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VINE VOICEon August 14, 2000
There are two good reasons to read Machiavelli's classic, "The Prince."
First, so you'll know what everyone is referring to when you come across the adjective "machiavellian" in news stories or other media. This adjective has become so commonplace (and overused) it is almost a cliche. Also, most who use it have never read this letter from Machiavelli, a Rennaisance courtier to his Prince (written from prison), but they insist on peppering writings with this noun turned adjective so much that as a matter of clearly understanding what is meant by the term, famiality with this brief treatise is helpful.
Second, this book does describe most (not all) power situations very well. From politics to corporations to most settings where advancement, influence and control exist, Machiavelli's observations and rules apply.
You will also discover that Machiavelli was not as evil as he is understood to be in popular thought. What he was doing was describing the rules of the game that have existed and always will exist for many situations involving selfish humans in competition. Machiavelli's rules are neither good nor bad in themselves -- they describe a process. What is good or bad is how those who master Machiavelli's rules use their power and position, in a society that tempers actions according to law and basic Judeo-Christian principals. When those principals do not exist (as in Nazi Germany, the Middle Ages or under Communism, or by those who refuse to live by these constraints), Machiavelli's rules take on their demonic and evil cloak; usually because they serve demonic and evil ends. In societies where positive constraints exist, for example the U.S. political system, Machiavellian behavior can produce excellent results. A good example involves Abraham Lincoln, whose ambition led him to use every legitimate trick and stragety to master (and remove) political opponents. His mastery of Machiavellian behavior constrained by the US political system allowed him to save the Union and end slavery.
To fully appreciate the modern lessons that can be taken from this writing, one must translate Medieval sensibilites to their contemporary counterparts. The casual way in which Machiavelli discusses the need to kill opponents was necessary to those who wished to be princes 500 years ago. Today, of course, "killing" is translated as rendering less powerful, or taking an opponent out of the game.
What does one get from this book? It is a roadmap with insights and lessons about how to 1) get ahead of others to attain power; and 2) maintain and expand one's power in the face of others who would usurp one who is in a desirable position.
This book is about ruthlessness and putting the attainment of goals ahead of any other consideration. Plenty of maxims that are also tossed about frequently in media are to be found in Machiavelli's book: "the end justifies the means," "it is better to be feared than loved," "if you fight the prince, kill the prince" to name a few.
It is essential reading to anyone who would be in a competitive environment and hope to advance, if for no other reason than many of one's competitors operate by Machiavelli's dictums (which arise out of human instinct and selfishness). One does not have to operate according to Machaivelli's code -- many examples of alturism and "pluck and luck" exist to defeat any claim that Machiavelli's road map is essential for success. However, human nature and human history deliver far more examples of ruthless self-interest (Machiavellianism) behind success in power situations.
Is Machiavellianism bad? Not in and of itself. Remember, one must translate the Middle Age ethos to current practices -- there usually isn't blood spilled as a result of today's Machiavellian duels, just power and positon. Most political and business leaders are at least partly Machiavellian. The trick is using one's power to good ends. Thus, even though Lincoln and all of our presidents were Machiavellian in their climb to the White House, some of them did darn good work there. The same is true for business leaders. Jack Welch (GE), Bill Gates (Microsoft), anyone who advances past the first few rungs of the corporate ladder or dominates markets at the expense of competitors is using Machiavelli's dictums. The trick of a just and good society is to set the bounds by which power can be attained and exercised so that good and benefits will flow from those who are able to "claw their way to the top."
To summarize, read this book if you want to 1) truly understand when the adjective "Machiavelli" is used to describe people and 2) understand the rules by which most people navigate their way to power.
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on February 28, 2004
Machiavelli was a moderately significant figure in Renaissance Florence at the time that city was busy shaping the essence of the modern world. His works (all of them, but especially the Prince) capture much of what is pivotal in this culture. The book is advice to princes on how to seize and hold power. Mostly, that means you need to trick people and use ruthless violence intelligently. (He suggests that, if you could invent something like the Catholic Church, you'd be in a specially good position to set up a rule that would draw a lot of allegiance and a lot of taxes, would have no responsibilities, and would never end.) It's great reading as literature and as history, and also incredibly subtle and insightful as an analysis of human psychology. Mostly, this work praises cunning intelligence; it is also written for the reader who possesses the same. Consequently, it is a book that requires real patience and attention if its real treasures are to be found. Mansfield's translation is, I believe, the best for allowing one to look for the inner depth of the book. The translation is inspired by the work of Leo Strauss, and, as is typical of Straussian translations, it is a translation that is extremely careful to reflect the subtleties of the language of the original in order to retain their complex intimations etc. This is the translation I use when I teach the book because of its precision and elegance. It also has helpful historical notes that provide some of the essential context that is necessary to understanding Machiavelli's words; (Machiavelli often, for example, describes some historical figure in a fashion which will suggest the opposite of his true point to the reader who does not take the trouble to learn the details of the context he is referring to, and Mansfield is helpful in supplying guides to the modern reader for what to study in order to get past these textual deceptions). Overall, this is an outstanding translation of one of the great books of Western culture. I recommend it highly.
