Culture

The Prince: A Dangerous Political Prescription

Read The Prince, and you will appreciate one or two political maneuvers. This little solid book is unbearable. Many reviewers have suggested that the ideas in the book have been used by dictators to squander populations. I don’t know about that, but one thing to note is that a desperate soul can do anything to survive, especially politicians, at least going by Machiavellism.

Niccolò Machiavelli wrote The Prince in 1512 after he was expelled from his work as the Secretary of the Second Chancery during the Florentine Republic when the Medici family returned to power.

It is a great read, with grave knowledge subscribed between the pages beginning with an address to Lorenzo de Medici in which Machiavelli explains that he is seeking favor with the Prince by offering him some of his knowledge of how to acquire and maintain political power.

In the book, the Italian ancient diplomat teaches the use of assumptions about human nature to justify political action.

In the book, he says, “At this point one may note that men must be either pampered or annihilated. They avenge light offenses; they cannot avenge severe ones; hence, the harm one does to a man must be such as to obviate any fear of revenge.”

In Chapter III, Machiavelli preaches logical reasoning conspicuously devoid of ethical considerations. Terrible. He says, “A prince must realize that he has two options: benevolence and destruction.

Because the latter option will cause resentment among the people, he should choose it only if he is absolutely sure there will be no ill consequences—that the destruction he incurs will eliminate or disable any parties that might seek to revenge themselves against him. Feelings of pity or compassion are meaningless. Self-interest and self-protection are in this case the motivating factors and are to be pursued ruthlessly.”

In Chapter XXVI, he brings out another idea; a malicious one. He says, “the conduct of great men who once ruled different regions of the world and the principle of the ‘princely’ government are revealed each engraved with advice of what Lorenzo should do for his reign to be successful.

Anyway, in the first chapter, he plainly extinguishes between the types of states by stating that all states that have ruled or have been ruled over men, are or have either been republics or principalities. He then proceeds to classify them;

-Republics
-Hereditary
-Princedoms
-Brand new princedoms
-Mixed principalities
-Ecclesiastical principalities

He further differentiates the states by saying that the new states are the most difficult ones to deal with since they are acquired by different methods such as: by one’s own power, by the power of others, by criminal acts or even by the will of the people.

The mixed principalities are territories that are annexed to the ruler’s existing territories.

The New Princedoms are usually acquired by different methods such as; one’s powers, the power of others, by criminal acts or even the will of the people. The ecclesiastical principalities belong to the Catholic Church.

According to Machiavelli, the Prince in each state is never safe and in order to stay in power he must always pay close attention to military affairs. Some types of armies are Mercenaries who are unreliable and dangerous, native troops made up of one’s own citizens are the most desirable, the auxiliaries; troops that are loaned by other rulers should also not be trusted and also the mixed troops made up of the native, mercenaries or auxiliaries are also less desirable compared to a native army.

The Prince himself should be a student of war and an avid reader of military history.

Machiavelli also states that reputation is one of the important things a Prince should consider by saying that the better the liar, the better Prince. Moreover, one ought to be both feared and loved but it is difficult for the two to go together hence it is much safer to be feared than to be loved.

He explains this by saying that men in general are ungrateful, changeable and as long as you benefit them they are entirely yours but when the necessity is remote, they revolt and the Prince who relied solely on their words is ruined.

It is just as difficult and dangerous to try to free a people that want to remain servile as it is to enslave people that want to remain free.

Other characteristics include breaking promises if they are against the Prince’s interest, better to be stingy than generous, better to be cruel and Prices should choose wise advisors and avoid flatterers. Machiavelli closes The Prince by outlining Italy’s political situation and he addresses Lorenzo de Medici directly and urges him to follow some of his principles and free Italy from foreign dominations.

You better read this book, but at your own risk.  The experience is personal, not general. You can find it online or in one of the bookshops in Kigali.

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