What is it like to be an absolute ruler? What do you have to do to retain power? The concept of dominance, government, and power is as old as the Nature itself. There have been many thinkers trying to grasp these ideas, to analyze them, and to define their rules. My favorite one is Niccolò Machiavelli, Italian writer who at his time came to be regarded as an agent of the Devil and whose book called The Prince shocked the whole Europe.
This short book was written between 1513 and 1516. It can be briefly characterized as a ruler’s handbook – the chapters bear names like “How a prince should organize his militia” or “Cruelty and compassion; and whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse”.
Machiavelli doesn’t bother with lofty ideas about politics. He goes straight to the point, abandoning all conventional morality. Virtue and vice are not defined by our ideas of good and bad. A virtue is a quality necessary for safeguarding the state and the prince’s reign. A vice is a quality that leads to self-destruction.
A prudent ruler must not honor his word when it places him at a disadvantage. Princes must always be known as men of great abilities. People must be punished or rewarded in a way that sets everybody talking. Cruelty is used well when it is employed once for all and then not persisted in.
Machiavelli goes on and on, cynically advising the reader how to gain and safely hold absolute power. While I cannot agree with everything he says, I believe he does make some really good points – the history proves times and again that you can’t build a state based on noble ideas and blind trust in human nature. The “common good” requires sacrifices.
The Prince is a book worth reading and thinking about.