Machiavelli notes



Machiavelli notes


The following texts are the property of their respective authors and we thank them for giving us the opportunity to share for free to students, teachers and users of the Web their texts will used only for illustrative educational and scientific purposes only.



The information of medicine and health contained in the site are of a general nature and purpose which is purely informative and for this reason may not replace in any case, the council of a doctor or a qualified entity legally to the profession.



Machiavelli notes


Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

Statesman and Political Philosopher


No enterprise is more likely to succeed than one concealed

from the enemy until it is ripe for execution.

                                 —Machiavelli from The Art of War



Niccolo Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469 in Florence, Italy. Machiavelli was a political philosopher and diplomat during the Renaissance, and is most famous for his political treatise, The Prince (1513), that has become a cornerstone of modern political philosophy.


In The Prince, Machiavelli offered a monarchical ruler advice designed to keep that ruler in power. He recommended policies that would discourage mass political activism, and channel subjects' energies into private pursuits. Machiavelli wanted to persuade the monarch that he could best preserve his power by the judicious use of violence, by respecting private property and the traditions of his subjects, and by promoting material prosperity. Machiavelli held that political life cannot be governed by a single set of moral or religious absolutes, and that the monarch may sometimes be excused for performing acts of violence and deception that would be ethically indefensible in private life.


During the Renaissance Italy was a scene of intense political conflict involving the dominant city-states of Florence, Milan, Venice, and Naples, plus the Papacy, France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. Each city attempted to protect itself by playing the larger powers off against each other. The result was massive political intrigue, blackmail, and violence. The Prince was written against this backdrop, and in its conclusion Machiavelli issued an impassioned call for Italian unity, and an end to foreign intervention.


Machiavelli's other major work, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius (1513-21), was mainly concerned with "republics," defined as states controlled by a politically active citizenry. In "Discourses" he emphasized that for a republic to survive, it needed to foster a spirit of patriotism and civic virtue among its citizens. Machiavelli argued that a republic would be strengthened by the conflicts generated through open political participation and debate.


Partly because Machiavelli's pragmatic view of the relationship between ethics and politics, he has been widely misinterpreted. The adjective "Machiavellian" has become a pejorative used to describe a politician who manipulates others in an opportunistic and deceptive way.


The first great political philosopher of the Renaissance was Nicolo Machiavelli. His famous treatise, The Prince, stands apart from all other political writings of the period insofar as it focus on the practical problems a monarch faces in staying in power, rather than more speculative issues explaining the foundation of political authority. As such, it is an expression of realpolitik, that is, governmental policy based on retaining power rather than pursuing ideals.




Machiavelli was born in Florence, Italy at a time when the country was in political upheaval . Italy was divided between four dominant city-states, and each of these was continually at the mercy of the stronger foreign governments of Europe. Since 1434 Florence was ruled by the wealthy Medici family. Their rule was temporarily interrupted by a reform movement, begun in 1494, in which the young Machiavelli became an important diplomat. When the Medici family regained power in 1512 with the help of Spanish troops, Machiavelli was tortured and removed from public life. For the next 10 years he devoted himself to writing history, political philosophy, and even plays. He ultimately gained favor with the Medici family and was called back to public duty for the last two years of his life. Machiavelli's greatest work is The Prince, written in 1513 and published after his death in 1532. The work immediately provoked controversy and was soon condemned by Pope Clement VIII. Its main theme is that princes should retain absolute control of their territories, and they should use any means of expediency to accomplish this end, including deceit. Scholars struggle over interpreting Machiavelli's precise point. In several section Machiavelli praises Caesar Borgia, a Spanish aristocrat who became a notorious and much despised tyrant of the Romagna region of northern Italy. During Machiavelli's early years as a diplomat, he was in contact with Borgia and witnessed Borgia's rule first hand. Does Machiavelli hold up Borgia as the model prince? Some readers initially saw The Prince as a satire on absolute rulers such as Borgia, which showed the repugnance of arbitrary power (thereby implying the importance of liberty). However, this theory fell apart when, in 1810, a letter by Machiavelli was discovered in which he reveals that he wrote The Prince to endear himself to the ruling Medici family in Florence. To liberate Italy from the influence of foreign governments, Machiavelli explains that strong indigenous governments are important, even if they are absolutist.


The Prince


Machiavelli opens The Prince describing the two principal types of governments: monarchies and republics. His focus in The Prince is on monarchies. The most controversial aspects of Machiavelli's analysis emerge in the middle chapters of his work. In Chapter 15 he proposes to describe the truth about surviving as a monarch, rather than recommending lofty moral ideals. He describes those virtues which, on face value, we think a prince should possess. He concludes that some "virtues" will lead to a prince's destruction, whereas some "vices" allow him to survive. Indeed, the virtues which we commonly praise in people might lead to his downfall. In chapter 16 he notes that we commonly think that it is best for a prince to have a reputation of being generous. However, if his generosity is done in secret, no one will know about it and he will be thought to be greedy. If it is done openly, then he risks going broke to maintain his reputation. He will then extort more money from his subjects and thus be hated. For Machiavelli, it is best for a prince to have a reputation for being stingy. Machiavelli anticipates examples one might give of generous monarchs who have been successful. He concludes that generosity should only be shown to soldiers with goods taken from a pillaged enemy city. In Chapter 17 he argues that it is better for a prince to be severe when punishing people rather than merciful. Severity through death sentences affects only a few, but it deters crimes which affects many. Further, he argues, it is better to be feared than to be loved. However, the prince should avoid being hated, which he can easily accomplish by not confiscating the property of his subjects: "people more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their inheritance." In Chapter 18, perhaps the most controversial section of The Prince, Machiavelli argues that the prince should know how to be deceitful when it suits his purpose. When the prince needs to be deceitful, though, he must not appear that way. Indeed he must always exhibit five virtues in particular: mercy, honesty, humaneness, uprightness, and religiousness. In Chapter 19 Machiavelli argues that the prince must avoid doing things which will cause him to be hated. This is accomplished by not confiscating property, and not appearing greedy or wishy-washy. In fact, the best way to avoid being overthrown is to avoid being hated.


Time Line:

1469 May 3, born in Florence the son of a jurist.

1494 The Medici expelled from Florence. Machiavelli Appointed clerk to Adriani in the second chancery.

1498 Adriani becomes chancelor and Machiavelli succeeds him as second chancellor and secretary.

1499 Sent to Forli to negotiate the continuance of a loan to Catherine Sforza.

1500 Sent to France where he meets with Louis XII and the Cardinal of Rouen.

1502 Marries Marietta Corsini. Sent to Romagna as envoy to Cesare Borgia where he witnessed the events leading up to Borgia's murder. Machiavelli's political philosophy was highly influenced by his study of Cesare Borgia.

1503 January, returns to Florence.

1504 Second mission to France.

1506 December, submits a plan to reorganize the military to Pierre Soderini, Florence's gonfalonier, and it is accepted.

1508 Sent to Bolzano to the court of the Emporer Maximilian.

1510 Sent once more to France.

1512 The Medici returns with a Spanish army and Florence throws out Soderini and welcomes the Medici. Machiavelli dismissed from office and retires to San Casciano.