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on October 5, 2001
Based upon Michiavelli's first hand experience as an emissary of the Florentine Republic to the courts of Europe The Prince analyzes the often violent means by which political power is seized and retained, and the circumstance in which it is lost. Because The Prince is a political commentary, and not a work of fiction, Michiavelli does not use "characters" in the sense of a novel or a short story. Instead he draws his examples from the current political and social events, as well as from history. His characters are the political leaders of his time. The book is a declaration in plain language the conduct of great men and the principles of princely governments. The book can be divided into four sections.
1. The types of principalities. Michiavelli lists four types of principalities.
* Hereditary principalities, which are inherited by the ruler.
* Mixed principalities, territories that are annexed to the rulers existing territories.
* New principalities which may be acquired by several methods: by own power, by the power of others by criminal acts or extreme cruelty, or by the will of the people
* Ecclesiastical principalities, namely the papal states belonging to the catholic churches.
2. The character and behavior of the prince. Michiavelli recommends the following character and behavior for princes:
* It is better to be miserly than generous.
* It is better to be cruel than merciful.
* It is better to break promises if keeping than would be against ones interest.
* Princes must avoid making them hated and despised; the goodwill of the people is a better defense than any fortress.
* Princes should undertake great projects to enhance their reputation.
* Princes should choose wise advisors to confide and consult with
3. The types of armies A prince must always pay close attention to military affairs if he wants to remain in power. A prince must lay good foundation and those foundations include good laws and good armies. There cannot be good laws without good armies, and where there are good laws there must be good armies. The study of war should be a prince's main goal, for war is a rulers only art.If princes become too refined to study this art they loose their state. The types of armies are:
* Mercenaries or Auxiliaries (loaned to you by another ruler) are both dangerous and unreliable, as they will maintain their interests preceding yours.
* Native troops composed of ones own citizens or subjects are by far the most desirable kind.
4. Italy's political situation Michiavelli outlines and recommends the following
* The rulers of Italy have lost their states by ignoring the political and military principles.
* Fortune controls half of human affairs, but free will controls the rest, leaving the prince free to act. However, the few princes can adopt their actions to times
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on September 21, 2001
Machiavelli wrote this book for the Medici back in a time that is suppossed to be so different from today. Yet, The Prince is as applicable as the day it was wrote- maybe more so. It's a concise, almost surgical, guidebook to world domination. Superficially, this book is written like stereo instructions with precise directions on control of your enemies, followers, and friends. But, deeply, it will force any serious reader to take stock of the lengths neccessary to attain great power. Lives are flited at like pieces on a chess board with absolutely no uneccessary concern (if they can't hurt ya, screw 'em). Why, aside from that whole learning about world domination thing, this book is such a neccessary read for anybody with a stake in daily life is because this is the book your leaders sleep with under their pillow. There hasn't been an intelligent, powerful, and influential political leader that hasn't been influenced by Machiavelli and this book. It's very important to really wrap yourself around reality in reading this book so as to open your own eyes to what people do to lead (not just dictators, facists, and imperialists, but deomcrats and republicans.). This book is Political Reality 101- you must read it.
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on March 29, 2000
"The Prince" is one of the view books from college that I've actually kept. It is splendid reading on several levels. First, one appreciates Machiavelli as a problem solver. Italy is divided; what is the most practical and efficient means for a wise prince to consolidate his power and unify it? But one also appreciates Machiavelli as a person. A florentine intellectual banished to the countryside--it wouldn't be a bad life for some of us, but to him it must have been torture.
I was once asked whether Machiavelli was a cynic, a realist, or a patriot, and I believe the correct answer is all three. Much of Machiavelli's advice contains an under current of cynicism and ruthlessness, and this has undoubtedly come to be the dominant portion of his reputation. One of the terms for devil, "Old Nick" is derived from Machiavelli. When one speaks of destroying an enemy or performing a ruthless, sneaky act, that person is likely to be called "machiavellian". But Machiavelli's advice was as realistic as one could get in those times. This was an era when despots and mercenaries ruled by force and assasination. It was a time when popes fathered children and carved out little principalities for themselves. One was not going to remain in power, much less get ahead of one's enemies by being virtuous. It isn't that Machiavelli despised virtue so much as he realized how useless it was in the political context of the times. But in the end Machiavelli was also an idealist. He dreamed of a united Italy under a strong (and practical) prince. When he dedicated his treatise to Rodorigo Borgia, he did so in the hopes that he might be the man to perform such a task.
