Friday, December 07, 2007

The Prince- Niccolo Machiavelli

For the one who lacked nothing to reign but kingdom!

It is impossible not to think of Chanakya’s Arthashastra while reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, even though more than a thousand years stand between the two works. Both of them intended it for rulers and would-be rulers . I don’t remember much of Arthashastra since I had rummaged through it like a scavenger searching for some quotable quotes to support my essay. The treatise’ preoccupation with taxes, fines, military, spy-system etc had actually bored me. ‘coz at that time I had never considered them to be the educative things for a ruler. Though the content of Machiavelli’s work is entirely different, I felt both of them lived in a world, which they were, in a way, wary of. If one considers the past as a golden age, then books like these can spring some unpleasant surprises. Since they are supposed to be objective works in spite of the personal fixations the authors might have had,one gets disappointed with their world. There are many observations and words of advice in The Prince, which I thought worth blogging about. They are interesting for one or many of the following reasons. You might find these thoughts as judicious, astute, shrewd, absurd, naive, amusing, hilarious, ghastly, meaningless or that they are similar to some of the common beliefs held by us.

Not being always able to follow others exactly, a prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it. And in examining their life and deeds it will be seen that they owed nothing to fortune but the opportunity which gave them matter to be shaped into what form they thought fit and without that opportunity their powers would have been wasted, and without their powers the opportunity would have come in vain.

It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order. It is easy to persuade them of a thing, but difficult to keep them in that persuasion.
Nothing causes a prince to be so much esteemed as great enterprises and giving proof of prowess. It is also very profitable for a prince to give some outstanding example of his greatness in the internal administration. And above all a prince must endeavour in every action to obtain fame for being great and excellent.
A prince is further esteemed when he is a true friend or a true enemy, when, that is, he declares himself without reserve in favour of some one or against another. This policy is always more useful than remaining neutral.
A prince must show himself a lover of merit, give preferment to the able, and honour those who excel in every art. The first impression that one gets of a ruler and of his brains is from seeing the men that he has about him.
Many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done will rather learnt to bring about his own ruin than his preservation. A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good.
And the Prince must not mind incurring the scandal of those vices, without which it would be difficult to save the state; for if one considers well, it will be found that some things which seem virtues would, if followed, lead to one’s ruin, and some others which appear vices result in one’s greater security and well being.
(Unfortunately Machiavelli does not give examples for such vices!)
(A Prince) ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting. Friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and nobility of spirit is bought but not secured, and at a pinch is not to be expended in your service. And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose ; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.
(This reminded me of those X and Y theories of leadership they taught us)
The desire to acquire possessions is a very natural and ordinary thing, and when those men do it who can do so successfully, they are always praised and not blamed, but when they cannot and yet want to do so at all costs they make a mistake deserving great blame.
There is no other way of guarding one’s self against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth; but when every one can tell you the truth, you lose their respect. A prudent prince must therefore take a third course, by choosing for his council wise men, and giving these alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else; but he must ask them about everything and hear their opinion, and afterwards deliberate by himself in his own way.
A prince ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes, not when others wish; on the contrary he ought to discourage absolutely attempts to advise him unless he asks, but he ought to be a great asker, and a patient hearer of the truth about those things of which he has inquired.

Our free will may not be altogether extinguished, I think it may be true that fortune is the ruler of half our actions but that she allows the other half or thereabouts to be governed by us.
It is certainly better to be impetuous than cautious, for fortune is a woman, and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force; and it can be seen that she lets herself be overcome by the bold rather than by those who proceed coldly. And therefore, like a woman, she is always a friend to the young, because they are less cautious, fiercer, and master her with greater audacity.
For it must be noted, that men must either be caressed or else annihilated; they will revenge themselves for small injuries, but cannot do so far great ones; the injury therefore that we do to a man must be such that we need not fear his vengeance.
A wise prince, therefore always avoids forces (outside of his kingdom) and has recourse to his own, and would prefer rather to lose with his own men than conquer with the forces of others, not deeming it a true victory which is gained by foreign arms. The arms of others either fail, overburden, or else impede you.
There are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient , one must have recourse to the second. It is therefore necessary for a prince to know well how to use both the beast and the man. A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion. One must be a fox to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.
(A Prince) must have a mind disposed to adapt itself according to the wind, and as the variations of fortune dictate, and, as I said before, not deviate from what is good, if possible, but be able to do evil if constrained.
In the actions of men, and especially princes, from which there is no appeal, the end justifies the means. Let a prince therefore aim at conquering and maintaining the state, and the means will always be judged honourable.

This is found in the nature of things, that one never tries to avoid one difficulty without running into another, but prudence consists in being able to know the nature of the difficulties, and taking the least harmful as good.

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