Review of The Art of War and The Prince

This is a review of two books. They are by the same author and linked through him to the same kind of thought. I'm posting the same content as a review for each book, so don't bother to read my review of the other one, it is the same as this one.

The two books are, The Art of War and The Prince, by Niccolò Machiavelli. In my opinion the two should be read together because the understanding needed to grasp the strategy in The Prince comes from the understanding of the battlefield in The Art of War. If you understand how Niccolò Machiavelli sees the battlefield it can give insight into how he sees politics as an extension of the battlefield.

That, in turn, gives much insight into the use of force and politics even in modern headlines.

The Prince is known by many and has a well earned reputation. Not as many know the earlier work, The Art of War.

The Art of War is set out as a dialogue between several younger men and an experienced military campaigner. The style and feel are a bit archaic, as you may expect. You will need to sift through the wordiness of the times and to apply patience. If you don't have a vocabulary that includes medieval expressions it may pay to set your dictionary close at hand.

The Art of War gives a well thought explanation of medieval warfare, how it was conceptualized and carried out, and why it endured as a form for as long as it did.

It traces the use of a phalanx with pike-work, the formation and use of squares and reserves, the motion of a battlefield, and use of various formations to protect each other. Starting with the use of forces on the battlefield it continues to the movement of troops and setting up of encampments.

There is a logical flow from the simplicity of the sword, spear and shield, all the way through to the setting and function of camp. It is similar to expanding a point to a line, a line to a plane, and a plane to cube or sphere or any 3D universe. Each extension of logic flows from the previous step and implies the next. His insights come from war rather than geometry, but his presentation has the same force as doing derivations.

I have wondered on some occasions at the use of such things as forming up squares, motion of cavalry, holding out of reserves, and other such things. After you read Art of War, you should be able to recognize how a medieval battlefield is set up and why, and have insights into why a particular kind of attack or a defense is used and is or isn't successful.

But, war does not exist in a vacuum. It both comes from and makes possible political units of organization called governments. The ability to make war is based on the health of the political system, and the strength of the war making machine.

The Prince, is Niccolò Machiavelli advice to a ruler written as a series of letters.

I read The Prince years ago and found it interesting, but have a new and deeper appreciation for it after reviewing it again now that I've read The Art of War. The Prince continues at the level of State-craft, the logic begun in The Art of War. I think if you read them together you will get more out of each than if you read them as separate works, even though that is what they are.

After having read The Art of War, reading The Prince acquires greater depth as the wielding of political power becomes an extension of the sword, spear and shield in the same way that moving of troops and setting encampments does.

When you move an army the safety of the army implies moving formations, since the military convoy may itself become a battlefield at any time. Because of that the shape of the convoy for safe motion is implied. Similarly the structure and maintenance of the camp flows from the same readiness to confront a threat.

The shape of a political unit flows from the same logic, including the maintenance of its members, their food, livelihood, morale, freedom, and nearly everything else. The same things threaten the state that threaten the war machine. A sustainable war machine requires a sustainable economy and stable culture.

Examples of what must be sustained are in his arguments about whether it is better for a monarch to be loved or feared, or to be admired or detested. One set of attitudes maintains and builds resource the other depletes resource. Failed resources equals failed states that collapse from within or are conquered by those with greater resources.

The fate of those who disconnect the two becomes apparent, even in the contemporary global circus of events. Political movement as an extension of the logic of the battlefield adds layers of insight to the daily headlines. The same things said above about archaic language and benefit of having a dictionary within reach apply with The Prince as well.

I don't know if there is a "modern English language" translation that makes the reading easier. Whether there is or isn't an 'EZ' translation, after wading through the language, the ideas themselves are not out of reach of the average reader. The application of them to the real world may require a little brain power, but just the same, most people should be able to handle it. It is worth stretching yourself to understand it.

Does it have any practical application to the real world beyond analyzing the headlines? If you are not planning a siege of the neighboring village, or if the city to your south is not preparing to marshal its troops against you, maybe not so much. If you labor in a competitive capitalist system, maybe a bit more-so. The greatest utility is probably to writers of Historical Fiction, history buffs, or Epic Fantasy readers and writers.

If you know "Force Field Analysis" as a management tool, you will see it in The Prince as well as in the Art of War.

The thing that stands out to me after reading both of these together is the continuous thread of the working of the will of one person which requires the complicity of another, and often another and so on.

If it is not gained through diplomacy, there is the fist and strength, then the rock and stick give way to the sword, the shield and the spear; which give way to armed groups, to the phalanx, squares and other disciplined maneuver, to the use of cavalry, supporting formations, the threat of force, and finally to a balance of power based on mutually assured destruction; and the sustaining of states with the social and economic power to continue projection of their will through diplomacy, until that gives way to something else. A never ending circle.