This book provides timeless practical advice for anyone who wishes to succeed in a hostile, divisive environment. It also illuminates the peculiar political circumstances of Renaissance Italy.
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VINE VOICEon March 27, 2008
This book was written by the famous Italian statesman Niccolo Machiavelli in 1531. This book is a classic and I was pleasantly surprised that the content was not dated and the principles translate easily into the modern worlds of business and politics.
The author wrote this book as an instruction guide for governing princes in the 1500's when Italy was divided into city states and were being defeated by many foreign powers. I belive that the work is directed to Lorenzo de Medici by a letter included in the work and because at the end of the writing Machiavelli calls for a prince to unite and lead Italy against its oppressors.
The book is not unethical as I had imagined from my understanding of the ruthlessness of Machiavellian ethics. The author is only explaining tactics to use to maintain power in a kingdom or city state that are pragmatic for his time period.
Here are some examples from the book:
1. When conquering a territory keep the current laws and institutions in place, but eliminate all the family of the defeated prince.
2. When trouble is sensed ahead of time it can be easily remedied, if you wait for it to show itself, it is to late.
3. Whoever is responsible for another becoming powerful, ruins himself.
4. There is no surer way of keeping possesion than by devastation.
5. Men do you are harm either because they hate you or they fear you.
6. Violence must be inflicted once and for all, it must be over quickly.
7. Build your power through the people.
8. Power is maintained through religious institutions.
9. Neglect the art of war and you lose your state.
10. If you act virtuously, you will be undone by those who are not, make use of this or not according to need.
The above is just a small sampling of the lessons in this book. My review can not do this book justice, it is full of wisdom and life lessons. It is a guide book for business leaders and politicians. I strongly suggest adding this book to your home library and referring to it often.
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on May 8, 1997
Politicians usually read this text in the first political science class which they take. Actually, understanding Politics without understanding the principles in this text is an impossibility. A person who does not understand the principles of this text is too naive to understand why their leaders do what they do. Politics occurs in business, family life, and other settings, as well as government; Machiavelli's rules may be applied in all of these. Though living by these rules isn't necessary, a successful politician must act with mindfulness of their implications, or face failure. Considering the far reaching implications of Machiavelli's thought, one might wonder why elementary school children do not study "the Prince."
Many people don't have the guts to face what Machiavelli says. He presents the rules of 'hardball' politics; the only time that he mentions morality is when he describes the occasions in which a leader may need to fake it. Politicians have become so adept in following these rules that those whom they lead will often take offense at the suggestion that their leaders live by them. Read this book and understand the daily news.
"The Prince" is the quintessential text of Political Science. The Dover edition, though small, does not lack any of the origional text. It does lack the clutter of scholarly commentaries. It belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the politics which impacts their life, but it will merely irritate the gullible
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on February 25, 2010
There are lots of translations of Machiavelli's The Prince out there, both in in print and online. I first came across this one in graduate school. After having read it several times since being introduced to it as an undergraduate in different forms (in anthologies, in the Portable Machiavelli, etc.), this happens to be the most accessible one. Its introduction is fairly detailed, so new readers to Political Theory may find it overwhelming, but for those who have some background it presents intriguing ideas.
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on December 5, 1999
Actually, this book about political theory is applicable to any organization, not just governmental. Niccolo Machiavelli was a very shrewd man. A book full of pearls such as "Whoever believes that with great men new services wipe out old injuries deceives himslef"; "Without opportunity their prowess would have been extinguished and without such prowess the opportunity would have come in vain"; "And here it has to be noted that men must either be pampered or crushed, because they can get revenge for small injuries but not for grievous ones"; "The first opinion that is formed of a ruler's intelligence is based on the quality of men he has around him"; "But as soon as you disarm your subjects you start to offend them" and many many others. I am glad I am writing this review because it has been such a long time since I went back to my small yellow book for reference.
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VINE VOICEon December 15, 2005
Anyone who picks up Machiavelli's "The Prince" holds in his hands the most famous book on politics ever written. Its closest rival might be Plato's "Republic," but that book discusses politics in the context of things above politics, and politics turns out to have a limited and subordinate place. In "The Prince" Machiavelli also discusses politics in relation to things outside of politics, but his conclusion is very different. Politics according to him is not limited by things above it, and things normally taken to be outside politics--the "givens" in any political situation--turn out to be much more under the control of politics than politicians, peoples, and philosophers have hitherto assumed. The renown of "The Prince" is precisley to have been the first and best book to argue that politics has and should have its own rules and should not accept rules of any kind or from any source where the object is not to win or prevail over others. Without hesitation or reservation, five stars.
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