By the way, Machiavelli never wrote or said that famous sentence, “The end justifies the means.” Bummer?! Sorry folks. But here in my attempt to write about this historical figure that a lot of people may love or condemn, I’ll state his most influential and thought-provoking suggestions for humankind.
First as an overture, allow me to first talk about our guest and his life. Niccolò Machiavelli, born in 1469 in Florence, Italy, was a historian, politician and philosopher. Niccolò came from a rich and well-known family in Florence and gained the best education. In his childhood, he witnessed the time of Florence being the capital of luxury and art under the rule of the Medici family, he witnessed the turbulences in Italy, France and Holy Roman Empire.
After the Medici family got expelled and lost control of Florence, a noticeable change took place after Priest Girolamo Savonarola a.k.a The Unarmed Prophet had a dream to declare Florence as the New Jerusalem. He demanded books and artworks to be burned but he was soon accused of heresy and executed, and his body burned in the middle of Florence. (Enough history? meh we’re not done yet.) After the execution of Savonarola, our friend Niccolò had a position in the Florentine government in the office of the Chancery but it didn’t take him long to get promoted to a high position in the government as the secretary of the Dieci di Libertà e Pace, where he was responsible for the military. As a diplomat between Italy and Europe he witnessed a lot of events and met influential people e.g. Cesare Borgia, Pope Alexander VI among others. Unfortunately it wasn’t long until Florence was in the hands of the Medici as Lorenzo De Medici The Great (the grandson) took control of the city once again. And guess what happened? He accused our friend Machiavelli of treachery, jailed and tortured him but his good relationship with the pope back then saved him and he got exiled out of Florence. Niccolò had to live at his family farm miles away from Florence where he could look at the city from the windows with sighs and mourn for his loss. There in his room where he starved for politics he started writing his books and letters, dreaming about getting back into the government. And then one day, which he might have considered his luckiest day, the Medici family lost power once again! And he said “That’s it! This is my chance!” But soon after the news he got sick and died within the next two months… (Ok now enough with history and let’s jump to his philosophy and works).
The Prince; ‘Machiavelli’s most famous and notable work was originally a letter to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici, after he was exiled him from Florence. It was his advice to the prince where he shared his thoughts and experience gained while he was involved in the politics of the city. Or shall we say it was like, “Hey! I know what you really need! Please put me back in charge!! Puh-lease!” but unfortunately Lorenzo Medici rejected his letter… the book got published five years after his death.
Before I proceed in detail and discuss some parts of the book, I have to add: Most who have read the book or heard of it thinks it’s purely a political book which I am not an expert on nor interested to discuss here, what I am really concerned about is the human-nature, psychology and just few points that may help us in a daily life.
On Virtue and Fortuna
Machiavelli mentioned the two conditions Virtù e Fortuna i.e. “Virtue and Fortune” a great deal in the book. Virtue is the skills, intelligence and the ability of seizing power and keeping it while fortune is the luck to get that opportunity. No randomness is allowed, if fortune brings the opportunity your way, you need to use your virtue, to be prepared for that situation ahead of time else your fortune will not help you and vice versa.
Come to think about it, socially and in the workplace, it’s crucial to be well-prepared and quick to respond e.g.in your job or a new relationship, as first impressions will last forever.
On Being Charming
“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
All right, now this is a bit controversial, Machi… Do you want me to lie?! And deceive people?! That’s unethical! (We should note that Machiavelli questions all morals to explain his points)
Well, let’s look at it from another perspective. Machiavelli wants the prince to be influential and to win the people around him. He wants him to be a charming person, but what is charm? And what are the characteristics of a charming person? Here I am going to use the help of Brian Tracy and Dale Carnegie from their books “Power of Charm” and “How to Win and Influence People”.
The dictionary definition of charm is, “the power or quality of giving delight or arousing admiration.”
If you ever read those books you will notice that they are insisting that you need to say what the other person would like to listen to or that you stay silent. Revealing all that you are thinking is a way of losing your charm and your opportunity to project the image that you need them to see. But if you say, “I don’t care about people and what they think of me!” Then I have to tell you my friend, that the universe doesn’t revolve upon your order and you need to understand and respect the points of view of people around you, otherwise you will be roaming this world wondering why you couldn’t have that opportunity.
On Deterrence of Upcoming Harms
“My view is that it is desirable to be both loved and feared; but it is difficult to achieve both and, if one of them has to be lacking, it is much safer to be feared than loved.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Really?! Dude, that’s so evil! I don’t want to harm anyone! And I only wish only peace upon everyone! But what if you are such a good person that the not-so-good people around you are using that fact against you?
But if we have to go back in history (God no…) Machiavelli was inspired to write this from what happened to Girolamo Savonarola. He didn’t send an alert to whoever wanted to harm him that he will be affected or expect any reaction! So if you are getting in a position that requires you to react, do it clearly! Show the other person that he/she should think hundreds of times before taking advantage of you or harming you.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are a lot of other points in this book that I could elaborate on along with Machiavelli’s other famous series of books “Discourses of Livy”. As a conclusion I need to ask, do you think Machiavelli was a teacher of evil? Do you think his philosophy emerges from immoral actions? Is good and evil subjective?
Share your thoughts in a comment below.
Mohammed El-Salloul is the co-founder of The Divan and keeps the team sane by handling all things tech. He has, of late, undertaken a quest to explore the varied philosophies that have helped shape our world. Here he speaks of Machiavelli, a political figure he’s enamored with.
Image Credit: Abdulaziz Al-Ameer, an Arabic calligraphy artist. Find his work on Instagram: @tua_14