Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Prince - Machiavelli

'The Prince' surprised me.  I'd always thought that the term 'Machiavellian' was somewhat synonymous with 'scheming'.  Not so, or at least not as much I thought.  'The Prince' isn't really about political maneuvering as it is power politics. 
Machiavelli lived in turbulent times. Italy was not united, but was composed of city states that were sometimes warring.  The Pope was also an active power and the Italian peninsula was invaded by outsiders, such as France.  None of it was stable and many rulers had struggled with how to rule newly conquered states.  Machiavelli decided to study why some rulers succeeded and others failed. 
He set up various categories of which princes needed to pay attention.  He talked about how to select friends and how to keep the people happy.  He talked about how different states need different approaches.  To make his points he selected both historical and contemporary examples.  (The historical stuff is interesting but my lack of knowledge of 15th century Italy made his contemporary stuff confusing.) 
The entire book is written in 'how-to' style.  I'm sure that various heads of state found it very enlightening way back then.  It's easy to picture them publicly denouncing it while privately studying it very hard.  'The Prince' was controversial because it moved away from an idealistic style of governance to a more 'real-politck' style.  Might as its own virtue, rather than just in service of right.  
A very interesting read.  I'll blog about various pieces of it in the next few weeks.

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