Effective conquest is an inside job. You can storm a country with guns blazing, but unless you have internal support, your reign won’t last long. In his classic The Prince, Machiavelli writes that men must be “caressed or eliminated” (page 10, Mansfield translation). Sometimes total obliteration isn’t necessary. Sometimes all you have to do is win the favor of one of the nobles, who will then “facilitate victory for you.” There are always people ready to sell their king for thirty pieces of silver. Machiavelli calls them the “malcontents” (pg 18). The Book of Mormon refers to them as the “king-men.” These people supported kings because “they sought to be kings” and they “were supported by those who sought power and authority over the people” (Alma 51:8).
A long chain of corrupt leaders propping up a faulty system for a chance to seize power. Sounding familiar? The internal division caused by the king-men led to external weakness for the Nephites. We face the same threat in America today. Abraham Lincoln issued a prophetic warning when he said, “If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”
Democracy is fragile because it doesn’t put down insurrection. If you’re a threat to a totalitarian regime, you’re silenced by the secret police. If you’re a threat to a democracy, you get to run for president.
Who are the “malcontents” and the “king-men” of today? Who is inviting, and upholding, the enemies of America? And how do we stop them?
Machiavelli discusses the people conquered by the Romans. As long as they remembered what it meant to be free, they were difficult to enslave. But “when their memory was eliminated” the Romans became “the secure possessors” of them. When there’s “no disparity of customs,” Machiavelli writes, “men live quietly.” In other words, let them abridge my freedom of speech, my freedom of religion, my right to bear arms! I still have Krispy Kreme donuts and Monday night football.
Thomas Paine wrote that “time makes more converts than reason.” We can’t afford to forget. We can’t afford to be complacent just because life’s good. If we don’t understand the difference between what our government is and what it was meant to be we’re in danger of losing what liberty we have. We need to take time to understand the principles America was founded on. If that’s taking five minutes away from Facebook to read a line from the Declaration of Independence, so be it.
“Whoever is the cause of someone’s becoming powerful is ruined” (Machiavelli, page 16). The power-hungry never win. As Alma writes, “the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell” (Alma 30:60). Let’s not let our free government go down with them. We need to study truth, and use its light to discern present circumstances. Then we need to speak out.