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review 2019-06-10 18:13
Secularisation in Europe…what a time
Der Fürst - Niccolò Machiavelli,U. W. Rehberg,Herfried Münkler

Machiavelli was definitely smart. Considering that he wrote Il Principe in the early 16th century, I am truly amazed about how insightful he was and how good he was in seeing through and analysing politics as well as power structures.

Basically, he takes a good, honest look at mankind and their historical behaviour. Based on that, he advises his reader on how to gain and secure power, providing numerous examples of wins and fails of previous sovereigns next to a realistic description of how home and foreign affairs work in European reality. Honestly, they worked very much in the same way as ours do today.

After having read the classic utopian novels written by Morus, Campanella and Bacon at more or less the same time as Il Principe, I actually enjoyed Machiavellis pragmatic and non-preachy way of looking at politics as objectively as possible in contrast to the utopian wishful thinking and all those mirrors for princes in which the authors painted this unrealistic ideal monarch with infallible morals and ethics.

In spite of our notion of a Machiavellian character/politician to be ruthless and to do everything it takes to rule, I don’t think, that Machiavelli actually considered man to be inherently evil, I think he simply distrusted everyone.
I can also see why the church hated this book so much, but from a contemporary point of view, Il Principe is by far not as relevant any more, as a lot of people claim it to be, because (luckily) most of it is public knowledge by now.

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text 2016-04-14 14:48
PSA: Authors- Make Books, Not War

(reblogged from the Amazon Iowan)



On Facebook this morning, my husband linked to an article at The Daily Dot about the dangers of blogging/posting at work. Before I even clicked the link to read the post, I laughed bitterly and thought, “Yeah, if only my maxim could be that simple.” Because as an author, whether I talk about writing/publishing or not, everything I put on the Internet affects my work. All my words and pictures and links have the potential to affect my sales.


My daughter, now making her first forays into social media, has been warned if she wouldn’t be comfortable seeing it on CNN Student News, she shouldn’t post it, but for authors and anyone whose public persona isn’t an outlet but a lifeline to a paycheck needs a tighter mantra. Every tweet, every Facebook post, every chat and private Instagram could elevate our profile, yes—and it could also stake us more thoroughly than any book we’ll ever write. Public posting for authors doesn’t simply risk getting us fired. Every word and pixel we put up for public consumption could tank our careers. And it’s well past time we started behaving that way.


I feel like so many posts I’ve written on my blog are variations on this theme, but this one matters enough to me that I’ll do it again and be more direct than ever. Authors: if you doubt for a second, don’t post on social media, don’t write that blog. If you’re trashing another author—of any caliber, any level of fame, you should not. You should use great caution and care when and if you review. You should be careful when you post tweets, status updates, and photos. You should behave as if every word you say is being heard by everyone in the entirety of the world, and everyone who loves them—but most importantly, you should assume the world is listening. And taking screenshots, and getting popcorn to watch in case you burn.





Somehow it seems a myth has been started that authors, big or small, are owed something. In the past few weeks I feel like this entitlement keeps coming up in various forms in all genres of publishing, at all levels. Somehow even the most obscure excuse me, who the hell are you? authors have no issue with standing loudly at their pulpit of choice decrying the unfairness of not being chosen for conferences or awards or whatever the hell crawled in front of them that day.


Reviews—God help us all, reviews. Authors writing reviews trashing other authors, then acting as if they’re Joan of Arc when everyone turns on them. Authors acting as if every complaint from a reader hurts their poor little feeeeeeelings—which, actually, that happens every day. And it’s why I have my besties on IM and in DM and on speed dial. When a review manages to wound me, I go to a trusted, vetted private source and I snarl and cast aspersions on penis size and sexual prowess and throw enough shade to cast eternal darkness on my enemy’s soul. And then I get over it and move on, the Internet never the wiser. I don’t, ever, broadcast that crap even in a private blog. I sure as hell don’t attack or argue with readers or reviewers. I suck it up. I move on.


Any author reading: you should too.




