of disorder”: post-war degradation, Marxism, socialism, democracy, dissent, etc. (Rees, E. 2014) So that Italian institutions could then be re-established against such wounds. And Mussolini, once a self-identified socialist, knew the influence insurrectionary language could have on the masses (BEN-GHIAT, R. U. T. H. 2021). Following some of Machiavelli's advice – “A Prince can never secure himself against a disaffected people, their number being too great, while he may against a disaffected nobility, since their number is small” (Machiavelli Niccolò. 1961) – he armed himself with populist fascist rhetoric that favoured national unity over class conflict and imperialism over global solidarity, promising that Italy would reach modernisation without sacrificing her traditions, with the overarching goal of attacking the higher forces that had subjugated the Italian people. Under this populist conception, Mussolini's programme would last so long as the emergency felt by the people was kept fresh in their memory (Gramsci, A., & Buttigieg, J. A. 2011).

And as Machiavelli's proposed theories were so decidedly populist in nature, it was natural that Mussolini (a man known to have read The Prince) would be influenced in a populist manner given the relationship Machiavelli repeatedly tried to establish between a prince and his people. The Prince even famously concludes with an intense call for the salvation and coalition of Italy, of which Machiavelli emphasises the people as a vital component: “In Italy, the opportunities are not wanting for thorough reorganisation. Here, we would find greater prowess amongst those who follow, were it not lacking among the leaders… The Italians are superior in strength, in skill, in inventiveness; but when it is a matter of armies, they do not compare. All this is because of the weakness of the leaders” (Rees, E. 2014) (Machiavelli Niccolò. 1961).

Lending further strength to the populist expression in this, is the following passage where Machiavelli calls for a loyal citizen army (Keskin, Z. M. 2014). This has to be believed to be a very purposeful conclusion – Machiavelli's previously unremarkable tone is suddenly robust with passion and praise, as he addresses the strength of the Italian people. For ‘the prince' to fulfil the Italian will and rescue the nation from the “barbarous tyranny” she has fallen victim to, it is tacitly encouraged that said prince must rely on the Italian people (Machiavelli Niccolò. 1961). And on the contemporary case of fascist Italy, we know Mussolini took great inspiration from Machiavelli – The University of Bologna, where Mussolini had proposed to write a thesis on Machiavelli to earn a doctorate, awarded him an honorary degree in jurisprudence in 1924. However, Mussolini did write his own ‘Preludio al Machiavelli', published in the Fascist journal Gerarchia in April 1924 (Mussolini, B. 1924).

In this paper, he makes a number of claims, though some seem to be particularly illuminating; “…Machiavelli, in forming this opinion of men, was considering not merely the men of his own time … But men without distinction of time and space” (Mussolini, B. 1924). In reference to Machiavelli's critical fixation on man's self-centred nature, Mussolini makes note that he believes this perspective of man to be an “essential fact” and one that must be remembered. He continues; “The word 'Prince' should be understood to mean the State... The State represents organization and limitation. The individual seeks continually to evade restraint. His impulse is to disobey laws, not to pay taxes, not to fight for his country. Rare are the men… Who are willing to sacrifice their ego on the altar of the common weal. All others are… In constant rebellion against the State. The revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries sought to remove this conflict… by making the powers of government proceed from the free will of the people. ‘The people' has never been defined. As a political entity it is a pure abstraction” (Mussolini, B. 1924).

Mussolini had returned from war a staunchly antisocialist, pro-imperialist character – as early as 1918 he was said to have begun advocating for a strongman to come in and confront the troubles Italy was worn by. He officially came to power in October 1922 in a most Machiavellian manner. His Fascists had organised into paramilitary squads which were mostly comprised of jaded veterans from the war, known as the Blackshirts – they were tasked with the suppression of the ‘forces of disorder', eventually growing to such numbers that they officially organised into the National Fascist Party in 1921 (Rees, E. 2014).

