Fatally Human Undoubtedly, Willie Stark would have been a great Machiavellian. He had the capacity to be both cunning and ruthless, and he had an undeniable bond with the people. However, Willie let his inner nature get the best of him. One slip up too many, and he was eradicated.
Machiavelli's The Prince, perceived by some as "the handbook of evil"ÃÂ (Machiavelli - back cover), puts morality on hold when dealing with acquiring and maintaining political power. The most disturbing aspect of Machiavelli lies in his low view of human nature and apparent accuracy of that view, at least in being a strong ruler. Willie, aside from the fatally human mistakes that brings about his downfall, clearly stands as evidence of the truth of Machiavelli's views. The first Machiavellian aspect of Willie Stark's career is the means by which he becomes governor. Machiavelli says that most things in life are due to fortune, for "fortune is the arbiter of one half of our actions"ÃÂ (82).
Fortune gives Willie the opportunity to be noticed by the public when the fire escape of the schoolhouse, built by his opponent, collapses. However, if it were not for Willie's extensive campaigning prior to the election, Willie would receive no recognition. Willie can be categorized by Machiavelli as a "prince"ÃÂ who acquired his position through his own skill, for he "received nothing from fortune except the opportunity"ÃÂ (21).
In the second half of chapter three of All the King's Men, dealing with the Byram White scandal, Robert Penn Warren shows Willie's transformation into a corrupt politician. Willie immediately starts having Jack get any information on MacMurfee's men in the Legislature that he can use against them as blackmail. Warren shows a night and day transformation, which takes place when Willie realizes that he has been used as a "sap"ÃÂ to split the Harrison-MacMurfee vote. Willie goes from his country background and his dull, yet carefully calculated speeches, to being a Machiavellian ruler, using traits of cunning, deceit, and ruthlessness to defeat his opponent.
However, Machiavelli does not advocate constantly wicked behavior. He says that "Injuries...should be inflicted all at the same time, for the less they are tasted, the less they offend"ÃÂ (33). Machiavelli also believes that rulers must make strong bonds with the people over which they rule, that generosity and public show are key to winning their respect. Willie recognizes the truth behind these statements, for after the Byram White scandal, Willie starts planning to building a massive hospital - a public show of his generosity. However, what Willie does not see is that to be a good Machiavellian ruler, he must not let his emotions get in the way of his job - he must simply get done what needs to get done.
Willie descends into a life of fatal complications caused by the rising of his inner nature and human weakness - particularly Willie's affair with Anne Stanton, and his involvement with Adam Stanton. Theoretically, Willie could get away with one of these two breaches of Machiavelli's advice, but he surely could not get away with both.
As for his affair with Anne, Machiavelli believes what causes a "prince"ÃÂ to be "hated above all else is being rapacious and a usurper of the property and the women of his subjects; he must refrain from this"ÃÂ (61). Machiavelli places this objective at the top of his list; not only does he say "above all else"ÃÂ but he repeats at the end, as if we did not understand the point already, that "he must refrain from this."ÃÂ Willie, sadly, does not follow this advice, letting his tragically human sin help bring about his death.
The real problem arises when Willie begins to incorporate Adam Stanton into his dealings. Willie realizes that he has become a corrupt politician, and so this hospital, to him, stands as a symbol of his desire to do genuine good for the people. This desire burgeons from his inner nature which Willie has been keeping underground. Because Willie decides to build this hospital without the use of any illicit dealings, he hires Adam to work for him. What he does not consider is that by hiring Adam Stanton, Willie is letting an uncorrupted outsider work dangerously close to his tarnished employees. Although Machiavelli advocates public shows of generosity, he does not say that these shows of generosity have to be pure - he urges that rulers should not mix outsiders with their corrupted advisors. Hiring Adam places Willie in an awkward and vulnerable position - a position in which Willie is apt to slip and fall.
Willie's downfall is certain, and it is even more obvious when he declares that he will name the hospital after Tom. Willie puts his power solely on his words, and Machiavelli says that a "prince who bases his power entirely on [his] words, finding himself completely without other preparations, comes to ruin"ÃÂ (56).
The cascade of events that lead to Willie's death would not have been set into motion if it were not for Willie's weakness of succumbing to his inner nature. Before he becomes involved with the Stantons, Willie's career is fairly solid, embodying Machiavellian ideals and rationale. Willie appeals to the population, works hard to become governor, and if needed can place his morality on the back burner when it comes to asserting his authority. Willie's affair with Anne and employment of Adam set the avalanche in motion, and although Willie does realize his mistakes and attempts to set things straight, life, like Machiavellianism, is unforgiving.