Authors born between 1450 and 1500 CE
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On Taking Power
On Allies and Subordinates
Qualities for Praise or Blame
Liberality or Miserliness?
Cruelty or Compassion?
Be Feared or Loved?
Keep One’s Word or Not?
Importance of Appearances
Avoid Being Despised and Hated
The Value of Enemies
On Gaining Renown
Living with Chance
Niccolo Machiavelli (1468-1527 CE) was born in Florence. As part of his education, he learned much from the Greek and Latin classics that were being rediscovered during the Renaissance. He entered public life in 1494 as a clerk, becoming a secretary of Florence four years later. As such he served a council exercising control over departments of interior and war, involving him in diplomatic missions to various parts of Europe and in organizing militia. This was a time of continual warfare in Italy, where unstable governments opened the way for invasion by foreign powers.
In 1502 Machiavelli married Marietta Corsini, by whom he had several children. At this time, he was sent to observe Cesare Borgia. He developed an admiration for the duke’s expertise in government, diplomacy, and warfare, as he skillfully managed treacherous friends and unstable allies. From this experience Machiavelli developed his concept of an ideal prince who would make use of many of the techniques of Borgia to forge a humane and stable government. Later, as an ambassador to Maximillian, Machiavelli traveled through Switzerland and Germany and studied the strengths and weaknesses of their governments.
When Florence surrendered to the Medicis in 1512, Machiavelli was tortured, imprisoned, and then banished. He retired to a farm near San Casciano where he wrote The Discourses, which discusses all forms of government from a republican point of view, and The Prince, which sets out rules for government of a principality.
Machiavelli was motivated in his philosophy by the same goals as Confucius. Both thinkers have a deep underlying concern for the good of the people through stability in government. And their ideas have application in organizations other than state government itself. Machiavelli, however, recognized that a prince must be ready to be cruel and devious, because in the long run this is often kinder than to expose citizens to the turmoil, riots, or invasions let loose by a weak ruler. He explained, "As it is my intention to write something useful to the reader, it seems to me more appropriate to pursue the real truth than what is imagined to be true."
In the extracts from The Prince that follow, few of his comments on war are included, except those that might be considered as metaphors for other forms of competition in government or other forms of organization.
1 A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savor of it.
2 A prince reorganizing a state cannot rely upon what he observes in quiet times, when citizens have need of the state. Because then every one agrees with him: they all promise loyalty, and when death is far distant they all wish to die for him. But in troubled times, when the state has need of its citizens, then he finds but few at his side. Then the reorganization is so much the more dangerous, inasmuch as it can only be tried once. Therefore a wise prince ought to adopt such a course that his citizens will always have need of the state and of him, and then he will always find them faithful.
3 The Romans did what all prudent princes ought to do, taking into account not only present troubles, but also future ones. For these, a Prince must prepare with every energy. When foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time because the malady has become incurable.
4 It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in introducing a new order of things, because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents—who have the laws on their side—and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.
5 It is to be remarked that, in seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely all those injuries that it is necessary for him to inflict. He should carry them out all at once so as not to have to repeat them daily. In this way, by not continually unsettling men, he will be able to reassure them, and win them to himself by benefits. He who does otherwise, either from timidity or evil advice, is always compelled to keep the knife in his hand. He can neither rely on his subjects, nor can they bind themselves to him, owing to their continued and repeated wrongs. Injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less. Benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavor of them may last longer.
6 Above all things, a prince ought to live amongst his people in such a way that no unexpected circumstances, whether of good or evil, shall make him change his ways. Because if the necessity for change comes in troubled times, you are too late for harsh measures. Mild measures will not help you either, for they will be considered as forced from you, and no one will be under any obligation to you for them.
7 A general rule can be drawn which never or rarely fails: that an ally who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined. This is because that rise to power has been aided either by astuteness or else by force, and both are distrusted by him who has been raised to power.
8 I say that the subordinates ought to be looked at mainly in two ways. They either shape their course to bind themselves entirely to your fortune, or they do not. Those who so bind themselves, and are not rapacious, ought to be honored and loved. Those who do not bind themselves may be dealt with in two ways. If they fail to do this through cowardice and a natural want of courage, you ought to make use of them—especially those of good counsel. In this way, in prosperity you honor them, and in adversity you do not have to fear them. But when subordinates bind themselves to you for their own ambitious ends, it is a sign that they are giving more thought to themselves than to you. A prince should guard against such, and to fear them as if they were open enemies, because in adversity they always help to ruin him.
