Machiavelli and the Political Response to the Eurozone Crisis

This year is the 500 anniversary of the publication of Niccolo Machiavelli’s Il Principe (The Prince). The European University Institute (EUI) will hold a conference next week to discuss various interpretations of this infamous book. I will present a paper that attempts to ask what Machiavelli would say about the political response to the current Eurozone crisis. It is not an attempt at democratic normative theory but an inquiry into what Machiavelli can contribute to comparative political economy. More precisely it asks why citizens in Europe should comply with external mandates of the EMU.

The paper argues that Machiavelli has been influential in political science because he systematically analysed the strategies pursued by leaders to consolidate their power. In this regard it was shift away from normative to empirical political theory. I argue that political leaders in Europe today must legitimate their policy decisions to the electorate. There are two ways to do this: input or output legitimacy. Input legitimacy means that governments respond to the preference of the electorate by designing policies that satisfy their interests. This is currently lacking for countries in Troika adjustment programs.

In the absence of input legitimacy national governments can legitimate their policies if the outcomes lead to effective performance such as strong economic growth or full employment. The crisis of the Eurozone is a causal outcome of an absence of both input and output legitimacy. The European response has been to promote technocratic economic policies insulated from politics. The lesson to be learnt from Machiavelli is that such a response is not viable. Incumbent governments will be punished by their electorates leading to unprecedented political volatility in the Eurozone.

The paper concludes that it would be perfectly legitimate for heads-of-state in Ireland and Southern Europe to make a credible threat to leave the Eurozone.

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