Machiavelli, N. (2009). The Prince.

A Guide By Niccolò Machiavelli On How To Win Power And Hold On To It.

Government For The People would have been equally suitable title for this book. Although the book is perceived to be a guide on how to win power using the most effective, even if immoral, means, it also puts emphasis on ensuring that regardless of how power is attained, to hold on to it, the ‘Prince’, should satisfy the needs of the people. Effective governance would ensure prosperity for those that are governed. Even if the ruler has negative qualities that serve to maintain order and prosperity, those behaviours are encouraged. 

The recommendation to serve the people is based on an analysis of power dynamics. However, it does not take away from the fact, looking after the needs of the masses is a key recommendation of the book.  

Besides this recommendation, Machiavelli also places emphasis on keeping up appearances. A good ‘Prince’ will pretend to have qualities he does not. Looking at the function of PR in modern politics and the essential role it plays in determining who gets into positions of power, demonstrates Machiavelli’s keen insight. His comments on ‘thwarted ambition’ also provides a new perspective on imperialism and the actors within a client state. 

The book is an enjoyable read with many eye opening arguments.  

Machiavelli, N. (2009). The Prince. Penguin Books.

Nothing, it appeared, was beyond the reach of wealth and astute negotiation. Xii

Public opinion was such, he explained, that, once victory was achieved, nobody was going to put the winner on trial. Political leaders were above the law. Xxi

… as Machiavelli rapidly assesses different kinds of states and forms of government, different contexts, di er- ent men and their successes and failures, he runs up against two factors that defy codi cation: the role of luck and the mystery of personality. By the end of the book he is beyond the stage of o ering heroes and success stories as models, aware that if there is one circumstance that a man cannot easily change it is his own character: even had he wanted to, Soderini could not have modelled himself on Borgia, nor vice versa. Xxv

Machiavelli, on the contrary, made it clear that, as he saw it, Christian principles and e ective political leadership were not always compatible; situations would arise where one was bound to choose between the two. Xxxii

…the idea that all human behaviour could be assessed in relation to one set of values was naive and utopian. Xxxiii

[The aim of rules is] …how can I convince people that I have a legitimate, reasonable right to hold power and to govern? xxxv

[To govern successfully]  In the long run a ruler must avoid being hated by his people and must always put their interests before those of the aristocracy; the people are so many, Machiavelli reflected, that power ultimately lies with them. Xxxvii

As Rousseau saw it, the whole of The Prince was itself a Machiavellian ruse: the author had only pretended to give lessons to kings whereas in fact his real aim was to teach people to be free by showing them that royal power was no more than subterfuge. Xxxvii

For Machiavelli ‘virtù’ was any quality of character that enabled you to take pol- itical power or to hold on to it; in short, a winning trait. It could be courage in battle, or strength of personality, or political cunning, or it might even be the kind of ruthless cruelty that lets your subjects know you mean business. Xli

A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend or a downright enemy, that is to say, when, without any reservation, he declares himself in favour of one party against the other; which course will always be more advan- tageous 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. Xliv

All the previous comments were made by Tim Parks in the Forward. The rest of the words are Machiavelli’s.

…men are quick to change ruler when they imagine they can improve their lot. 7

People who are discontented, whether out of fear or frustrated ambition, will always encourage a foreign power to intervene. 10

Seen in advance, trouble is easily dealt with; wait until it’s on top of you and your reaction will come too late, the malaise is already irreversible. 11 must never fail to respond to trouble just to avoid war, because in the end you won’t avoid it, you’ll just be putting it off to your enemy’s advantage. 14

And since you can’t go from being an ordinary citizen to a ruler without either talent or favourable circumstances, we must suppose that one or the other of these factors will be offsetting, at least in part, a great many difficulties. That said, those who haven’t relied too much on lucky circumstances have lasted longer. 21

Here we have to bear in mind that nothing is harder to organize, more likely to fail, or more dangerous to see through, than the introduction of a new system of government. The person bringing in the changes will make enemies of everyone who was doing well under the old system, while the people who stand to gain from the new arrange- ments will not offer wholehearted support, partly because they are afraid of their opponents, who still have the laws on their side, and partly because people are naturally sceptical: no one really believes in change until they’ve had solid experi- ence of it. So as soon as the opponents of the new system see a chance, they’ll go on the offensive with the determination of an embattled faction, while its supporters will offer only half-hearted resistance, something that will put the new ruler’s position at risk too. 23