1513 Imprisoned after accused of participation in a conspiracy. Is tortured and then released upon Giovanni de Medici's election to the papacy. Returns to San Casciano and writes The Prince.

1515 Writes La Mandragola.

1519 Consulted by the Medici on a new constitution for Florence which he offers in his Discourses.

1520 Appearance of The Art of War and The Life of Castruccio Castracane. Commissioned to write the History of Florence.

1526 Clement VII employes Machiavelli first in inspecting the fortifications of Florence and then sending him to attend the historian Francesco Guicciardini. He meets Guicciardini in Bologna later in the year as well.

1527 June 20, dies in Florence.




The Condensed Edition of

Niccolò Machiavelli's



"Men ought either to be well treated or crushed... injury ought to be of such a kind that one does not fear revenge"



Few are the thinkers whose name has entered the language. The Prince is essentially a letter to Lorenzo De' Medici, exhorting him to promote a champion to unite Italy against the invaders then plaguing it. But it is the methods of treachery, intrigue, subterfuge, and tyranny which Machiavelli advises such a prince to use which have given rise to the word 'machiavellian'. To be fair, Niccolò does say that he wishes "to give the real truth of the matter, not the fantasy of it" and clearly explains that you cannot do good unless you are secure, and gaining security needs extreme measures.

Such bitterly honest uncloaking of the majesty of princes has not made Machiavelli well-liked, but it does mark him out as the effective founder of political science and one of the true makers of the Renaissance. And Machiavelli should have known- born in Florence in 1469 he served as ambassador, advisor and chief secretary of his city. He experienced torture by the Medici, imprisonment and exile, as well as high positions of state and the ear of kings and popes.

The Prince was never published in Machiavelli's lifetime, and its text is still disputed. But, so much is The Prince now one of the mainstays of philosophy, political science, economics and history that you might do well to remember that whether the 'Prince' of your state calls themselves king, or president, or prime-minister- they have almost certainly read Machiavelli. You can be the judge of how faithful they are to his legacy.



States are either Republics or Principalities, either old or new. Now, old hereditary states are easy to rule, but to take and hold a new state is difficult, unless you supervise it personally. Old monarchies can be taken, as Alexander took and held Darius' state, by exterminating the royal family. But states accustomed to freedom must be crushed. It is possible to rise to be prince, by following the example of those who saw their opportunities, and being well-armed. To firmly hold a new state, you must destroy all resistance, using cruelty swiftly and firmly, but benefits should be given little-by-little. The prince must court the approval of the people, and will only be secure when he can raise his own army to defend against all comers. Mercenaries, and other's armies, cannot be relied on. A prince must study war, read history and know his land. He must appear to be good, but know how to be evil. He should not fear to be thought mean, for liberality is ruin, nor should he worry to be thought cruel, for fear is the one thing he can control. He should be willing to use guile and deceit if needed. He may not be loved, but a prince who is not hated is secure. Fortresses are of little use. A prince must be resolute and clearly follow one path or another. He should encourage art and craft, use only capable servants, and keep them under control. He must avoid flatterers. Italy has been lost by indecision. Fortune, like a woman, needs to be beaten and dominated. Italy needs now a champion to do all these things



This edition takes its text largely from the WK Marriot translation, and from Edward Dacre's commentary of 1640. The original was liberally illustrated with examples of the petty-state shenanigans of pre-unification Italy. By removing much of these, excising repetition and simplifying syntax, The Prince has shrunk from 32,000 words to about 7,000.



Switzers: Swiss mercenaries.

[1] Lodovico Moro, son of Francesco Sforza. Duke of Milan from 1494-1500.

[2] Louis XII [1462-1515] King of France, "The Father of the People," whose reign was devoted to attempts to conquer Italy

[3] Hiero II (c307-216 BC) Proclaimed King of Syracuse after crushing the Sicilian pirates who had plagued the city.

[5] Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498) Dominican friar who gained support by condemning the corruption of Pope Alexander VI. Supporting the French invasion and exile of the Medicis, he became effective ruler of Florence. Excommunicated in 1497 and hanged for heresy

[6] Francesco Sforza (1401-1466) Duke of Milan through his marriage to Bianca Maria, daughter of Filippo Visconti, the former Duke.

[7] Cesare Borgia, Duke Valentino (c1475-1507) Illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI. Made a cardinal at 17, then captain-general of the papacy, lost power after his father's death. Patron of artists, including Leonardo da Vinci.

[8] Agathocles the Sicilian, (361-289 BC)

[9] Leo X, Giovanni de' Medici (1475-1521) Pope from 1513. Son of Lorenzo the Magnificent of Florence, created a cardinal at 13. Gave Henry VIII of England the title 'Defender of the Faith'. Funded the rebuilding of St Peter's in Rome by selling indulgences (remissions of punishment for sin), leading Martin Luther to rebel against papal authority.

[10] Charles VIII (1470-1498) King of France from 1483. In 1494 he unsuccessfully tried to claim the Neapolitan crown, and when he entered Naples 1495 was forced to withdraw by a coalition of Milan, Venice, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. He defeated them at Fornovo, but lost Naples.

[11] The Emperor of Constantinople Joannes Cantacuzenus (1300-1383)

[12] Probably Ferdinand of Aragon.

[13] Maximilian I (1459-1519), Holy Roman Emperor

[14] Probably a reference to Giuliano de Medici (later pope Clement VII), who had just been created a cardinal by Leo X.



By Niccolò Machiavelli, 1532

Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2000


DEDICATION: To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De' Medici

Those who strive to obtain the good graces of a prince generally bring precious things. I have nothing of value worthy of your magnificence, but bring this little work, trusting much to your benignity that it will not be considered presumptuous that a man of low and humble condition dare to discuss the concerns of princes; just as those who draw landscapes place themselves on high mountains to better contemplate the plains.


Take then, your Magnificence, this little gift in the spirit in which I send it; wherein, if it be diligently read and considered by you, you will learn my extreme desire that you should attain that greatness which fortune and your other attributes promise. And if your Magnificence from the summit of your greatness will sometimes turn your eyes to these lower regions, you will see how unmeritedly I suffer a great and continued malignity of fortune.



All states, all powers, that have held and hold rule over men have been and are either republics or principalities. Principalities are either hereditary, or are new. The new are either entirely new, as was Milan to Francesco Sforza [6] or they are annexed to an existing hereditary state, as the kingdom of Naples was annexed by the King of Spain. Such dominions are accustomed either to live under a prince or to live in freedom; and are acquired by the arms of the prince himself, or of others, or else by fortune or by ability.



I have written of republics elsewhere, so I will address myself here to how principalities are to be ruled and preserved.

There are fewer difficulties in holding hereditary states than new ones; simply keeping the customs of his ancestors and acting prudently will allow a prince of average powers to maintain his state, only extraordinary force will deprive him of it, and whenever anything sinister happens to the usurper, he will regain it.

The Duke of Ferrara could not have withstood the attacks of the Venetians or of Pope Julius, unless he had been long established in his dominions. For the hereditary prince has less cause and less need to offend; hence he will be more loved, unless extraordinary vices cause him to be hated.



