By Scott Sullivan
‘Tis the season. Which is why I was not surprised to hear from Mr. Ali Amed Bassel of Syria. How near is that to Bethlehem?
Alas, Ali has a problem. “I was a businessman in Aleppo,” his fax to me, addressed “Sir,” reads, “before the civil war. My business has been destroyed by the war. Our economy has collapsed since 2012.”
As the cradle of Western religion, the Middle East has long been a template for brotherhood among Christians, Jews and Muslims. Ali wants out nonetheless.
He wants his daughter, 11, “to emigrate to your country” — the U.S., I assume; the blind fax doesn’t have his or my address on it — “not as a refugee, rather as an investor, as I still have a substantial part of my cash (US$48,000,000.00) holdings intact in Cyprus.”
This makes sense. When your business has been destroyed and economy collapsed for six years, who wouldn’t want to set up his daughter, who was five at the time, to manage $48 million he’s laundered in Cyprus? And that’s only part of his holdings.
You’ve probably guessed what’s next: Ali’s doctors say “I have no much time to live. This is why I found it wise to contact a business person in your country to help me.”
Ali picked the right guy. There’s no end of ways I can spend — excuse me, invest — his money.
Then something new hit me: shame. We — well, some more than others — enjoy an abundance of gifts in America, none more so this time of year than guilt.
How could I picture the baby Jesus in a manger, no room at the inn nor clue the three Wise Men would soon show soon with Frankenstein, gold and myrrh but no baby formula? How could I not share the blessings Ali has offered with you, my readers?
Get your credit card, Social Security and bank account pin numbers ready. The first to furnish them for Ali and me wins the holiday joy of helping a dying man, saving his child from a war-torn country and, oh yeah, a cut of $48 million.
Operators are standing by for this and the Machiavelli class I am offering. You know Nick. The first name of the Florentine (1469-1527) was Niccoló, but I’m on familiar terms with him.
“Machiavellianism” refers to pursuing and retaining power, as described in his Il Principe (“The Prince”), by all means including manipulating and exploiting others, a cynical disregard for morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception. Psychologists refer to it, narcissism and psyhopatho- logy as the “dark triad” due to their malevolent qualities.
No modern politician would ever behave in those ways, of course. But back then they did. From “The Prince”:
- “Ît is much safer to be feared than loved because love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
- “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.”
- “If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.”
- “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
- “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.”
Kids, don’t try these at home unless you want to be our next President. That’s why my class will focus on non-St. Nick’s ideals.
Did he have them? Abso-lutely. Founding Father John Adams, for one, praised Machiavelli as a philosophic defender of republics and for restoring empirical reason to politics. In his view, the Florentine was a realist who cut through political platitudes to describe rule as it really works.
Macchiavelli does have that flip side. “There is no other way,” he wrote, “to guard yourself against flattery than by making men understand that telling you the truth will not offend you.” The Prince, in short, must demand truth or be susceptible to the same lies upon which his power rests.
Nick learned much from Cesare Borgia (1475-1507), a ruthless cardinal and son of Pope Alexander VI. Not every pope was named Innocent.
The Medici bounced Machiavelli from public office and imprisoned him because, in part, he said what they’d wished kept secret. His influence on John Milton, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Descartes, Locke, Jefferson, Franklin and more was noted.
What should I charge to teach something so invaluable? Check with Ali and then let me know.