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It is a strange urge that some people have: to rule the fates of others, to play with events in
order to change the course of history, to decide who receives and who surrenders, who
prospers and who falls to ruin, indeed who shall live and who shall die. And all because of
one word: power. Niccolò Machiavelli (1536 -1603), the author, diplomat and philosopher
best known for writing what many consider the first real book of political science which
examines power, The Prince (1513). He was an Italian politician, historian, philosopher and
writer who worked in Florence during the Renaissance. As an official in the Florentine
Republic, Machiavelli had responsibility for diplomatic and military affairs. His observations
on rulers, leadership and unscrupulous politicians have led to him being heralded as the
founder of modern political science. Machiavelli's beliefs on rulers therefore reverberate
strongly in contemporary thought on politicians and what they ought not to be like.
Machiavelli’s writings are maddeningly and notoriously unsystematic, inconsistent and
sometimes self-contradictory. Machiavelli may have grazed at the fringes of philosophy, but
the impact of his musings has been widespread and lasting. The terms “Machiavellian” or
“Machiavellism” find regular purchase among philosophers concerned with a range of
ethical, political, and psychological phenomena, even if Machiavelli did not invent
“Machiavellism” and may not even have been a “Machiavellian” in the sense often ascribed
to him. Moreover, in Machiavelli's critique of “grand” philosophical schemes, we find a
challenge to the enterprise of philosophy that commands attention and demands consideration
and response. Thus, Machiavelli deserves a place at the table in any comprehensive survey of

The Prince
The main points from The Prince, well worth pondering from the business and political
aspect are as follow:
Good leaders possess virtue: boldness, courage and skill.
It is better to be feared (i.e., respected) than loved.
Forget lofty ideals and moralistic or religious tenants as this could lead to your destruction by
making you appear weak.
A man will hate you and work against you if you take away his property (in business:
position, staff, responsibilities), and/or his woman -- remember this is Renaissance Italy -- (in
business: company car, parking space, office space: the visual signs of success and status).

"People more quickly forget the death of their father," Machiavelli observes, "than the loss of
their inheritance."
To avoid being overthrown and removed from power, avoid being hated.
Be generous to your troops (i.e., staff) but be miserly to others.
Beware the virtues (generosity, mercy, honesty, etc.) -- for they can make you seem weak and
lead to your loss of power. If you are virtuous and your opponent isn't, you will lose. Thus,
you must assume that he isn't virtuous.
Use the vices (lying, miserliness, deceit, etc.) as tactics and tools to maintain power. It is
vital, however, that others never realize this.
It is politically useful to appear to be virtuous.
Be deceitful if you must, and only if it suits your purposes -- but nobody should ever discover
that this is your tactic.
If you must remove someone, do it quickly, decisively and limited in scope. Then move
Use any means of expediency to achieve your goals; expediency is something that promotes
your own interests or purposes. In other words, the ends justify the means.

The view that Machiavelli’s book “The Prince” was written with a devils hand

The Prince was not even read by the person to whom it was dedicated, Lorenzo de Medici. If
the truth be told, this strange little treatise for which Machiavelli is famous, or infamous,
never aided—at least not in any systematic way—anyone in the actual business of governing.
The most one can says about The Prince in this regard is that Kissinger and Nixon preferred it
as their bedtime reading. Why are we still reading this book called The Prince, which was
written 500 years ago?Before Machiavelli, politics was strictly bonded with ethics, in theory
if not in practice. According to an ancient tradition that goes back to Aristotle, politics is a
sub-branch of ethics—ethics being defined as the moral behavior of individuals, and politics
being defined as the morality of individuals in social groups or organized communities.
Machiavelli was the first theorist to decisively divorce politics from ethics, and hence to give
a certain autonomy to the study of politics.

