Reading Journal

What I'm reading

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Prince by Machiavelli

This is a classic I've wanted to read for a long time but never got around to it. In today's atmosphere of political and corporate platitudes and pandering, Machiavelli is an insider strategist who spills the beans, whispering "Now let me tell you what it really takes to hold onto power."

"Therefore, a wise prince must think of a method by which his citizens will need the state and himself at all times and in every circumstance. Then they will always be loyal to him."

Welfare state, anyone?

"For there is such a distance between how one lives and how one ought to live, that anyone who abandons what is done for what ought to be done achieves his downfall rather than his preservation. A man who wishes to profess goodness at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good. Therefore, it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain himself to learn how not to be good."

I guess this explains why we end up mistrusting politicians and executives.

"From this one can extract another notable observation: princes must delegate distasteful tasks to others, while pleasant ones they should keep for themselves."

That works until it becomes too obvious.

"Nor should any state ever believe that it can always choose safe courses of action. On the contrary, it should recognize that they will all be risky, for we find this to be in the order of things, that whenever we try to avoid one disadvantage, we run into another."

I wholeheartedly agree with this.

Anyway, he had some perceptive things to say about a leader's duty to be two-faced. A leader's public image must appear to match a people's ideals -- whatever those are -- but if that leader wants to hold onto power, he must be willing to break alliances, kill enemies, double-cross friends, etc. at a moment's notice.

Now that would be an interesting topic at a political debate! "Each candidate will now take five minutes to discuss people they've betrayed to attain power."


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