Authors, what you are entitled to as a published, paid author is a paycheck for the works you sell. You are entitled to not being plagiarized. You are entitled to a fair market and fair pay. You are entitled to a level playing field. But what you are not entitled to is a special refrigerated train car for your very special snowflake. You are not entitled even to a car or a track to ride on. You are entitled to a chance. Everything beyond this you must earn.


I understand why this is such an unappealing concept, but I suggest anyone who wants to get ten feet in this business learn to swallow fast. Publishing has never been a graceful or kind affair, but right now, at this moment in time, it is nuclear war every single day. There is no safe house. There is no clear path. There is no Way to seek and follow. There is blood, terror, heart-rendering risk, and there is pain and betrayal. Those are your guarantees. Your promises I can make you as one who has been actively watching this stuff go down for almost twenty years and wading neck-deep into it for five.


What I can also promise you is that you will go nowhere without friends and allies, which means every word out of your mouth should be filtered to make sure you avoid making enemies.


I don’t think any author can be immune to hope and wistfulness, castles in the sky we wish to build foundations under—and those dreams are vital. But authors must remember, always, that other people are building foundations too, and if you steal other people’s stuff or hurl rocks at their heads, you will pay. If you build your foundations on the blood of your friends or while sniping and snarling at anyone who dares challenge you, your foundations will fall long before you get anywhere worth getting to. Every tweet you share, every Instagram you post marks your brand. It’s possible that it serves you to be a caustic, rotten asshole as your brand—possible, but even this must be polished and affected. And you’d better pray the risks of that approach pay off, because the odds are never in your favor.


I wish we could make a rule that every author or want-to-be author before they get WiFi access needs to read The Prince, and like license renewal we should ingest it again every so many years. When I first read Machiavelli, I hated him and his jaded view of politics. I still kind of hate him, though now it’s because I think he’s completely and utterly right and I wish he were not. What frustrated me about The Prince in college was this idea that the world was not a good, Disney-like place where nice people prevailed and everything, if we all worked hard and went to church and did good deeds, would be okay. This idea that people have to be calculating and sometimes nasty to get ahead made me sick.


Read the rest of the post here.

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review 2016-04-04 14:03
Sound Advice for a Budding Ruler
The Prince - George Bull,Niccolò Machiavelli

Having now read this book three times I sort of wonder how Machiavelli's name came to represent a sort of politics that involved deceit, manipulation, and backstabbing, because for those who claim that this is what the Prince is about have probably read the wrong book, or probably not read the book at all. Somebody even suggested that The Prince was satire because they could not imagine that anybody would suggest such actions to anybody, especially if that person was seeking to live a virtuous life. To the person who claims that The Prince is satire my response is that Machiavelli is deadly serious. He was not laughing when he wrote this book, and his audience were not laughing when they were reading it. As for the person who claims that the book is about scheming and manipulation, I respond by asking them to show me where it says that because after the third time I struggle to actually find anything of the sort. Further, in response to them, I will also suggest that if you are a ruler then you ignore Machiavelli's advice at your own peril.


Before I go further to expound upon what Machiavelli is advising in this book we must first look at the context in which it was written. I say this because if we apply Machiavelli's principles to the modern day you will probably find yourself in The Hague being charged with war crimes. To be blunt, we simply cannot apply Machiavelli's advice as written to the modern world, in the same way that we cannot act in the way Joshua (of the Bible fame) acted when the Israelites invaded the promised land.


Now, Machiavelli was writing to a Florentine Prince in 14th Century Italy (which puts us right in the middle of the Renaissance). Now, today we live in a world with instantaneous communication where there are a handful of powers that dominate world affairs, and is governed by a basic parliamentary style institution (which we call the United Nations). However, that did not exist in Machiavelli's time. These days there are effectively four superpowers (Russia, China, Europe, and the United States) and practically every other country will throw their allegiance behind one of them (usually for protection against the others). Any alliances that exist between the superpowers are tenuous at best (though Europe and the United States do have a reasonably strong relationship, though it does not mean that Europe will always vote in accordance with the US's wishes).