A difficulty arises in new principalities; men change their rulers hoping to better themselves: only to discover they have worsened. You make enemies of those you have injured in seizing a principality, yet you cannot satisfy, but dare not injure, those friends who put you there. Strength in arms still needs the goodwill of the natives.

For these reasons Louis XII of France quickly occupied Milan, and quickly lost it, because those who had opened the gates to him gained no benefit and would not endure his maltreatment. However, rebellious provinces are not easily lost a second time, because the prince is willing to punish delinquents. Thus for Louis to lose Milan again, it was necessary to bring the whole world against him.

Dominions of the same manners and language are easily held, for peoples alike in customs will live quietly together, as seen in Brittany and Normandy. He, who wishes to hold them, has only to extinguish their ruling family, and to maintain their laws and taxes.

But states differing in customs are less easily held. A great help is that the conqueror should reside there, as the Turk did in Greece, so that small disorders are quickly seen and remedied, and your officials kept in hand.

A better course is to establish colonies. This is inexpensive, and offends only the few citizens whose lands are taken; and those become poor and powerless, while those uninjured will be compliant, for fear it should happen to them. Men ought either to be well treated or crushed; they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, therefore injury ought to be of such a kind that one does not fear revenge. However, a garrison in a colony is expensive, and the hard-pressed soldiery may become hostile.

The prince who holds a country differing in customs ought to defend his weaker neighbours, allowing in no powerful foreigner to provide a rally for discontent, as the Romans were brought into Greece by the Aetolians. Like those Romans, it is necessary to prepare for future troubles. As the physicians say of hectic fever, in the beginning, it is easy to cure but difficult to detect, but if ignored, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure. Let us inquire whether France did any of these things.

King Louis [2] was brought into Italy by the Venetians, ambitious to obtain half of Lombardy. As Louis had no friends there he was forced to accept what friendships he could get. Having acquired Lombardy, Genoa and Florence, many minor rulers made advances to him. Then the Venetians realised that to gain two towns in Lombardy, they had made the king master of two-thirds of Italy.

Men always aim to acquire, which is natural, common, and praiseworthy. However, when they cannot do so, yet make the attempt, there is folly and blame. Louis made five errors: he destroyed the minor powers, increased the strength of a greater power, brought in a foreign power, he did not settle in the country, he did not send colonies. Which errors he might have endured, had he not made a sixth by taking away the Venetian dominions. Thus, King Louis lost Lombardy. There is a general rule here: he who makes another powerful is ruined.



Alexander the Great mastered Asia in a few years, yet we must ask why, on his death, the empire did not rebel.

Principalities are governed either by a prince with a body of ministers, or by a prince and barons. The lord of the Turks sends servants to administer different sanjaks, and shifts and changes them as he chooses. But the King of France is among an ancient body of lords, with their own prerogatives. There would be difficulties in seizing the kingdom of the Turk as the usurper cannot be called in or assisted by princes of the kingdom. The Turk's ministers are bondsmen who can expect little advantage from being corrupted. He who attacks the Turk will find him united; but, once conquered, there is nothing to fear but the princely family, who may be exterminated.

But in kingdoms like France, one can always find malcontented barons to open the way into the state and render victory easy. However, to hold it will need their assistance, it is not enough to have exterminated the prince's family.

Now, the government of Darius, was similar to that of the Turk, and therefore, once Darius was killed, the state was secured to Alexander. If Alexander's successors had remained united they would have enjoyed it securely. When these things are remembered no one will marvel at the ease with which Alexander held his Empire.



On acquiring states accustomed to living in freedom under their own laws, there are three courses open; to ruin them, to reside there in person, or to permit them freedom under a friendly oligarchy, drawing a tribute. He who would keep a formerly free city will hold it more easily by means of its own citizens.

For example, the Spartans established oligarchy in Athens and Thebes, nevertheless they lost them. The Romans dismantled Capua, Carthage, and Numantia and held them. They attempted to hold Greece as the Spartans held it, free with its own laws, and failed. For in truth he who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it, for it will always rally to the watchwords of liberty and its ancient privileges.

But when cities or countries are accustomed to live under a prince, and his family is exterminated, they, being accustomed to obey, cannot decide how to govern themselves. Such are very slow to take up arms, and a prince can secure them easily.



A wise man ought to follow the paths beaten by great men. Even if his ability does not equal theirs, let him act like the clever archers who aim above the mark.

Now, becoming a prince from a private station presupposes sufficient ability or fortune to mitigate many difficulties. Nevertheless, he who has relied least on fortune is established the strongest.

Although Moses merely executed the will of God, it was necessary that he should find the Israelites oppressed by the Egyptians, so that they should be disposed to follow him out of bondage. It was necessary that Romulus be abandoned at birth, in order to become King of Rome. It was necessary that Cyrus should find the Persians discontented with the Medean government. Theseus only succeeded because the Athenians were dispersed. Recognising these opportunities made those men fortunate, and allowed them to ennoble their countries.

The likes of these acquire a principality with difficulty, but keep it with ease. An innovator makes enemies of those who prospered under the old conditions, yet his defenders may still fear the old laws and mistrust the new, of which they have no experience. Thus those who are hostile may attack like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly.

Can innovators rely on themselves or must they depend on others: that is to say, should they use prayers or force? In the first instance they always succeed badly; but when they use force they are rarely endangered- only armed prophets have ever conquered. Furthermore, people are easy to persuade, but it is difficult to fix that persuasion. Thus, it is necessary to make them believe by force.

If Moses, Cyrus, Theseus, and Romulus had been unarmed they could not have enforced their constitutions for long- as happened in our time to Fra Girolamo Savonarola [4], who was ruined when the multitude lost faith in him.

To these, I add the example of Hiero [5], who rose from a private station to be Prince of Syracuse, after the oppressed Syracusans, chose him for their captain. He was of so great ability that it has been said he wanted nothing but a kingdom to be a king. He organised a new army, made new allies and on such foundations, he was able to build any edifice. Thus, he endured much trouble in acquiring; he had but little in keeping.



Those who rise from private citizen to prince by good fortune, rise easily, but struggle to stay there. Some gain states for money or by the favour of rulers, or by the corruption of soldiers. Such rely on the goodwill and fortune of others- two most inconstant and unstable things.

They do not know how to command, and have no friendly forces. States that rise suddenly, like all things which are born and grow rapidly, cannot have firm foundations to withstand the first storm. Unless, that is, they are prepared to lay the foundations afterwards.

To give two recent examples: Francesco Sforza [6], by great ability, rose from a private person to be Duke of Milan. On the other hand, Cesare Borgia [7], called Duke Valentino, acquired his state through his father, on whose decline he lost it, notwithstanding that he had done all possible to fix his roots.

Pope Alexander the Sixth, wishing to bestow a state his son, sought to embroil the powers by favouring France, helped by his dissolving the marriage of King Louis. No sooner was Louis in Milan, than the Pope had him take Romagna for the Duke. However, suspicious of the king and his army, the Duke determined to depend no more upon others.

First, he gained over the Orsini and Colonnesi parties in Rome, by offering their gentlemen good positions and exterminating their leaders.