…we must remember that the general public’s mood will swing. It’s easy to convince people of something, but hard to keep them convinced. So when they stop believing in you, you must be in a position to force them to believe. 23

Like anything that appears suddenly and grows fast, regimes that come out of nothing inevitably have shallow roots and will tend to crash in the first storm. 25

As we said earlier on, if you haven’t laid the foundations before becoming king, it takes very special qualities to do it afterwards, and even then it’ll be tough for the architect and risky for the building. 26

… first, eliminate the families of all the local rulers whose land he had taken, thus denying a new pope the option of restoring them; second, win the support of all the noble families of Rome. 29

Because it’s fear or hatred that makes men attack each other. 31

Anyone who thinks that an important man will forget past grievances just because he’s received some new promotion must think again. 32

On the other hand, we can hardly describe killing fellow citizens, betraying friends and living without loyalty, mercy or creed as signs of talent. Methods like that may bring you power, but not glory. 34

Cruelty well used (if we can ever speak well of something bad) is short-lived and decisive, no more than is necessary to secure your position and then stop; you don’t go on being cruel but use the power it has given you to deliver maximum benefits to your subjects. Cruelty is badly used when you’re not drastic enough at the beginning but grow increasingly cruel later on, rather than easing off. 36

If you don’t do all it takes at the beginning, because you were badly advised or didn’t have the nerve, then you’ll always have to be wielding the knife; and you’ll never be able to count on your subjects, since with all the violence you’re handing out they won’t be able to count on you. So get the violence over with as soon as possible; that way there’ll be less time for people to taste its bitterness and they’ll be less hostile. 37

A king who comes to power with the help of the rich nobles will have more trouble keeping it than the king who gets there with the support of the people, because he will be surrounded by men who consider themselves his equals, and that will make it hard for him to give them orders or to manage affairs as he wants… the nobles want to oppress the people, while the people want to be free from oppression. What’s more, a king can never be safe if the common people are hostile to him, because there are so many of them; but he can protect himself against the nobles, since there are not so many… The nobles are smarter, they see further ahead, they always move early enough to save their skins, ingratiating themselves with who- ever they think will turn out the winner. 38-9

When people are treated well by someone they thought was hostile they respond with even greater loyalty; they’ll go over to his side at once and be even more devoted than if he had taken power with their support. 40

People are always wary of projects that present obvious difficulties, and attacking a well-defended town and a ruler whose subjects don’t hate him is never an easy proposition. 42

We’ve already said that a ruler’s power must be based on solid foundations; otherwise he’s bound to fall… If you are counting on mercenaries to defend your state you will never be stable or secure, because mercen- aries are ambitious, undisciplined, disloyal and they quarrel among themselves… in peacetime they plunder you and in wartime they let the enemy plunder you. 48

So, sensible rulers have always avoided using auxiliaries and mercenaries, relying instead on their own men and even preferring to lose with their own troops than to win with others, on the principle that a victory won with foreign forces is not a real victory at all. 54

And there is no reason why a man who com- mands an armed force should willingly obey a man who doesn’t, or why a man who doesn’t command an army should live safely beside a servant who does. 58

If you always want to play the good man in a world where most people are not good, you’ll end up badly. Hence, if a ruler wants to survive, he’ll have to learn to stop being good, at least when the occasion demands. 61

…a ruler need hardly worry about a reputation for meanness; it is one of the nega- tive qualities that keep him in power. 63

Either a ruler is spending his own and his subjects’ money, or someone else’s. When the money is his own or his subjects’, he should go easy; when it’s someone else’s, he should be as lavish as he can… Spending other people’s money doesn’t lower your standing – it raises it. 63-4

We can say this of most people: that they are ungrateful and unreliable; they lie, they fake, they’re greedy for cash and they melt away in the face of danger… Men are less worried about letting down someone who has made himself loved than someone who makes himself feared… gratitude is forgotten the moment it’s inconvenient. Fear means fear of punishment, and that’s something people never forget. 66

