Wednesday, April 29, 2009

History Book Club: Machiavelli's "The Prince"

History Book Club - Selection for May 18th, 2009- Machiavelli's "The Prince" - Strategies for Peace Activists

The Prince is well known as the first modern essay to be written on statecraft and war. It is considered by a recent critic, Michael Ignateff to be "certainly the most shocking book ever written about political leadership. " It reflects not the ideal of how a ruler should act but the real motivations and methods of behind political action. The Watha History Book Club is planning to discuss this intrigueing work on Monday, May 18th 2009.

I think that those who seek justice and peace must also deal not just with the ideal of good governance but analyze the way things really are. One should try to approximate the ideal of peace and justice within the limitations of how the modern state operates and rulers who confront each other in competition on the world stage really behave. To follow Machiavelli's style of aphorism: one who seeks peace should understand war: what forces bring about conflict and how people react to these challenges; one who seeks justice should learn empricially how and why situations of injustice emerge in different soceities.

Machiavelli is a good guide to considering how states are actually ruled, how rulers gain and keep power, and how power is lost. Machiavelli, is a good book for activists who seek to influence politics. Such knowledge is invaluable and Machiavelli gives many examples of such behavior. To move toward a better world a good sense for the facts of politics is essential.

The Prince gives us examples of different types of rulers who lived in a very different time and place, Renaissance Italy. The reader finds patterns in the political behavior in that different world that seem very familiar and at the same time unfamilar.

Much history of the Renaissance is recounted in this book: the Medici pope Leo X plots and schemes while the youth Cesare Borgia conquers region after region. Observing political action in this context of the culture of a different era instructs us in the universals of politics and in how different historical circumstances changes things. In this way the Prince is a very lively and stimulating book. It is about today as much as it is about the past. It is a very exciting read. The book club hopes to explore the issues brought forth by the Prince in a lively discussion applying the book to current problems.

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