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"Anyone who abandons 'what is' for 'what ought to be' learns his ruin rather than his preservation."

Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter 15

When reading The Prince in college this passage really struck me. I am by nature a dreamer and as such not very practical. This quote has served as an anchor for me to stay grounded in the real world. This is not to say I don't work for social change and to make dreams reality, but one has to work with the world as it is, not as one wants it to be.

Part of the real tragedy of Iraq has been the Bush Administration's flights of fancy in trying to remake Iraq in their own image. They sent over ideologues instead of technicians to rebuild the country, and here I'm not talking about the military, I'm talking about the civilian "experts."

Otto Von Bismark said, "Politics is the art of the possible." I think a good activist for social change, regardless of their political stripe, must balance what they want to see transpire with what can be actualized. Intrasigent dreamers are often admirable, but rarely get anything done.

The lead up to that quote is also remarkable:

Many writers have imagined for themselves republics and principalities that have never been seen or known to exist in reality...

In context, Machiavelli is condemning these folks. But I say thank God for these dreamers. If it weren't for writers imagining what may be possible we'd still be stuck in the feuding principalities of Italy with which Machiavelli had to contend.

40 for 40, #10

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