The importance of Machiavelli’s Treatise “The Prince”

Machiavelli wrote The Prince to serve as a handbook for rulers, and he claims explicitly
throughout the work that he is not interested in talking about ideal republics or imaginary

utopias, as many of his predecessors had done: “There is such a gap between how one lives
and how one should live that he who neglects what is being done for what should be done
will learn his destruction rather than his preservation.” This is a prime example of what we
call Machiavelli’s political realism—his intention to speak only of the “effectual truth” of
politics, so that his treatise could be of pragmatic use in the practice of governing. So why are
we still reading this treatise five centuries later?The answerhas to do with the fact that this
book is what we call a classic. Its enduring value lies not so much in its political theories as in
the way it discloses or articulates a particular way of looking at the world. The Prince shows
us what the world looks like when viewed from a strictly demoralized perspective and that is
what the fascination and also the scandal is all about.

There are, however, different ideas which consider The Prince as an abortion:
What I’m putting forward as my own interpretation of The Prince is that the treatise was
doomed from the beginning to the same sorry failure as Borgia’s political career. By that I
mean that it’s not by chance that the unredeemed realism of The Prince has not had any
direct, concrete effect on political history. If its ambition was to be a handbook by which
rulers could advance their own agendas, if its ambition was to instruct a prince who could
one day unify Italy and throw out the foreigners, if its ambition was to found a school of
political theory or promote some kind of trans-formation in the history of nation states, or
even if its ambition was much more modest, namely to ingratiate its author with the Medici
rulers of Florence, then we have no choice but to conclude that as a political treatise The
Prince was an abortion. It failed to achieve its ends.
The abortive fate of The Prince makes you wonder why some of the great utopian texts of our
tradition have had much more effect on reality itself, like The Republic of Plato, or
Rousseau’s peculiar form of utopianism, which was so important for the French Revolution.
Christianity itself— its imagination of another world beyond the so-called real world—
completely transformed the real politics of Europe. Or Karl Marx, for that matter, it’s not the
realism of the Marxian analysis, it’s not his critique of capitalism’s unsustainable systemic
contradictions—it’s more his utopian projection of a future communist state that inspired
socialist movements and led to political revolutions throughout the world.
You cannot get reality to bend to your will, you can only seduce it into transfiguration. And
the fact remains that reality cannot be seduced by realism, only by trans-realism, if I may use
a word that denotes more than fantasy, utopianism, intuitionism, or religious
supernaturalism. Trans-realism refers to something that neither resists nor escapes reality

but calls on reality to transcend itself, and to turn its prose into poetry.What I’m trying to
suggest is that realism itself is doomed to a kind of fecklessness in the world of reality, while
the real power—the real virtuous power—seems to be aligned with the faculty which
Machiavelli held most in contempt, namely the imagination. It’s the human imagination that
in the long run proves itself the truly efficacious and revolutionary force.

“The prince”: On Rulers

Taking Cesare Borgia as a "model," Machiavelli formed his beliefs on rulers into a book
called "The Prince." Key to the book is the idea that infighting between family members as
well as a lack of central leadership will lead to the instability of a nation. Machiavelli asserted
that good rulers must learn "not to be good" but to set aside ethical standards of justice and
compassion in order to maintain stability. Unlike medieval and other early-Renaissance
writers who advocated that rulers – specifically kings – were sent by God to carry out his
moral law, Machiavelli argued that successful rulers are the ones who do whatever they need
to in order to preserve order. In Renaissance literature, the term "Machiavelle" came to refer
to a villain who will betray others in order to get his own way.

Machiavelli's insistence on the practicality of his political advice is most evident in his
consideration of the personality, character, and conduct of the successful ruler. No matter
what idealistic notions are adopted as principles of private morality, he argued, there is no
guarantee that other people will follow them, and that puts the honorable or virtuous
individual at a distinct disadvantage in the real world. In order to achieve success in public
life, the ruler must know precisely when and how to do what no good person would ever do.
The skillful ruler does better to act boldly than to try to calculate every possible eventuality.
A good ruler will invariably choose competent companions who offer honest advice in
response to specific questions and carry out the business of the state without regard for their
private interests; such people, therefore, deserve the rewards of honor, wealth, and power that
unshakably secure their devotion to the leader. Ineffective leaders, on the other hand,
surround themselves with flatterers whose unwillingness to provide competent advice is a
mark of their princes' inadequacy.

