Chapter XVII

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Niccolo Machiavelli

Selections from The Prince (1513)

Coming now to the other qualities mentioned above, I say that every prince ought to desire to be considered clement [kind and forgiving] and not cruel. Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency. Cesare Borgia [ruthless condottiero and son of Pope Alexander VI] was considered cruel; notwithstanding, his cruelty reconciled the Romagna, 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 Pistoia [a city in Tuscany, north of Florence] to be destroyed.[*] Therefore a prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; because with a few examples he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise, from which follow murders or robberies; for these are wont to injure the whole people, whilst those executions which originate with a prince offend the individual only…
[*]It was damaged during the rioting between the Cancellieri and Panciatichi factions in 1502 and 1503.
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 this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and 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, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and 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 which never fails.
Nevertheless 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; for 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. But when a prince is with his army, and has under control a multitude of soldiers, then it is quite necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without it he would never hold his army united or disposed to its duties…
Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted.

Every one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft [deceitfulness]. 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 craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word. You must know there are two ways of contesting [striving for mastery], the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second. Therefore it is necessary for a prince to understand how to avail himself of the beast and the man… it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures, and that one without the other is not durable. A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about. Therefore a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith 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 observe it with them. Nor will there ever be wanting to a prince 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 employ the fox has succeeded best.
But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler [liar]; and 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. One recent example I cannot pass over in silence. [Pope] Alexander the Sixth [*] did nothing else but deceive men, nor ever thought of doing otherwise, and he always found victims; for there never was a man who had greater power in asserting, or who with greater oaths would affirm a thing, yet would observe it less; nevertheless his deceits always succeeded according to his wishes, because he well understood this side of mankind.
[*] Alexander was an enemy to the Medici; he died in 1503. Therefore, it was safe to talk about him in this manner.
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.
And you have to understand this, that a prince, especially a new one, cannot observe all those things for which men are esteemed, being often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to fidelity [faith], friendship, humanity, and religion. Therefore it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself accordingly as the winds and variations of fortune force it, yet, as I have said above, not to diverge from the good if he can avoid doing so, but, if compelled, then to know how to set about it.
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. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.
For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody; because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar, for the few find a place there only when the many have no ground to rest on.
One prince[*] of the present time, whom it is not well to name, never preaches anything else but peace and good faith, and to both he is most hostile, and either, if he had kept it, would have deprived him of reputation and kingdom many a time.
[*] Ferdinand of Aragon, the King of Spain. Since Ferdinand was still in power, had Machiavelli used his name, he could have put himself in mortal danger from Ferdinand’s agents in Italy.

AP European History

The Renaissance: Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince

(Introduction adapted from Dennis Sherman, Western Civilization Sources, Images and Interpretations, 7th ed.)

In the Italian Renaissance, politics took on an increasing competitive and secular tone. Within each Italian city-state, competing families and factions fought for power while at the same time, the states fought each other for economic and diplomatic dominance and advantage. After 1492, Italy was invaded numerous times by Spain, France, and the Holy Roman Empire (Germanic states). It is this world of political turmoil that is reflected in the life and work of the great Renaissance political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527).
Born in Florence during the rule of the Medicis, Machiavelli began his career in the Florentine civil service in 1498 during the time when the Medicis were out of power, replaced by a short-lived republican government. He rose to important diplomatic posts within the Florentine government, but was forced into retirement when the Medici family returned to power in 1512. Machiavelli never gave up his hope of gaining favor with the Medicis and returning to public service. He wrote The Prince (1513), in part as an application to the Medici rulers for a job in the Florentine government. The book has since become a classic work in political theory, mostly for the way it separates politics from religious thought, as well as from metaphysics, the ways in which we try to understand the world.
The accompanying selections from The Prince illustrate its style and some of its main themes. Actively read the selections, making marks and notes as you read, and answer the questions below on your own paper. Use specific citations and quotes from the reading to illustrate your answers.
1. According to Machiavelli, is it better for a leader to be loved or feared? Why?
2. What is Machiavelli’s general view of the nature of man? Why might he think this way?
3. Machiavelli states that leaders ought to be both “the fox and the lion”. What does he mean by this?
4. Why does Machiavelli believe that leaders should appear virtuous, yet be willing to act in ways contrary to their apparent virtues?
5. Machiavelli’s political philosophy is often summed up as “the ends justify the means”, meaning if you achieve your goals, it doesn’t matter what you did to make it happen. Do you think politicians today still operate by this same philosophy? Why or why not?

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