The duke found Romagna under weak, plundering rulers. To bring back peace and authority, he promoted Ramiro d'Orco, a swift and cruel man. Whan the state was pacified, he replaced Ramiro with an equitable court of judgement, and had Ramiro executed and his body left on the piazza at Cesena beside a bloody knife. This barbarity showing the Duke to be the scourge, not the author, of evil-doing.

On the death of Alexander, he had killed as many of the dispossessed lords as he could, had won over the gentlemen of Rome, and he controlled the College of Cardinals. He no longer feared France, for Spain had already driven the French out of Naples.

But Julius the Second was elected pope, which the Duke ought never to have allowed, for Julius was a cardinal whom he had injured. For men injure either from fear or hatred. He had injured many, the Spaniards excepted, and so the duke ought to have created a Spaniard Pope. He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is deceived. Therefore, the duke erred in his choice, and it was the cause of his ultimate ruin.



A prince may rise from a private station either by wickedness, or by the favour of his fellow-citizens.

To illustrate the first method, consider how Agathocles [8], son of a potter, became King of Syracuse. Having rose through the military ranks to become Praetor, one morning he assembled the senators and leading citizens of Syracuse, as if to discuss state matters, and at a given signal had soldiers kill them all. Thus he seized the city and was even able to withstand the Carthaginian siege.

Yet it cannot be called talent to slay citizens, deceive friends, to be faithless, cruel and irreligious. Such methods may gain empires, but not glory. Still, the courage of Agathocles makes him admirable.

In our times, during the rule of Alexander VI, Oliverotto da Fermo, having been left an orphan, was brought up by his maternal uncle, Giovanni Fogliani, and sent into the military. But he disliked serving under others, so resolved to seize Fermo. He arranged to visit Giovanni Fogliani in his city, accompanied by one hundred retainers.

Oliverotto arranged a banquet for all the chiefs of Fermo. When the viands and entertainments were finished, Oliverotto began to talk of Pope Alexander and of Cesare, saying that such matters ought to be discussed in private, betook them to a private chamber, where his soldiers slaughtered them all. Thus, Oliverotto forced the people and magistrates to make him prince. He killed all malcontents, and so strengthened himself that he held the city for a year, only being overthrown by Cesare Borgia.

Some may wonder how it can happen that Agathocles, and his like, after infinite treacheries and cruelties, should not be conspired against by their own citizens. I believe that this follows from cruelty being well or badly used. Cruelty is well used, if one can say 'well' of such evil, when it is applied at one blow when necessary to one's security, and not persisted in afterwards. Cruelty is badly employed when it commences in a small way, to then multiply with time.

Injuries ought to be done all at once, so that, being tasted less, they offend less. Benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavour of them may last longer.



For a citizen to become prince by the favour of his fellows requires a happy shrewdness. A prince is created either by the people or by the nobles, the one finding they cannot withstand the other, they set up a new power. Such a prince will find that one cannot, by fair dealing, satisfy the nobles, but you can satisfy the people as they desire only not to be oppressed. Furthermore, a prince can never secure himself against a hostile people, because they are too many, be he can secure himself against the few nobles.

The worst a prince may expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned by them; but hostile nobles can rise against him. Further, the prince must live with the same people, but he can make and unmake nobles daily.

One who, in opposition to the people, becomes a prince by the favour of the nobles, ought, above everything, to seek to win the people over, and this he may easily do if he takes them under his protection. Because men who receive good when they expected evil are bound more closely to their benefactor.

And do not let any one accept the trite proverb "He who builds on the people, builds on the mud," for a prince who has courage, and who keeps the whole people encouraged, will have a secure foundation. A wise prince ought to ensure that his citizens will always have need of the state and of him, then he will find them faithful.



A prince needs always to know if he has power to support himself with his own resources, or whether he has need of the assistance of others. I say that those who are can support themselves are they who, by abundance of men or money, can raise an army sufficient to do battle against any one who comes to attack them. Those who have need of others are they who must defend themselves by sheltering behind walls.

In the second case one can only encourage such princes to fortify their towns, and not try to defend the country.

The cities of Germany are absolutely free, and own but little country around them. They yield obedience to the emperor when it suits, nor do they fear any nearby power, because they are fortified with proper ditches and walls, and have sufficient artillery. Moreover, they always keep one year's food, drink and fuel in public depots, in which they always have the means of giving work to the community. They also have laws to encourage military exercises.

A strong city can withstand an army for a year or more, but few attackers could sustain a force for so long. And to whoever says that the citizens will rebel when they see their property outside the city burned, I say that such will only give them greater reason to fear the enemy. It will not be difficult for a wise prince to keep his citizens steadfast when he supports and defends them.



It remains to speak of ecclesiastical principalities. Such states need no defence and alone are secure and happy. Being exalted and maintained by God, it would be presumptuous to discuss them. Nevertheless, one should ask how the Church has attained such great temporal power.

Before Charles of France [10], entered Italy, this country was dominated by the Pope, the Venetians, the King of Naples, the Duke of Milan, and the Florentines. These potentates feared only that no invader should enter Italy and that none of themselves should seize more territory. To restrain the strong Venetians required the union of all the others, while the barons of Rome kept down the Pope. Even a courageous pope, such as Sixtus, could not be rid of these annoyances. The short life of a pope is also a cause of weakness; for in the ten years, which is the average life of a pope, he can accomplish little.

Pope Alexander the Sixth tried not to aggrandise the Church, but his son. Nevertheless, after their deaths, the Church became the heir to their labours.

Therefore, Pope Julius found the Church possessing Romagna, and the Roman barons powerless. He kept princes within bounds by terrifying them with the greatness of the Church, and by not allowing them to have their own cardinals. For these reasons, his Holiness Pope Leo [9] found the pontificate most powerful, and it is to be hoped that, if others made it great in arms, he will make it still greater by his goodness.



The chief foundations of all states are good laws and good arms. As there cannot be good laws where the state is not well armed, it follows that the well-armed state will have good laws.

A prince defends his state with his own arms, or mercenaries, auxiliaries, or a mixture. Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous. In peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they keep the field only for wages, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you.

If Mercenary captains are capable men, then you cannot trust them, because they always aspire to their own greatness. But if the captain is not skilful, you are ruined in the usual way.

Italy has fallen into the power of mercenaries, first promoted by Alberigo da Conio, the Romagnian. After him came all the captains whose only success has been that Italy has been overrun by Charles, robbed by Louis, ravaged by Ferdinand, and insulted by the Switzers. They have sought to discredit the infantry, and to employ cavalry solely to make themselves seem grander. They have also used every art to lessen the risk of war. They refrain from attack at night, they fail to fortify the camp, nor will they campaign in the winter. All these things they avoid, to escape both fatigue and dangers; thus they have brought Italy to slavery and contempt.



Auxiliaries are employed when a prince calls in the aid of another's forces. These arms may be useful in themselves, but he who calls them in is always disadvantaged; for losing, one is undone, and winning, one is their captive.

The Florentines, lacking arms, sent ten thousand Frenchmen to take Pisa, gaining them only more danger. The Emperor of Constantinople [11], sent ten thousand Turks into Greece, who, on the war being finished, were not willing to quit; this was the beginning of the servitude of Greece to the infidels.

