The Prince

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  1. Machiavelli lays out what the prince of a territory should and should not do in order to rule successfully. His insight covers topics from how to rule your people, what to do with colonies, whether one should wish to be feared or loved (not hated turns out to be the answer), how to rule newly conquered people, etc. It is often very direct and harsh in its suggestions.
Key Takeaways
  1. It is far better to gain the confidence of the people than to rely on fortresses
  2. He who thinks that new favors will cause great personages to forget old injuries deceives himself
  3. Of fortune and women, it is the bold rather than the cautious that will win and hold them both
  4. Men are still the dupes of their simplicity and greed
  5. The cloak of religion still conceals the vices of mens’ ambitions
  6. Louis XII made the 5 errors – he destroyed the minor powers, he increased the strength of one of the greater powers in Italy, he brought in a foreign power, he did not settle in the country, he did not send colonies
  7. He who has not first laid his foundations may be able with great ability to lay them afterwards, but they will be laid with trouble to the architect and danger to the building
  8. 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. 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 which never fails. Above being feared and loved, it is more important to avoid hatred
  9. A prince who is not wise himself will never take good advice, unless by chance he has yielded his affairs entirely to one person who happens to be a very prudent man.
  10. It is of the greatest important in this world that a man should know himself, and the measure of his own strength and means; and he who knows that he has not a genius for fighting must learn how to govern by the arts of peace. 
What I got out of it
  1. The term Machiavellian has been a bit distorted over the centuries to become synonymous with manipulation. While Machiavelli undoubtedly advises this in certain situation, that is not his main argument. Many valid points on how to deal with people or groups of people and while his examples are dated, his messages are as clear as ever.

Read The Prince


  • Got kicked out of his governmental position when the Medici’s came to power again and wrote The Prince in order to gain fain with Lorenzo de Medici (who the book is dedicated to) and gain an advisory position in the Florentine government, which he ultimately did not get
  • Most revolutionary part of The Prince was that Machiavelli separated ethics and politics
  • Men will not look at things as they really are, but as they wish them to be
  • In politics, there are no perfectly safe courses; prudence consists in choosing the least dangerous ones
  • For, although one may be strong in armed forces, yet in entering a province one has always need of the goodwill of the natives
  • Injuries done to a man should be of the kind that do not illicit revenge
  • When dealing with a newly conquered city, there are three courses in which to hold them – ruin them, reside there in person or permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute and establishing within it an oligarchy which will be friendly to you
  • Those who by valorous ways become princes, like these men (Moses, Cyrus, Romulus), acquire a principality with difficulty but they keep it with ease
  • Those who solely by good fortune become princes from being private citizens have little trouble in rising, but much in keeping atop; they have not any difficulties on the way up, because they fly, but they have many when they reach the summit
  • Nevertheless, his [Agathocles] barbarous cruelty and inhumanity with infinite wickedness do not permit him to be celebrated among the most excellent men. What he achieved cannot be attributed to either fortune or genius
  • Examine closely all injuries which are necessary to inflict and do them all in one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily
  • He who reaches sovereignty by popular favor finds himself alone and has none around him, or few, who are not prepared to obey him
  • Nobles ought to be looked at mainly in two ways: that is to say they either shape their course in such a way that binds them entirely to your fortune, or they do not
  • One who becomes a prince in opposition to the people should try  above all else to win them over otherwise he has no security in adversity
  • A prince must consider whether his principality is strong enough that it can support itself with its own resources or whether it is always in need of others
  • It is in the nature of men to be bound by the benefits they confer as much as those they receive
  • It is necessary for a prince to have his foundations well laid, otherwise it follows that he will go to ruin. The chief foundations of all states, new as well as old or composite, are good laws and good arms; and as there cannot be good laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that where they are well armed they have good laws.
  • Do not use mercenaries as they are only loyal to the point that you can pay them and will not fight as diligently as people who are fighting for their land. The arms of others either fall from your back, weight you down or bind you fast
  • No principality is safe without having its own forces
  • Prince should focus on nothing else except for war and its rules and disciplines. However, histories, especially of illustrious men should be read and imitated
  • How one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil
  • …if everything is considered carefully, it will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed, would be his ruin; whilst something else, which looks like a vice, yet followed brings him security and prosperity
  • It is wiser to have a reputation for meanness which brings reproach without hatred, than to be compelled through seeking a reputation for liberality to incur a name for rapacity which begets reproach with hatred
  • Every prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel. Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency
  • Therefore 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, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite
  • Hatred is acquired as much by good works as by bad ones, therefore, as I said before, a prince wishing to keep his state is very of­ten forced to do evil; for when that body is corrupt whom you think you have need of to maintain yourself—it may be either the people or the soldiers or the nobles—you have to submit to its humors and to gratify them, and then good works will do you harm.
  • The prince who has more to fear from the people than from foreigners ought to build fortresses, but he who has more to fear from foreigners than from the people ought to leave them alone.
  • A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend or a downright enemy, that is to say, when, without any res­ ervation, he declares himself in favour of one party against the other; which course will always be more advantageous than standing neutral
  • The first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him; and 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.
  • Therefore a wise prince ought to hold a third course by choosing the wise men in his state, and giving to them only the liberty of speaking the truth to him, and then only of those things of which he inquires, and of none others; but he ought to question them upon everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions
  • it is a common defect in man not to make any provision in the calm against the tempest
  • Nevertheless, not to extinguish our free will, I hold it to be true that Fortune is the arbiter of one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to direct the other half, or perhaps a little less.

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