Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Prince

Last summer I decided to read a book a month for the next year. It's now several months later, and I haven't done as well as I would have liked. Here's my current score:
You may notice a correlation between the school semester and my lack of reading. My plan at the beginning of the semester was to be in bed by 10p.m. so that I would have time to read before I went to sleep. However, that plan was foiled by something I hadn't planned on: I ended up liking my roommates. I mean, I didn't expect to dislike my roommates, but as it turned out, I apparently like hanging out with them more than I like reading.

In an effort to redeem myself a little, I stole a dusty, yellowing book from my parents' bookshelf over Christmas: Machiavelli's The Prince, a book considered by many to be one of the world's most influential political works. I read it over the last month, and I finished it just before the end of January.

Niccolò Machiavelli, a 15th century Italian statesman, wrote The Prince as a treatise on how leaders should obtain and maintain kingdoms. The book is startling in its frankness and practicality. Machiavelli is firmly planted in the realist camp. He makes occasional references to deity and morality, but he clearly eschews idealism and moralism for what he considers more practical tactics.

One of the most interesting ideas that Machiavelli presents is that a leader must be esteemed as an exemplary person by his people, but that he must sometimes commit contemptible acts in private. He lauds successful hypocrites and double-crossers while faulting simpleminded, morally-driven leaders. In Machiavelli's eyes, results are all that matter, no matter how they are obtained.

I firmly disagree with many of Machiavelli's stances, mostly because I disagree with his definition of success. In my view of the world, acting morally is success, no matter the outcome. In other words, the success is in the journey, not the destination.

Next up: Hamlet. I've been reading it on and off for a few months, and I'd like to finish it this month.

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