Seite 53 - TheWave 4

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A
recent survey suggested that
most people buy books be-
cause they like to be seen
reading rather than because
they actually enjoy the experi-
ence. If this is the case, then
you better choose highly pretentious stuff
and trust me — nothing can beat collec-
tions of political essays written in ancient
Italian.
Although studying politics, I always
carefully avoided reading the actual Ital-
ian philosophy classics since I considered
them immensely boring and rather point-
less for the complex times we live in. But
then the opportunity came to me, thanks
to the editors of this magazine, who came
up with the idea of writing something
about philosophy and leadership, the lat-
ter being the topic of our upcoming AGM
in Vilnius. As it turns out, one of the most
authoritative philosophers on leadership
is the Florentine renaissance philosopher
Niccolò Machiavelli. Here is where I kick
in, as the only Italian OCEANS member
who currently lives in Florence, studies
politics, and has enough spare time to
write an article about the great intellec-
tual master of power-politics - fortunate
combination, indeed.
So there I am, reading Macchiavelli’s
books every chance I get, and impressing
the hell out of anyone who spots me do-
ing so. Never mind that I rarely go out to
read, and that therefore the only persons
likely to spot me doing so are my flat-
mates, who at the time I am most likely to
Machiavelli:
Not necessarily
a sociopath
L O R E N Z O
P I C C O L I
O C E A N S N E T W O R K ,
I T A L Y
E X C H A N G E P R O G R A M M E
E U - C A N A D A
be reading Macchiavelli’s books are very
much sleeping fatmates. Maybe it is bet-
ter this way. After a few weeks of reading,
I discovered that in psychology ‘Machia-
vellianism’ is used to describe anti-social
behaviour commonly found in sociopaths.
I guess this has something to do with
the fact that Machiavelli has the reputa-
tion for being a ruthless “son-of-a-bitch”.
But, in fact describing him in such a way
would be misleading (as well as, perhaps,
slightly disrespectful). His most famous
book “The Prince” is a satire of the Medici
family who was in power in Florence in
the 15th century, at the time when Mac-
chiavelli was writing. In his other politi-
cal works, Macchiavelli provides a differ-
ent perspective of the Prince and in no
single treatise did he rigorously expound
his theory of man and leadership. This
is also why the latter cannot be under-
stood in separation from the former. Let
me start from here: Macchiavelli’s entire
philosophy spurs from a study of man’s
innate traits, as a creature of insatiable
desires and limitless ambition with a pri-
mary desire is for self-preservation. Man,
therefore, is short-sighted and rather imi-
tative: indeed, given his human nature,
the outlook for social cooperation may
appear dim. Leadership, as a detached, ra-
tional manner to analyse the ways pow-
er can be acquired and maintained, is
the most effective instrument to mould
man’s essentially evil nature.
Men’s desire for self-preservation and
their very short-sightedness make them
peculiarly susceptible to manipulation
by leaders. Am I the only one thinking
of Frank Underwood now? But be sure, in
Macchiavelli’s view, leadership can posi-
tively mould man’s essential evil nature
in the pursuit of a good society. Astute
leadership and rational social organisa-
tion can maintain civic virtues. According
to Macchiavelli’s most careful commenta-
tors, the political virtuoso is rational, cal-
culating, and eminently self-controlled,
plays many roles with aplomb, and is pru-
dent enough to identify his own interest
with the well-being of those he seeks to
manage. It is not by chance that Machi-
avelli’s heroes are the ancient founders
and the soldier-statesmen of the Roman
Republic. He particularly admired the
moderate, liberal-minded, and humane
military genius Scipio Africanus Major.
In a similarly inspiring vein I suspect
reading Macchiavelli is likely to affect a
signifcant part of the rest of my life. The
grandiose way of describing this shift is
to say that I have been slowly making my
peace with ancient Italian philosophers.
Alternatively, to express it with the ac-
curate words of another contemporary
philosopher known as Nick Hornby, “I
have discovered that some old shit isn’t
so bad”.
CULTURAL SPECTRUM
53
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