My rating: 83/100
See Book Notes for other books I have read. If you like my notes, go buy it!
Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield
The controversial nature of this book is so thick and wide it’s like spilling a thousand gallons of molasses. Machiavelli lays out candidly what is necessary to obtain power and keep it, and doesn’t shy away from seeming malevolent in doing so, and argues it’s always been that way. It is a common enough idea: those who are “good” will naturally rise into power and those who are “evil” will eventually lose, but this is not the case. The opposite happens, and those who are unable to comprehend the rules of power, and use them effectively, are pushed out by those unscrupulous individuals who do. My sentiment is similar to that of Theodore Roosevelt when he said, “Justice among the nations of mankind, and the uplifting of humanity, can be brought about only by those strong and daring men who with wisdom love peace, but who love righteousness more than peace.” Perhaps there is an individual who can be strong enough to understand and utilize the tools Machiavelli describes, but with a minimum amount of quote-unquote “evil”. The senators of today and yesterday apply these principles, but keep their use hidden. If (and when) the use of these principles are revealed to the general public, it has undercut their power.
Here are a few tidbits that I found important:
- “War may not be avoided but is deferred to the advantage of others.” When you have a conflict that requires attention, it is better to act quickly and forcefully because waiting to act will only result in the need for even greater force at a later date.
- “In taking hold of a state he who seizes it should review all the offenses necessary for him to commit, and do them all at a stroke.” This is one of those obviously controversial statements, but I hope you can see Machiavelli’s point that sometimes life is messy, and it’s better to have a single mess all at once and be done with it.
- “Mercenary and auxiliary arms are useless and dangerous.” Not being a prince myself, I am equating most of this advice to the business world. Perhaps this applies to contractors and consultants? Steve Jobs seems to think along the same lines: https://youtu.be/dKG4ED00_8M.
- “A prince is also esteemed when he is a true friend and a true enemy, that is, when without any hesitation he discloses himself in support of someone against another. This course is always more useful than to remain neutral.” If you like this, read more below.
- “But as to how a prince can know his minister, here is a mode that never fails. When you see a minister thinking more of himself than of you, and in all actions looking for something useful to himself.” A word of advice when choosing and evaluating subordinates.
- “A common defect of men, not to take account of the storm during the calm.” Preparation for tomorrow is today’s work.
A note on translation, I started with the Angelo M. Codevilla translation and switched over to this Harvey Mansfield version because it was so literal that it was unreadable. I definitely recommend the Mansfield translation over Codevilla, Mansfield is better.
III Of Mixed Principalities
And whoever acquires [states], if he wants to hold them, must have two concerns: one, that the bloodline of their ancient prince be eliminated; the other, not to alter either their laws or their taxes: so that in a very short time it becomes one whole body with their ancient principality.
Be present in acquired territory. If you stay there, disorders may be seen as they arise, and you can soon remedy them; if you are not there, disorders become understood when they are great and there is no longer a remedy.
The Romans, seeing inconveniences from afar, always found remedies for them and never allowed them to continue so as to escape a war, because they knew that war may not be avoided but is deferred to the advantage of others.
And truly it is a very natural and ordinary things to desire to acquire, and always, when men do it who can, they will be praised or not blamed; but when they cannot, and wish to do it anyway, here lie the error and blame.
So then Louis had made these five errors: he had eliminated the lesser powers; increased the power of a power in Italy; brought in a very powerful foreigner; did not come to live there; did not put colonies there. Yet if he had lived, these errors could not have hurt him if he had not made a sixth: depriving the Venetians of their state.
A disorder should never be allowed to continue so as to avoid a war, because that is not to avoid it but to defer it to your advantage.
Whoever is the cause of someone’s becoming powerful is ruined; for that power has been caused by him either with industry or with force, and both the one and the other of these two are suspect to whoever has become powerful.
IV Why the Kingdom of Darius Which Alexander Seized Did Not Rebel from His Successors after Alexander’s Death
The king cannot take [lords, acknowledged in that state by their subjects and loved by them] away without danger to himself.
V How Cities or Principalities Which Lived by Their Own Laws before They Were Occupied Should Be Administered
When those states that are acquired, as has been said, are accustomed to living by their own laws and in liberty, there are three modes for those who want to hold them: first, ruin them; second, go there to live personally; third, let them live by their laws, taking tribute from them and creating within them an oligarchical state which keeps them friendly to you.
