Sun Tzu’s Art of War is a popular, concise, and timeless piece of literature with lessons that have inspired military leaders, people in the world of business, Players, and anyone else with a need for strategic and tactical know-how. While I do have a penchant for the East, and live here in China, I believe that there have been many analyses of Sun Tzu’s classic. Instead, I am going to take a look into Machiavelli’s Art of War, a lesser-known piece of literature that still contains numerous gems of knowledge, and the only writing of the political philosopher that was actually published in his lifetime.
On its surface, Machiavelli’s The Art of War is indeed a book about warfare, and goes into great detail about the training regimens, equipment, method of encamping that was to be employed by Florentine armies at the time of its writing (circa 1520). Any readers here that were once avid players of the Total War series of strategy games (as I was) will likely want to fire up their copy of Rome or Medieval II after reading this text, and try to see if some of the formations and tactics described will work, at least on the virtual battlefield. There are, however, numerous lessons from the text that can apply to the lives of civilians in modern-day society that wish to improve their lives. Here are the most useful lessons from my perspective:
The Old Ways Were the Best Ways
Throughout most of the conversations held in the book, Fabrizio states that the ways that the ancients waged warfare were far superior to those used by the Italian States at the time of its writing. The same notion holds true in modern warfare. Despite numerous advances in technology, the infantry soldier is still irreplaceable. Even in the relatively-new arena of aerial combat, basic air combat maneuvers and the ability to score a kill with the gun are vital pieces of knowledge for modern fighter pilots, even in an age of missiles capable of killing targets beyond visual range.
This is all well and good, but the lesson to be gained here is that the modern ways of doing things have made us soft. Technology and the comfort that it provides are great, but when the common man does not know basic survival skills or even how to change a tire, then there is obviously a need to return to the old ways of masculinity. Instead of always seeking comfort, we should challenge ourselves for the sake of our betterment and continual maintenance.
Hard Work and Discipline Pay Off
Not everyone is dealt the same hand in the Game of Life, for better or for worse. Nature is not fair, and does not provide “equality” to anyone.
Despite this harsh reality, we can attempt to better our positions in life by working to improve ourselves. In fact, discipline towards improvement can be better than being born with all of the talent in world, since those that are handed talents by nature might take them for granted or otherwise waste them.
Nip Problems in the Bud
The example given in Machiavelli’s The Art of War is directly from a 16th Century battlefield. Although we likely do not have to contend with bombards or culverins in our daily lives, history has shown that preemptive strikes can be used in order to maintain power or to prevent becoming the victim of others. Those that wish to maintain their dominance have often acted as if other parties could pose a serious threat, even if the danger posed by these groups is minuscule.
Striking first and preventing your adversary from getting a chance to attack can prevent a Pandora’s Box of problems from occurring.
Fight When You Must
For many of us, it seems that there is absolutely no hope of survival or success in life. Despite our disadvantages, we must try our luck and make strives towards success. This life is the only life that is guaranteed (unless it is all a dream, a la The Matrix), so we owe it to ourselves to strive for success on this plain of existence, even if the chips are stacked against us. With enough effort and a stroke of luck, we may actually be able to make something out of our lives.
One thing is for sure: if we do not try, then failure is certain. It follows that we should make an effort to succeed in order to give ourselves a slim chance at the very least.
Confidence is of Value in Life
Lacking confidence that we can succeed loses half of the battle before it is even waged. If we do not believe in ourselves, then our performance will be lacking. On the other hand, if we approach our problems with the courage and ferocity of lions, then we may have a chance to succeed. This point ties in with the previous point.
Developing confidence after strings of defeats is indeed a difficult feat, but it is something that must be done. Small successes can build confidence, so perhaps we should set small goals before we tackle larger ones.
Machiavelli’s The Art of War is full of lessons that can apply to our daily living, and of course, fighting. Although this book may not have the fame or prestige of its Eastern counterpart, it is still an excellent read, and a great addition to one’s collection, especially if they are interested in warfare as it was waged in the ancient and Medieval West.