To Machiavelli, power and leadership were of the greatest importance. His entire book, The
Prince, focused on how to gain power and leadership, how to keep power and leadership, and
what proper power and leadership was. A prince able to hold on to power and lead his

subjects, must "adopt [the nature] of the fox and that of the lion; for a lion is defenseless
against snares, and a fox is defenseless against wolves. Hence a prince ought to be a fox in
recognizing snares and a lion in driving off wolves." War was not something to be taken
lightly. "A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession
but that of war... for that is the only art expected of a ruler." No matter how much his subjects
like him, or the vastness of kingdom and wealth, a prince is nothing unless he can withstand
foreign invasion. Nations and states are constantly trying to expand, and according to
Machiavelli, a prince must protect his kingdom from these encroachments.To Machiavelli,
fear was the emotion that a successful ruler caused in people. The excellent rulers also
inspired love and avoided being hated, but without the element of fear, this was worthless. "It
would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone
compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved." Fear
forces subjects to comply with the prince's laws, no matter how harsh. Love makes subjects
comply with prince's laws, but only when it is convenient. Hatred often causes rebellion, but
if the prince can instill enough fear in his subjects, he can subdue them. Therefore, it is
necessary for the prince to be able instill fear in his subjects.

Although private morality may rest on other factors—divine approval, personal character, or
abstract duties, for example—in public life only the praise and blame of fellow human beings
really counts. Thus, Machiavelli supposed, the ruler needs to acquire a good reputation while
actually doing whatever wrong seems necessary in the circumstances. Thus, rulers must seem
to be generous while spending their money wisely, appear to be compassionate while ruling
their armies cruelly, and act with great cunning while cultivating a reputation for integrity.
Although it is desirable to be both loved and feared by one's subjects, it is difficult to achieve
both, and of the two, Machiavelli declared, it is far safer for the ruler to be feared.
Machiavelli also warned rulers of the transient nature of political support, characterizing men
as ‘ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers’ who shunned danger and were greedy for profit.
Hence they would risk their lives for a ruler when the perceived danger was remote, but when
such dangers became much more real they would quickly defect. The solution to this problem
was for a ruler to make themselves feared (although not hated), so that there was always a
psychological dread of punishment. Execution, if properly justified, was sometimes a
necessity in this respect, although only when there was a genuine reason for it.

“The Prince”: Analyzing Power
Machiavelli's political theory represents a concerted effort to exclude issues of authority and
legitimacy from consideration in the discussion of political decision-making and political
judgment. Nowhere does this come out more clearly than in his treatment of the relationship
between law and force. Machiavelli acknowledges that good laws and good arms constitute
the dual foundations of a well-ordered political system. But he immediately adds that since
coercion creates legality, he will concentrate his attention on force. He says, “Since there
cannot be good laws without good arms, I will not consider laws but speak of arms”. In other
words, the legitimacy of law rests entirely upon the threat of coercive force; authority is
impossible for Machiavelli as a right apart from the power to enforce it. Consequently,
Machiavelli is led to conclude that fear is always preferable to affection in subjects, just as
violence and deception are superior to legality in effectively controlling them. Machiavelli
observes that “one can say this in general of men: they are ungrateful, disloyal, insincere and
deceitful, timid of danger and avid of profit….Love is a bond of obligation which these
miserable creatures break whenever it suits them to do so; but fear holds them fast by a
dread of punishment that never passes”. As a result, Machiavelli cannot really be said to
have a theory of obligation separate from the imposition of power; people obey only because
they fear the consequences of not doing so, whether the loss of life or of privileges. And of
course, power alone cannot obligate one, inasmuch as obligation assumes that one cannot
meaningfully do otherwise.

