The Prince Paperback – Sep 16 2008
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About the Author
Considered one of the great early political analysts, Niccolò Machiavelli is a historical figure in the turning point from the Middle Ages to the Modern World. In his most famous work, The Prince, he promoted the then revolutionary and prophetic idea that theological and moral imperatives have no place in the political arena.
Shelly Frasier has recorded over fifty audiobooks. She can be heard narrating such classics as Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
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
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.