Machiavelli and the Art of War

Posted: December 23, 2013 by Arushi in Uncategorized
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In my first year at university, I took a world history class. The three hour long, weekly night class went across both the semesters and involved quite a bit of work. I have always been extremely glad that I took it. The timeline followed went all the way from Ancient Rome to World War II. 

It was for this class that I read The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. I had no idea what to expect when I started that book and it blew my mind. Here was this book, written a few centuries ago, which was in no way obsolete. Very point made in that book is valid now, and valid for more than just a government. Valid for companies, for organizations and interestingly enough, most groups/packs/guilds etc. in urban fantasy tend to be Machiavellen. Take for example the world in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novels. The concept of Noblesse Oblige along with the concept of security in return for absolute loyalty is enforced more than once. Anita once even wonders what she is becoming, since she has started quoting Machiavelli in regards to her actions. She is told that good leaders quote Machiavelli, and she should start wondering once she starts quoting Nietzche. Even then, they all answer ‘yes’ to this quote from Nietzche, “Is it better to outmonster the monster, or to be quietly devoured?”  

If viewed in black and white, The Prince does come across as harsh. But at the end of the day, only a powerful ruler can maintain peace. This same concept is brought forward in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The book is fifty pages worth of pure advice that is useful even two thousand years after it was written. 

I read/heard somewhere that humans are an inherently violent people. Somehow, someway we have convinced ourselves otherwise, but the biggest reason that we have had personalities like Buddha, Ashok, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela is not because we are peaceful, but because we are so violent that eventually someone has to say enough and stand up to make it so. It is not lost on me that three out of the four names I mentioned are people who came from the Indian subcontinent. 

We are excellent at denial and if you ask, we would all agree that we are a people whose very foundation is laid upon the belief in non-violence. Its all bull. We fought so many wars that we drove a prince to give up everything and seek enlightenment. Sure we can claim that the Buddha is from India, but it is not in India that Buddhism is most widespread. It is in Bhutan, In Tibet in China and in Japan. Sure, Mahatma Gandhi was born in India, But on the other side of the coin, he was also murdered here. 

I am most acquainted by my own nation so that is where my examples come from, but I really do not think India is any more violent than anyone else. We’re all humans and we’re all equally capable of inhumanity. I find it interesting that these two books which I am discussing, speak of practicing efficient inhumanity. Cruelty without a purpose is to be abhorred but cruelty used with precision is a powerful tool. 

I think these books speak of things that are relevant today. I believe that they give good advice. I wonder what does that make me. Then I wonder what does it make those people who madness does not even have the redeeming quality of a method. And now I will stop wondering because lets face it, the Art of War has been around for more than two thousand years and we’re still fighting each other for everything and anything. Its not like we’ve changed much, so what is the point of worrying. We’ll either keep at it, or we will learn. Maybe I will get to see when we do finally learn. Maybe not. 

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