I wasn’t able to justify my love of Machiavelli properly last night. Allow me to do so here. I love The Prince because it is as subversive as The Art of War.
The Art of War is a Taoist book. This feels contradictory because Taoism is all about peace. Yet the book, despite talking about war, is actually anti-war. The best victories are those that come without fighting. Protracted war is the worst. Moreover, it defends this anti-war position by using the language of the belligerent. It is a smart, subversive book.
The Prince is also a subversive book. It’s written to a jerk and couched in amoral language. However, he warns princes not to isolate themselves from the people. It’s in their best interests (amorally) to be supported by the people. One can’t get this from merely reading the Prince, although if one reads it with the right frame of mind, one can feel its subversive nature. Those who have ever read The Prince and laughed aloud know what I’m talking about. The evidence comes from The Discourses, where he makes clear his love for Republican government. The next evidence comes from his life. Machiavelli despised mercenaries and tried to build a citizen army. He spent his latter years in exile, spending most of his time reading the ancients. Through his reading, he conversed with men such as Cicero, no doubt. These people were obsessed with virtue and freedom. Machiavelli was also a fun person, constantly playing practical jokes. This leads me to believe that he’d have the necessary mindset to write a subversive text. He did not take himself too seriously, so I wonder why the rest of us do.
I think people also make the same mistake with Plato and Ben Franklin. There is an intellectual tradition of not taking one’s self too seriously, and I believe Machiavelli is a part of it.
Sure, an asshole businessman can read The Art of War, and maybe get something out of it, but he won’t understand the message behind the book. The same applies to The Prince.
Perhaps one day, I’ll back this up with all the necessary textual evidence. For now, I thought it important to defend my thoughts, no matter how poor that defense was.