9 As it is my intention to write something useful to the reader, it seems to me more appropriate to pursue the real truth than what is imagined to be true. Many have pictured republics and principalities that in fact have never been known or seen. Because how one actually lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, a person who neglects what is done for what ought to be done achieves his ruin rather than his preservation. Among so much that is evil, a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him. Therefore, it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.
10 Therefore, putting on one side imaginary things concerning a prince, and discussing those which are real, I say that all men we discuss—and notably princes for being more highly placed—are remarkable for some of those qualities which bring them either blame or praise. Thus it is that one is reputed liberal, another miserly; . . . one cruel, one compassionate; one faithless, another faithful; one effeminate and cowardly, another bold and brave; one affable, another haughty; one lascivious, another chaste; one sincere, another cunning; one hard, another easy; one grave, another frivolous; one religious, another unbelieving, and the like. And I know that every one will agree that it would be most praiseworthy in a prince to exhibit all the above qualities that are considered good. However, because all of the good qualities can be neither entirely possessed nor observed—for the human condition does not permit that—he must be prudent enough to know how to avoid reproach for those vices that would lose him his state.
11 A prince need not make himself uneasy at incurring reproach for those vices without which the state can only be saved with difficulty. If everything is considered carefully, it will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed would be his ruin; while something else which looks like vice, if followed brings him security and prosperity.
12 Commencing then with the first of the above-named characteristics, I say that it would be well to be reputed liberal. Nevertheless, liberality exercised in a way that does not bring you the reputation for it, injures you. If one exercises it honestly and as it should be exercised, it may not become known, and you will not avoid the reproach of its opposite. Therefore, any one wishing to maintain among men the name of liberal is obliged to neglect no act of magnificence. A prince so inclined will consume in such acts all his property. If he wishes to maintain the name of liberal, he will be compelled in the end, to weigh down his people unduly with taxes, and do everything he can to get money. This will soon make him odious to his subjects, and becoming poor he will be held of little value by any one. Then, having offended many and rewarded few with his liberality, he is buffeted by the very first sign of trouble and imperiled by whatever may be the first danger. Recognizing this himself, and wishing to draw back from it, he runs at once into the reproach of being miserly.
13 Therefore, a prince, unable to display the virtue of liberality except at his cost, will be wise not to fear the reputation of being miserly. For in time he will come to be more highly regarded than if liberal, seeing that with his economy his revenues are enough, that he can defend himself against all attacks, and is able to engage in enterprises without burdening his people. Thus it comes about that he exercises liberality towards all from whom he does not take, who are innumerable, and miserliness towards those to whom he does not give, who are few.
14 A prince, therefore, provided that he has not to rob his subjects, that he can defend himself, that he does not become poor and abject, and that he is not forced to become rapacious, ought to hold the reputation for being miserly of little importance, for it is one of those vices which will enable him to govern.
15 And there is nothing wastes so rapidly as liberality, for even whilst you exercise it you lose the power to do so, and so become either poor or despised, or else, in avoiding poverty, rapacious and hated. And a prince should guard himself, above all things, against being despised and hated. Liberality leads you to both.
16 Turning now to other qualities mentioned above, I say that every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel. Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency. Cesare Borgia was considered cruel. However, his cruelty brought the Romagna region together, unified it, and restored it to peace and loyalty. And if this be rightly considered, he will be seen to have been much more merciful than the Florentine people, who, to avoid a reputation for cruelty, permitted their city of Pistoia to be destroyed [during factional rioting]. Therefore a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; because by making an example of a few, he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which follow murders or robberies. These last injure the whole people, while those executions which originate with a prince offend the individual only.
17 And of all princes, it is impossible for a new prince to avoid the imputation of cruelty, owing to new states being full of dangers. . . . Nevertheless he ought to be slow to believe and to act. Nor should he himself show fear. He should proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and too much distrust render him intolerable.
18 Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because in general men are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous. As long as you succeed they are yours entirely. They will offer you their blood, property, life, and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who has relied entirely on their promises and neglected other precautions, is ruined. This is because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured. In time of need they cannot be relied upon. Men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage. But fear preserves you by a dread of punishment that never fails.