Therefore, let him who has no desire to conquer make use of these arms, They are much more hazardous than mercenaries, because with them the ruin is ready made; they are all united. The wise prince has never deemed that a real victory which is gained with the arms of others.

I shall cite Cesare Borgia, who captured Imola and Forli with French auxiliaries; but afterwards, such forces appearing unreliable, he turned to mercenaries from the Orsini and Vitelli; whom, finding them doubtful and dangerous, he destroyed.

I am unwilling to leave out Hiero, the Syracusan, who, finding his mercenaries useless and unwilling to leave, had them all cut to pieces, and afterwards made war only with his own forces. I also recall the instance from the Old Testament, where David refused Saul's offer of weapons, knowing that the arms of others either fall from your back, or weigh you down, or bind you fast.

But the scanty wisdom of man, entering into affairs which look well at first, cannot discern the poison that is hidden there, as I have said of hectic fevers. Therefore, if he who rules a principality cannot recognise evils until they are upon him, he is not truly wise. And if the first decline of the Roman Empire should be examined, it will be found to have commenced only with the enlisting of the Goths.

It has always been judgement of the wise that nothing is so uncertain as fame or power not founded on its own strength. And the way to prepare one's own forces will be easily found in the following.



A prince ought to have no other study than war; for this is the art of all rulers; it upholds born princes and enables others to become princes. Without its knowledge, many have lost their states.

Francesco Sforza became Duke of Milan through military skill. But to rise through war is not all, lack of military skill brings, among other evils, the abhorrence of all around you. Because, the armed and unarmed have disdain and suspicion against each other, they can never work well together. Therefore a prince who does not understand the art of war cannot be respected by his soldiers, nor can he rely on them.

He ought above all things to keep his men well organised and drilled, to pursue hunting, by which he learns to endure hardships, and gets to know the nature and lie of the mountains, the plains, the rivers and marshes- knowledge essential to success.

Philopoemen of the Achaeans, is commended because in time of peace he forever asked of those he met: "If the enemy were on that hill, how should we best advance against them?" "How might we retreat?" So there was never any surprise he could not deal with.

To exercise the intellect the prince should read history, and study there the actions of leaders, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, just as Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, and Caesar, Alexander. And whoever reads Xenophon's Life of Cyrus, will recognise his glory. A wise prince ought never to stand idle, but increase his resources with industry so that they may be available to him in adversity.



It remains now to see how a prince should treat his subjects and friends. Here I wish to give the real truth of the matter, not the fantasy of it, for a man who acts for good is likely to be ruined. It is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it when necessary.

Men may say that a prince is liberal or miserly, generous or rapacious, cruel or compassionate, faithless or faithful, cowardly or brave, affable or haughty, lascivious or chaste, sincere or cunning, grave or frivolous, religious or unbelieving, and the like. It would be praiseworthy if a prince exhibited all the good characters, but humanity being frail, it is sufficient that he be not reproached for the bad ones.



It is well that a prince be reputed liberal. Nevertheless, liberality exercised in secret brings no reputation. Therefore, any prince wishing to be thought liberal must do so with magnificence. But such requires money, the taxes for which will soon offend his subjects.

Therefore, a prince ought not to fear being thought mean, for in time it will enhance his reputation as he can defend all attacks without burdening his people. It is one of those vices which will enable him to govern.

And if any should say: Caesar, and others, obtained empire by liberality, I answer; liberality is useful in becoming a prince, but worthless once in power. And if any one should reply: liberal princes have done great things with armies; I reply; an army must believe their prince liberal, otherwise that would not follow him.

A prince should guard, above all, against being despised and hated; and liberality leads to both. Therefore it is wiser to be reputed mean which brings reproach without hatred.



Every prince may desire to be thought clement. But it was Cesare Borgia's cruelty which brought peace and unity to the Romagna. A prince who keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty; for too much mercy will allow disorder to injure the whole people, whilst a few executions offend only individuals.

Is it better to be loved or feared? One might wish to be both, but they are not met in the same person. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely. They will offer you their blood, property, life, and children when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. The prince who relies on their promises is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon. Men will readily offend a beloved, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which men will break at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred. Which will always be as long as he abstains from the property and women of his subjects. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the life of someone, he must do so with proper justification, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men will quickly forget their father's death, but not the loss of their inheritance. But when a prince is with his army then it is necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without it he would never hold his army united.

How was it that Hannibal held together an enormous army composed of many various races of men? It was only his inhuman cruelty. Shortsighted are the writers who admire his deeds, and then condemn the principal cause of them.

I must conclude that, men love by their own will, but fear is from the will of their prince. A wise prince should always establish himself on that which is in his own control, only endeavouring to avoid hatred.



It would be praiseworthy for a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and without guile. Nevertheless experience shows that princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word. You must know that there are two ways to dispute; law is proper to men, force to beasts. But law is frequently insufficient, so the prince must learn how to use the other method.

Like the old story of Achilles being educated by the Centaur Chiron, half beast and half man, so it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures. The lion is powerless against snares and the fox powerless against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. It is error to rely solely on the lion. A wise lord cannot keep faith when such may be turned against him. If men were entirely good this precept would not hold, but because they are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you are not bound to observe it with them. A prince will always find reasons to excuse his non-observance.

But it is necessary to know how to disguise this characteristic, and men are so simple, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone willing to be deceived. Alexander the Sixth did nothing else but deceive, and his deceits were successful, because he well understood mankind.

It is not necessary for a prince to have all the good qualities, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. The prince should seem merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright. He should keep to the good when he can, but when he cannot he should know how to act as the winds of fortune require.

So, a prince should take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not filled with noble qualities, that he may appear merciful, faithful, humane, and, especially, religious. Everyone sees what you appear to be; few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose popular opinion and the majesty of the state. The vulgar are always taken in by appearances and results; and this world consists of the vulgar.

One prince [12] of the present time, forever preaches peace and good faith, yet he is most hostile to both.



When a prince is not hated, he need not fear other reproaches. It makes him hated above all, to be greedy, and to violate the property and women of his subjects. With their property and honour intact, the majority of men live content, and he has only to contend with the ambitious few.

A prince should guard against seeming fickle, frivolous, effeminate, mean-spirited or irresolute, and endeavour to show greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude. Let his judgements be irrevocable, so that no one can hope to deceive him or to get round him. An esteemed prince is not easily conspired against, nor need he fear external powers, for he will gain a faithful army, and if he is well armed he will have good friends.

When a prince has his people satisfied, then conspirators can only look forward to offending them. Consider Annibale Bentivogli of Bologna. He was murdered by the Canneschi, who could not take power, for the people rose against them and sent for one of the Bentivogli family, though only the son of a blacksmith, as their prince. But a prince who is hated must fear everything and everybody.

Among the best-governed kingdoms of our times is France. He who founded the kingdom, knew that it was necessary to protect the people from the nobles and the nobles from the people. Yet not wishing for the king to be drawn into such disputes, he established a parliament as arbiter. There could be no better arrangement, for princes ought to leave reproach to others, and keep grace to themselves. A prince ought to cherish the nobles, but not so as to make himself hated by the people.

