[FOUNTAIN]In the public interestMachiavelli’s “The Prince” is a book that discusses a ruler’s governing skills. Machiavelli was impatient with morality and ethics but recognized politics as reality. He justified trickery for stable rule.
A novel which used Machiavelli’s book as a plot element was “The Secret of Santa Vittoria,” a 1968 novel by Robert Crichton. In 1969, the book was made into a movie starring Anthony Quinn. The protagonist is Italo Bombolini of Santa Vittoria, a mountain village of Italy. He is an incapable, hen-picked husband who is always drunk. When Mussolini was toppled in 1943 and the fascist mayor of the village stepped down, several village people nominated him for mayor while he was drunk, and he got the job.
With no idea how to handle it, he turns to Machiavelli. He reads “The Prince” over and over, underlining passages and adapting the book’s advice to his task.
He often quotes Machiavelli: “If to keep faith is counter to his own interest, the ruler should never keep faith.” He begins to turn into a cunning fox. He overcomes several crises with clever wits and even earns the favor of the village people by releasing free wine.
But as the German army approaches to snatch the wine of Santa Vittoria, the conditions abruptly change. And the German commander is an elite officer who is armed with the book “On War” by Karl von Clausewitz.
Bombolini and the village people hide a million wine bottles, which they value as they do their lives, in a cave. The later part of the novel is a series of confrontations between Bombolini, who tries to keep the secret, and the German commander who is trying to discover it: It is a joust between Machiavelli and Clausewitz. In the end, Bombolini keeps the wine and the village by using his vulgar wit and pretense of thick-headedness.
In the novel, Bombolini as a man is very vulgar, but the vulgar Mayor Bombolini becomes a very competent leader. His vulgarity becomes an important virtue in defending the well-being of the village. He was faithful to the major premise of Machiavelli: For the interest of the nation, vice and virtue should not be differentiated.
I wonder if South Korean politicians, busy plotting their strategies for President Roh’s vote of confidence, are acting in the public interest as Bombolini was.
by Nahm Yoon-ho
The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.