19 Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred. He can endure very well being feared as long as he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. When it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause. Above all things, he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony. Besides, pretexts for taking away the property are never wanting. He who has once begun to live by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to others; but reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more difficult to find and sooner lapse.
20 Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the following conclusion. As men love according to their own will and fear according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not on that under the control of others. He must endeavor only to avoid hatred, as noted above.
21 Every one agrees how praiseworthy it is for a prince to stand by his word, and to live with integrity and not with guile. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by guile. In the end, they have overcome those who have relied on their word.
22 A wise lord cannot, nor should he, keep his word when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer. If men were entirely good this precept would not hold. But because they are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you too are not bound to keep faith with them. Nor will a prince ever lack legitimate reasons to excuse this non-observance. Of this endless modern examples could be given, showing how many treaties and engagements have been made void and of no effect through the faithlessness of princes; and he who has known best how to play the fox has succeeded best.
23 But it is necessary to know how to disguise this characteristic completely, and to be a great pretender and dissembler. Men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.
24 It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, but that to appear to have them is useful. Be and appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, and upright, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you can change to the opposite.
25 And you have to understand this, that a prince, especially a new one, cannot observe all those things for which men are esteemed. In order to maintain the state, he is often forced to act contrary to fidelity, friendship, humanity, and religion. Therefore it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself according to the way the winds and changes of chance force it. Yet, as I have said above, he should not diverge from the good if he can avoid it; but, if compelled to, then he should know how to set about it.
26 For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious.
27 There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality. This is because men judge more often by the eye than by the hand: everybody can see you, but few come in touch with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are. Moreover, those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them. The actions of all men, and especially of princes—which it is not prudent to challenge—are judged by their results.
28 For that reason, when a prince conquers and holds his state, the means will always be considered honest. He will be praised by everybody; because the masses always accept what a thing seems to be and what they can get from it. And in this world there is only the mass, for the few find a place there only when the ground is taken from under the feet of the many.
29 One prince of the present time, whom it is not well to name [Ferdinand of Aragon] never preaches anything else but peace and good faith. To both he is most hostile. Either, if he had steadfastly observed it, would have deprived him of reputation and kingdom many a time.
30 I have spoken now of the more important characteristics mentioned above. The others I wish to discuss briefly under this general idea—that the prince must consider, as has been partly said before, how to avoid those things which will make him hated or contemptible. As often as he succeeds in this, he will have fulfilled his part, and he need not fear any danger in other reproaches.
31 It makes him contemptible to be considered fickle, frivolous, effeminate, mean-spirited, or irresolute. A prince should guard himself from all of these as from a rock. He should endeavor to show in his actions greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude. In his private dealings with his subjects he should show that his judgments are irrevocable. He should maintain such reputation that no one can hope either to deceive him or to get round him.
32 The prince who conveys this impression of himself is highly esteemed; and he who is highly esteemed is not easily conspired against. Provided it is well known that he is an excellent man and revered by his people, he can only be attacked with difficulty. To ensure this, a prince ought to be concerned with two threats—one from within, arising from his subjects; the other from without, arising from external powers. From the latter he is defended by being well armed and having good allies.
33 As regards his subjects, when outside threats are absent he has only to fear that they will conspire secretly. A prince can easily protect himself from this by avoiding being hated and despised, and by keeping the people satisfied with him. It is most necessary for him to accomplish this, as I said above at length. One of the most efficacious remedies that a prince can have against conspiracies is not to be hated and despised by the people. He who conspires always expects to please the people by removal of the prince. But when the conspirator can only anticipate offending the people, he will not have the courage to take such a course, for the difficulties that confront such a conspirator are infinite.
34 Experience shows there have been many conspiracies, but few have been successful. This is because a conspirator cannot act alone, nor can he take a companion except from those whom he believes to be malcontents. However, as soon as you have opened your mind to a malcontent you have given him the material with which to content himself. By denouncing you, he can expect every advantage. Therefore, seeing the gain from such a course to be assured, and seeing that from the other to be doubtful and full of danger, he must be a very rare friend—or a thoroughly obstinate enemy of the prince—to keep faith with you.
35 To put the matter succinctly, I say that, on the side of the conspirator, there is nothing but fear, jealousy, and the prospect of punishment to terrify him. But on the side of the prince there is the majesty of the principality, the laws, and the concerns of friends and the state to defend him. Add to all these things the goodwill of the people and it is impossible that any one should be so rash as to conspire. For whereas in general the conspirator always has to fear for the successful execution of his plot, in this case he has also to fear the sequel to a successful crime; because on account of it he has the people for an enemy, and thus cannot hope for any escape.