Those emperors of Rome who succeeded had the difficulty of pleasing the people, the nobles and the army. Which three, being of opposing humours, they chose to satisfy the army, for if a prince cannot help being hated by some, he must avoid the hatred of the strongest. Both Pertinax and Alexander fell when the army conspired against them. Marcus lived and died honoured, because he had inherited the throne, and owed nothing either to the soldiers or the people. Severus oppressed the people, but kept the soldiers friendly, so that he reigned successfully, well imitating the fox and the lion.

I will not neglect the Turk and the Sultan of Egypt, who keep many thousands of soldiers, which must be kept friendly.

It will be seen that either hatred or contempt has been fatal to many emperors. But a prince, new to the principality, cannot imitate the actions of Marcus, nor, again, is it necessary to follow those of Severus, but he ought to take from Severus those parts which are necessary to found his state, and from Marcus those which are proper and glorious to keep a state that may already be stable and firm.



1. To hold a state, some princes have disarmed their subjects, or kept their towns disunited, or have fostered enmities, some have built fortresses and some have overthrown them. There is no general rule.

2. A new prince cannot disarm his subjects, but he can arm some of them, who will become faithful, making the others easier to handle. But to attempt to disarm them shows your distrust, and breeds hatred. Therefore a new prince in a new principality has always distributed arms. But when a prince adds a new state to his old one, then he must disarm the men of that state, except those who have helped him acquire it; who, with time an opportunity, he should render soft and effeminate.

3. Our wise forefathers, said that it was necessary to hold Pistoia by factions and Pisa by fortresses. This may have been well when Italy was stable, but today I do not believe that factions can ever be of use; rather, parties will always be at the call of an enemy. The Venetians encouraged disputes between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, so that the citizens, distracted by their differences, should not unite against them. But that only led to one party taking courage and seizing the state.

4. When mistress fortune desires to make a prince great, she brings him enemies, so that he may show his greatness by crushing them. For this reason, many consider that a wise prince might foster some animosity against himself, so that, having crushed it, his renown may rise.

5. Princes, especially new ones, often have more help from men who were, at first, distrusted than among those who were trusted. Pandolfo Petrucci, Prince of Siena, ruled largely by those who had been distrusted. But there is no general rule here; a prince must always consider why those who helped him did so. If they followed him only from disgust with the former power, then he will never satisfy them.

6. I praise the way in which princes have often built fortresses, as a bridle and bit to those who might oppose them, and as a place of refuge from attack. But both Nicolo Vitelli and Guido Ubaldo of Urbino have razed their fortresses, considering that the state is better kept without them.

Only the prince who has more to fear from the people than from foreigners ought to build fortresses, but he who has more to fear from foreigners ought to leave them alone. That castle in Milan, built by Francesco Sforza, will make more trouble for the house of Sforza than anything else. The best possible fortress is not to be hated by the people, because, if you are hated, there will always be foreigners ready to assist the people against you.



A prince ought, above all things, always endeavour in every action to gain the reputation of being a great and remarkable man, as the King of Spain has done.

A prince is respected when he is clearly either a true friend or a downright enemy. If your powerful neighbours come to blows, it will always be more advantageous to declare yourself and make war strenuously. Irresolute princes who follow the neutral path are generally ruined. But when a prince declares himself gallantly in favour of one side, if his chosen ally conquers, then he becomes indebted to you. If your ally loses, he may shelter you until fortune rises again.

A prince ought never to make an alliance with one more powerful than himself for the purposes of attacking others; because if he conquers, you are at his discretion, which a prince ought never to be. The Venetians were ruined by joining France against the Duke of Milan. But when it cannot be avoided, as happened to the Florentines when the Pope and Spain sent armies to attack Lombardy, then, the prince ought to favour one of the parties. Never let any Government imagine that it can choose perfectly safe courses; rather prudence consists in knowing how to distinguish the character of troubles, and to choose the lesser evil.

A prince ought to show himself a patron of the arts. He should also encourage peaceful crafts, commerce and agriculture, so that no one should be deterred from trade for fear of theft or excessive taxes. The prince should reward those who honour his state, and entertain the people with festivals and spectacles. And he ought to hold guilds or societies in esteem, and associate with them sometimes, to show his courtesy and liberality; while always maintaining the majesty of his rank.



The first opinion which one forms of a prince is by observing the men he has around him; and foolish servants show the foolishness of their prince in choosing them.

Anyone who met Antonio da Venafro, servant of Pandolfo of Siena, would know the prince to be very clever in having such a servant. Intellects do comprehend in three ways; some by themselves, some by the wit of others and some not at all. If Pandolfo was not in the first rank, he was in the second, for judgement to recognise the good and bad in his servant allows him to praise one and correct the other; thus the servant cannot hope to deceive, and is kept honest.

No man who seeks his own profit will make a good servant. To keep his servant honest the prince ought to study him, honouring him, enriching him, doing him kindnesses; and at the same time let him see that he cannot stand alone. When servants and princes do not trust each other, disaster will come to either one or the other.



Flatterers, of whom courts are full, are a terrible pest and a terrible danger. One can guard against them only by letting men know that the truth does not offend you; but when every one may tell you the truth, respect is lost.

Therefore, a wise prince ought to seek the honest council of only a few wise men, and afterwards form his own conclusions. Outside of these, he should listen to no one, and be steadfast in his resolutions. He who does otherwise is either overthrown by flatterers, or is so often changed in opinions that he falls into contempt, as has Maximilian [13].

A prince, therefore, ought to be a constant inquirer, and a patient listener, and should let his anger fall on those who have not told him the truth. Counsellors each have their own interests, and, like all men, will always prove untrue unless they are restrained.



The previous suggestions will enable a new prince to render himself as secure as one long established. Those who have recently lost their lands, such as the King of Naples or the Duke of Milan, have failed to make proper provision of arms, and have made enemies of either the people or the nobles.

Therefore, do not let our princes blame fortune for the loss of their principalities, but rather their own sloth. In quiet times they never thought there could be a change (it is a common defect in man not to make any provision in the calm against the tempest), and when afterwards the bad times came they thought of flight and hoped that the people, disgusted with the insolence of the conquerors, would recall them. There is no deliverance which does not depend upon yourself and your valour.



Many men believe the affairs of the world are governed by fortune and God, so that men cannot direct them.

Fortune may direct one-half of our actions, but that she still leaves us to direct the other half. She may be like the raging flood, which sweeps away trees and buildings. But that does not mean that, when the waters settle, men cannot make barriers against such misfortune. In Italy, we have, unlike Germany, neglected these barriers, so that the recent invasions have found us without defence.

A man may pursue glory and riches by caution, another with haste, one by force, another by skill, and yet still attain their goal. It is not so much the method, but how well they conform to the spirit of the times. It is the man who cannot change from his nature or his accustomed ways, who is lost. The cautious man who does not know when it is time to turn adventurous is ruined.

Pope Julius the Second, in his enterprise against Bologna, had both the Venetians and Spain against him. Yet his impetuous action accomplished what no one with simple wisdom could have done; for if he had waited for all to be safe he would never have succeeded.

Fortune is changeful, yet mankind steadfast in their ways, success comes when the two are in agreement. For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to control her it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her.



