Machiavelli’s Advice For Nice Guys

tlp magazine

Machiavelli was a 16th century Florentine political thinker with powerful advice for nice people who don’t get very far his thought pivots around a central uncomfortable observation that the wicked tend to win and they do so because they have a huge advantage over the good they are willing to act with the darkest ingenuity and cunning to further their cause they are not held back by those rigid opponents of change principles they will be prepared to outright lie twist facts threaten or get violent they will also when the situation demands it know how to seductively deceive use charm and honeyed words that dazzle and distract and in this way they conquer the world it’s routinely assumed that a large part of what it means to be a good person is that one acts well one doesn’t only have good ends one is committed to good means so if one wants a more serious world one needs to win people over through serious argument not clickbait if one wants a fairer world one has to judiciously and gently try to persuade the agents of injustice to surrender willingly not through intimidation and if one wants people to be kind or must show kindness to one’s enemies not ruthlessness it sounds splendid but Machiavelli couldn’t overlook an incontrovertible problem it doesn’t work as he looked back over the history of Florence and the Italian states more generally he observed that nice princes statesmen and merchants always come unstuck that’s why he wrote the book for which we know him today the prince a short dazzling manual of advice for well-disposed princes on how not to finish last and the answer in short was to be life as one wished but never to be overly devoted to acting nicely and indeed to know how to borrow when need be every single trick employed by the most cynical dastardly unscrupulous and nastiest people who have ever lived Machiavelli knew where our counterproductive obsession with acting nicely originated the West was brought up on a Christian story of Jesus of Nazareth the very nice man from Galilee who always treated people well and wound up as the king of kings and the ruler of eternity but Machiavelli pointed out one inconvenient detail to this sentimental tale of the triumph of goodness through meekness from the practical perspective Jesus’s life was an outright disaster this gentle soul was trampled upon and humiliated disregarded and mocked judged in his lifetime and outside of any divine assistance he was one of history’s greatest losers the clue to being effective lies in overcoming all vestiges of this story the prince was not at his often thought a guide to being a tyrant it’s a guide about what nice people should learn from tyrants it’s a book about how to be effective not just good it’s a book haunted by examples of the impotence of the pure the admirable prince and today we might add CEO political activist or thinker should learn every lesson from the slickest most devious operators around they should know how to scare and intimidate cajole and bully entrap and beguile the good politician needs to learn from the bad one the earnest entrepreneur from the slick one we are all ultimately the some of what we achieve not what we intend if we care about wisdom kindness seriousness and virtue but only ever act wisely kindly seriously and virtuously we will Machiavelli warns us get nowhere we need to learn lessons from an unexpected source those we temperamentally most despise they have the most two teachers about how to bring about the reality we yearn for but that they are fighting against we need weapons of similar grade steel to theirs ultimately we should care more about being effective than about being nobly intentioned it’s not enough to dream well the true measure is what we achieve the purpose is to change the world for the better not reside in a quiet comfort of good intentions and a warm heart all this Machiavelli knew he disturbs us for good reason because he probes us where we are at our most self-serving we tell ourselves we didn’t get there because we’re a little too pure good and kind Machiavelli bracingly informs as we are stuck because we have been too short-sighted to learn from those who really know our enemies you

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