My thoughts on Nicolo Machiavelli's "The Prince"

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My thoughts on Nicolo Machiavelli's "The Prince"

Post by Destructionator » Wed Jul 02, 2008 5:17 am

As I said in the other thread, I've started reading Machiavelli's "The Prince", which is available on-line in its entirety here. If you are really interested in the text, you should probably follow along reading the whole thing so you aren't missing any context as you read my thoughts on the quotes.

In this thread, I'm going to make some quick general notes as I go about the work itself and how it might relate to my own stuff.

When I complete the reading, I'll write up a quick summary and review in general, to see if the actual text stands up to what I've heard about it second hand and if the common, perjorative use of "Machiavellian" is really justified, or if it is just based on a strawman.

Until I get to the end, I'll quote some interesting passages with some quick analysis, and after each block, I'll discuss how this might apply to my sci-fi setting.

The dedication and chapter one were very short, and just introducing a few things. Nothing stands out for a quick quote though, so I'll start with the quotes on chapter two.

Chapter two:
[...]for a prince of average powers to maintain himself in his state, unless he be deprived of it by some extraordinary and excessive force; and if he should be so deprived of it, whenever anything sinister happens to the usurper, he will regain it.
We see right off the bat that Machiavelli is concerned with discussing how the prince can stay in power, probably setting the tone for the rest of the book right here, and notes that hereditary princes don't need to try super hard to hold on to what he has.
For the hereditary prince has less cause and less necessity to offend; hence it happens that he will be more loved; and unless extraordinary vices cause him to be hated, it is reasonable to expect that his subjects will be naturally well disposed towards him; [...]
A continuous hereditary state is thus more likely to be stable, even with the occasional not so great ruler, since people treat him nicely due to knowing his good family.

Chapter three:

Chapter three is much more lengthy than the preceding two, and is of a topic of great interest in my 'verse's storyline: ruling newly annexed foreign lands which do not share your culture.
For, although one may be very strong in armed forces, yet in entering a province one has always need of the goodwill of the natives.
Very important fact here, every bit as applicable today as it was in his time.
[...]because those who had opened the gates to him, finding themselves deceived in their hopes of future benefit, would not endure the ill-treatment of the new prince. It is very true that, after acquiring rebellious provinces a second time, they are not so lightly lost afterwards, because the prince, with little reluctance, takes the opportunity of the rebellion to punish the delinquents, to clear out the suspects, and to strengthen himself in the weakest places.
This relates right back to the above: the people must want to let you in in the first place, then you must be good to them so their lives actually improve, or they'll just fight you and try to get better again. If they decide they were better off with the old prince, he can return, crush the rebellion, and solidify his position; the people won't want to risk rebelling and becoming worse off again.
Now I say that those dominions which, when acquired, are added to an ancient state by him who acquires them, are either of the same country and language, or they are not. When they are, it is easier to hold them, especially when they have not been accustomed to self-government [...] He who has annexed them, if he wishes to hold them, has only to bear in mind two considerations: the one, that the family of their former lord is extinguished; the other, that neither their laws nor their taxes are altered, so that in a very short time they will become entirely one body with the old principality.
Machiavelli here states that conquering a new territory and holding on to it is much easier when your culture is already very similar to their own. Just make sure you get rid of the old ruler entirely so he doesn't come back, and then don't treat them any worse than before, and you should be in business.

It seems to me that this same kind of idea would be useful when colonizing a new territory. If the natives are too different to integrate with your country, just exterminate them and send in your own colonists instead, so you get the shared language and culture right off the bat.
But when states are acquired in a country differing in language, customs, or laws, there are difficulties, and good fortune and great energy are needed to hold them, and one of the greatest and most real helps would be that he who has acquired them should go and reside there. [...] Because, if one is on the spot, disorders are seen as they spring up, and one can quickly remedy them; but if one is not at hand, they are heard of only when they are great, and then one can no longer remedy them. Besides this, the country is not pillaged by your officials; the subjects are satisfied by prompt recourse to the prince; thus, wishing to be good, they have more cause to love him, and wishing to be otherwise, to fear him.
Interesting idea here: to smooth things along, go in yourself. I figure that alternatively, you could send in a very well trusted lieutenant (one who won't pillage the place nor usurp you) and give him broad authority to deal with things.

With modern technology, it might not be so important to actually be there personally, since you can still get and send real time updates of even small details, but the morale aspect for your new subjects might still be helped by a personal presence.

And great minds think alike, even 500 years apart, as Machiavelli now discusses colonies:
The other and better course is to send colonies to one or two places, which may be as keys to that state, for it is necessary either to do this or else to keep there a great number of cavalry and infantry. [...] In conclusion, I say that these colonies are not costly, they are more faithful, they injure less, and the injured, as has been said, being poor and scattered, cannot hurt.
Just like I said above, he proposes sending colonies so you get some people in the land who are already loyal to you. You need take land from very few to support this colony, so the prince can get away with it at somewhat low cost. Though, he doesn't argue for exterminating the natives; just taking land from a small number of them to ease integration of the rest of them.
Upon this, one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot;
Harsh but probably correct. A dead man cannot take revenge upon you.
But in maintaining armed men there in place of colonies one spends much more, [...] For every reason, therefore, such guards are as useless as a colony is useful.

