Are You a Prince?
Machiavelli lived in a world controlled by a small aristocratic class. Only the nobly born, the wealthy, and their chosen administrators had any power. Democracy as we know it was unimaginable to him. The concept of human equality had not yet been invented. It would have made no sense to Machiavelli to write a book of advice to a shopkeeper, a peasant, a farmer, or a woman. He may have been a great genius, but he was also a creature of his time, as we are.
In these pages and in my book The Modern Prince, I assert that a person can become the Prince of his or her own life regardless of his or her station in life, if that is his or her desire. Not all of us can be President, CEO, Senator, quarterback, Pope, or chairman of the board, and not all of us would want those positions. It was true in Machiavelli’s day and is true in ours that there are a few in the world who are self-directed and a much larger group who are followers. Most people want simply to be like most other people. They are followers. They dress like others in their reference group, talk like others, read what others are reading, think what others are thinking, vote like others are voting, and want to be seen as part of the group. They are true to their primate natures. Human see, human do. There is nothing wrong with this and there is no reason to look down on these people They are what they are, as are you.
However, a few of us prefer to assert control over the lives we live and the people around us, to control our own destinies, and to control our own happiness. If you wish to set your own goals and pursue them in your own way, then I am writing to you. This is a much smaller group of people. They are not compulsive mimics. They prefer, instead, to seek a different, self-determined kind of life. A Prince can choose to be a CEO, president, or governor, but a Prince might also choose to be a housewife, farmer, chef, mechanic, mother, bricklayer, or loafer. A Prince might decide that what she really wants is to get on disability and spend her days reading novels and tending her garden. A Prince might decide to become a hermit living in a cabin in the woods, eating wild game and berries. A Prince does what he or she wants to, as much as possible. He or she is self-directed and follows the needle of an internal compass to a self-selected destination. A Prince might decide to pursue a life of fame and glory or to teach Latin at a tiny high school in an isolated farming community. The opinions of other people are important only to the extent that other people can help the Prince to achieve his or her goals.
You do not choose to be a Prince. Either you want to control your own life or you want to mimic others. It is probably not possible to change this fundamental aspect your nature. Either way, it is best to live according to your own nature.
This is not to say that the Prince is sociopath, a person who thinks only of herself and who is indifferent to the feelings and welfare of others. Absolute disregard for others is alien to our species, inhuman, and insane. In the life you choose, it is likely that there will be many powerful, perhaps lifelong, attachments to others: family, husbands or wives, children, lifelong friends, professional colleagues, etc. The people in your life will probably be of the more common sort: followers, mimics, those who conform - happily because it is their nature - to the wishes and expectations of others. Presumably, they will look to you for leadership and guidance, whether they realize it or not. Perhaps you will make them aware that you are guiding them, perhaps you will not. There is no Machiavellian rule that says you must cherish other people or that you should treat other people badly. There is no Machiavellian rule that says that you must treat all people alike. You can be supportive of your husband, strict with your children, and indulgent with your lesbian lover. Why not? Do what feels right to you. Do that which is consistent with your nature after careful consideration of the facts and the likely consequences.
So, are you a Prince? Maybe, but probably not. Most people are not. It is not something you choose or aspire to. You are what you are. And, only you know what you are.
Is the Prince by necessity a “bad” person? Psychologists - none of whom appear to have read anything by Machiavelli - have even developed a test for the “Machiavellian” personality. People who get a high “Mach” score “influence or manipulate others in predictable ways, using tactics that are exploitative, self-serving, and deceptive.” Is the Machiavellian necessarily someone who prefers deception to honesty, cruelty to kindness, and betrayal to loyalty? Is Machiavellianism a perverse philosophy that advocates an upside-down morality where bad is good and black is white?
Not at all. Machiavelli himself was a loving man who cherished his wife, his children, his mistresses and his friends. He was a patriot who worked for his beloved Florence in difficult times. He was a writer of philosophy, comedy, song, and poetry. He enjoyed good food, good wine, and good conversation. He was a faithful and beloved friend. But, he had eyes in his head and his hearing was acute. He observed that those who were most successful in life were never saints (though they posed as saints), that the Pope of his time was weak, indecisive, and treacherous (though he too posed as a saint), that priests and monks were often corrupt and decadent (as they are today), and that the good Lutherans who invaded Italy to defeat the popish, corrupt, Catholic Church were more eager to steal Rome’s treasure and rape Rome’s daughters than to make a theological point. He noted that average men and women are fickle, supporting leaders who offer them the most and switching allegiance from one leader to another despite pledges of loyalty. He also saw leaders betray loyal followers who had suffered much for them. He saw that men and women only keep promises when it is convenient to do so, and when it is inconvenient they find a pretext for breaking them. He realized that these behaviors are consistent with human nature, and he saw no reason to pretend otherwise. He fully expected his fellow men and women to be true to their inner natures.
People are not good or bad; they are good and bad - whether President, Pope, or Popsicle vendor. They are simply themselves: complicated, contradictory, and inconsistent - whether garbage man, repo-man, or mayor. Most people are not what they say they are - whether professor, mother, or prostitute. Most people are not what they think they are - whether student, philosopher, or con-artist. Most people imagine themselves to be much worse or much better than they really are - like you and me.
Everything is relative to who you are and where you are. Nothing is absolute. Perhaps you believe that “Thou Shall Not Kill” is an absolute rule. But what about a soldier in war? What about the death penalty? What about self defense? What about defense of your children and spouse? Once you start making exclusions for this situation and exceptions for that situation, you are sliding down the slippery slope of relativism. The Machiavellian observes that - in some situations - killing may be better than being killed, killing Hitler is better than surrendering your country to him, or that shooting a deranged high school sniper is better than watching him shoot your brilliant, lovely, sixteen year old daughter.
Every situation is relative to the people, time, place, and situation. Behavior that is effective in one situation is ineffective in another. For example, if you tell your psychiatrist in a private therapy session that you have a mistress he will congratulate you on your honesty; but if you mention that same fact to your wife you may find that her response is different. On the other hand, you if you tell your wife that you don’t intend to pay the psychiatrist’s bill, she may shrug with indifference. But, if you mention that same fact to your psychiatrist ...
Warning: Here at MidasJones.com we have a policy of honesty with our readers. Learning the Machiavellian perspective and using Machiavellian techniques can solve some problems but it might create others in your life.
So, if you have read this far, then you should also read about the downside of Machiavellianism.