Unit One Seminar Reading Niccolò Machiavelli



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Unit One Seminar Reading

Niccolò Machiavelli

From The Prince, 1512

Those who want to gain a prince’s favour usually offer him those things they value most or that they think he likes best. So we often see people giving him horses, armour, cloth of gold, gems, and similar ornaments suitable to their position. Wishing to offer Your Magnificence something on my behalf as evidence of my devotion, I find nothing in my possessions I value higher than the knowledge of the actions of great men, which I have gained from long experience of the affairs today and from constant study of the past. I have carefully examined and thought about these matters for a long time, and now I have written it all down in a small volume, which I send to Your Magnificence.


Although I judge this book unworthy for you to receive, I am confident that you will generously accept it, especially when you recall that I can give no greater gift than to help you understand in a very short time what it has taken me many years and many dangers and much discomfort to learn.

A prince, first of all, should have no other object or thought in mind than war and how to wage it. He must not take up anything else to be skilful in, for war is the only art essential to those who govern. It is, moreover, of such great value that it not only keeps in power those who have been born rulers, but often helps men of humble origin to rise to high rank. On the other hand, when princes turn their attention more to luxuries than to war, they lose their power. The chief cause of losing power is neglect of the art of war; the chief means of acquiring power is skill in the art of war.

Methods of dealing with subjects & friends


We must now see what methods and rules a prince should use in dealing with his subjects and his friends. Because I know that many have written about this, I fear that my writing about it will be judged presumptuous, since I disagree in this matter completely with the opinions of others. But since I intend to write something useful to those who understand, it seems to me more practical to go directly to the actual truth of the matter than to speculate about it. Many have imagined republics and principalities that have never been seen or known really to exist. But there is such a difference between how we live and how we ought to live that he who turns away from what actually does occur for the sake of what ought to occur, does something that will ruin him rather than save him. For he who wants to be a good man all the time will be ruined among so many who are not good. It is therefore necessary for a prince who wants to survive to learn how not to be good and to use goodness, or not use it, according to what needs to be done.

Leaving aside, then, those matters which concern only an imaginary prince and talking about those things that are real, I say that all men, and especially princes because they are situated higher, exhibit certain qualities which bring them either blame or praise. Thus, one is termed liberal or generous, another miserly or stingy...one is thought unselfish,


another greedy; one cruel, another compassionate; one unreliable, another trustworthy; one effeminate and cowardly, another fierce and courageous; one humane, another proud; one lascivious, another chaste; one frank, the other crafty; one harsh, the other easygoing; one serious, the other light-minded; one religious, the other an unbeliever; and so on.

I know that everyone will admit that it would be very fine for a prince to have all of the qualities mentioned above that are judged good. But because human nature will not allow it, they cannot all be possessed or maintained. It is necessary, therefore, that the prince be clever enough to know how to avoid a bad reputation for having those vices which might endanger his position, and if he can do so, he should also avoid those vices that are not dangerous to his position. But if he cannot do so, he can let them persist with less worry. He must not care if he gets a bad reputation on account of those vices without which he could not protect the state; because, all things considered, we find that some things which seem to be virtues would, if followed, lead to ruin, whereas something else which seems vicious will bring about security and well-being.

Beginning now with the first of the qualities mentioned above, I say that it would be well to be thought liberal or generous. Nevertheless, liberality used to such a degree that you are known for it, is harmful to you. If you practise it moderately, as one ought to, no one will know about it, and you will be blamed for the opposite vice. If, on the other hand, you want to gain a reputation for being liberal or generous, you must not omit any extravagance, to such an extent that a prince who does so will use up his resources. It will then become necessary at last, if he wants to keep on being known for his liberality, for him to tax his people heavily, to extort money from them, and do everything possible just to get money.

Connection between liberality and subjects, taxes, etc…




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