Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli

This is a slim Bantam classic and a must read for anyone who is into power and politics. Machiavelli wrote down this practical treatise on 'seizing and holding power' in 1512 as an offering to Lorenzo de Medici, the reigning King. Incidentally the same Medici kings threw Machiavelli in jail and tortured him, before he was set free, upon being exonerated of the crimes he was accused of.

I found it difficult to read it initially as Machiavelli describes the happenings in his time and uses them as examples - something which confused me- and it took me almost two or three weeks to figure out how to read it. Cut to the parts where he is giving the advise to the Prince and you get the gist without complex names and situations in the sixteenth century.
Bantam Books, Rs. 199, 166 p

Machiavelli is disturbing. He challenges all that is good and honest and says that to hold on to power one needs to be practical and not idealistic. It is so and one can understand that few want power and even fewer can hold on to power one way or another. To retain it one must be ready to fight, ready to deceive, ready to be ruthless - in order to achieve the end - of ruling a happy and satisfied people. It does take a while to let it all sink in but one knows that for the greater good (or for the greater perceived good which is more important) the one in power must hold on to it, use it and be ready to fight for it and retain it. I totally think it is practical (and not devious as the name evokes) and agree with all that he says. Machiavelli has been synonymous with all that is deceitful but it is not so - he really brings forth a view that rulers and diplomats must know.  

Some stuff that interested me.

"One may note that men must be either pampered or annihilated. They avenge light offenses; they cannot avenge severe ones; hence the harm that one does to a man must be such as to obviate any fear of revenge."

"Dominions thus acquired have been accustomed either to live under a prince or to be free; and they are acquired either by fortune or ability."

"That states accustomed to the family of the ruler are easily kept than new ones, because it is sufficient if the prince does not abandon the methods of his ancestors and proves adaptable when unforeseen events occur."

"He who causes another to become powerful ruins himself, for he brings such power into being, either by design or by force, and both of these elements are suspect to the one whom he made powerful."

"All principalities have been ruled in two different ways: either by a single prince aided by servants functioning as ministers and governing by his favor and concession; or by a prince with barons holding title not by his grace but by right of inheritance."

"To keep a state used to live in freedom there are three ways - destroy it, live in it or let it continue to live under its own laws taking tribute from it.  The surest procedure is to either destroy them or to live in them."

"Men always walk in paths beaten by others or act by imitation. A prudent man must tread the path of great men and imitate those who have excelled so that even if his ability does not match theirs, at least he will achieve some semblance of it."

"Those who become princes by virtue of their abilities acquire dominion with difficulty but maintain it with ease."

"People are by nature changeable. It is easy to persuade them about some particular matter, but it is hard to hold them to that persuasion. Hence it is necessary to provide that when they no longer believe, they can be forced to believe."

"The wise prince must provide in such a way that in whatever circumstances, the citizens will always be in need of him and of his government."

"Men are always opposed to ventures in which they foresee difficulties."

"It is the nature of men to feel as much bound by the favors they do as by those they receive."

"Experience shows that only princes and republics with troops of their own have accomplished great things, while mercenary forces have brought nothing but harm. No state unless it has its own arms, is secure."

"A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession than that of war. He must devote himself to military exercises in time of peace even more than in time of war."

"The Prince ought to read history and reflect upon the deeds  of outstanding men, note how they conducted themselves in war, examine the causes of their victories an defeats and thereby learn to emulate the former and avoid the latter.  Above all, he ought to do as some wise men have done and take to imitating some celebrated predecessor whose deeds and actions he may keep before him."

"Every wise prince should never submit to idleness in times of peace, but rather endeavor to turn such time to advantage so as to profit from it in adversity. Thus when fortune turns against him, he will be prepared to resist it."

"A man who strives for good in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good. Hence it is necessary that the prince who is interested  in his survival learns to be other than good, making use of this capacity or refraining from it according to need."

"A wise pince will not object to being reputed a miser. With the passage of time he will come to seem more generous."

"Of all the things that the prince must guard against, hatred and contempt come first, and liberality leads to both. It is better to have a name for miserliness, which breeds disgrace without hatred than, in pursuing a name of liberality, to resort to rapacity, which breeds both disgrace and hatred."

"Every prince ought to wish to be considered kind rather than a cruel."

"He ought to be slow to believe what he hears and slow to act. Nor should he fear imaginary dangers, but proceed with moderation, prudence and humanity, avoiding carelessness born of overconfidence and unbearable harshness born of excessive distrust."

"Men are ungrateful, fickle, dissembling, anxious to flee danger and covetous of gain. So long as you promote their advantage they are all yours."

"A prince should make himself feared in such a way that, though he does not gain love, he escapes hatred; for being feared and not hated go readily together. Such a condition he may always attain if he will not touch the property of his citizens and subjects, nor their women."

"The prince who has little regard for their word and had the craftiness to turn men's minds have accomplished great things and in the end, have overcome those who governed their actions by their pledges."

"Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions."

"A prince cannot observe all those virtues for which men are reputed good, because it is often necessary to act against mercy, against faith, against humanity, against frankness, against religion in order to preserve the state. He must be disposed to change according as the winds of fortune and alterations of circumstance dictate. He must stick to the good so long as he can, but, being compelled by necessity, he must be ready to take the way of the evil."

"Men judge by the eye rather than the hand, for all men can see a thing, but few come close enough to touch it."

"I approve of those who erect fortresses and of those who do not. But I condemn anyone who, putting his trust in fortresses, will think it no great matter if he is hated by the people."

"A prince gains esteem when he acts as  a true ally or a true enemy, that is, when he declares himself openly for or against one of two conflicting parties - a policy that is always better than neutrality."

"A prince should also demonstrate that he loves talent by supporting men of ability and by honoring those who excel in each craft. Moreover he ought to encourage his citizens peacably to pursue their affairs, whether in trade, in agriculture or in any other human activity so that no one will hesitate to improve his possessions for fear that they will be taken for him and no one will hesitate to open a new avenue of trade for fear of taxes. Instead the prince ought to be ready to reward those who do these things and those who seek out ways of enriching their city or state."

"Minds are of three kinds: one is capable of thinking for itself, another is able to understand the thinking of others, and a third can neither think for itself nor understand the thinking of others. The first is of the highest excellence, the second is excellent and the third is worthless."

"A prince should always seek advise but only when he, not someone else, chooses. He should discourage everyone from giving advise unless he has asked for it."

"No one should ever allow himself to fall down in the belief that someone else will lift him to his feet, because it will not happen; or if it does happen, it will not prove to be to his advantage. Such a means of defense is cowardly, in that it does not derive from one's own initiative and only those methods of defense which depend on one's own resourcefulness are good, certain and enduring."

"Since fortune changes while human beings remain constant in their methods of conduct, I conclude that men will succeed so long as method and fortune are in harmony and they will fail when they are no longer in harmony."

"It is better to be impetuous than to be cautious, for fortune is a woman and in order to be mastered she must be jogged and beaten. And it may be noted that she submits more readily to boldness than to cold calculation."

"Whoever organises a state and establishes its laws must assume that all men are wicked and will act wickedly whenever they have a chance to do so."

"The welfare of a republic or a kingdom does not lie in its having a prince who governs it prudently while he lives, but rather in having one who organises it in such a way that it may endure after his death."

And much more.

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