However Renaissance Italy was much different. While the church still had power, it was in decline. Gone were the days of Pope Innocent III where kings would fear excommunication for even thinking in opposition to the Pope, and gone were the days when the Pope sat securely on his throne in Rome, however the church still held sway over Western Europe. Still, it did not come down to the church having control, but which noble family had control over the church (one could easily swing the church over to your side by installing your man in as pope, as the Medici's, among others, had managed to do on occasion). There were some large kingdoms, such as France and Spain, that could influence control, but in many cases these kingdoms were not exactly powerful, and one could protect oneself by playing them off against each other. There was also Venice, which was a very powerful maritime power, but when it came to domination over the land, it was quite weak. Venice's navy was powerless against landlocked principalities such as Florence and Milan. Northern Italy (as well as Germany) were not unified nation-states, but a collection of city states and principalities that would forever be at each other's throat, and while there was a titular 'Holy Roman Empire' he was effectively powerless. In fact he did not even have his own army, but had to rely upon the generosity of his allies to attempt to exert control, and as Phillip of Spain discovered when he was elected emperor: ruling Spain and ruling the Holy Roman Empire involved a completely different skill set.


Now that we have an idea of the political situation of the time, let us now consider what Machiavelli is actually saying. The theme that runs through the book is how to be an effective prince and how to survive: to do that you need to be respected (loved and feared) and not hated. Machiavelli is very clear on this point because if you are hated then you are not long for this world. Remember, Renaissance Italy is like 'The Game of Thrones' on steroids, and as it is said in The Game of Thrones, 'when you play the game of thrones you either win or you die'. That, my friend, is 14th century Italy.


Now, it is clear from the first couple of pages of this essay (because that is what it is) that Machiavelli means what he says. First he says that there are two forms of government, the principality, which is the rule by a human, and there is the republic, which is the rule by a constitution. He points to another book he has written, The Discourses, which deals with the republic, so he skips over that system of government and focuses on the idea of rule by a human. The main difference is that where the state is ruled by a human, the human can effectively do what they want. The only restraint on their power is the potential that they are removed from their position, usually by force. They cannot forfeit their role simply by breaking the law because they are the law. One of the things that he warns against is living in excess, namely because that generates hatred among the subjects, and when that happens all they need to do is to either rebel and thus overthrow you, or petition one of your enemies to come and remove you.


Machiavelli also makes extensive use of examples of other princes, both modern (in his time that is) and ancient. Now, all of the ancient sources that Machiavelli had we also have so we can easily check his references, however with a number of the modern examples we only have him to rely upon. However you can be assured that his readers would have been well aware of the political situation at the time. Simply put, he could not make them up. In any case it is very clear that he is not writing to an idiot, but to an intelligent person that would be quite well aware of what he is talking about. Further, he also appeals to common sense, but uses examples to prove why that course of action is wise. For example, he talks about using auxiliary troops (that is borrowing an army from another prince) and why such a course of action is foolish. The reason being is that if you lose you are going to have another prince that is somewhat upset with you because you have weakened his position. However, if you win, then you have a neighbouring territory that is occupied by a foreign army that is more than likely not going to leave. As such this situation is a lose lose situation.


Now, can we apply his principles to today and my response is that we can. One of the managers at my former work would give new team leaders a copy of The Art of War explaining that the principles that Sun Tzu uses to fight wars can also be used to manage a team, or even a department. I would suggest that the same applies to 'Il Principe'. Yet we simply cannot take the book as is and apply it literally simply because, as mentioned above, we will get into trouble (and we simply cannot invade and conquer our neighbour's team). However the principles of respect and hatred apply. As a manager we need to inspire respect within those we are managing, we cannot demand respect because that garners hatred, and by garnering hatred, we undermine our position. However we need to garner respect, and if that means making an example of a disruptive and rebellious team member, then so be it. In fact, that is expected, because once again if we don't make an example of a rebellious team member we end up undermining our own position.


