The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Rating: 3/5

One sentence: An outdated book only relevant to those wrapped up in power struggles.

The Prince is a famous book much criticized for seemingly encouraging abandonment of morals and utter disregard for other people. I didn’t know that we possessed a copy, so when I came upon it I knew that I would want to see for myself what all the fuss is about.

It is a thin little book and The Prince only takes up 90 pages. Niccolo was a politician and statesman for Florence, one of the four city-states that made up what we now call Italy. The rulers of the city were overthrown and he was removed from office. In the enforced idleness(and poverty) that followed, he was very bored and wrote The Prince as an attempt to get noticed and employed by the current rulers.

A chapter I found especially interesting asks the question whether it is better to be loved than to be fearedĀ or the reverse. His opinion is that either sufficient love or sufficient fear can be a means to an end. Since either would work he suggests that you should rather be feared as people are more likely to stay loyal for fear of retribution than devotion to you. People dislike pain more than they like pleasure.

He wrote that a prince who gained his land through luck or inheritance struggles to keep it, but someone who struggled for it and made it happen himself will maintain it easily. This makes sense and it also applies to life in general.

If you work hard for something you learn from small mistakes and gain the necessary skills to repeat what you have done. You possess the knowledge securely and a change in fortune will not easily dislodge you. If you gained something through luck then you do not have the skills or experience necessary to maintain it. When your luck changes you will lose it unless you quickly learn how to keep it.

People born into money or those who win the lotto are famous for not knowing how to maintain their wealth, but people who have worked themselves up from the bottom move from strength to strength. If you had poor social skills and improved them then your skills are secure. If you have always been dependent on others to take care of you then once those people stop being deceived you are helpless.

The Prince says that you should only act virtuously when it is in your interest to do so, keep your word only when convenient and help people only when you think that they can help you in return. If the world is a dangerous place where you cannot have all you desire without taking it from someone else then he is right. If you believe in a world of abundance and absolute safety (even from death), then the best time to help someone is when they are down, the best time, to be honest, is when you have a lot to lose by doing so.

The true nature of reality I do not know. It currently seems mostly safe and perfect to live in. More information might change my mind.

To happiness, and beyond!


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