Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Prince



At book group this week we departed from our normal novels and read The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli.

I found the early chapters that draw lessons from history that I’m unfamiliar with a little hard going, but it picks up and it’s a staggering collection of astute and pretty much amoral observations. Recommendations are proffered almost purely on the basis of ‘this way works”, even if this way means killing a few people in grotesquely violent means.

So while some of it is interesting, but rather uncomfortable reading, the parts that came alive for me, were those where parallels can be seen not in ancient European history, but in contemporary and even personal experiences.

Two sections in particular spoke to me about a particular tricky situation I’ve been involved in trying to resolve in the past couple of years. Those in the know will likely guess of what I speak, but please feel free NOT to be explicit in any comments ;-)

Firstly, on changing ‘laws’:
"It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes in a state’s constitution. The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the existing laws on their side, and partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience. In consequence, whenever those who oppose the changes can do so, they attack vigorously, and the defence made by others is only lukewarm.”
Secondly, on how to act on taking over control of a ‘state’ the:
“...new ruler must determine all the injuries that he will need to inflict. He must inflict them once for all, and not have to renew them every day, and in that way he will be bale to set men’s minds at rest and win them over to him when he confers benefits. Whoever acts otherwise, either through timidity or misjudgement, is always forced to have the knife ready in his hand and he can never depend on his subjects because they, suffering fresh and continuous violence, can never feel secure with regard to him. Violence must be inflicted once for all; people will then forget what it tastes like and be less resentful.”
Or to summarise the latter in contemporary terms, if you’re going to have to ban the fucker, do it swiftly and be done with it and don’t let it drag on. And I can see the wisdom in that in terms of neatness of outcome, but what about due process and fairness, acting with grace and having hope in faith in change and working to improve a situation as opposed to using ‘violence’? And there’s the rub.

6 comments:

sally said...

No worries about me being explicit in ym comment..haven't got a f**ing clue what you're talking about! So that's alright then!!! Will it dawn on me later?

Caroline said...

i can't begin to imagine what you're talking about liz. I guess i'd better get a glass of cider adn think about it for a while?

The said...

I never noticed how much Roy Keane looks like Machiavelli. That explains a few things, I guess.

Great blog and music taste by the way. Why no anonymous comments though?

hugger steward said...

lol - excellent parallels... But then I reckon Machiavelli had an easier job ;-)

Giles

Caroline said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
1 i z said...

Hi 'the'/Mancubist, the anon thing is purely one of the measures to try and deter the spammers.

Thanks for the comment. Big fan of your blog as well. As you say, life in Manchester, is indeed good my friend!