Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince for the ruler of the city-state of Florence whose name was Lorenzo.
It is cerca 1515. Machiavelli lived outside Florence, Italy. Italy didn’t exist as an integrated country then. It was ruled by city-states controlling lands beyond city walls. Some of those cities were autonomous. Some were controlled by the Pope. Some were controlled by foreigners like Spain and France.
Warfare was constant then. Prince A wanted Prince B’s lands. Prince C allied with A or B to augment his. But, lo, Prince D wanted in too.
Negotiation, plotting and conspiracy led to constant murder and war. The motivating force behind all this was the acquisition of new lands, new revenues and thus more power. Some princes were better at this game than others. Some were noble. Some were cruel. Some were loved. Some were hated.
What is the best way for a prince to be while playing this great game? Machiavelli attempts to answer this. Machiavelli was a learned man. He read many works from classical Greek and Roman times. This gave him depth of understanding. This enhanced his ability to analyze the methods of princes to determine their effectiveness. His hope was to give his sovereign of Florence such understanding as well. And Machiavelli was blunt.
The Prince consists of 25 short chapters. I’ll not cover them all now. I’ll not cover most. I will, however, convey a few dark tactics Machiavelli explains princes should employ that, ultimately, shed light on the naivety of people who believe government is their friend, and wouldn’t employ great subterfuge to manipulate populations, which is precisely what Machiavelli is teaching here.
Should a prince be loved or feared? Good question. To be loved by the people is to solidify your power over them. However, their love is conditional. It is capricious. It can go away if you as the prince make mistakes. Far better it is to have your people fear you than love you. After all, that fear is not capricious. So long as your people know they can be chastised by you, that fear will motivate them in the direction you would have them go. Love may or may not so motivate them. Fear always will.
Should you always keep your word? If profitable, yes. If not, not. Again, honoring your word may weaken your power base. Because your power is your top priority, you must make decisions on this. Your treachery will be forgotten if, after breaking your word, you strive to be good again.
If you must commit crimes to seize power, makes a list of all the ones you must do and execute them quickly, all at once, so you have time to let the people heal, and come to love you.
Chapter after chapter I could encapsulate. But you should read The Prince yourself. It’s a classic. There is a reason why people 500 years later are still reading it.
And it’s 100% applicable today. The art of ruling populations is still practiced. Plotting, intimidation, conspiracy, murder, warfare and all these means for augmenting the power of the state are practiced today as much as they ever were. Or do you think those in power no longer want to lord over others?
Of course they do. They’ve just gotten better at it. They’ve got Mass Media and Big Tech to paint pictures of reality to maximize docility to nefarious plans. They’ve programmed millions to call those who question the painted reality conspiracy theorists. And they’re good at what they do.
The essence of ruling is understanding human nature. It is understanding where to apply pressure, and when to allow resistance. It is reading correctly those you wish to rule, and taking calculated steps, be they cruel or loving, violent or generous, to maximize their subordination to your aims. Thus, The Prince.
Machiavelli advocates moral flexibility throughout his book. It is not warranted to determine the morality or honor of a course of action. There is only what works. There is only what will augment or perpetuate your rule. Power is the ultimate end.
Again, why would you think such dark practicality is not fundamental for those ruling populations today? Of course it is. You say elections are transparent? You say the media stands guard over the government? You say the government is acting in the best interests of the people because it must care about them?
No. You haven’t read your history. You haven’t considered whether the thousand points of pressure upon your life that compel you to think or act a certain way is not some highly calculated or orchestrated thing. If such pressure ultimately yields more power to the state, the chances are that pressure is orchestrated. Why would you think pressures rendering mass molding of behavior and psychology of the ruled be a random thing born of chaos?
That’s why I loved The Prince. A good prince 500 years ago in the war-torn Italian Peninsula calculated more than his subjects could comprehend. Nothing has changed.
1) Picture from heading at niccolo-machiavelli.jpg (628×742) (quotation.cloud)