Thursday, September 3, 2009

gloss on machiavelli

This a piece I had fun editing. Essentially, I have quoted, paraphrased, and edited a series of lines from Machiavelli’s Prince as if he were instructing a man to govern himself, rather than a kingdom.





as informed by Machiavelli

            The mind and heart are like a prince and his kingdom, habits the laws of that kingdom.

            One self-change always leaves you toothing for another. Therefore, continually wrestle yourself.

            Each of your desires speaks a language—a set of ideas and symbols to trigger and communicate the desire. Speak the same language as your desires; or if they are unspeakable, keep your mind close to them. If you usurp a vice, you must exterminate the premises behind it, but alter not the laws and costs of it, so that the power of the vice may be reconstituted.

            If your instincts have different languages, customs, or laws, you must afford great fortune and great energy to hold them, and set yourself upon them, to see when disorders spring up, and fix them immediately. Scatter your vices and old ways of life so that they are poor and unable to group together. Injure an arrogant vice in such a way that it can never recover to revenge.

            As with a fever, so a habit is easy to cure but difficult to detect, early on, but in the course of time, having neither detected nor treated it in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure.

            When you do detect the vice, conquer it, ruin it, and then reside there in person and permit it to live under its own laws, drawing a tribute and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you. Dismantle them but do not lose them.

            He who becomes master of a passion accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may be expected to be destroyed by it, for in rebellion it has always the watchword of “liberty,” and its ancient privileges as a rallying point, which neither time nor benefits will ever cause it to forget. Passions never forget the name of liberty nor their privileges under it until they are disunited or dispersed. In a republic order of passoins there is more vitality, greater hatred, and more desire for vengeance, which will never permit them to allow the memory of their former liberty to rest; so that the safest way is to destroy them or to set upon them.

            We owe nothing to fortune beyond opportunity, which brought us no more than material to mold into the form that seems best to us. In this way, you acquire your mental kingdom with difficulty, but keep it with ease. The difficulties you endure in acquiring your kingdom arise in part from the new rules and methods which you are forced to introduce in order to establish your government and its security. There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For your unconscious does not readily believe in new things until it has had long experience.

            When you rely on yourself and use force, you are rarely endangered. All armed prophets have conquered and all unarmed ones been destroyed. It is easy to persuade others, but difficult to fix them in that persuasion. When they believe no longer, you must make them believe by force.

            For what springs up quickly dies quickly. Only that which has slowly worked its roots wide will stand the storm. You must gain your powers by a thousand troubles and perils, and afterward hold them boldly.

            Those feelings of hope pledge themselves to you while danger seems far off. Therefore, orchestrate matters so that in all ways and in every circumstances the habits will need you and the empire of your will, so that your necessity for their liberty is undeniable. This shrewdness use: to be necessary.

            Rely therefore on your own resources and not that of others. Others are adverse to hard work: the greater your ostensible fortifications, the less they will molest you. Have enough resources to keep yourself stable for months and years.

            Good laws and good arms are the basis of all states. Those who would motivate you, mercenaries and auxiliaries, are useless and dangerous.

            A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but if often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank. Those who think more of peace than of arms lose their states. Therefore, make it your daily practice to wrestle yourself and self-overcome.

            Never have out of your thoughts the subject of war, and in peace addict yourself more to its exercise than in war; by action and by study.

            Keep your will well organized and drilled to follow incessantly the chase, by which you accustom the body to hardships, and learn something of the nature of localities, and get to find out how the inner mounts rise, how the valleys open up, how the plains lie, and to understand the nature of rivers and marshes, and in all this to take the greatest care. Your marshes are everybody’s marshes: what you learn here applies there.

            In times of peace, be ever studying war. Read histories, and study the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves out in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the later and imitate the former. Alexander imitated Achilles, Cesar Alexander, Scipio Cyrus.

            Never in peaceful times stand idle, but increase your resources with industry in such a way that they may be available to you in adversity, so that if fortune changes it may find you prepared to resist her blows.

            Do wrong insofar as you need to for survival. It is well to appear to have all virtues, but do not sacrifice yourself for them. A virtue must work for you.

            Therefore, inspire fear in yourself in such a way that if you do not win love you will avoid hatred.

            Hannibal managed an unruly army because he was inhumanly cruel, which, with his boundless valor, made him revered and terrible in the sight of his soldiers, but without that cruelty his other virtues were not sufficient to produce this effect.

            Be a fox and lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Drop a virtue if it drags. Therefore, a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observances may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer. Therefore, disguise the fox.

            To appear virtuous you must above all guard your lips.




Perfection Is Easy


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