EPUB EBook by Niccolò Machiavelli
That single statement boys and girls is the crux at the heart of the matter resting at the bottom-line of Niccolo Machiavelli’s world-changing classic on the defining use of realpolitik in governance and foreign policy. Despite popular perception, Machiavelli, whose name has often been used as a synonym for political ASSHATery, was not arguing that it’s better to be immoral, cruel and evil than to be moral, just and good. Rather, Machiavelli was demonstrating, through reasoned analysis based on numerous historical examples, that the most effective way to govern a population is through decision-making based on the current situation without muddying up the waters with considerations of morality.
Holy snickerdoodles that's amoral!! Uh...yes, by definition it is.
However, Machiavelli, in his famous use of end justifying means, supports the rightness of his position by citing numerous examples of “princes” who, in acting "all just and proper like” in relation to their neighbors and subjects, led their people right into the waiting arms of bondage and slaughter at the hands of those who were less vituous in their thinking. Should such murdered and subjugated populations thank the princes for their unwaivering morality? Machiavelli says HELLS NO. He argues that the Prince’s #1 priority is to safeguard his holdings and maintain stability within his borders. Allowing other considerations to affect such judgements will only provide an advantage to third parties who will exploit it. In the end, Machiavelli argues, fewer lives will be lost and less suffering incurred by the Prince who can govern EFFECTIVELY.
Not necessarily warm and fuzzy Sesame Street thinking, but there is some serious power to the reasoning. I wish we lived in a world in which that was not the case. I wish Machiavelli’s insights were not needed and that we lived in a world where loftier morals could carry the day. However, until we do, Machiavelli’s words provide much ringing truth and thought food.
I don’t want to sound like a book report so let me just summarize briefly how the book is laid out.
Machiavelli wrote The Prince for Lorenzo de Medici, whose family ruled Florence at the time, as basically a job application. He wanted to get in good with the de Medici family secure a place at their court. The book, while jumping around a bit, can be divided into 3 or 4 sections, the last really being a summarizing “call to arms” to the Italian people that they need a wise prince to lead them back to the greatness of the Roman Empire.
Discounting the rah rah speech at the end, the other 3 sections deal with (1) the kinds of principalities and how they are acquired; download; (2) the proper organization of the military and the best kind of solider to comprise it; and (3) the internal make up of a princes court (i.e., associates and subordinates).
Section 1 is interesting and fun to read, but basically worthless for anything other than historical perspective. Machiavelli discusses territories won be conquest, inheritance or luck and talks about the various characteristics of each. While not exactly "awe-inspiring" in its perception, the narrative itself is interesting and Machiavelli’s “voice” is engaging.
Section 2 can be summarized as follows: Mercenaries well and truly SUCK and should not be used under any circumstances because their suckage will end up squandering your resources and giving squat in return. Therefore, the wise Prince keeps a standing army sufficient to protect the country’s interests.
Section 3 is the real meat of the work and contains the bulk of the advice that garnered Niccolo his much deserved reputation for suggesting the propriety of abandoning morality in governance. He speaks of the need of the Prince to be able to deceive and act against the "five" virtues of the righteous man when necessary for the betterment of his state and his people.
Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.Machiavelli discusses numerous examples of sovereigns who either benefitted from following such advice or, conversely, who suffered calamity for adhering to a sense of virtue.
The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.
Ground-breaking and brilliantly insightful, especially for its time. So much of what Machiavelli says is now an ingrained part of political thinking that it comes across as DUH when you read it. However, it was Niccolo who first put forth these concepts that have become the dogma and foundation of modern political thought. He put the “real” in realpolitk. I don’t think the contribution he made to political theory can be overstated. It was The Prince that called out the distinction between what men “say” and what they “do.” He did not invent political immorality, but he did recognize it as an effective, and at time crucial, aspect of rule. Something the famous rulers of history have always known…and practiced.
In addition, I was surprised at how much fun the book was to read. Machiavelli includes dozens and dozens of brief vignettes about world history in supporting his ideas and does a great job keeping the reader engaged with colorful descriptions of past events. The book is also chalk-full of wonderful quotes that just jumped out at me as I was reading. Here are a few that I thought were intriguing:
The new ruler must determine all the injuries that he will need to inflict. He must inflict them once and for all…People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance.”In addition to post-revolutionary purges and new government administrations, the above has also become a truism for business and is why corporations do “massive layoffs” rather than a series of smaller scale terminations. Gee, thanks Niccolo.
“My view is that it is desirable to be both loved and feared; but it is difficult to achieve both and, if one of them has to be lacking, it is much safer to be feared than loved.” Ah...just like the Godfather.
Oh…and lest the above not make it clear, for all his amazing contributions to world-history we should not lose sight of the fact that Machiavelli, for all his astuteness, was a bit of an asshole. While his work is engaging and wonderful reading and I give him full marks for “calling it like it is,” he is still not the kind of guy you want educating your children or providing life lessons. I admire his work, but the man comes across as quite a scummy, conniving douche.
You know, like a modern politician.
5.0 Stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!!
Like this book? Read online this: Strong Women, Strong Backs, Socialist History Journal Issue 16.
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