The Prince

By Niccolo Machiavelli

The Man Himself

Nicollo Machiavelli was born in 1469 in Florence. After a successful career in Italian politics serving Soderini, the Medicci family return to power in Florence leading to Machiavelli’s dismissal and torture. In 1539, the Prince is posthumously published with the first english edition translated in 1640.

The Prince is an extended analysis of how to acquire and maintain political power.

Dedication

The writing is dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici with Machiavelli stating that this is the most valuable gift he has to bestow.

There could not be a greater gift from me that to give you the means to be able, in a very short time, to understand all that in so many years and with so many hardships and dangers I have come to understand and appreciate.

On The Acquisition Of Mixed Territories

Machiavelli writes about the acquisition of territory of which are added to an existing geography. He argues that these territories are hard to control as you would have made many enemies during the initial invasion and would not be able to satisfy the promises and hopes of those who helped you gain power initially.

If the conquered people have the same customs and language as your existing empire then you must do 2 things to keep them:

  • “The family line of the old prince must be wiped out”.
  • “Neither laws or taxes should be altered”.

If the land has different customs and languages it will be harder to hold. Machiavelli suggests that the ruler must go and live in these territories or must set up colonies in this area to stabilise the region noting that if any hostility is met it must be swiftly dealt with.

It should be noted that men must be caressed or wiped out; for they will avenge minor injuries but cannot do so for grave ones.

On Alexander The Great’s Empires Success

Machiavelli poses the question of how Alexander The Great’s Empire was managed to be maintained by his ancestor’s long after his death. Machiavelli describes empire as either being controlled by a Prince and his servants or a Prince and hereditary nobleman who are loyal to the Prince but who govern and rule over their own regions. Kingdoms that are simply controlled by their king are harder to conquer as an invader will face a unified country while a country who is ruled by individual barons will be more easily corruptible with the corrupted baron’s people following in his footsteps against the incumbent prince.

On Having High Goals

Since men almost always follow the paths trod by others, and proceed in their affairs by imitation, although they are not fully able to stay on the path of others, nor to equal the virtue of those they imitate, a wise man should always enter those paths trodden by great men, and imitate those who have been excellent, so that if one’s own virtue does not match their’s it will at least have the smell of it. He should do as those prudent archer’s do who, aware of the strengths of their bow when the target at which they are aiming seems too distant, set their sights much higher than the designated target, not in order to reach such a height with their arrow, but instead to be able, to strike their target.

On The Establishment Of New Laws

Machiavelli discusses the issues that new princes face when ruling over new subjects with the central difficulty being the establishment of a new order.

  • “One should bear in mind that there is nothing more difficult to execute, nor more dubious of success, nor more dangerous to administer, than to introduce new political orders. For those who introduces them has as his enemies all those who profit from the old order, and he has only lukewarm defenders in all those who might profit from the new order.”
  • “All armed prophets were victorious and the unarmed ones came to ruin…people are fickle by nature; it is easy to convince them of something, but difficult to hold them to conviction”
  • “Affairs should be managed that when they no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force”.

On Mercenaries

If a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure. Mercenaries are disunited, ambitious, undisciplined and disloyal. They are brave with their friends; with their enemies, they are cowards…They have no other love nor other motive to keep them in the field than a meagre salary, which is not enough to make them want to die for you.

On Goodness

For there is such a distance between how one lives and how one ought to live, that anyone who abandons what is done for what ought to be done achieves his downfall rather than his preservation.

A man who wishes to profess goodness at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good.

Therefore it is necessary for a prince who wishes to maintain himself to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge or not use it according to necessity.

… Because carefully taking everything into account, he will discover that something which appears to be a virtue, if pursued, will result in his ruin; while some other thing which seems to be a vice, if pursued, will secure his safety and well-being.

On Generosity

Machiavelli argues that it is wiser for a Prince to be considered a wiser than a generous man as to be a generous man you will have to either spend public money (making you hated) or your own (making you weak).

In order not to have to rob his subjects, to be able to defend himself, not to become poor and contemptible, and not to be forced to become rapacious — a price must consider it of little account is he incurs the reputation of being a miser, for this is one of those vices that enables him to rule…

There is nothing that uses itself up faster than generosity; for as you employ it, you lose the means of employing it, and you become either poor or despised or else, to escape poverty, you become rapacious and hated.

On Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Or Feared

A Prince should not worry “about the infamy of being considered cruel when it is a matter of keeping his subjects united and loyal”. With Machiavelli arguing that:

With a few examples of cruelty, he will prove more compassionate than those who, out of excessive mercy, permit disorders to continue from which arise murders and plundering, for these usually injure the entire community, while the executions ordered by the prince injure specific individuals.

This bring us to the central question with Machiavelli arguing that as one cannot be both loved and feared it is “much safer to be feared than be loved, when of the two must be lacking”.

For one can generally say this about men; they are ungrateful, fickle, simulators and deceivers, avoiders of danger, and greedy for gain…The prince who relives entirety upon their words comes to ruin, finding himself stripped naked of other preparations…Friendships acquired by price and not greatness and nobility of spirit are purchased but not owned, and at the proper time cannot be spent.

Love is held together by a chain of obligation that is broken on every occasion for their own self-interest; but feat is sustained by a dread of punishment that will never abandon you.

Let me conclude that since men love at their own pleasure and fear at the pleasure of the prince, the wise man should build his foundation upon that which is his own, not upon that which belongs to others.

On A Prince’s Word

How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his word and to live with integrity and not by cunning, everyone knows. Nevertheless, one sees from experience in our times that the princes who have accomplished great deeds are those who have thought little about keeping faith and who have known how cunningly to manipulate men’s minds; and in the end they have surpassed those who laid their foundations upon sincerity…A wise ruler cannot and should not keep his word when such an observances would be to his disadvantages…since men are a wicked lot and will not keep their promises to you, you likewise need not keep yours to them.

It is not necessary for a prince to possess all of the above-mentioned (good/just) qualities, but it is very necessary for him to appear to possess them…One must understand a prince cannot observe all those things for which men are considered good, because in order to maintain the state he must often act against his faith, charity, humanity and religion.