Il Principe: Niccolò Machiavelli

You do not have to be a philosophy or politics major to have heard of the term Machiavellian.  When used to describe a person, it imparts a negative connotation of scheming and brute practicality.  Where ideals and ethics may be pretty and lovely in the abstract, they are laid useless in the real world.   Where practical effectiveness is the goal and the ends ALWAYS justify the means.  I do not think I ever heard it in a positive connotation.

How proper that it is the start of November that I should have a Machiavelli post.  Every four years, the american people experience political maelstroms from both political parties seeking to uproot their challengers, while trying to secure their individual positions. 

The application of Machiavellian tactics is far more interesting and amusing in the way we see the average person employ it from the boringly mundane to the extremely criminal.

Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince in a time of much power struggle where old power centers fought to maintain their stronghold, while new, emerging powers struggled to legitimize theirs. If you think you have never witnessed something like this in the day to day, you are wrong.  If not in high school, then perhaps on the job.  While the methods are far subtler, the benefits are real – . 

Some of the best places to observe Machiavellian strategy (or Sun Tzu’s Art of War) are in the corporate office.  Consider the latest news from Apple issued on a day when the financial market is closed in the U.S.  🙂

Apple recently announced the removal of a key executive who had been responsible for the development of iOS, Scott Forstall, who had some level of protection under Steve Jobs.  After the death of Steve Jobs and the selection of Jim Cook, the new CEO, Mr. Block from gdgt, in a CNNFN article, reported that  insiders had noticed that Forstall had been “consolidating power among the ranks at Apple.” Since his removal, Mr. Forstall has been retained until the end of 2012 as an advisor to the CEO of Apple.  Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? (Well, that’s actually Sun Tzu from the Art of War, but it’s all about strategy, no?)

Here are a few Machiavellian maxims:

  • Is it better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved…Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such away that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred.
  • A prince … wins prestige for being a true friend or a true enemy, that is, for revealing himself without any reservation in favour of one side against another.  This policy is always more advantageous than neutrality.
  • And the first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful  he may always be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize  the capable and to keep them faithful.  But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was in choosing them.

The Prince is a short read, but it is very interesting as you can easily draw parallels between experiences from your life and the maxims that Machiavelli advises on.

*The little, happy, fat statuette on the book is a budai, or The Laughing Buddha.  He is known for his contentment and happiness despite his poverty.

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