Thursday, September 24, 2009

53. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Machiavelli is officially my hero. The Prince is so straightforward and honest, and, yes, brutal, I want to give him a hug. He sees clearly. Especially in contrast with Castiglione, who stuck to ideals and praised virtue at all costs, Machiavelli blithely exposes the truly successful machinations of rulers.

And yet, despite his base view of human nature, despite his advocacy of war and vice, he is much more humanistic than usually given credit for. The manifesto is succinctly laid out, with sections on how to manage new and old principalities, how to manage armies and people and nobles, how to maintain money and property, and gain power over other principalities. He illustrates each section with an example from antiquity and an example from modernity, demonstrating his education and perception respectively. He values the stability of the state above all, the state that will actually benefit the greatest number of people, even if it need be assured through the destruction of the old royal line.

Machiavelli addresses his book to Lorenzo de Medici, who reconquered his principality from under a government in which Machiavelli held a large amount of power. Machiavelli is unemployed and exiled, and decides to beg for a job through a book so honest, his intentions cannot be misread. He died before it was published, but his last section makes me wonder about the true purpose of the manifesto. He exhorts de Medici to "rise up against the barbarians" and unite Italy, a feat, of course, that will not be completed till nearly three centuries later. Is this Machiavelli's true aim? is his brutal manifesto only a tool to gain the beloved country of the ancients and restore confidence to the people of Italy, so that perhaps he, the clever statesman could rule, or, as before, establish a republic? Did Machiavelli fully believe his own rhetoric?

I read my own views into his work, and my experience of humanity has been much the same, and yet I still see potential, I am still optimistic for change. Was he, too?

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