I once worked for a large organization, a company with over 10,000 employees. When new managers, people from outside the organization, were hired, they would come in and clean house. A reorganization and layoffs were almost inevitable.
I always saw this as a way of establishing that the new person, though they hadn’t come up through the ranks, was in charge. What I didn’t realize is that this practice is centuries old.
a new prince must always harm his new subjects, both with his soldiers as well as with countless other injuries involved in his new conquest
An important piece of understanding how the world works is understanding how people work. If you want to change the world you need to understand human psychology. One of the earliest books of psychology is The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli.
The Prince has had many critics over the years. In fact, Machiavelli’s name has been transformed into an adjective meant to describe a person who is self-serving, deceitful, and ruthless. And certainly parts of the book are all of those things
Some people will read The Prince as a sort of operating manual for how to live. Because of this, its real use comes from learning why people sometimes act in ways that seem immoral.
The Prince, however, is amoral, in that it is unconcerned with morality. Its only concern is how to get and maintain power. As Machiavelli writes,
A man who wishes to profess goodness at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good. Therefore, it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain himself to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge or not to use it according to necessity.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, recommends it as one of the 8 books every intelligent person should read. Read it, he says,
to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.
But read it for yourself. Don’t take anyone else’s interpretation as the definitive one. As you read it, look for analogies to modern life. We don’t wage war in the same way as Machiavelli’s princes did, but we can certainly find bloodless examples of these maxims in business and politics.
Read it for yourself, and suspend judgment, though you may find parts of it downright repugnant. You might not act in the ways described, but other people do. If you want to understand why, read The Prince.