The Prince and The Discourses on Livy by Niccolo Machiavelli



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The Prince and The Discourses on Livy by Niccolo Machiavelli



Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) was an Italian diplomat, political philosopher, musician, poet and playwright. He is best known for his works on realist political theory (The Prince) on the one hand and republicanism (Discourses on Livy) on the other. His philosophical views on politics were such that his surname [last or family name] now refers to any political move that is devious or cunning in nature. Machiavelli's best known book, The Prince, which he modeled upon Cesare Borgia, describes the arts by which a Prince [a ruler] can retain control of his realm. He focuses primarily on what he calls the "new prince", who has a much more difficult task since he must stabilize his newfound power and build a structure that will endure. This task requires the Prince to be publicly above reproach but privately may require him to do immoral things in order to achieve his goals.

On War: “A prince ought to have no other aim or thought… than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank... For among other evils which being unarmed brings you, it causes you to be despised … And therefore a prince who does not understand the art of war… cannot be respected by his soldiers, nor can he rely on them. He ought never, therefore, to have out of his thoughts this subject of war, and in peace he should addict himself more to its exercise than in war; this he can do in two ways, the one by action, the other by study.”

Reputation of a prince: “Many men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good… Hence 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…”

Cruelty vs. mercy: “A prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst 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. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but 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…”

Avoiding contempt and hatred: “It makes him hated above all things… to be rapacious, and to be a violator of the property and women of his subjects, from both of which he must abstain. And when neither their property nor honour is touched, the majority of men live content, and he has only to contend with the ambition of a few, whom he can curb with ease in many ways… It makes him contemptible to be considered fickle, frivolous, effeminate, mean-spirited, irresolute, from all of which a prince should guard himself as from a rock; and he should endeavour to show in his actions greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude; and in his private dealings with his subjects let him show that his judgments are irrevocable, and maintain himself in such reputation that no one can hope either to deceive him or to get round him.”

Gaining honors: “A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend or a downright enemy, that to say, when, without any reservation, he declares himself in favour of one party against the other; which course will always be more advantageous than standing neutral; because if two of your powerful neighbours come to blows, they are of such a character that, 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; because, in the first case, if you do not declare yourself, you will invariably fall a prey to the conqueror, to the pleasure and satisfaction of him who has been conquered, and you will have no reasons to offer, nor anything to protect or to shelter you. Because he who conquers does not want doubtful friends who will not aid him in the time of trial; and he who loses will not harbour you because you did not willingly, sword in hand, court his fate.”

Nobles and staff: “The choice of servants is of no little importance to a prince, and they are good or not according to the discrimination of the prince… But to enable a prince to form an opinion of his servant there is one test which never falls; when you see the servant thinking more of his own interests than of yours, and seeking inwardly his own profit in everything, such a man will never make a good servant, nor will you ever be able to trust him; because he who has the state of another in his hands ought never to think of himself, but always of his prince, and never pay any attention to matters in which the prince is not concerned…”

Avoiding flatterers: “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 that of flatterers, of whom courts arc full… 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 abates. 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…

Discorsi: Machiavelli's Discourse on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy comprises the early history of Rome. It is a series of lessons on how a republic should be started and structured, including the concept of checks and balances, the strength of a tripartite structure and the superiority of a republic over a principality. From The Discourses:


  • "In fact, when there is combined under the same constitution a prince, a nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocally in check."

  • "Doubtless these means [of attaining power] are cruel and destructive of all civilized life, and neither Christian nor even human, and should be avoided by every one. In fact, the life of a private citizen would be preferable to that of a king at the expense of the ruin of so many human beings."

  • "Now in a well-ordered republic it should never be necessary to resort to extra-constitutional measures...."

  • "...the governments of the people are better than those of princes."

  • "...if we compare the faults of a people with those of princes, as well as their respective good qualities, we shall find the people vastly superior in all that is good and glorious."

  • "For government consists mainly in so keeping your subjects that they shall be neither able nor disposed to injure you...."

  • "...no prince is ever benefited by making himself hated."

  • "Let not princes complain of the faults committed by the people subjected to their authority, for they result entirely from their own negligence or bad example."



  1. According to The Prince, list seven things a prince [or leader] must be able to do.

  2. Do The Discourses agree with any of those ideas?

  3. What ideas do you agree with from either book?

  4. Why do you think The Prince is so much better known about than The Discourses?



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