Here lies a particularly Princely distinction, one that objectively buoyed Mussolini's regime more than any opposing circumstances would have otherwise – a component of Machiavelli's populism, one of his most significant recommendations was to recruit a popular militia as opposed to mercenary forces (15) – effectively assembling the proletarian people as a hegemonic army against the aristocracy. By this advice, Mussolini (Rather than treating the Italian people as the fickle, greedy people in the manner discussed in his Preludio) (Rees, E. 2014) (Mussolini, B. 1924) conditioned the fervour of anti-establishment sentiment in the Italian people and primed it to fit into his fascist regime. The culmination of this, and what most clearly cemented Mussolini's eventual acquisition of power, was the march on Rome - 30,000 Blackshirts marched to demand the resignation of then-prime minister Facta, and by sheer luck in the failure of Italy's King Emmanuel III in demanding action upon the march, Mussolini was asked to form a new government. As we know now, Mussolini established an oppressive police state, declaring himself supreme, above the ruling of parliament, and without opposition. Parliamentary elections were abolished, all other political parties outside of the Fascists were outlawed, and the press silenced (Williams, O. 2019) (Breiner, P. 2008). The course of action, the organisation of a popular force that was only by luck successful, appears to have withstood a stroke from Machiavelli's pen; “Fortune… provided the matter but they gave it it's form, without opportunity, their prowess would've been extinguished” (Machiavelli Niccolò. 1961).

Mussolini thus came to power in the manner Machiavelli's princes had, becoming the invincible “Il Duce” by selling fascism as a liberating new order, with Italians dependant on his word at all times, and no choice but to be faithful to the regime. Commanding the will of the Italian people with ease, backed by an army composed of his most violent supporters, and unconstrained by a King who seemed to have no interest in stopping his populist fascist rule (Williams, O. 2019). The fortuna (Machiavelli Niccolò. 1961) in the successes Mussolini accumulated before and during his ascent to power was remarkable, in the often-disbelieving ways that they worked in his favour. But this close relationship with luck can't be made to discredit him, because Mussolini did have a political mind, one that worked along the exact lines of order that Machiavelli had presented centuries prior. A character that Mussolini seemed to take distinct likeness to was the Hiero of Syracuse, memorable to Machiavelli in the ways that he was a superior silhouette fo a prince; “He disbanded the old militia and organised a new one; he abandoned former alliances and made fresh ones; and when he had his own alliances and troops he had the foundations for whatever he wanted” (Machiavelli Niccolò. 1961).

The totalitarian order Mussolini mastered was the result of the war's desolation of Italy and the subsequent hostility many held for the conventional politics they saw to have led them to such a state. After such a devastating war and the simple continuation in the stagnant policies that had failed to help, the seeds took root, and Italians were looking for a disruptive new leader. The cults that rose up around Mussolini through the interwar period were a natural development to follow a man who managed to answer and alleviate anxieties about the decline in social securities, lack of clear direction forward, and the loss of simplicity. Mussolini had expertly manipulated the language of class conflict alongside nationalist, fascist, populist rhetoric to spread his goals (BEN-GHIAT, R. U. T. H. 2021) – Italy was soon swept with an absolute urgency that they needed to liberate the “pure people” from the oppressive “corrupt aristocracy,” and in doing so, Mussolini laid the foundations that today's populist/fascists build upon to establish their own authoritarian power in casting themselves and their “pure people” as mutual victims of domestic enemies, exploited by powers both familiar and foreign.

Now, one of Machiavelli's most important lessons in The Prince is that the political realm demands the fluctuation of appearances and that every political actor has to make great use of the stage they perform on. The imperative in remembering such a lesson is the successes and failures Machiavelli outlined as he explored the need for a prince to not possess simple moral qualities; instead, only appear to have them. The stressed capability of a prince, his virtú, must be that they construct themselves as a “great pretender,” a performer who betrays the appearance of a “virtuous” leader, whilst still wielding the relations of ability and power that accompany said leadership (Machiavelli Niccolò. 1961).

In recalling this, we may move to observe the regimes, dictatorships, populists and fascists that have made themselves known throughout the 20th century. In times of great difficulty and suffering, in transition periods from one socioeconomic relation to the next, theirs have been a temporary power. Dictators, much like populist fascists, who are much like Machiavelli's prince, change character from one end of an epoch to another. But given the ebb and flow of the political cycle, the influence of fortuna and virtú in the triumph of a prince's state, and the occasional circumstance that one can't control, it can only be expected that the fruitful opportunities at first presented to such a ‘prince' will not remain a permanent fixture in their time of power (Rees, E. 2014). What is a curiosity, however, is the survival of both fascism and populism beyond the interwar period and World War II, as well as their continued expansion across geographic regions.

