Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Book 63: The Prince


I was pleasantly surprised with just how accessible Machiavelli's The Prince was.  So often I feel like philosophers are a bit wordier than I like and with only a hundred or so pages, Machiavelli quickly gets to his point (I realize that part of this long-windedness often is because they are explaining a concept that is new to their contemporaries but has become a given or common sense now exactly because of them).  Not only that, but much of what he says is easily applied to modern day examples.  I actually ended up comparing a few of his situations to Game of Thrones in a class discussion because one can definitely see how Martin (and probably a good portion of Western society) has been influenced by Machiavelli's ideas of power and leadership.  Or perhaps, it's not even that they have been influenced by him but that Machiavelli recognizes human nature so well that even now his words hold true.  In essence, Machiavelli just made sense to me, and displayed a great deal of common sense.

Given that his name has become a word, I figured I would find him too cynical.  After all this is the man we think of when we think of the idea that it is better to be feared than loved.  However, while reading him and considering his background, much of what he says makes sense.  He spends a lot of time on the idea of power, but to me, power seemed more like a means to end rather than the end itself.  Machiavelli advised men on how they could protect their power and achieve it, but more so, he seemed concerned with the stability of the state.  He didn't want princes to have power for themselves but rather because it would ensure that they could make good decisions for the kingdoms or states, and prevent others from seeing them as vulnerable or weak.  Italy and its states had seen a reduction in their importance and power in the past decades as well as warfare.  As a result, one can see where Machiavelli might be more focused on maintaining a stable state as an important key to prosperity and the well being of the people rather than having a kind and progressive ruler who could easily be overthrown.

Machiavelli also lists a variety of characteristics, many of them good, that a leader should appear to be.  Since a leader had to be able to make tough decisions and possibly do things that would not be considered "good," Machiavelli notes that it is only necessary to appear to have these qualities because it also means that a ruler can act in different manners as the situation requires without going against his nature.  I think a lot of the things he said made a lot of sense.  While people have probably used Machiavelli to justify actions that he would not agree with or believe besides the point, his ideas on leadership are quite interesting, very accessible and definitely worth the read - especially if you want to start thinking about Game of Thrones while you're reading it.