34 Without doubt princes become renowned when they overcome the difficulties and obstacles that confront them. Therefore, as a new prince has a greater necessity to earn renown than an hereditary one, he can become great if, by chance, enemies come forward with designs against him. For this will give him the opportunity of overcoming them, and by them to mount higher—as if by a ladder that his enemies have raised. For the same reason many consider that a wise prince, when he has the opportunity, ought with guile to foster some animosity against himself. Then, having crushed it, his renown may rise higher.
36 Princes, especially new ones, have found more fidelity and assistance in those men who in the beginning of their rule were distrusted than among those who in the beginning were trusted. The Prince of Siena, Pandolfo Petrucci, ruled his state more by those who had been distrusted than by others. But on this question one cannot speak generally, for it varies so much with the individual. I will only say this. If men who were hostile at the commencement of a princedom need assistance to support themselves, they can always be gained over with the greatest ease. And they will be tightly held to serve the prince with fidelity, inasmuch as they know it to be very necessary for them to cancel by deeds the bad impression which he had formed of them. Thus the prince always extracts more profit from such people than from those who, too secure in his service, may neglect his affairs.
37 In this connection, I must not fail to give a warning to a prince who has acquire a new state by means of secret favors. He must consider well the motive that induced those who favored him to do so. If it was not from a natural affection towards him but only discontent with their previous government, then he will keep them friendly only with great trouble and difficulty, for it will be impossible to satisfy them. And weighing well the reasons for this in those examples which can be extracted from ancient and modern affairs, we can conclude that the prince can make friends easier with those men who were contented under the former government—and are therefore his enemies—than of those who, being discontented with it, were favorable to him and encouraged him to seize it.
38 A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend or a downright enemy—when, without any reservation, he declares himself in favor of one party against the other. This course will always be more advantageous than standing neutral. Suppose two of your powerful neighbors come to blows: if one of them conquers, you have either to fear him or not. In either case it will always be more advantageous for you to declare yourself and to make war strenuously. In the first case, if you do not declare yourself, you will invariably become the next prey of the conqueror—to the pleasure and satisfaction of the conquered—and you will have no argument to offer, nor anything to protect or to shelter you. This is because a conqueror does not want doubtful friends who will not aid him in the time of trial. And the loser will not harbor you, because you did not willingly, sword in hand, risk his fate.
39 It much assists a prince to demonstrate, like Bernabo da Milano, recognition of exceptional acts in internal affairs. When anyone in civil life did some extraordinary thing, either good or bad, Bernabo would grasp the opportunity to reward or punish him, and would be much talked about for this. Above all things, a prince should endeavor in every action to gain for himself the reputation of being a great and remarkable man.
40 A prince ought also to show himself a patron of ability, and to honor the proficient in every art. At the same time he should encourage his citizens to practice their callings peaceably, both in commerce and agriculture, and in every other following, so that a person should not be deterred from improving his possessions for fear lest they be taken away from him, or from opening up trade for fear of taxes. The prince should offer rewards to whoever wishes to do these things or attempts in any way to do well by his city or state.
41 Further, a prince should entertain the people with festivals and spectacles at convenient seasons of the year. And as every city has its trade groups and societies, he ought to hold such bodies in esteem. He should visit with them sometimes, and show himself an example of courtesy and liberality. In all this, however, he should always maintain the majesty of his rank, for this he must never debase in any way.
42 The choice of subordinates is of no little importance to a prince, and they are good or not according to the discrimination of the prince. The first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of the quality of his mind, is by observing the people he has around him. When they are capable and faithful he may always be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize the capable and to keep them faithful. But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was in choosing them.
43 There were none who knew Antonio da Venafro, minister of Pandolfo Petrucci, Prince of Siena, who would not consider Pandolfo to be a very clever man in having picked Venafro. There are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor learns from others. The first is the most excellent, the second is good, the third is useless. Therefore, it follows necessarily that, if Pandolfo was not in the first rank, he was in the second. Whenever one can recognize good and bad—although not reaching independent opinions himself—then he can recognize good and bad in his subordinate, and can praise one and correct the other. Thus the subordinate cannot hope to deceive him, and is kept honest.
