Since February 2013, Kevin Spacey has been magnificently spilling his dark charisma all over our TV/computer/laptop screens in the form of seedy congressman and Democratic House Majority Whip Francis 'Frank' Underwood in the hit Netflix exclusive 'House of Cards'. Everything about the series is tremendous: the cast, the plot, the twists, the ominous atmosphere; it has everything. However, there's another thing that makes the series so great - the philosophy behind it all. For me, it is a factor that truly adds to the already enticing and edge-of-seat drama.
The philosophy that I'm talking about here is that of Italian statesman, political theorist and major figure of the renaissance Niccolo Machiavelli, whose most famous work 'The Prince' gives an in-depth analysis of political power and how it is consolidated and preserved. It also attempts to address a view commonly held by earlier philosophers (particularly the fathers of Western Philosophy) that there was a special relationship between moral goodness and legitimate authority. Machiavelli did not believe that this was always the case. In fact, he believed that the only obligation of those with power was maintaining their own power and the security of the State.
In 'The Prince', he states that "it is best to be both feared and loved; however, if one cannot be both it is better to be feared than loved", and also that "everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are." Viewers of the series will know this is exactly the case with Underwood; he embodies the perfect Machiavellian figure: he's ruthlessly pragmatic, manipulative, cunning and knows how to play the game of politics; once you become involved in his tangled web, there is no escape. Yet, to those who don't, and will never truly see his dark side, he's just another 'caring', yet determined politician, who is seemingly fighting for the best for his constituents.
It could even be said that the series is a modern, audiovisual version of the 16th Century classic; that it brings to life Machiavelli's ideas and concepts, and applies them to modern politics, which I'm sure we all know is full of careerists and crooks.
In fact, the series is a lesson to us all. To whoever has become disillusioned with our political system it sends out a message that we should strengthen our scepticism and hostility; to whoever wishes to become a politician, or desires a career in politics, it sends the message that this is what you could become. Shady, corrupt, ruthless. Don't get me wrong, we all have a secret love for Underwood, but he's certainly not the type of person I want to become.
So when you sit down and immerse yourself in 50 minutes of exquisite drama, just remind yourself of its twisted, Machiavellian, and somewhat dystopian message.
After everything, then, whilst we should of course be massively grateful to actors like Spacey, the creator of the series, Beau Willimon, the writers, the production team, it could certainly be argued, that without a certain Italian, it would never have graced our screens.
So, here's to you, Niccolo.