Concomitantly, a Machiavellian perspective directly attacks the notion of any grounding for
authority independent of the sheer possession of power. For Machiavelli, people are
compelled to obey purely in deference to the superior power of the state. If I think that I
should not obey a particular law, what eventually leads me to submit to that law will be
either a fear of the power of the state or the actual exercise of that power. It is power which
in the final instance is necessary for the enforcement of conflicting views of what I ought to
do; I can only choose not to obey if I possess the power to resist the demands of the state or if
I am willing to accept the consequences of the state's superiority of coercive force.
Machiavelli's argument in The Prince is designed to demonstrate that politics can only
coherently be defined in terms of the supremacy of coercive power; authority as a right to
command has no independent status. He substantiates this assertion by reference to the
observable realities of political affairs and public life as well as by arguments revealing the
self-interested nature of all human conduct. For Machiavelli it is meaningless and futile to

speak of any claim to authority and the right to command which is detached from the
possession of superior political power. The ruler who lives by his rights alone will surely
wither and die by those same rights, because in the rough-and-tumble of political conflict
those who prefer power to authority are more likely to succeed. Without exception the
authority of states and their laws will never be acknowledged when they are not supported by
a show of power which renders obedience inescapable. The methods for achieving obedience
are varied, and depend heavily upon the foresight that the prince exercises. Hence, the
successful ruler needs special training.

For Machiavelli, there is no moral basis on which to judge the difference between legitimate
and illegitimate uses of power. Rather, authority and power are essentially coequal: whoever
has power has the right to command; but goodness does not ensure power and the good
person has no more authority by virtue of being good. Thus, in direct opposition to a
moralistic theory of politics, Machiavelli says that the only real concern of the political ruler
is the acquisition and maintenance of power (although he talks less about power per se than
about “maintaining the state.”) In this sense, Machiavelli presents a trenchant criticism of the
concept of authority by arguing that the notion of legitimate rights of rulership adds nothing
to the actual possession of power. The Prince purports to reflect the self-conscious political
realism of an author who is fully aware—on the basis of direct experience with the Florentine
government—that goodness and right are not sufficient to win and maintain political office.
Machiavelli thus seeks to learn and teach the rules of political power. For Machiavelli, power
characteristically defines political activity, and hence it is necessary for any successful ruler
to know how power is to be used. Only by means of the proper application of power,
Machiavelli believes, can individuals be brought to obey and will the ruler be able to
maintain the state in safety and security.

Impatient with abstract reflections on the way things "ought" to be, Machiavelli focused on
the way things are, illustrating his own intensely practical convictions with frequent examples
from the historical record. Although he shared with other humanists a profound pessimism
about human nature, Machiavelli nevertheless argued that the social benefits of stability and
security can be achieved even in the face of moral corruption.

“The Prince”: Morality and Religion
The basic building blocks of Machiavelli's thought have induced considerable controversy
among his readers going back to the sixteenth century, when he was denounced as an apostle
of the Devil, but also was read and applied sympathetically by authors (and politicians)
enunciating the doctrine of “reason of state”. The main source of dispute concerned
Machiavelli's attitude toward conventional moral and religious standards of human conduct,
mainly in connection with The Prince. For many, his teaching adopts the stance of
immoralism or, at least, amoralism. The most extreme versions of this reading find
Machiavelli to be a “teacher of evil,” on the grounds that he counsels leaders to avoid the
common values of justice, mercy, temperance, wisdom, and love of their people in preference
to the use of cruelty, violence, fear, and deception.

The more moderate schools of thoughtview Machiavelli as simply a “realist” or a

“pragmatist” advocating the suspension of commonplace ethics in matters of politics. Moral
values have no place in the sorts of decisions that political leaders must make, and it is a
category error of the gravest sort to think otherwise. Some says: Machiavelli simply adopts
the stance of a scientist—a kind of “Galileo of politics”—in distinguishing between the
“facts” of political life and the “values” of moral judgment. Thus, Machiavelli lays claim to
the mantle of the founder of “modern” political science, in contrast with Aristotle's classical
norm-laden vision of a political science of virtue. Perhaps the mildest version of the amoral
hypothesis has been proposed by those who claim that the ruler's commission of acts deemed
vicious by convention is a “last best” option. Concentrating on the claim in The Prince that a
head of state ought to do good if he can, but must be prepared to commit evil if he must.

