Niccolo Machiavelli’s



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Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince

“It now remains to be seen what are the methods and rules for a prince as regards to his subjects and friends. And as I know that many have written of this, I fear that my writing about it may be presumptuous, differing as I do, especially in this matter from the opinions of others. But my intention being to write something of use to those who understand, it appears to me more proper to go to the real truth of the matter than to its imagination; and many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for how we live in so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation. A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief 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 and not use it, according to the necessity of the case…

…Thus it is well to seem merciful, faithful, humane, sincere, religious, and also to be so; but you must have the mind so disposed that when it is needful to be otherwise you may be able to change to the opposite qualities. And it must be understood that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all of those things which are considered good in men, being often obliged, in order to maintain the state, to act against faith, against charity, against humanity, and against religion. And, therefore, he must have a mind disposed to adapt itself according to the wind, and as the variations of fortunes dictate, and, as I said before, not deviate from what is good, if possible, but be able to do evil if constrained…

…Everybody sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are, and those few will not dare to oppose themselves to the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of men, and especially of princes, from which there is no appeal, the end justifies the means…



Questions to consider as you read Machiavelli…

  1. According to this excerpt, what type of government would Machiavelli most likely support? Why?

  2. Based upon this excerpt, how would you describe Machiavelli’s view of human nature?

  3. How does Machiavelli’s definition of the ideal ruler compare to that of Petrarch as seen in “Rules for a Successful Ruler”?


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