I just had an interesting discussion with a young man who was convinced that Machiavelli was evil. I found out he'd never even tried to read "The Prince", which is the quintessential guide to Machiavelli's political mind. This young man's preconception is a very common one, alas.
In this book, presented in short chapters, one finds a guidebook to taking power and ruling a small country. Nowhere does it suggest using excessive force, nor does it suggest gratuitous violence. It is straightforward and pragmatic. Machiavelli suggests keeping one's goal, political power, in mind all the time, and is not afraid to discuss unpleasant ways of getting and keeping that power. It is the essence of ruthlessness, but what politician doesn't do this every day? In every competitive, demanding occupation, participants must keep goals in mind constantly and work completely toward those goals. Machiavelli was just one of the first to codify how to do it. And codify he does -- the book is filled with suggestions on how to handle everything from whether to hire mercenary troops to how to make the commoners love you.
Though Machiavelli's writing is somewhat archaic and definitely rich in idea density, it is worth the read. I think everybody, from students to politicos to housekeepers to entrepreneurs, would benefit from the information contained herein. I do suggest getting a decent grounding in Italian history before the attempt.
After being described as Machiavellian by some of the fellow members of my youth government group, I decided to find out what they meant. I soon discovered that to be Machiavellian, is to be " a person having ruthless ambition, craftiness, and merciless political tactics." I took this comparison as a compliment and learned more Niccolo Machiavelli by reading one of his books, The Prince. The Prince begins with an in-depth historical introduction by Christian Gauss discussing the history of Italy. This background is essential so that readers have a basic understanding of where Machiavelli was coming from with his ideas. Machiavelli, a son of a Florentine lawyer, lived back in the 16th Century. He was a humanist and grew up reading the works of the Romans and the Greeks. It was because of his studies that he was able to analyze history and formulate his own theories on ruling a nation. Following this introduction, Machiavelli essentially provides the first ever "idiots guide to ruling a country" in 26 chapters. Within these chapters he answers questions such as whether it is better to be hated by the people or loved by the aristocracy, whether one should raise armies within a nation or hirer mercenaries, and what happens when you rule as a villain. Machiavelli's philosophy on every aspect of ruling a nation is discussed within this novel. The best part of this novel is how straightforward Machiavelli was in his writing. He cuts the fluff, and is blunt with his points. He is also very original in his thoughts about power. He does not try to conceal the political motives. In one section Machiavelli clearly presents his view on the importance for a prince to have religion:
Whoever reads Roman history attentively will see in how great a degree religion served in the command of the armies, in uniting the people and keeping them well conducted, and in covering the wicked with shame. (Machiavelli, pg. 78)
In this quote, Machiavelli never talks about how spirituality is important in satiating a God. Instead he talks about how a ruler can take advantage of a religion's power to be a massive propaganda machine. This is just the way Machiavelli presents his ideas. His views are often described as ruthless, but I feel they are just honest, accurate reflections of men's motives in politics. When reading the book, the only thing that bothered me was that my knowledge of European history is severely lacking. Frequently within the novel Machiavelli would make references to ancient battles such as the Venetians and France versus the Duke of Milan, or ancient people such as the Spartans, or the Medici. For this reason I would advise taking an AP or College Class in European History. A important insight is lost by a reader without this knowledge in any number of quotes such as this one:
But when one cannot avoid it, as happened in the case of the Florentines when the Pope and Spain went with their armies to attack Lombardy, the prince ought to join for the above reasons. (Machiavelli, pg. 112)
In this quote, I was completely ignorant to the fact that Spain and the Pope ever united, and furthermore that they then attacked a country, Lombardy, one that I had never heard of before. It was just frustrating to read a section and be completely bewildered afterwards, so that is why I suggest having a good knowledge of history before reading this book. By the end of the novel, my mind was racing with Machiavelli's theories on being a great ruler and I was anxious to go out and conquer my own nation. Unfortunately, Machiavelli wrote this a while ago and many of the things he described cannot be implemented today. However, a lot of his basic ideas can still be applied and this serves as an inspiration for me in my quest for power. Even though the days of Princes ruling are dead, anyone from modern day politicians to tech-company owners can appreciate Machiavelli's theories about control of power.