44 To enable a prince to form an opinion of a subordinate there is one test which never fails. When you see the subordinate thinking more of his own interests than of yours, and seeking inwardly his own profit in everything, such a man will never turn out well. You will never be able to trust him. He who has in his hands the affairs state of another ought never to think of himself, but always of his superior, and never pay any attention to matters in which the superior is not concerned.
45 On the other hand, to keep a subordinate honest the prince should give careful thought to him, honor him, enrich him, and do him kindnesses, sharing with him honors and responsibilities. At the same time he should ensure that the subordinate cannot stand alone, so that many honors may not make him desire more, many riches not make him wish for more, and that many cares may not make him dread action. With this type of relationship, prince and subordinate can trust each other. When it is otherwise, the end will always be disastrous for one or the other.
46 I do not wish to leave out an important branch of this subject, for it is a danger from which princes are with difficulty preserved, unless they are very careful and discriminating. It is the subject of flatterers. The courts are full of them, because men are so self-complacent in their own affairs, and in a way so deceived in them, that they are preserved with difficulty from this pest. Furthermore, if they wish to defend themselves against flatterers they run the danger of falling into contempt, because there is no other way of guarding oneself from flatterers except letting men understand that to tell you the truth does not offend you. But when every one may tell you the truth, respect for you is diminished.
47 Therefore a prudent prince ought to take a third course by picking out the wise men in his state, and giving to them alone the liberty of speaking the truth to him. And then they should only speak on those things of which he inquires, and on none other. However, he should question them on everything, and listen to their opinions. Afterwards he should form his own conclusions. With these councilors—separately and collectively—he should conduct himself in such a way that each of them should know that, the more freely he shall speak, the more he shall be preferred. Outside of these councilors, he should listen to no one, pursue the thing resolved on, and be steadfast in his resolutions. He who does otherwise is either overthrown by flatterers, or is so often swung to and fro by varying opinions that he falls into contempt.
48 A prince, therefore, ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes and not when others wish; he ought rather to discourage every one from offering advice unless he asks it. He ought to be a constant inquirer, and afterwards a patient listener concerning the things of which he inquired. Also, on learning that any one, on any consideration, has not told him the truth, he should let his anger be felt.
49 And if there are some who think a prince conveys an impression of wisdom only because he has good advisors and not through his own ability, they are without question deceived. Because this is an axiom that is always true: a prince who is not wise himself will never take good advice, unless by chance he has yielded his affairs entirely to another who happens to be a very prudent man. In this case, indeed, he may govern well; but not for long, because such a man would in a short time take away his state from him.
50 If a prince who lacks wisdom should seek advice from more than one he will get different recommendations, and will not know how to reconcile them. Each of the counselors will think of his own interests, and the prince will not know how to make use of them or to see through them. And they cannot be otherwise, because men will always prove untrue unless kept honest by constraint. Therefore it must be inferred that good counsels, wherever they come from, are born of the wisdom of the prince, and not the wisdom of the prince from good counsels.
51 No government should ever imagine that it can choose a perfectly safe course. Rather, let it expect to have to take very doubtful ones, because it is found in ordinary affairs that one never seeks to avoid one trouble without running into another. Prudence consists in knowing how to distinguish the nature of troubles, and to choose the lesser evil.
52 It is not unknown to me how many men have had—and still have—the opinion that the world’s affairs are governed by chance and by God, in such a way that the wisdom of man cannot channel them or even do anything about them. It follows that, because of this, they would have us believe that it is not necessary to labor much in our affairs, but to let chance govern them. This opinion has become more credible in our times because of the unimaginable changes that have been seen, and may still be seen every day. Sometimes when thinking about this I am somewhat inclined to their opinion. Nevertheless, not wishing to dismiss our freedom of will, I believe that chance arbitrates one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to manage the other half, or perhaps a little less.
53 But turning to specifics, I say that a prince may be seen happy today and ruined tomorrow without having exhibited any change in disposition or character. This I believe arises firstly from causes that have already been discussed at length, namely, that the prince who relies entirely on good fortune is lost when it changes. I believe also that he who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times will be successful, and that he whose actions do not accord with the times will not be successful.
Adapted from The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli, translated by W. K. Marriott. J. M. Dent and Co, London, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1908.
An online version of this work is at the Constitution Society, and at the Institute for Learning Studies.
Selection and adaptation © Rex Pay 2001