What You Can Learn From Niccolo Machiavelli
Machiavelli is best known for the Prince, and from that book has sprung this idea that he was an advocate of attaining and maintaining power by any means. To hold that view though is to commit a grave injustice against him. His ideas deserve serious consideration, and here are some concepts that are prevalent in his writing.
- Aiming To Be in a Constant State of Evolution
It is said that if you aren't moving towards your goals, you're moving away from them. So why not commit yourself to pursuing a constant state of evolution. (My frequently updated book list)
Machiavelli’s View on Human Nature
When it comes to human nature, there are two major themes that can be found in Machiavelli’s work.
The first is that human nature is unchangeable. As a student of history, he believed that humanity had not changed in any meaningful way since time immemorial nor would we change in the future.
The next major theme was that humans are more prone to do evil than to do good.It is from that idea that Machiavelli based his argument for good government as a counterweight to humanity’s naturally destructive tendencies. It is also one reason that Machiavelli has gotten a bad reputation as a advocate for unethical behavior since he believed that in a world of sharks, you sometimes had to be just as vicious.
Reality Vs Ideal
Another prominent idea is that the reality of a situation should supersede the ideal.He saw danger in focusing on what should be at the expense of what is.
It ties in to his view on human nature. In a world where all men are inherently good as they should be, it would be wrong to do evil for any purpose. On the other hand, in the midst of a pack of wolves, sheep don’t tend to fare so well.
The End Justifies the Means
In the Prince, there is one passage where Machiavelli states that in the absence of an impartial judge, the final result must be considered. It is easy to make the leap from that to the end justifies the means, but there is more to it than that.
In fact, he is just making the point that consequences should be given the most weight when judging the merit of an action, and that sword cuts both ways. One can set out to save the world and yet cause great destruction and human misery or set out to achieve a selfish goal and end up bettering the lives of millions. Intentions should not matter more than consequences.
The Foundation and Maintenance of Vibrant Organizations
Machiavelli wrote two books on governance. We all know him for the Prince, but the Discourses on Livy went into greater depth on his beliefs. Ultimately though, both books can be considered two sides of the same coin.
They each focused on different types of government, but there were common themes interwoven into both. We’ve already gone over some of them, but the most important one is the idea that creating and maintaining organizations is one of the greatest goods that a man can do.
It was through organizations that Machiavelli felt that the potential of humanity could be best harnessed in order to achieve good, and it is through his books that he tried to use history as a model for others to create and maintain vibrant organizations in the future.