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Machiavelli’s Prince Lauded by King for Ruthless Honesty

Feb. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Mervyn King, the former Bank of England governor who served under three British prime ministers, chose Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” as his favorite book and said it offers lessons for today’s rulers.

“It’s a tremendous read” and “a wonderful treatise on political statecraft,” King said in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s “A Good Read” broadcast yesterday. “It is an extraordinary book because of its timelessness.”

The Prince, written in the 16th Century as a guide for those in power, inspired the term “Machiavellian,” defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “practicing duplicity in statecraft or in general conduct.” King, who left the U.K. central bank in June, said he disagreed with negative interpretations of the text.

“What I liked about The Prince is that far from being cynical, in my view, it exhibits what John Maynard Keynes once called ruthless truth telling,” King said. “He’s being extraordinarily clear and objective about what is required to obtain and stay in power.”

The work is a “forerunner” to today’s politics and politicians “do need to understand what it takes to win power and why they’re doing it,” he said.

Some parts of the book are applicable to today’s rulers, King said, including “no matter how powerful one’s armies, in order to enter a country one needs the goodwill of the inhabitants.”

“Well, 500 years later, maybe the modern princes who invaded Iraq would’ve done better to read The Prince again,” King said.

Still, he didn’t use the work as a reference book when he was head of the U.K. central bank.

“I was an economist doing a technical job and I wasn’t in charge of foreign policy or the U.K. government,” he said. “Of course I saw people who were doing it.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Scott Hamilton in London at shamilton8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Craig Stirling at cstirling1@bloomberg.net

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