The 20th century was rife with instability – a great number of wars, all with unprecedented advancements in weaponry, economic disasters that wiped out all securities, countries both abandoned and disappeared; there was much to fear, and no lack of desperation felt. These are exactly the essential prerequisites that populists need to build their popular support. From the early years of the century, fascism and the “strongman” emerged from the desolation of World War I, the attraction to which was found in their promise of deliverance. Many such figures who have preyed on these unfortunate circumstances have since been documented; to start there was Mussolini, but we've witnessed Berlusconi and his Forza Italia, Erdoğan and his glorification of the ottoman empire, Bolsonaro's “law and order” approach to democracy, and Vladimir Putin who pioneered authoritarian leader worship (BEN-GHIAT, R. U. T. H. 2021). There have been a great number of such figures worldwide, all with varying agendas, but in every populist leader there is always a reliance on the sentiments of his people. To place such a dependency on the common masses fear of their condition – however unstable this may seem – is a natural strength to adhere to a political strategy, so long as it is masterfully manipulated.

The core claim made by populists is that the established government isn't actually representative of the people – that they can't possibly be represented by the elites that governs them, as they have been responsible for the people's suffering in the first place. In America's case, having not quite escaped the devastating ramifications of the 2008 recession, the wall street millionaires in government inhabiting both major parties make it impossible for the people to see real representation in a system that claims to do so. What many may then propose, is that populism is an innate political stance to those who aren't being properly spoken for. But what separates populism from other political ideals, is that in populist supporters being the “pure people” they are also subsequently “the nation.” Populists don't believe that they have legitimate opposition, because they are the voice of the people's will (Evans, R.). Populism is thus the only ideology that can represent all the people - because populist supporters are the nation – and any dissenters from their ideals are ‘other' and are simply not to be concerned with (Evans, R.). In understanding this summation of populist ideology, it should be emphasised that there is a line between populists and conventional politics: any truly democratic representative government will recognise that they have political opposition; understand that their opponents must at least be respected; and that any electoral results in opposition favour (unless proven illegitimate) are to be followed. Populists don't share in this – they can't conceive of having an opposition because in acknowledging one, they would be conceding to a collective will other than that of the “pure people.”

Trump almost perfectly exemplifies this model of the populist prince that was mirrored in Mussolini. Both Trump and Mussolini were the clear-cut figures of what may be thought of as the ‘modern prince' (Rees, E. 2014) in that they aim to represent the sole expression of the national collective will, the single element to voice the sentiments of their entire society. This modern prince is in and of himself a populist figure and would look to be immediately thought of as the point of reference for the disposition of their entire nation (Rees, E. 2014). The rule and power of both Mussolini and Trump's regimes were less clearly defined than those of other authoritarian leaders (such as Hitler, Stalin, and the like). There's no doubt that Mussolini was a populist dictatorship, and Trump certainly tried to become one, but whilst this was the case there were still small windows of autonomy for their nation's people, even as they had power. Mussolini and Trump are remarkably similar in this way of ideology and practice – there are also a number of similarities to draw across both their personalities and charisma – but the particular comparison I'm looking to draw between the two lies in their relationship to Machiavelli's Prince and its modern conception. Machiavelli's agenda in The Prince was to look for the main features of the ideal leader, which was an absolute monarch. Such a concept in the present day has naturally changed shape with time, but its purpose hasn't been lost. Authoritarian dictators, especially those who ride in on a populist platform, exhibit the most Machiavellian conception of power that we could imagine at the present time. The specific populist aspect in their political expression is that the abstraction of the way in which this absolute monarch takes form has stayed reliant on the popular power of his people's will. In the days of Machiavelli his prince's rule would've taken form against the corrupt powers of the aristocracy and the clergy. In the present, the populist will is most often opposed to the corrupt ‘elite' – the bankers, the billionaire magnates, the fraudulent politicians. The populist leader who heads the charge against these figures attacks those who directly stand between them and their “pure people.”

Trump's case, however, is a special one. Trending analysis into the topic has revealed the recent rise in populist leaders across the world, and Trump is certainly the most widely thought of at present. He is especially well known for his now notorious campaign phrase of “Make America Great Again!,” that he copied from James Buchanan's 2000 presidential run, in which he was quoted to have said in reference to the federal government: “Neither beltway party is going to drain this swamp. It's a protected wetland.” Where he, in fact, also borrowed this phrase from Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign (Evans, R.). But in the present case of Donald Trump, to “drain the swamp” has a broader meaning – often taking shape in the form of the far right's most pressing anxieties, such as globalism, Islam, the ‘liberal agenda', and mainstream media. This rhetoric is on a global scale quite comparable to that of other major countries with populist, far right parties: Britain's UKID, Germany's AfD, the French National Front, and the Northern League in Italy are just a few of the many similar cases (Evans, R.).

