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by Nicolo Machiavelli
comments by Maarten Maartensz

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How A Prince Should Conduct Himself As To Gain Renown

Note 1: We select:

"Further, always using religion as a plea, so as to undertake greater schemes, he devoted himself with a pious cruelty to driving out and clearing his kingdom of the Moors (...) Under this same cloak he assailed Africa, he came down on Italy, he has finally attacked France; and thus his achievements and designs have always been great, and have kept the minds of his people in suspense and admiration"

This is cynical but just, and may be compared with the acts and reputations of Stalin and Mao.    Back.

Note 2:

Again, it much assists a prince to set unusual examples in internal affairs, similar to those which are related of Messer Bernabo da Milano, who, when he had the opportunity, by any one in civil life doing some extraordinary thing, either good or bad, would take some method of rewarding or punishing him, which would be much spoken about. And a prince ought, above all things, always to endeavour in every action to gain for himself the reputation of being a great and remarkable man.

One of the weaknesses of parliamentary democracies is that "great and remarkable" men will neither desire to be elected nor be elected if they were to desire it: What "the people" in democracies like are men and women that are remarkable for being unremarkable.

As I said before, this is mostly good if the times are not difficult, and the elected political leaders do not have to show any real leadership qualities, and this will turn out to be pretty disastrous if the times turn difficult, for then it will emerge that those in power are mostly incompetent.

One of the main reasons for the successes of men like Milosevic and Saddam Hussein, in the recent past, is the enormous incompetence of the so-called Democratic Leaders that oppose them.    Back.

Note 3:

(...) if two of your powerful neighbours come to blows, they are of such a character that, if one of them conquers, you have either to fear him or not. In either case it will always be more advantageous for you to declare yourself and to make war strenuously; because, in the first case, if you do not declare yourself, you will invariably fall a prey to the conqueror, to the pleasure and satisfaction of him who has been conquered, and you will have no reasons to offer, nor anything to protect or to shelter you.

This is a good example of Machiavellian reasoning, and it is a bit too simple-minded. In actual practice, one sees that states and political leaders try to walk a middle course of committing themselves to few and trying to offend few, and meanwhile preparing for war, in case it may occur or be advantageous.    Back.

Note 4: This continues the previous paragraph, and gives Machiavelli's principal reason:

"Thus it will always happen that he who is not your friend will demand your neutrality, whilst he who is your friend will entreat you to declare yourself with arms. And irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, generally follow the neutral path, and are generally ruined."

This again seems to me too partial to Machiavelli's own desires about how Italian princes of his time should act. He may have been right about them, but in general those states and leaders prosper that are strong enough to maintain themselves against their neighbours, and clever enough to seem to be friends with most and to be allies with few.    Back.

Note 5: More Machiavellian advice, that supports my previous remark:

"a prince ought to take care never to make an alliance with one more powerful than himself for the purpose of attacking others, unless necessity compels him, as is said above; because if he conquers you are at his discretion, and princes ought to avoid as much as possible being at the discretion of any one."

It follows from this, logically speaking, that only such states as are equally strong should become allies.   Back.

Note 6: Another lesson for life, that not only applies to "Governments":

"Never let any Government imagine that it can choose perfectly safe courses; rather let it expect to have to take very doubtful ones, because it is found in ordinary affairs that one never seeks to avoid one trouble without running into another; but prudence consists in knowing how to distinguish the character of troubles, and for choice to take the lesser evil."

This is true: "one never seeks to avoid one trouble without running into another", as it is also true that almost always those things one sets out to realize from a strong desire, turn out to be quite other when realized than one expected before realizing them. In general, it seems human expectations are such as to be disappointed: most men are dreamers.    Back.

Note 7:

A prince ought also to show himself a patron of ability, and to honour the proficient in every art. At the same time he should encourage his citizens to practise their callings peaceably, both in commerce and agriculture, and in every other following, so that the one should not be deterred from improving his possessions for fear lest they be taken away from him or another from opening up trade for fear of taxes; but the prince ought to offer rewards to whoever wishes to do these things and designs in any way to honour his city or state.

This is excellent advice, that was far more practiced in Machiavelli's time than in our times - as can be inferred from the art and architecture produced in his time, which is an example for all ever since, and the art and architecture produced in our time, which is mostly very ugly and useless, and - happily - so ill-constructed that it starts falling apart the moment it is surrected.   Back.

Note 8:

Further, he ought to entertain the people with festivals and spectacles at convenient seasons of the year; and as every city is divided into guilds or into societies, he ought to hold such bodies in esteem, and associate with them sometimes, and show himself an example of courtesy and liberality; nevertheless, always maintaining the majesty of his rank, for this he must never consent to abate in anything.

More good advice to leaders and princes, although it should be remarked that in modern times people have daily "festivals and spectacles" on their televisions.

As to "the majesty of his rank": First, in democracies, the electorate generally does not like extra-ordinary men, except in extra-ordinary times, and second, it seems to me that in almost any case human beings have a very strong tendency to revere their leaders only because they are leaders, rather like dogs revere their bosses, because they truly feel their boss is better, stronger and wiser than they are.

Thus, most often the leaders are weak and incompetent yet admired, since they are the leaders and their followers are men.   Back.

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