This was my second time reading Machiavelli’s The Prince. I enjoyed it much more the second time.
The stories he shares to demonstrate effective usurpation tainted my first experience. That was almost all I could see at the time, but this time through I felt more strongly that Machiavelli wasn’t evil, he was pragmatic.
For example, he states several times that it is best to be virtuous, unless doing the right thing weakens your leadership. Consequently, appearance of virtue becomes the most important rule, allowing the leader to do what needs to be done without damaging public appearance.
This brings me to the major rule that I observed throughout the book. Machiavelli often repeats the advice to not allow oneself to be hated by the people. He points out that it is impossible to avoid offending some, but one ought to attempt to not become hated by all, and especially not to be hated by the most powerful.
It is better to be feared than to be love (if you must choose exclusively between the two); however, it is imperative that one not be hated while being feared.
He states that the fastest way to become hated is to take the people’s private property or their women.
There are many other bits of advice for the prince who wants to retain power, but I also found gems of wisdom regarding a people who wishes to be free.
“And he who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it, for in rebellion it has always the watchword of liberty and its ancient privileges as a rallying point, which neither time nor benefits will ever cause it to forget. And whatever you may do or provide against, they never forget that name or their privileges unless they are disunited or dispersed, but at every chance they immediately rally to them…” (From Chapter V, 3rd paragraph)
This quote made me think of the amazing legacy we have in the United States. We have a legacy of liberty, opportunity for prosperity, and of sound government. The only way that can be taken from us is if we relinquish it. Sadly, the second half of the quote applies as well. We have relinquished much of the legacy of liberty bestowed on us by our founding fathers. One of the major vehicles of this loss of liberty is the disuniting force of partisan politics. We have become too engaged in beating the other guy and too removed from the process of learning true principles and historical cycles that warn against the enslaving influence of such bickering and infighting.
A huge part of the solution to our current disunity is education. We need to spend time studying the principles that form the foundation of proper government. Freedom and prosperity cannot exist without it.
Enough with the soapbox for now. I think I’ll have to return to this book for some additional essays in the future.