In direct contrast, some of Machiavelli's readers have found no taint of immoralism in his
thought whatsoever. Jean-Jacques Rousseau long ago held that the real lesson of The Prince
is to teach the people the truth about how princes behave and thus to expose, rather than
celebrate, the immorality at the core of one-man rule. Various versions of this thesis have
been disseminated more recently. Some scholarshave pronounced Machiavelli the supreme
satirist, pointing out the foibles of princes and their advisors. The fact that Machiavelli later
wrote biting popular stage comedies is cited as evidence in support of his strong satirical
bent. Thus, we should take nothing Machiavelli says about moral conduct at face value, but
instead should understand his remarks as sharply humorous commentary on public affairs.
Alternatively, some assert that Machiavelli's agenda was driven by a desire to “trap” the

prince by offering carefully crafted advice (such as arming the people) designed to undo the
ruler if taken seriously and followed.

A similar range of opinions exists in connection with Machiavelli's attitude toward religion in
general, and Christianity in particular. Machiavelli was no friend of the institutionalized
Christian Church as he knew it. …Many scholars have taken such evidence to indicate that
Machiavelli was himself profoundly anti-Christian, preferring the pagan civil religions of
ancient societies such as Rome, which he regarded to be more suitable for a city endowed
with virtù. Some argue that Machiavelli's cosmos, governed by the movements of the stars
and the balance of the humors, takes on an essentially pagan and pre-Christian cast. For
others, Machiavelli may best be described as a man of conventional, if unenthusiastic, piety,
prepared to bow to the externalities of worship but not deeply devoted in either soul or mind
to the tenets of Christian faith. A few dissenting voices have attempted to rescue
Machiavelli's reputation from those who view him as hostile or indifferent to Christianity.

“The Prince” and the State

One further significant component of The Prince was Machiavelli’s categorization of
principalities into hereditary, composite, constitutional and ecclesiastical principalities.
Machiavelli defined principalities as having family rulers, with republics being left out of the
discussion, presumably because they were less likely to be controlled by prince-like figures.
Machiavelli explained how new principalities could be obtained by various means – one’s
own arms and military prowess, fortune and foreign support, crime, and constitutional
astuteness – yet appeared less concerned with the ethical or human consequences of the
various methods that were outlined. For example, if criminal behavior was accompanied by
audacity and courage, then success might be the result.
A factor that must be kept in mind when evaluating the general applicability of Machiavelli's
theory in The Prince stems from the very situation in which his prince of virtù operates. Such
a ruler comes to power not by dynastic inheritance or on the back of popular support, but
purely as a result of his own initiative, skill, talent, and/or strength (all words that may be
translated for virtù). Thus, the Machiavellian prince can count on no pre-existing structures of
legitimation, as discussed above. In order to “maintain his state,” then, he can only rely upon
his own fount of personal characteristics to direct the use of power and establish his claim on
rulership. This is a precarious position, since Machiavelli insists that the throes of fortune and
the conspiracies of other men render the prince constantly vulnerable to the loss of his state.

The idea of a stable constitutional regime that reflects the tenor of modern political thought
(and practice) is nowhere to be seen in Machiavelli's conception of princely government….
Machiavelli's name and doctrines were widely invoked to justify the priority of the interests
of the state in the age of absolutism.

Perhaps one reason for Machiavelli’s continued reputation as devilish is that he made explicit
and even celebrated what we still today acknowledge only in our deepest subconscious, that
declarations of virtue and integrity are often grinning masks of deception. However, it is
always as well to look beyond the surface appearance of something, to go beyond its initially
obvious interpretation, to find the personal and contextual motivation that inspired the ideas
under consideration. In his dedication to The Prince Machiavelli declared that ‘to
comprehend the nature of the people, one must be a prince, and to comprehend fully the
nature of princes one must be an ordinary citizen’. In twenty-first century liberal democracy,
perhaps there is a little of the prince in everyone: it is only to be hoped that there is more than
a little of the people in today’s princely political elite.


Machiavelli, Niccolò (1995). The Prince, Everyman. Translated and Edited by Stephen J.
Milner. Introduction, Notes and other critical apparatus by J.M. Dent.

Machiavelli, Niccolò (1996). Machiavelli and his friends: Their personal correspondence,
Northern Illinois University Press. Translated and edited by James B. Atkinson and David

Machiavelli, Niccolò (2015). The Prince with Related Documents, Bedford St. Martins. 2d
rev. ed. Translated and edited by William J. Connell.