The present times seem fit for the arrival of a new prince, for like the Israelites, the Persians and the Medes, the present oppression of the Italians is such that their virtuous spirit may be shown. It is seen how she entreats God to send someone who shall deliver her from these wrongs.

Nor is there to be seen one in whom she can place more hope than in your illustrious house,[14] with its valour and fortune, favoured by God and by the Church of which it is now the chief.

With us there is great justice, because a war is just which is necessary. God is with us, yet God is not willing to do everything, and thus take away our free will and that share of glory which is ours.

If, therefore, your illustrious house wishes to redeemed your country, it is necessary before all to have your own forces, commanded by their prince, honoured by him, and maintained at his expense. We cannot rely on Swiss and Spanish infantry, no matter how good they are.

This opportunity ought not to be missed for letting Italy see her liberator appear. What door would be closed to him? Who would refuse obedience to him? To all of us this barbarous dominion stinks. Let this just enterprise be undertaken, so that our native country may be ennobled, and verify that saying of Petrarch:


For old Roman valour is not dead,

Nor in Italian hearts extinguish'ed.









Source :

Web site link:

Google key word : Machiavelli notes file type : doc

Author : not indicated on the source document of the above text

If you are the author of the text above and you not agree to share your knowledge for teaching, research, scholarship (for fair use as indicated in the United States copyrigh low) please send us an e-mail and we will remove your text quickly.



Machiavelli notes

 Machiavelli's View of Human Nature
Among the most widely-read of the Renaissance thinkers was Niccolò Machiavelli, a Florentine politician who retired from public service to write at length on the skill required for successfully running the state. 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. In his best known work, The Prince, Machiavelli responds to the question of what makes a good prince, as opposed to what makes a good human bein. However, we gain insight into his beliefs about humans through study of his work.
In The Prince (1513) Niccolo Machiavelli presents a view of governing a state that is drastically different from that of humanists of his time. Machiavelli believes the ruling Prince should be the sole authority determining every aspect of the state and put in effect a policy which would serve his best interests. These interests were gaining, maintaining, and expanding his political power.

His understanding of human nature was a complete contradiction of what humanists believed and taught. Machiavelli strongly promoted a secular society and felt morality was not necessary but in fact stood in the way of an effectively
governed principality. Though in some cases Machiavelli's suggestions seem harsh and immoral one must remember that these views were derived out of concern Italy's unstable political condition.

Though humanists of Machiavelli's time believed that an individual had much to offer to the well being of the state, Machiavelli was quick to mock human nature. Humanists believed that "An individual only 'grows to maturity- both intellectually and morally- through participation' in the life of the state." However, Machiavelli generally distrusted citizens, stating that " time of adversity, when the state is in need of its citizens there are few to be found." Machiavelli further goes on to question the loyalty of the citizens and advises the Prince that "...because men are wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them."

However, Machiavelli did not feel that a Prince should mistreat the citizens. This suggestion, once again, serves the Prince's best interests. If a prince can not be both feared and loved, Machiavelli suggests, it would be better for him to be feared by the citizens within his own principality. He makes the generalization that men are, "...ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit; while you treat them well they are yours." He characterizes men as being self centered and not willing to act in the best interest of the state,"[and when the prince] is in danger they turn against [him]."

Machiavelli reinforces the prince's need to be feared by stating: Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than to one who makes himself feared. The bond of love is one which men, wretched creatures they are, break when it is to their advantage to do so; but fear is strengthened by a dread of punishment which is always effective. In order to win honor, Machiavelli suggests that a prince must be readily willing to deceive the citizens. One way is to " his esteem for talent actively encouraging the able and honouring
those who excel in their that they can go peaceably about their business." By encouraging citizens to excel at their professions he would also be encouraging them to "...increase the prosperity of their state."

Machiavelli actively promoted a secular form of politics. He laid aside the medieval conception "of the state as a necessary creation for humankind’s spiritual, material, and social well-being." In such a state,"[a] ruler was justified in his exercise of political power only if it contributed to the common good of the people he served, [and] the ethical side of a prince’s activity...ought to [be] based on Christian moral principles...." Machiavelli believed a secular form of government to be a more realistic type. His views were to the benefit of the prince, in helping him maintain power rather than to serve to the well being of the citizens. Machiavelli promoted his belief by stating: The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among those who are not virtuous. Therefore, if a prince wants to maintain his rule he must learn not to be so virtuous, and to make use of this or not according to need.

Having studied and experienced Italy's political situation, Machiavelli derived these views. He felt that his suggestions would provide a frame work for a future
prince of Italy to bring about political stability. Machiavelli writes: Italy is waiting to see who can be the one to heal her wounds, put and end to the sacking of Lombardy, to extortion in the Kingdom and in Tuscany, and cleanse those sores which have been festering so long. See how Italy beseeches God to send someone to save her from those barbarous cruelties and outrages; see how eager and willing the country is to follow a banner, if someone will raise it.

Although Italy had become the center of intellectual, artistic and cultural development, Machiavelli did not feel these qualities would help in securing Italy's political future. His opinion was that Italy required a leader who could have complete control over Italy's citizens and institutions. One way of maintaining control of was to institute a secular form of government. This would allow the prince to govern without being morally bound. This follows from Machiavelli's view of human nature, which included the thought that people generally tended to work for their own best interests and gave little obligation to the well being of the state.

Although Machiavelli doubted that this form of government could ever be established it did appear several years after he wrote The Prince. Machiavelli has become to be regarded as "the founder of modern day, secular politics."


English 112 – Machiavelli

In the writing, it states that, “Machiavelli reinforces the prince's need to be feared by stating: Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than to one who makes himself feared. The bond of love is one which men, wretched creatures they are, break when it is to their advantage to do so; but fear is strengthened by a dread of punishment which is always effective.”

1. If you believed as Machiavelli did, then what type of parent would be most effective? Teacher? Class President? Peer mentor? Employer? Political Leader?


Source :

Web site link:

Google key word : Machiavelli notes file type : doc

Author : not indicated on the source document of the above text

If you are the author of the text above and you not agree to share your knowledge for teaching, research, scholarship (for fair use as indicated in the United States copyrigh low) please send us an e-mail and we will remove your text quickly.


Machiavelli notes

The Problem of The Prince – Machiavelli and his Discontents

Annual McKeever Lecture at St. John’s University -  02/15/03



Julius Caesar opens the book in which he describes his conquest of Gaul (France) with the famous sentence: “All Gaul is divided into three parts.”  The major problem in understanding The Prince is the determination of the extent to which Machiavelli really was or was not a proponent of evil.  It has been said that it takes a lot of gall to talk about Machiavelli.  In an attempt to conform to such a Caesarean sensibility I will divide my gall into three main parts.  In part 1 I will consider some significant aspects of The Prince in the context of Machiavelli’s life, time, and other works.  In part 2 I will visit the issue of Machiavelli’s vast influence upon posterity, an influence which is split right down the middle between disciples and discontents.  Finally, in part 3, I will briefly examine one of the myriad interpretations of The Prince, transposing it however into a slightly unusual key.  I shall then close with a farewell toast.




