A Schopenhaur Quote about Machiavelli’s The Prince

I started reading Book 2 of Schopenhaur’s The World as Will and Idea last week. I had read Book 1 earlier in the year (late last year? don’t remember clearly now) and taken a break because I wanted to fully digest what I had read and have it working in the background of my brain for a while. So as I’m reading Book 2, I came across a footnote on Machiavelli’s The Prince, and it was one of those ‘aha’ moments for me. It’s a somewhat lengthy passage, as Schopenhaur can be very verbose, and I may do an even longer quoted passage on my next post from Book 1 about art and the artist next time, fair warning.

By the way, Machiavelli’s problem was the solution of the question how the prince, as a prince, was to keep himself on the throne in spite of internal and external enemies. His problem was thus by no means the ethical problem whether the prince, as a man, ought to will such things, but purely the political one how, if he so wills, he can carry it out. And the solution of this problem he gives just as one writes directions for playing chess, with which it would be folly to mix up the answer to the question of whether from an ethical point of view it is advisable to play chess at all. To reproach Machiavelli with the immorality of his writing is just the same as to reproach a fencing master because he doesn’t begin his instructions with a moral lecture against murder and slaughter.

The ‘aha’ moment was the bit about the notion of the prince playing chess with people’s lives at all, but there is a lot to chew over in this passage, isn’t there?

Ethics and philosophy and deep thinking in general have been kind of swept to the wayside, almost as if by design. But if you stop and consider our relationships to ourselves and each other, the only ethical pawn you should ever control in this game of life is yourself. You can argue that you can control your children, but really that is more of a stewardship of their own free will and all choices for their lives should be toward making them capable of controlling and exercising that free will for themselves. One ought never to seek to control other pawns. One ought never to seek for another to control them in order to shirk the responsibility of playing the game as a fully participating piece on the board.

Other thoughts I’ve been considering. Are we, as creators, responsible for our creations and how they are used or abused after we have birthed them into existence? The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh is a play I read in grad school that delves deep into asking this question. How does that align with personal responsibility? And then where do we as the general public take up the mantle of responsibility for how we allow outside work to influence us? Because in the end, what most of us seem to say is “screw this, I don’t want to think about this” and that is how we end up with the mess that we’re in as a society today, where too many people try to control the pawns on the board (ie. us the general population).

What are your thoughts?

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The Skjald

I found this quote I had pulled from a book I read and written out way back in 2010, and I wanted to share it.

“The skjald is,” he says, “the chosen lookout of life who must reveal from his mountain what he sees at life’s deep fountain. When gripped by his vision,” he says further, the skjald is “neither quiescent nor lifeless but, on the contrary, lifted up into an exceptional state of sensitiveness in which he sees and feels things with peculiar vividness and power. I know of nothing in this material world to which the skjald may more fittingly be likened than a tuned harp with the wind playing upon it.”  The hymnist Gruntvig quoted in Hymns and Hymnwriters of Denmark by JA Aaberg.

The skjald in Danish is a poet but moreso, one who speaks truth of the surrounding world even when others don’t want to hear it, or in ways that others can’t always understand.  It is a definition difficult to translate into English, but I love this metaphor of a tuned harp being played by the wind.  I feel very connected with this entire description.