In my time I have seen team leaders as leaders who have earned the respect of their team, and advanced. I have also seen team leaders act as bosses which results in them being removed or demoted. I have also seen team leaders play their team members up against each other, and while they survived for a time, their position was eventually undermined. Indeed Machiavelli does say that there are times when playing factions off against each other will strengthen your position, however it will not work all the time. In fact, while it may strengthen your position when you are at peace, it undermines your position when you are at war. Then there is fairness and justice (another theme that runs through this book) because by doing so may result in a perception of injustice, and indeed a team that fights amongst itself and stabs each other for their own personal gain (and to garner favouritism with the leader) may work in the short term but will ultimately fail. A team where each of the members respects and supports each other is an effective team (and I have seen that happen where a team goes from being at the bottom to being at the top) while a team that is at each other's throats will eventually find themselves collapsing in on their own disunity.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/382851995
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review 2016-01-10 00:00
The Prince
The Prince - Niccolò Machiavelli The greatness of the book is because the author destroyed a 2000 year old paradigm of thinking about how politics should work and introduced reality in to our way of seeing the world. There is an interesting meta-meta-history regarding this book. He's writing about using history before 1513, mostly Roman, and often relying on Plutarch, and applying it to his time period. From our modern perspective, it gives us the about-about-history (the meta-meta).

The real lesson in the book is understand your history and know its context. The current time (be it 1513) or today are different from the past but lessons can be learned with caution. Overall, nobody should follow most of the precepts within that book because disaster will follow and the Mayberry Machiavellis of the Bush administration showed how history should only be your guide never you road map.

The author is quite quotable because he writes so plainly and relates ancient history to his modern times. "There are three kinds of intellect, the one who learns from himself, the one who learns from others, or the one who is incapable of learning". Or my favorite because of its complete inanity "fortune is like a woman, to master it you must first beat her, and mistreat her to make her your own". (sounds a lot like Nietzsche in his "Thus Spake Zarathustra"
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review 2015-12-26 00:00
Machiavelli in Context (Great Courses, #4311)
Machiavelli in Context (Great Courses, #... Machiavelli in Context (Great Courses, #4311) - William R. Cook I recently read a David Brooks column where he was comparing Machiavelli to the better parts of Ted Cruz. It struck me as an incoherent column. He clearly didn't understand who Machiavelli was beyond a comic book characterization, and I'm still searching for anything good to say about Ted Cruz.

Anyways, it got me to thinking that I really didn't understand Machiavelli well enough to articulate my full disgust with that David Brooks column and that led me to this superb lecture and I'm glad for this Great Course Lecture. (Often, from a true negative, namely David Brooks, a positive can come about, namely learning about Machiavelli).

This lecturer also gave a Great Course on Dante (which I listened to and really enjoyed), and I'm currently working my way through a Yale Course on Dante, and to properly understand Machiavelli, one must understand the influence that Dante had on him (both this lecture and the Yale Course on Dante's Comedy make that point).

Machiavelli can be argued to be the first modern man. He undoes the paradigms for which Aristotle and Cicero and the other early thinkers had instilled in to the zeitgeist of the thought of the middle ages and through the Renaissance. By that I mean, for example, Cicero would have said it is most important to be a good person in order to be a a good (virtuous) leader. Machiavelli stands that thought on its head.

The David Brooks of the world always like to create the other (see Donald Trump or Ted Cruz for their special brand of otherism and hate). Brooks and his ilk will always try to bring the conversation back to lack of Community, Character, and Culture and then hide behind there superficial brand of Christianity (or their specific brand of Religion in Brooks' case). This lecture makes me realize the supreme irony that Brooks was accidentally employing because of all the people in the world, Machiavelli did more to change the world view Brooks (and his ilk) cling to.

Overall, a very good lecture. Machiavelli's most important work probably is "The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy". I ended finding a free copy through google books and it's turning into a real find. The book really illustrates how Brooks was misusing Machiavelli and how history is necessary for understanding our current place in history but the context should never be ignored, and shows that the way the world works is the exact opposite from the comic book characterization that Brooks uses in his twice weekly columns. History is a wonderful thing and Machiavelli knew what to do with it and how to use it and how we need to get the meaning from the past not just the stories.
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