Machiavelli: There is no doubt, I confess, that I have little admiration for your civilization of cylinders and shafts; but, believe me, I move with the times; the power of the doctrines to which my name is attached is the fact that they can accommodate themselves to all times and situations. Today, Machiavelli has grandsons who know the price of his lessons. One believes me to be quite old and every day I am rejuvenated on the earth.
Montesquieu: Are you joking?
Machiavelli: Listen to me and judge for yourself. Today, it is less a question of doing violence to men than disarming them, of repressing their political passions than effacing them, of combating their instincts than deceiving them, of proscribing their ideas than changing them by appropriating them.
Montesquieu: And how? I do not understand this language.
Machiavelli: Permit me. Here is the moral part of politics; in a little while we will come to the applications. The principal secret of government consists in weakening the public spirit to the point of completely disinteresting the people in the ideas and principles with which one makes revolution these days. In all eras, peoples -- like individual men -- are paid with words. Appearances are almost always sufficient for them; they do not demand more. Thus, one can establish artificial institutions that respond to a language and ideas that are equally artificial; one must have the talent of snatching from the parties the liberal phraseology with which they arm themselves against the government. One must saturate the people to the point of exhaustion, to the point of disgust. Today, one often speaks of the power of public opinion; I will show to you that one can make it express what one wants when one knows the hidden springs of power. But before dreaming of directing it, one must stun it, strike it with uncertainty by astonishing contradictions, work incessant diversions upon it, dazzle it by all sorts of diverse movements, imperceptibly lead it astray from its routes. One of the great secrets of the day is knowing how to seize hold of popular prejudices and passions so as to introduce into them a confusion of principles that render all understanding impossible among those who speak the same language and have the same interests.
- Dialogue in Hell between Machiavelli and Montesquieu (1864)