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Saturday August 10th 2019Tim Candler9

 

    Strange thing, a person's mental state. We need anchors of course to prevent us drifting off, disappearing somewhere in the clouds, turning into a thunder storm, then shattering the calm with lightning bolts. Mind you it does seem that shattering the calm with lightning bolts is all the rage in those more fashionable circles were being the center of attention is all that really matters, and frankly if one more demand on me is made to follow anyone on one or other of several dozen social media accounts I might indeed just call it quits on anything like reasonable dialogue, by returning to the dawn of the Renaissance and burying myself in the ideas of Machiavelli. Extraordinary to think of him as one of the very first of the Renaissance political scientists to be well remembered by posterity. His advice had nothing to do with being nice or kind or gentler, rather when it came to achieving an end he advised cunning and unscrupulous behaviors. And here I'm quite happy to admit that I find this gift of remembrance from posterity a very disappointing way to begin a new era of thinking which I'd persuaded myself  had been kind of good to us all.  It's also true that Machiavelli had been a diplomat, he'd cut his teeth on the relationships between states, and how to gain advantage from those relationships, not a kindergarten for the softer soul. His big moment came when he realized that the King of France didn't think much of his home town of Florence, Italy. Indeed the King of France had some very disparaging things to say about Florence, much of which rang true to Machiavelli. Florence was pretty feeble and wishy-washy, they had no real powerful army, it was a nice place to live, pretty buildings, people seemed to be happy, well entertained by the flourishing of the Renaissance but they could never make a decision, just a bunch of humming and hawing from leaders, long pointless meetings about nothing too useful or constructive.

 

Past

    Invariably in those days a diplomatic career came to end, in Machiavelli's case he was falsely accused of plotting against a big-wig, he was jailed and tortured. It was after he was released that he wrote The Prince, and the reason he wrote The Prince was to secure work by getting himself back into the good graces of a political family that with his help might go somewhere. Indeed the book is full of splendid examples of how to grab power. Luring potential rivals by suggesting a picnic and then bumping them off. It was, Machiavelli claimed, how a good Prince achieved and maintained his power, and no good ever doing anything that might aggravate your own supporters, like generous tax cuts, they think you're fantastic but sooner or later you're going to have to tax them to pay for the tax cuts and that really aggravates if not them then somebody. In Machiavelli's day a big-wig reckoned on being a big-wig for life, so it was a little different to what we have in some  places today. The Prince got Machiavelli nowhere in terms of finding work, it wasn't published until well after his death, and he settled into writing about a wider view of the Political Process rather than the nastier individuals engaged in the process. His new direction included an understanding of Republics as the go to system if there was to be any chance of a system in which a rational leader in order to achieve honor and glory would be more likely to act virtuously. In this later work, his point was that getting ahead was fine if it's all about you, do what you want to do, do what you have to do. But if the system in which you attempt to get ahead isn't actually all about you, then odds are you'll make fewer dreadful mistakes, for example you won't bump of the Ossini Family at a picnic with the result that no one ever came to your picnic again, which led to a long horrible set of disagreements that totally destroyed your reputation on the home front, which went quite swiftly from being the wisest of men to blithering idiot. All of which, Machiavelli argued, could have been avoided within the system of a functioning Republic, which was less personal, more sporting, and where following poor decisions you could slink away, with a pension, no real hard feelings so long as you were gone to some golden pond upon which to drag some semblance of solace from your shattered reputation, instead of being stripped naked and strung up from an ornamental Florentine balcony.

 

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