Trump seems to have come to power in line with Machiavelli's thoughts on a Prince's “Fortune”: once a private citizen, Trump entered the political sphere and on the back of good fortune, as he was able to steer his opportunity as presidential candidate into being president of the United States (Machiavelli Niccolò. 1961). But, as we acknowledged in Mussolini, we must also in Trump recognise that his ascension was one aided by both fortuna and virtú. He quite successfully preyed upon the anxieties of the American right wing in amplifying their fears and addressing them head-on in extravagant appeal after extravagant appeal. The 2008 recession left even those previously comfortable without a safety net, racial tensions had only increased after Obama's presidential election in the same year, and the proximity of international threats only ever seemed closer following the 9/11 attacks and their subsequent impact on American imperialist practice. These anxieties were ripe to be targeted, and Trumps overarching political stage tackled each of them at once, orchestrating an authoritarian populist movement that would quickly amass an impermeable cult of personality that would see Trump almost immune to the democratic workings of federal government.

But it is Trump's cult that must absolutely be emphasised – the power and efficacy of Trump's populist rhetoric saw a development of unequalled speed in which the many fears of various nature were hegemonized into a singular unit devoted to one man. The individual was transformed into a collective, and motivated by the same unrest, “the people” willingly gave their consent, their collaboration, and their mass force unto “the prince,” until he both possessed and wielded their coercive power (Rees, E. 2014). Even in the case where those who should have been ‘othered' by the ideological lines the Trumpian group enforced (such as the marginalised groups who have been targeted by Trump's xenophobic, racist, queerphobic platform) in the case that they expressed the ideological loyalty that was demanded within the political group (that they liked Trump regardless), they were then effectively made a part of “the pure people” and were found deserving to both give and receive political power.

This is theorised to be the nature of his political character. Though he was very much of the aristocratic class, he rode on the “common man” horse until it was dead. His followers loved him because he was in many ways, not a politician – they didn't see him as the two-dimensional definition of “Machiavellian” because he postured himself to be exactly like a private individual – he was boisterous, flagrant, obnoxious for the sake of it, offensive, outrageous, so on and so forth. He was prepared to behave and act in a way that would not be deemed virtuous in any traditional sense, and this performance is what made him their perfect prince. To perpetuate his success as president, he characterised himself by exactly the same moral “virtú” that Machiavelli advocated for, only serving to bolster the adoration of his ardent supporters. In this way, Trump goes beyond the terms of Machiavelli, in terms of the ethical/moral justifications of his actions; Machiavelli still insists throughout The Prince that the prince must at least maintain the perception that they are an ethical and moral leader. Trump decidedly did not hide his most outlandish thoughts, nor did he attempt to conceal his most offensive nature so as to maintain a certain minimum appeal. Trump was beyond the ideals of Machiavelli's cunning – because for his people, he could do and say anything.

There's strong evidence of Trump's authoritarian nature in the flagrant ways he behaved and spoke as the president of the United States – over the course of four years he's incited violence onto the marginalised groups of America, both intentionally and unintentionally, hounded political dissidents, and threatened state violence onto the public. And even through all this, his words and actions have been bolstered by the cult of personality that's followed him through scandal and outrage (Vials, C. et al, 2020). A true characteristic of a populist fascist, it was his authoritarian personality that gave his cult following such an enthusiastic response to his words. Because populists feel as though they are the voice of the will of the people, they also don't feel as though they have to work within democratic electoral systems. Populists will not accept a loss in an election. They will not conceive of an election that has worked against them as they are the voice of the people – whether there is evidence or not, they will claim that the electoral results were rigged, or faulty, or simply not true (Evans, R.). The unfavourable results of the presidential election in 2020 largely proved to be the necessary stimulant needed for Trump's cult to storm the American capitol on January 6th, as Trump recited exactly such populist rhetoric to attempt to preserve his power. In the 5 years Trump presented himself as a politician in the U.S. electoral system, he's done very much to appropriate quite a few necessary elements of a Machiavellian prince.

But again, there was still wiggle room for autonomy within the Trump regime, as whilst the U.S wasn't quite dragged into a fascistic state, we can see that the characteristics of one – xenophobia, classism, right-wing extremist rhetoric, and heightened discrimination – has largely permeated the American body of people. This, and that Trump's imposing bigotry was still seen as electable (Vials, C. et al, 2020). He never found the need to rig an election in his favour until it came time for his second term run. But even then, there was no swindle of votes, or destruction of property to get his way – he merely called elected officials and subtly asked them to sway the votes in his favour.

