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Machiavelli’s remains one of the most insightful and misinterpreted philosophers of the Pre-Enlightenment era. His observations have been grossly distorted to the point that his very name inspires fear of treachery and callous calculations. Few people in human history have ever been honored with having their name made into an adjective. However, this honor for Machiavelli is muted by the fact that it carries a negative connotation. Leading to his legacy as a writer and thinker to be forever stained.

 

Machiavelli’s legacy is marred by misconceptions is typical for writers who are either seldom read or read in the proper context. I would tend to agree with Machiavelli scholar Harvey Mansfield that the latter is very much applicable to his work [1]. Machiavelli was immoral or amoral as he is typically painted by popular perception. Rather he departed from the classical understanding of morality.  Favoring pragmatic uses of force and deception versus appealing to divine directives. These same godly decrees most likely were given lip service by the pre-renaissance ruler. However, once they interfered with the interests of the royal court were quickly dispensed with. Leading one to surmise that maybe Machiavelli wasn’t any less moral, but rather was more forthright.

 

All because he has been misrepresented over the centuries does not mean we cannot draw valid lessons from him. He provides some great reflections upon general aspects of human nature that extends beyond the blood-soaked halls of the 16th-century Florentine royal court. Lessons that can be applied to just about any social structure including the work environment.

 

In Niccolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince, he mentions several times that a rule needs to respect the property of his subjects. This lesson can be modified for a manager in an office environment by supplanting property with workplace privileges. An example would be allowing your employees the ability to work remotely a few days a week. Keep in mind this example may be more applicable in the pre-COVID-19 world. It will work for this essay. Naturally, if you receive a directive from upper management to suspend this privilege with little justification their will be some backlash.  The brewing undercurrent of frustration and resentment will dampen morale.  The consequence of backlash is referenced multiple times in The Prince.

 

Machiavelli cautions to be cautious when levying taxes upon your subject because unjust and burdensome taxation could fuel discord (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 68 & 72, Transl. Mansfield, 1985) [2]. Predating the whole “taxation is theft” mantra. However, he does more directly call out the vice of not respecting property rights among rulers.

 

What makes him hated above all, as  I said, is to be a rapacious usurper of the property and women of his subjects. From these, he must abstain, and whenever one does not take away either property or honor from the generality of men….  (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 68 & 72, Transl. Mansfield, 1985)  [3].

 

In other words, it might be wise if you have any leverage to debate this policy change with upper management. Otherwise, you will have some disgruntled employees on your hands. Unfortunately, in some instances, managers need reminders to keep their hands off of the property of their subordinates. It could be as minor as using Karen’s bottle of hand sanitizer when she on vacation without her permission.  It could even as severe as taking claiming to Henry’s commission on a sale behind his back. Both situations demonstrate a boss disrespecting the property of their employees. While the scene with the hand sanitizer is little more of minor faux pas, taking someone else’s commission is stealing out of their pocket.  Aside from the moral consideration of theft, how are you going to gain the respect of your staff if you are willing to blatantly steal from them?  You are lucky if you can retain staff at that point never mind have them respect you.

 

Unfortunately, I have to say don’t fraternize with the spouses and romantic partners of your employees. Not that they are property. Slavery has been abolished, therefore people cannot be property.  There is no better way to sow resentment than to cross that line. It is a folly that will not only sully your reputation as a leader but will cause unnecessary friction.  Also, it is completely a superfluous action. There is never a good reason to venture into that territory.  No one leadership using reason would ever think that such conduct is permissible. You are not a member of congress. You are not in the oval office. There is no reason to ever go there.

2 thoughts on “Machiavelli in the Office – Part V: Respect Property and Privileges

  1. I have always wondered if property rights originated with the practice of “pair-bonding” and the procreation of children? I wrote something speculative along these lines years ago; if I find it, I will send it over …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated. That is a good point. I have certainly heard some revisionist historical accounts of how communal bonding failed. Thus, in directly forming the concept of provide property.

      It comes back to the economic question of resources.

      Liked by 2 people

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