Kim Jong-un: A modern demonstration of Machiavellianism?

All right, even though the Medias all over the world are still looking for Kim Jong-un’s whereabouts these days, I am here to talk about how this little fatty relates to Machiavellianism. In fact, Kim Jong-un and his family have utilized Machiavellianism so successfully for more than half a century that I would recommend whoever has a serious interest in “The Prince” should facebook Kim Jong-un and his family for some further clarifications and suggestions.


Machiavellianism? Ask me! (link)


No more joking around, let’s now take a close look at how the theories in “The Prince” are utilized by Kim Jong-un and his “Democratic” People’s Republic of Korea. In this blog, I will compare several characteristics that, according to Machiavelli, a prominent prince should have, with those held by our supreme leader of DPRK – Kim Jong-un, in order to show this successful modern demonstration of Machiavellianism. In addition, I also hope this blog can help we look at North Korea from a somewhat interesting but rational perspective of a Machiavellian.

Firstly, let’s take a look at “cruelty and clemency”, discussed by Machiavelli in chapter XVII of “The Prince”. In this chapter, according to Machiavelli, “It is much safer to be feared than loved.” He argues that having too much clemency make a prince vulnerable; therefore, when it comes to a choice, “cruelty” should be used because it is a way to instill fear to people so that a prince could stand strong. Apparently, Kim Jong-un sticks to this theory in controlling the party under coercion. The central members of Korean communist party know clearly the aftermath of a failed coup. The fear of Kim Jong-un actually unites the Korean communist party in a great extent. This is exactly a demonstration of Machiavelli’s understanding of “cruelty and clemency”. In addition, in this case, we also need to notice that Kim Jong-un doesn’t instill fear to Korean public. However, that is not a contradiction to Machiavellian “cruelty and clemency”, but is accounted in other Machiavellian scenario about keeping “faith”, which I will discuss in the following paragraph.

In chapter XVIII of “The Prince”, Machiavelli talks about in what situations a prince should keep faith. Here is a famous quote from this chapter that can essentially summarizes Machiavelli’s idea: “Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them.” According to Machiavelli, a successful prince should be appeared to be “merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright…” and “have a mind ready to turn itself accordingly.” Again, if we put Kim Jong-un in this context, he fits exactly into the category of a Machiavellian leader. We have seen numerous times how North Korean media depicts Kim Jong-un as an extraordinary and charismatic leader to North Korean citizens, creating a personality cult. At the same time, we also know that Kim Jong-un won’t hesitate to apply inhumane physical violence when it comes to the situation of threatening the country or his reputation as a supreme leader of DPRK.

Are North Korean leaders really as merciful as what these statues depict? (link)


Finally, I want to talk about the concept of “Fortuna” discussed by Machiavelli in chapter XXV of “The Prince”. Basically, Machiavelli says that a prince should have Virtu (manly strength) and also needs to know things not always go as planned. “…fortune is a lady. It is necessary, if you want to master her, to beat and strike her.” According to Machiavelli, a leader therefore should sometimes do something that might be bold or may be disapproved by people in order to gain fortune. What Machiavelli advocates here is basically “ends justify the means”, which is again followed by Kim Jong-un persistently. If we think about North Korean objectively, we may find that what Kim Jong-un is doing is actually the “dirty hand” in Machiavellianism. Even though the “means” of his action (extreme censorship, low freedom), which usually criticized as violation of human rights, are somewhat unethical (no “end-independent normative constraints”), Kim Jong-un and DPRK still ultimately focus on the long-term development of the country, which is a justifiable “end”.

However, despite all the above evidences, we should also take account some counter arguments. For example, it is also possible that Kim Jong-un is essentially not following “ends justify the means” in Machiavellianism because he may only concerns about the ruling of his own family instead of the long term development of the country. If that is true, both the “ends” and the “means” will be unethical and immoral, which is not a scenario in Machiavellianism.

In general, however, I would still argue that Kim Jong-un is a successful and typical modern demonstration of Machiavellianism. Apart from the evidences I discussed above, there are also many other characteristics of Machiavellianism that is related to Kim Jong-un that I will not discuss here in detail, such as the “Art of War”, which states that a prince should concern military development even during peaceful times. Therefore, even if his real intention is just the ruling of his family, most of his action still follows those theories discussed in “The Prince”.

At the end of the day, despite all those criticism about the violations of human rights in the North Korea, I guess Kim Jong-un is just demonstrating the most conspicuous and extreme example of Machiavellianism. I would also believe that Machiavellianism widely exists in most of the political systems in the world, even in those countries with most democratic political system, but just with different versions and extents of Machiavellianism.

If Kim Jong-un and his DPRK are just the most conspicuous demonstration of Machiavellianism among all those politicians and political systems that utilize Machiavellianism. Do we really have to penalize what they are doing? Is that simply another way of developing a country? (link)

One thought on “Kim Jong-un: A modern demonstration of Machiavellianism?

  1. I was skeptical when I read the title, but when you wrote that a good prince just needs to appear to be kind and compassionate and powerful, then I understood. Through censorship and propaganda, Kim Jong Un appears to be the greatest leader in the world to the people. Although they are starving and extremely oppressed, they love their leader. But what makes a good leader is if they can stay in power. In my opinion Kim Jong Un will be unable to do this. Either he will overstep his boundaries in the international community and war will start (one in which he will no doubt lose) or his council will exile him. I don’t think Kim Jong Un will remain in power until the end of his life and for this, he is a bad prince.


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