The Anvil or Hammer
Republicans like to whine. Democrats like to win.
you must rise or sink,
you must rule and win
or serve and lose,
suffer or triumph,
be the anvil or the hammer.
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Ein Anderes”
In September 1740, Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, and Voltaire published a famous collaborative essay, “Anti-Machiavel.” It is a chapter-by-chapter rebuttal of “The Prince” and a moral critique of Machiavellian power politics. Shortly after it went to print, however, Frederick launched an unprovoked invasion of Silesia, seizing the strategically and economically valuable region from the hands of Austria.
Capturing Silesia nearly doubled Prussia’s population, expanded Frederick’s dominion by over a third, offered him control over the Oder River, and undermined his rivals in the region. Frederick cited ancient dynastic claims in an attempt to justify the move. But it was, in truth, the kind of Realpolitik espoused by Machiavelli in action. The Florentine had the last laugh.
No matter how vigorously one denounces Machiavellianism, power politics are an inescapable fact the necessity of which all will at some point be confronted. In this life, in those moments, to borrow from Goethe, man must be the hammer or the anvil.