Ali’s blog

Mostly quant stuff with occasional digressions

More on conspiracy theories, power, and Machiavelli

Posted by alifinmath on April 7, 2009

1974 was also the year when I first saw the film, “The Godfather.” It’s one of my favorites (and also a favorite for my son) and I’ve read the book so many times I can place any out-of-context sentence read to me aloud from it. It distresses me when it’s described as a novel (or film) about organised crime. It is really a novel about power — about the surreptitious and violent manner in which it is acquired and then exercised. And it accurately describes the political and social corruption that makes organised crime — or equivalently, conspiracies of all stripes — possible and expedient. I have consistently maintained over the years that it is the fictional equivalent of Machiavelli’s “The Prince.”

Machiavelli’s central premise is that conspiracies are ubiquitous: every prince has used it to acquire power, and every prince — once he has aquired power — has had to use conspiracies to thwart other ambitious upstarts who would take power from him. This is certainly true of the protagonists in “The Godfather,” none of whom can trust one another (save. perhaps, close kin).

Most of the characters say one thing and do something else; in our modern era, liquid modernity — to use an expression of Zygmunt Bauman — makes hypocrites of us all to the extent that we don’t know whether we have a core identity anymore.


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