Again, the prince who holds a country differing in the above respects ought to make himself the head and defender of his less powerful neighbours, and to weaken the more powerful amongst them, [...] And the usual course of affairs is that, as soon as a powerful foreigner enters a country, all the subject states are drawn to him, moved by the hatred which they feel against the ruling power.
Here, Machiavelli talks about how to repel foreign invasion: you need to be somewhat nice to everyone around, since if anyone hates you, they will welcome a new ruler who comes in, giving him a foothold to continue attacking you, and of course, they will give you hell with internal rebellion.
[...] He has only to take care that they do not get hold of too much power and too much authority, and then with his own forces, and with their goodwill, he can easily keep down the more powerful of them, so as to remain entirely master in the country.
If the prince keeps everyone happy and doesn't give them too much power on their own, his power base should be pretty stable, even in the face of foreign invaders, and in fact, if others are oppressed, they might turn to his rule to escape it, just like how a foreigner could help dispose a bad prince if you let him get power.
The Romans, in the countries which they annexed, observed closely these measures; they sent colonies and maintained friendly relations with the minor powers, without increasing their strength; they kept down the greater, and did not allow any strong foreign powers to gain authority.
He summarizes the above in his own words giving an example.
Thus it happens in affairs of state, for when the evils that arise have been foreseen (which it is only given to a wise man to see), they can be quickly redressed, but when, through not having been foreseen, they have been permitted to grow in a way that every one can see them, there is no longer a remedy. Therefore, the Romans, foreseeing troubles, dealt with them at once, and, even to avoid a war, would not let them come to a head, for they knew that war is not to be avoided, but is only to be put off to the advantage of others; [...]
If necessary, start a war on your terms early rather than on their terms, so you can ensure it ends quickly in your favor. Machiavelli seems to be of the camp saying it is better to fight them there so we don't have to fight them here.
Let any one now consider with what little difficulty the king could have maintained his position in Italy had he observed the rules above laid down, and kept all his friends secure and protected; for although they were numerous they were both weak and timid, some afraid of the Church, some of the Venetians, and thus they would always have been forced to stand in with him, and by their means he could easily have made himself secure against those who remained powerful.
Machiavelli gives Louis XII of France as an example of what not to do. Louis had several minor powers in Italy offer themselves to him as friends, but instead of securing them and thus his own power, he made a lot of mistakes:
Therefore Louis made these five errors: he destroyed the minor powers, he increased the strength of one of the greater powers in Italy, he brought in a foreign power, he did not settle in the country, he did not send colonies. [...]
Summary of Louis' first mistakes in holding on to Italy; he basically strengthened the strong and weakened the weak, which worked against him.
And if any one should say: King Louis yielded the Romagna to [Pope] Alexander and the kingdom to Spain to avoid war, I answer for the reasons given above that a blunder ought never be perpetrated to avoid war, because it is not to be avoided, but is only deferred to your disadvantage.
If you make a mistake, fix it early, don't fester in it, since that will just make things worse.
From this a general rule is drawn which never or rarely fails: that he who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined; because that predominancy has been brought about either by astuteness or else by force, and both are distrusted by him who has been raised to power.
Machiavelli says if you empower someone else, he'll eventually stab you with that new power, so it isn't a good idea.

And that's the end of chapter 3. In the next post, I'll move on to chapter 4, 5, and 6, all of which are somewhat short. First, let's discuss what we have so far in the context of my setting.

Like I said above, this is very interesting because it relates directly to a part of my storyline, where the A'millian Star Empire is virtually formed as they annex parts of Earth in an attempt to bring stability and hope to the post atomic, post oil, still global warming horror. Since they lack the manpower nor the logistical capability to do everything they needed to do by themselves, they had to use local material and local people to get stuff done.

They do break one of Machiavelli's rules: they help a local major power become more powerful, but they do so out of necessity, which is excused by a part of "The Prince" which I didn't quote. So far so good; perhaps not ideal, but good enough.

A few other potential downsides is the A'millian king never settles in the new country himself, nor does he send in big colonies. He does send a trusted representative to live among the new subjects though, which should be able to take the place of the king. Colonization is a harder part - even if there were sufficient A'millians and they breeded fast enough to make it work, they still wouldn't do it, since they all simply like staying home (Earth and A'millia are subtly different but different enough that natives to either don't really like being on the other planet, with A'millians hating Earth more than humans hate A'millia.). Instead, they tried to bring their culture to the natives through a slow education plan. Within a generation, a hybrid culture started to exist between A'millian values and local values, which gives some people suitable for further colonization.

With each expansion, the cultures dilute and combine all the more, becoming a new kind of mix, but this can work out for the better; it creates a new identity for these subjects that can bind them all together as one whole, while still having enough in common with His Majesty's government that they can remain together.

Now, what about destroying the minor powers there already? Well, some of them were indeed destroyed as an example to the others, to cause them to fear Starfleet above to keep them in line. Those destroyed were supposed to have had A'millian military governors (dictators) installed to take over for the locals, but if they were already happy, Machiavelli says this would not go well at all. The good thing is the locals probably weren't very happy, given how common starvation and random warlordism was, so they might have went to the new governor willingly. After one state does and the foreign invaders have a foothold, others can also flock to them, using their existing power structure. And if they don't, well, Starfleet will make them an offer they can't refuse.

A problem is they don't want too many little nations flocking to them at once, since they simply wouldn't be able to feed everyone, thus, some of them would end up being still unhappy under the new governor which would end up making things worse. The A'millian force would have to be very careful about not expanding too quickly - take a chunk, solidify power there and make the local people happy, then move on repeating until they can accomplish their strategic goals.

They can be both feared and loved, which I'm sure Machiavelli will discuss in detail soon enough, so I'll leave this here for tonight and pick up with the next three chapters, and continue this analysis, tomorrow.
His Certifiable Geniusness, Adam D. Ruppe (My 'verse)
Marle: Lucca! You're amazing!
Lucca: Ain't it the truth! ... Oh, um...I mean...
Marle: Enough with the false modesty! You have a real gift! I would trade my royal ancestry for your genius in a heartbeat!

"I still really hate those pompous assholes who quote themselves in their sigs." -- Me

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