And whoever become patron of a city accustomed to living free and does not destroy it, should expect to be destroyed by it.
In republics, the most secure path is to eliminate them or live in them.
VI Of New Principalities That Are Acquired through One’s Own Arms and Virtue
All the armed prophets conquered and the unarmed ones were ruined.
Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, and Romulus would not have been able to make their peoples observe their constitutions for long if they had been unarmed.
Hiero eliminated the old military and organized a new one; he left his old friendships and made new ones; and when he had friendships and soldiers that were his own, he could build any building on top of such a foundation; so he went though a great deal of trouble to acquire, and little to maintain.
VII Of New Principalities That Are Acquired by Other’s Arms and Fortune
Those who become princes from private individual solely by fortune become so with little trouble, but maintain themselves with much. They have not difficulty along the path because they fly there, but all the difficulties arise when they are in place.
Made princes rest simply on the will and fortune of whoever has given a state to them which are two very inconstant and unstable things. They do not know how to hold and they cannot hold that rank: they do not know how, because if one is not a man of great ingenuity and virtue, it is not reasonable, that having always lived in private fortune, he should know how to command; they cannot hold that rank because they do not have forces that can be friendly and faithful to them.
VIII Of Those Who Have Attained a Principality through Crimes
When one ascend to a principality by some criminal and nefarious path or when a private citizen becomes prince of his fatherland by the support of his fellow citizens.
Hence it should be noted that in taking hold of a state he who seizes it should review all the offenses necessary for him to commit, and do them all at a stroke, so as not to have to renew them every day and, by not renewing them, to secure men and gain them to himself with benefits.
IX Of the Civil Principality
When a private citizen becomes prince of his fatherland, not through crime or other intolerable violence but with the support of his fellow citizens…
He who comes to the principality with the aid of the great maintains himself with more difficulty than one who becomes prince with the aid of the people, because the former finds himself prince with many around him who appear to be his equals, and because of and because of this he can neither command them nor manage them to suit himself. But he who arrives in the principality with popular support finds himself alone there, and around him has either no one or very few who are not ready to obey.
A wise prince must think of a way by which his citizens, always and in every quality of time, have need of the state and of himself; and then they will always be faithful to him.
X In What Mode the Forces of All Principalities Should Be Measured
A prince who has a strong city and does not make himself hated cannot be attacked; and if indeed there is someone who would attack him, he would have to retreat in shame, for worldly things are so variable that it is next to impossible for one to stand with his armies idle in a siege for a year.
XI Of Ecclesiastical Principalities
XII How Many Kinds of Military There Are and Concerning Mercenary Soldiers
There cannot be good laws where there are not good arms, and where there are good arms there must be good laws.
The arms with which a prince defends his state are either his own or mercenary or auxiliary or mixed. Mercenary and auxiliary arms are useless and dangerous.
Charles, king of France, was allowed to seize Italy with chalk. The chalk used to designate which houses would lodge French soldiers along their unresisted invasion route.
Mercenary captains are either excellent men of arms or not: if they are, you cannot trust them because they always aspire to their own greatness. If the captain is not virtuous, he ruins you in the ordinary way.
XIII Of Auxiliary, Mixed, and One’s Own Soldiers
Auxiliary arms are those of a power that is called to come with its arms to help and defend you.
… for whoever calls them in, they are almost always harmful, because when they lose you are undone; when they win, you are left their prisoner.
The arms of other either fall off your back or weigh you down or hold you tight.
Nothing is so infirm and unstable as fame for power not sustained by one’s own force.
XIV What a Prince Should Do Regarding the Military
A prince should have no other object, nor any other though, nor take anything else as his art but that of war and its orders and discipline.
When princes have thought more of amenities than of arms, they have lost their states.
… keeping armies well ordered and exercised.
He should learn to know one’s own country, and one can better understand its defense.
A prince should read histories and consider in them the actions of excellent men, should see how they conducted themselves in wars, should examine the causes of their victories and losses, so as to be able to avoid the latter and imitate the former.
XV Of Those Things for Which Men And Especially Princes Are Praised or Blamed
It is necessary to a prince, if he wants to maintain himself, to learn to be able not to be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity.