This plays into the common belief that fascism explicitly rejects democratic principles (Vials, C. et al, 2020). Mussolini's regime and all his Blackshirts certainly seems to cement such an opinion, as this was definitely the case. They claimed that parliaments were just a bunch of bickering politicians who never got anything done; what they really needed was a strongman to come in, drain the swamp, and do what was needed themselves (BEN-GHIAT, R. U. T. H. 2021). Muchof this sounds familiar. But you couldn't wholly accurately call Trump's regime a fascist dictatorship, and nor has Trump taken the final step and rejected elections on philosophical grounds. Rather, he claims they're “rigged” and tries to reverse the results with lawyers, not militias. Again, he attempts to have his cult speak in unison with their shared ideals, a last-ditch attempt to perpetuate his state.

As we analyse the extremity of Trump's populist authority, the perpetual survival of populism seems closer to understandable. Mussolini was nearly the inventor of such an ideal, in the ways that his prime ministry seemed to revolutionise what it could mean to sustain a populist platform, but in the end his downfall arrived in the dues he failed to pay to the people – and their disappointment meant his execution. But all the same, his was such an overwhelming platform, so heightened by the promises he gave to the people in such a dire time. The silhouette of such a programme is too enticing, too theatrical to be ignored given the efficacy in which it garners mass support. It's unsurprising now, in our attempts to dissect the Machiavellian nature of such political performances, to see how they have remained in the political sphere. The chameleon nature of populist rhetoric, much like Machiavelli's guide for a prince, is fiercely adaptable to the ever-fluctuating nature of politics, economics, society, and global relations, and as such may presumably always have a stage to perform on.


BEN-GHIAT, R. U. T. H. (2021). Strongmen: Mussolini To The Present. W W NORTON.

Breiner, P. (2008). Machiavelli's “new prince” and the Primordial Moment of Acquisition. Political Theory, 36(1), 66–92. https://doi.org/10.1177/0090591707310135

Dalio, R. (2017). Populism: the phenomenon & the two economies: the top 40% and the bottom 60%. In Populism: The Phenomenon (pp. 1–2). essay, Bridgewater Associates, LP.

Evans, R. (n.d.). Is Populism a Threat to Democracy? Gresham College. https://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/populism-threat-to-democracy.

Gramsci, A., & Buttigieg, J. A. (2011). Prison notebooks. Columbia Univ. Press.

Keskin, Z. M. (2014 June 15). Benito Mussolini and Niccolo Machiavelli; Il Principe's Influence onFascism. Leonar's Reviews. https://leonardafinchie.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/benito-mussollini-and-niccolo-machiavelli-il-principes-influence-on-fascism/.

Machiavelli Niccolò. (1961). The Prince. Penguin Books.

Mussolini, B. (1924). Preludio Al Machiavelli. Swiss Political And Literary Monthly.

Rees, E. (2014). Political Thought From Machiavelli To Stalin: Revolutionary Machiavellism. Palgrave Macmillan.

Vials, C., Marcetic, B., Sunkara, B., Karp, M., Featherstone, L., Semel, G., … Savage, L. (2020, November 15). Here's What We Learned About the Far Right From Donald Trump's Presidency. Jacobin. https://jacobinmag.com/2020/11/donald-trump-presidency-far-right-fascism-nationalism.

Williams, O. (2019, August 9). Mussolini Vs The Mafia. All About History. https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/people-politics/mussolini-vs-the-mafia/.

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Latest in Political Science

2021, Vol. 13 No. 10
This paper assesses the political preferences and ideologies of the Trump administration and how they influenced framing issues in a way that has underestimated the threats of right-wing militia groups in the United States. President Trump and officials... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 09
Most analysts agree that China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is set to become a defining feature of the global economy of the 21st century. However, there is wide-ranging debate about how to understand the BRI. Is it a top-down “grand... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 09
One of the key ways to measure and analyze the performance of such expansive countries such as the United States is to look at their institutions and corresponding values. This paper offers a framework of thin democracy, the institutions, norms,... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 04
Following the enlightenment era, a new incarnation of politics created a uniquely democratic, liberal, egalitarian structure of government in Western democracies. In recent years, there has been an erosion of these qualities in favor of alternate... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 03
Single-payer health reform has secured its place in the mainstream American health policy debate, yet its implications for particular subpopulations or sectors of care remain understudied. Amidst many unanswered questions from policymakers and political... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 03
Feminism has grown to be a complex, multifaceted topic of conversation in China. It has witnessed a series of peaks and troughs that have both advanced and regressed the women’s movement since Mao’s era. This paper aims to evaluate the... Read Article »
2021, Vol. 13 No. 02
During the 2015 refugee crisis Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed refugees to enter Germany in unprecedented numbers. Her historic decision to adapt the so-called “open-door policy” continues to shape contemporary German politics. More... Read Article »

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