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The Prince | Niccolò Machiavelli


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Published in: 1532

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Niccolò Machiavelli was an Italian political philosopher and historian that had a key figure in shaping the political life of the Renaissance. His book “The Prince”, written in the 16th Century, is an instruction manual for new princes. The book is based on a time when cities were constantly threatened by neighboring principalities and there were continuous power struggles and change of rulers. Machiavelli’s last name has become synonymous with terrible human behavior and if one looks up the word Machiavellian in a dictionary, the description is cunning, scheming, and unscrupulous.

RATHER FEARED THAN LOVED, BUT NOT HATED. A man who wants to show his goodness in all his actions, perishes among all those who are not good. A prince who wants to stay in power must learn not to be good, and to use this or not as circumstances require. It is not necessary for a prince to be loved to keep his reign. But if he is too loved, he can be perceived as weak, and aspiring leaders might try to take him down, and more easily get the people – who are not afraid – to join them. It is better to feared and not induce any uprisings from people that are somewhat dissatisfied. However, it is of vital importance not to be hated, because then he will be surrounded by enemies ready to strike when the inevitable weak moment arises – he needs the goodwill of the people during those hard times.

“It is much safer to be feared than loved because …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.”

BE CONSISTENT. A prince should behave in such a way that he, whatever happens – good or bad – does not have to change his behavior towards the people. If you have to be cruel in adversity, you will not get gratitude and trust when you are friendly in good times.

IF YOU MUST DO HARM, CRUSH THEM. Men ought either to be indulged or totally destroyed, for if you merely offend them they take vengeance, but if you injure them greatly they are unable to retaliate – the injury done to a man ought to be such that vengeance cannot be feared.

HONE YOUR SKILLS IN PEACE TIME. If a prince, during peace time, thinks more of his pleasures than his army, he will lose his kingdom. War should be the only study. He should consider peace only as a breathing-time, giving him leisure to contrive, and hone his ability to execute military plans.

”The first way to lose a state is to neglect the art of war; the first way to gain a state is to be skilled in the art of war.”

BE PREPARED AND ACT PREVENTIVE. A prince must not only focus on the ongoing unrest but also on what the future holds. He must counteract them in every way, for if, as in a disease, one sees the danger far in advance, one can find a cure, but if one waits until the danger is near, medicine will not arrive in time and the disease becomes incurable.

THE DANGERS IN TOO MUCH CHANGE TOO QUICKLY. A new prince should be considerate in not initiating too much change too quickly. He will make enemies from those that took advantage of the old order, and only get lukewarm defenders in those that take advantage of the new order.

PUNISH ONCE AND STRONGLY. When a conqueror takes over a kingdom, he should carefully think through what acts of violence he is obliged to commit and then carry them all out at once, so that he does not have to start each new day with more violence. Then the people, after a while, will calm down, and get comfortable that a new peaceful order is in place. After some time they will also forgive the early acts of violence.

“Severities should be dealt out all at once, so that their suddenness may give less offense; benefits ought to be handed ought drop by drop, so that they may be relished the more.”

A LEADER NEEDS A BROAD SKILLSET. A leader must strive to be both military powerful and strategically skillful, but also develop the strength to do bold things – to dare to make mistakes of ambition rather than of sloth.

“The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.”

YOU CANNOT BE NEUTRAL. A prince is respected if he is a true friend or a true enemy. He should never be neutral, for if two of your neighboring princes go to war, you either win together with your friend and get a strong and stable outcome, or you lose together. If you are neutral, the winner will likely come after you in the future since he perceives you both as weak and as someone who can’t be trusted. And the loser, if he comes back to power, will not trust you in the next battle since you were not around for the first one. The neutral ends up a loser no matter the outcome of the battle.

AIM FOR THE SKY. A man should always embark on the paths that great men have paved and follow the men who have been outstanding personalities, so that his ability, even if it is not on a par with theirs, still produces a good outcome.

“Without an opportunity, their abilities would have been wasted, and without their abilities, the opportunity would have arisen in vain.“

THE DANGERS IN GROWING TOO FAST. A kingdom that grows too fast, like everything else in nature that arises and grows fast, may not have deep enough roots and a strong enough foundation, that the first severe adversity will not bring it to fall. Those who have unexpectedly become princes should immediately understand to make sure of what fate has thrown at them, and afterwards lay the foundation that everyone else builds up before they come to power.

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