Philosophy Notes: The Influence Of Machiavelli

Information about the history of Machiavellian ideas, their inflence on culture and a discussion of affirmative action.

Although it isn't quite official yet, the conservative federal judiciary is getting more and more skeptical of affirmative action at state-supported colleges and universities. In time to come, we may see more decisions that tell state colleges that they can't use affirmative action.

In response to these probable future decisions, college administrators could choose to cheerfully comply with court rulings and abolish their affirmative action programs. Administrators who do this will probably have to face the wrath of the civil rights community as well as influential students, faculty and alumni.

Less scrupulous administrators [and I have heard it whispered that there are such persons] may wonder how they can preserve affirmative action in the face of judicial hostility, even if this means cutting a few ethical corners. And who knows better about cutting ethical corners than that famous political theorist, Niccolo Machiavelli? Consider the following extracts from Machiavelli's masterwork, *The Prince:*

"EVERY one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince [or a college administrator] to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft [and never to lie to the courts]. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word....

"But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived [judges often don't mind being deceived, if the deception is done according to legal rules and lets the judges off the hook in controversial cases]."

"...[It is important for a prince, and by implication a college administrator] to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite."

"And you have to understand this, that a prince [or college administrator], especially a new one [or an old one], cannot observe all those things for which men are esteemed, being often forced, in order to maintain the state [or to keep the students and faculty happy], to act contrary to faith, friendship, humanity, and religion [and the decisions of federal judges]. Therefore it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself accordingly as the winds and variations of fortune force it, yet, as I have said above, not to diverge from the good if he can avoid doing so, but, if compelled, then to know how to set about it."

" the actions of all men, and especially of princes [or administrators], which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result."

"...For that reason, let a prince [or administrator] have the credit of conquering and holding his state [or keeping his academic job], the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it..."

(Machiavelli, *The Prince,* Chap. XVIII, W. K. Marriott, trans.)

Here are some Machiavellian methods by which state colleges will be able to preserve some degree of affirmative action and have a good chance of defending their affirmative-action program in court, or at least obfuscating the issues sufficiently so as to delay the full abolition of affirmative action.

The first step is to declare that each individual campus, rather than a statewide body governing the university system, has the power of setting admissions policy. In this way, plaintiffs won't be able to attack affirmative action in a single lawsuit encompassing your whole university system.

On each campus, the administration ought to take several steps.

First adopt a policy of accepting any applicant who is in the top 10%, or top 5%, or whatever, of his or her high school class. Given the de facto segregation of the public schools in many states, this would have the effect of boosting minority enrollments.

Also, any language in the college's admissions policy that suggests racial preferences should be deleted. There's no sense putting racial-preference language into college policy where attorneys for white plaintiffs can wield it triumphantly, like a club, in a lawsuit.

Instead of referring to racial and other minorities, the college should adopt a preference policy, which refers to "disadvantaged students." Students in the "disadvantaged" category should be given preferences in the same way as racial minorities are now given preferences, but of course "disadvantage" should not explicitly be defined so as to include race.

The "disadvantaged student" categorization, employed properly, could be used as a method of perpetuating affirmative action while, to the greatest extent possible, shielding affirmative action from judicial review. Here is how a college could carry out a program of affirmative action under the guise of helping "disadvantaged students:" First, let the college formulate a definition of "disadvantaged student" which, without mentioning race or gender, is as vague as possible, leaving the utmost latitude to admissions officials to exercise their discretion. For example, a college policy could say that "the term "╦ťdisadvantaged student' is not to be interpreted according to a rigid formula," etc. etc. [insert pious double-talk]. The policy could say that "in deciding whether an applicant is a disadvantaged student, the college shall consider, *among other factors,* the following:" followed by a non-exhaustive list of factors , without mentioning how the factors should be weighed in an individual case. Possible factors could include poverty, being victimized by racial discrimination (directly or in one's own family), illness or disability, and other vague and manipulability terms.

After publishing such a written policy, the President of the college could pursue the plausible deniability plan. In a speech attended by admissions officials, the President of the college could say something like this: "our new race-blind affirmative action policy will not reduce the proportion of minorities and women attending this college." Admissions officials, hearing this remark, will see to it that the President's prediction is fulfilled, even if this requires the covert application of racial and gender criteria in deciding who is a "disadvantaged student." Presumably, the admissions officials will not be so foolish as to put their policy in writing, but there will always be the danger that outside sources, such as the media or the courts, will do a statistical analysis and discover that admissions officials are using racial/gender criteria in applying the supposedly nondiscriminatory policy.

If the admissions officials get caught, the President of the college will have plausible deniability. The President could imitate the police commissioner in the movie *Casablanca:* "I am shocked, shocked to my very core to find that the admissions department is applying racial and gender criteria. The responsible officials have been reprimanded (or reassigned, if the media or the courts insist on a sterner form of punishment). I have given strict instructions that the admissions office will not consider race or sex," etc. Then, with a wink and a nudge and a warning to be more careful next time, the admissions office will go back to business as usual.

Of course, there will always be Caucasian males (and maybe females) who will be turned down for admission and who will think (correctly or otherwise) that they are the victims of affirmative action. These are the potential plaintiffs who might attack affirmative action in federal court. Some simple steps should discourage these potential plaintiffs from going to court, or at least should harass and delay them so as to make a court victory more difficult and more expensive.

First, bear in mind that before a rejected applicant can go to court, s/he must appeal to any administrative committee which the college may have established for the purpose of rejecting illegal admissions decisions. The college should be sure to appoint such a committee, packing it with affirmative-action supporters. Let the committee rule in favor of the white complainants in a handful of obvious cases, but otherwise the committee should (after delaying the case as much as possible, so as to increase the complainant's expenses) turn down the complainant's plea. Only then, considerably weakened financially and emotionally exhausted, will the complainant be able to go to court.

In defending itself against lawsuits by rejected white applicants, colleges shouldn't rely on a full-bore defense of affirmative action. That's just what the courts are looking for. They'll rule against the college in a heartbeat. Instead, the college should find some technical ground on which to defend itself, such as challenging the academic qualifications of the plaintiffs. Remember that, in the famous *Hopwood* case, the state law school in Texas lost a lawsuit against its affirmative action policy, but was able to defeat the white plaintiffs by showing (through one of its own professors) that the plaintiffs would have been turned down for academic reasons even if there had not been an affirmative-action policy (see Hopwood II, No. 98-50506, December 21, 2000, 5th Circuit Court of Appeals).

Call it academic jujitsu, call it slipperiness, call it Machiavellianism, but these are the tactics that academic administrators can use to defend affirmative action (except administrators with an excessive streak of honesty, which would not only preclude them from defending affirmative action, but would prevent them from defending alumni preferences, special treatment for athletes, and a whole bunch of other things which are commonplace in college).

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