… since people decide for themselves whether to love a ruler or not, while it’s the ruler who decides whether they’re going to fear him, a sensible man will base his power on what he controls, not on what others have freedom to choose. 68

The reader should bear in mind that there are two ways of doing battle: using the law and using force. 69

So, a leader doesn’t have to possess all the virtuous qualities I’ve mentioned, but it’s absolutely imperative that he seem to possess them… to stay in power he’s frequently obliged to act against loyalty, against charity, against humanity and against religion… he must seem and sound wholly compassionate, wholly loyal, wholly humane, wholly honest and wholly religious. 70-1

As long as you don’t deprive them of property or honour most men will be happy enough and you’ll only have to watch out for the ambitious few who can easily be reined back in various ways. 72

A ruler must guard against two kinds of danger: one internal, coming from his own people; the other external, coming from foreign powers. 72-3

In fact, one of the most powerful prevent- ive measures against conspiracies is simply not being hated by a majority of the people. 73

A conspirator can’t act alone and can look for accomplices only among people he believes are unhappy with the situation. But as soon as he reveals his intentions to someone else he’s giving that person the chance to improve his position, since obviously there are all kinds of advantages to be had from betraying a conspiracy. 73

Sensible rulers and well-run states have always done all they can not to drive the nobles to despair and to keep the people happy and satisfied; indeed this is one of a ruler’s most important tasks. 74

… a ruler must get others to carry out policies that will provoke protest, keeping those that inspire gratitude to himself. 75

When you’re the one giving people arms, those arms become yours; men who were potentially hostile become loyal, while those already loyal become your supporters rather than just your subjects. 82

Hence many people reckon that when the opportunity presents itself a smart ruler will shrewdly provoke hostility so that he can then increase his reputation by crushing it. 84

Your best fortress is not to be hated by the people, because even if you do have fortresses, they won’t save you if the people hate you. 85

… stripping the Marrano Jews of their wealth and expelling them from his kingdom, a move that could hardly have been more distressing or striking. 88

A ruler will also be respected when he is a genuine friend and a genuine enemy, that is, when he declares himself unam- biguously for one side and against the other. 88

The contender who is not your ally will always try to get you to stay neutral and your ally will always try to get you to fight. Indecisive rulers who want to avoid immediate danger usually decide to stay neutral, and usually things end badly for them. 89

Here it’s worth noting that a ruler must never ally himself with someone more powerful in order to attack his enemies, unless, as I said above, it is absolutely necessary. 89

Good sense consists in being able to assess the dangers and choose the lesser of various evils. 90

A ruler must also show that he admires achievement in others, giving work to men of ability and rewarding people who excel in this or that craft. 90

There are actually three kinds of mind: one kind grasps things unaided, the second sees what another has grasped, the third grasps nothing and sees nothing. 91

A minister running a state must never think of himself, only of the ruler, and should concen- trate exclusively on the ruler’s business. To make sure he does so, the ruler, for his part, must take an interest in the minister, grant him wealth and respect, oblige him and share honours and appointments with him. 92

So a ruler must always take advice, but only when he wants it, not when others want to give it to him. In fact he should discourage people from giving him advice unasked. 94

Men are more interested in the present than the past and when things are going well they’ll be happy and won’t look elsewhere; on the contrary, they’ll do everything they can to defend a ruler so long as he doesn’t let himself down in other ways. 96

All men want glory and wealth, but they set out to achieve those goals in different ways. Some are cautious, others impul- sive; some use violence, others finesse; some are patient, others quite the opposite. And all these different approaches can be successful. 99

If someone is behaving cautiously and patiently and the times and circumstances are such that the approach works, he’ll be successful… if a person has always been successful with a particular approach, he won’t easily be persuaded to drop it. So when the time comes for the cautious man to act impulsively, he can’t, and he comes unstuck. 99 – 100

My opinion on the matter is this: it’s better to be impulsive than cautious; fortune is female and if you want to stay on top of her you have to slap and thrust. You’ll see she’s more likely to yield that way than to men who go about her coldly. 101