If one considers everything well, one will find something appears to be virtue, which if pursued would be one’s ruin, and something else appears to be vice, which if pursued results in one’s security and well-being.
XVI Of Liberality and Parsimony
Parsimony – extreme frugality
rapacious – aggressively greedy
Spending what is someone else’s does not take reputation from you but adds it to you; only spending your own is what harms you.
XVII Of Cruelty and Mercy, and Whether It Is better to Be Loved Than Feared, or the Contrary
Each prince should desire to be held merciful and not cruel.
Whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse: it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one has to lack one of the two.
The prince should nonetheless make himself feared in such a mode that if he does not acquire love, he escapes hatred, because being feared and not being hated can go together very well.
Above all, he must abstain from the property of others, because men forget the death of a father more quickly than the loss of a patrimony.
patrimony – property inherited from one’s father or male ancestor.
XVIII In What Mode Faith Should Be Kept by Princes
One sees by experience in our times that the princes who have done great things are those who have taken little account of faith and have known how to get arounds men’s brains with their astuteness; and in the end they have overcome those who have founded themselves on loyalty.
He who deceives will always find someone who will let himself be deceived.
XIX Of Avoiding Contempt and Hatred
The prince should think how to avoid those things that make him hateful and contemptible.
A prince should take little account of conspiracies if the people show good will to him.
XX Whether Fortresses and Many Other Things Which Are Made and Done by Princes Every Day Are Useful or Useless
When you disarm them, you begin to offend them; you show that you distrust them either for cowardice or for lack of faith, both of which opinions generate hatred against you.
A new prince of a new principality always has ordered the arms there.
Divided cities are immediately lost, because the weaker party always joins the external forces and the other will not be able to rule.
It has been the custom of princes, so as to be able to hold their states more securely, to build fortresses to have a secure refuge from sudden attack. I praise this mode because it has been used since antiquity.
XXI What a Prince Should Do to Be Held In Esteem
Above all a prince should contrive to give himself the fame of a great man and of an excellent talent in every action of his.
A prince is also esteemed when he is a true friend and a true enemy, that is, when without any hesitation he discloses himself in support of someone against another. This course is always more useful than to remain neutral, because if two powers close to you come to grips, either they are of such quality that if one wins, you have to fear the winner, or not. In either of these two cases, it will always be more useful to you to disclose yourself and to wage open ware; for in the first case if you do not disclose yourself, you will always be the prey of whoever wins, to the pleasure and satisfaction of the one who was defeated, and you have no reason, nor anything, to defend you or give you refuge. For whoever wins does not want suspect friends who may not help him in adversity; whoever loses does not give you refuge since you did not want to share his fortune with arms in hand.
A prince should also who himself a lover of the virtues, giving recognition to virtuous men, and he should honor those who are excellent in an art. Next, he should inspire his citizens to follow their pursuits quietly, in trade and in agriculture and in every other pursuit of men, so that one person does not fear to adorn his possessions for fear that they be taken away from him, and another to open up a trade for fear of taxes. But he should prepare rewards for whoever wants to do these things, and for anyone who thinks up any way of expanding his city or state.
XXII Of Those Whom Princes Have as Secretaries
The choice of ministers is of no small importance to a prince.
But as to how a prince can know his minister, here is a mode that never fails. When you see a minister thinking more of himself than of you, and in all actions looking for something useful to himself.
And on the other side, the prince should think of the minister so as to keep him good – honoring him, making him rich, obligating him to himself, sharing honors and burdens with him so that he sees he cannot stand without the prince.
XXIII In What Mode Flatterers Are to Be Avoided
XXIV Why the Princes of Italy Have Lost Their States
Lords who have lost their states … one will find in them, first, a common defect as to arms, then, one will see that some of them either had a hostile people or if they had friendly peoples, did not know how to secure themselves against the great.
A common defect of men, not to take account of the storm during the calm.
Those defenses alone are good, are certain, and are lasting, that depend on you yourself and on your virtue.
XXV How Much Fortune Can Do in Human Affairs, and in What Mode It May Be Opposed
It is better to be impetuous than cautious, because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary, if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly.
impetuous – acting or done quickly and without thought or care.
XXVI Exhortation to Seize Italy and to Free Her from the Barbarians