Niccolò Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469 and died on June 21, 1527.  Biographers of Machiavelli, such as Ridolfi and Viroli, record a dream that the dying Machiavelli is reputed to have told to his friends.  It seems to be a reinterpretation of the famous dream of Scipio as reported by Cicero in his treatise on the republic.  Machiavelli claims that he would rather spend an intellectually invigorating eternity in hell discussing affairs of state with the great political thinkers of history than be bored to tears in paradise by the saints.   It is interesting to note that, despite his lifelong disregard for Christianity, Machiavelli ended his life by availing himself of the sacrament of confession.  Since that time many interpreters have tried to put the problem of The Prince to rest, but to no avail.  Machiavelli continues to bury his undertakers.


Some Major Works:


  1. The Prince – was mostly written in 1513, but published for public consumption in 1532.


  1. Discourses –  This work was put aside in 1513 to write The Prince.  Its subject concerns the Republican form of government.  J.  Pocock argues in The Machiavellian Moment that Machiavelli’s republicanism constitutes the core of his contribution to political thought.  Machiavelli holds republican Rome up as a model for his times, and professes  a profound contempt for tyranny in the Discourses.  He claims that liberty can only flourish in a republic.  With liberty the population will grow, which in turn leads to more potential citizens to safeguard the state.  Machiavelli is critical of the Florentine dependence upon soldiers of fortune, which is also a major problem addressed in The Prince. (e.g. ch. 13, David’s use of his own slingshot to defeat Goliath.) It should be noted however that Machiavelli’s analysis of the superiority of the republican form of government over tyranny is still highly expedient.  Tyranny leads to a greater possibility of corruption, republicanism to greater wealth and stability.  In Book 1, ch. 47 of the Discourses Machiavelli asserts that the masses possess more collective wisdom than the prince.  On the contrary, as Bertrand Russell once pointed out in the last century, most people would rather die than think.


  1. La Mandragola (Mandrake Root) – (1518 – performed 1520); a popular comedy in which Machiavelli presents an allegory of the need for Florence to adopt his scheme for a standing or home grown army.  The play adapts the traditional story of the mandrake root which, according to legend, will induce pregnancy.  Nicia, a foolish lawyer, tries to trick Callimaco into sleeping with his beautiful wife, Lucrezia, because the next man to sleep with her after she has consumed a potion made from the root will die, thus sapping the poison of its potency.  Callimaco survives since, with the help of a local priest, he himself has hatched the entire plot so that he can both sleep with Lucrezia and procure her husband’s blessing.  The Machiavellian moral here is don’t ask a stranger to do what you should be doing yourself, such as sleeping with your own wife or defending one’s homeland with locals rather than with hired guns.  The original audience would have been aware that “Machiavelli’s army” performed disgracefully in being routed by the Spanish at the battle of Prato in 1512.  This brought the Florentine republic to an end.  The Medici family was thus able to resume power after a hiatus of almost 20 years.  This failure effectively ended Machiavelli’s active career as a trusted high level diplomat and analyst of “foreign affairs.”  He would write most of The Prince in the following year (1513) in part as an overture to the ruling Medici to consider him for future high level political posts.  Another theme in the play is the corruption of the Church, as it involves a priest, Timoteo, whose services are for sale.  A few years earlier, in 1509, Erasmus had published In Praise of Folly, with the motive of reforming the corruption of the Church from within, while  in 1517 Luther will affix his ninety five theses to the door of the Wittenberg cathedral, thus firing the opening salvo of the Protestant Reformation.


  1. Art of War (1521) –  For Machiavelli, the art of war should be the foundation of civil life. 

The virtues of war (discipline, courage, cultivation of strength, love of citizens for each other) are reminiscent of W. James’ essay entitled “The Moral Equivalent of War.”  Machiavelli reveals a distrust of both cavalry and artillery.  In his works he is often wrong about the historical performance of mercenary troops.  For him, fighting for one’s patria was a symbol of civic virtue, which would instill civic pride in the young. 


After World War I a number of post-war poets emerged whose subject matter was the degradation of war.  Wilfred Owen, for example, borrows a line from the Roman poet Horace to illustrate how British propaganda about the glories of war was fallacious.  His  poem entitled “Dulce et Decorum est” begins with several stanzas which present the attractions and pageantry of war, and concludes with the grim reality of a young life destroyed in a far off killing field.  Owen writes: “Who would tell to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie/ dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”  Such wartime realism in poetry was a far cry from Owen’s contemporary Rupert Brooke’s highly idealistic paean to patriotism:


 If I should die, think only this of me:

 That there’s some corner of a foreign field

 That is forever England.

  1. Florentine Histories (1525) – Written to inform citizens of a potential Florentine Republic how to avoid the terrible consequences of factionalism, a topic dealt with, for example, in the tenth of the Federalist Papers by James Madison.  In this work, as well as in Discourse Upon Our Language, Machiavelli entertains the possibility that language is the ultimate weapon.  In The Prince both the language of deceit as well as the force of arms are put forward as necessary conditions for the long term preservation of power, with the latter being perhaps a little more necessary than the former.


Historical Context:


       In 1494 Piero de’ Medici is “dethroned” in the aftermath of the invasion of Italy by King Charles VIII of France.  Italy will not be free of foreign rule for nearly four centuries to come.  A Republic is established in Florence.  The Medici had ruled Florence since 1434. Italian cities had enjoyed relative independence from the Holy Roman Empire -- which according to Voltaire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire,  as well as from each other.  In 1453 Constantinople was sacked by the Turks.  This shut down the silk route from China. Italian cities like Venice, Milan, and Florence tried to compensate for lost revenue by annexing neighboring Italian cities.  Venice, for example, needed land for mulberry trees to feed the silkworm.  Meanwhile, the kings of France and Spain were becoming more powerful and wealthy.  Italian cities would now need to seek help from other Christian states outside Italy.  At other times they would need protection from their former foreign allies. This led to changing sets of alliances.  Italy was disunited, politically fluid, and subject to foreign domination.  The leading powers in Italy during Machiavelli’s time were the Venetian Republic, Florence, the Papal States, the duchy of Milan, and the Kingdom of Naples.


       The Florentine Republic was run until 1498 by religious reformer Girolamo Savonarola under the general guidance of the chief lawmaking body – the Great Council.  Savonarola condemned corruption and preached repentance.  From 1502-1512 the Republic would be led by a permanent gonfalonier – a kind of permanent commander in chief of military matters for Florence.  This was Pietro Soderini.  From 1498-1512 Machiavelli served the Republic as Secretary of the Second Chancery.  This meant that he was an analyst for both military and foreign affairs.  In addition, from 1502 onwards Machiavelli’s affiliation with Soderini increased his de facto involvement in affairs of state, especially in relation to military strategy. During this time, Machiavelli teamed up with Leonardo da Vinci on a massive engineering project intended to both divert the river Arno away from Pisa, as well as to extend it to the sea, so that Florence could possess the military and financial advantages of a port city.  The project failed miserably.  The recent book entitled Fortune is a River suggests that the water in the background of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa may be a depiction of what both Leonardo and Machiavelli had in mind for the Arno.


In 1512 the Florentine Republic comes to an end.  Machiavelli’s standing army is routed  at the battle of Prato. Machiavelli blames Soderini for the fall of the Florentine Republic.  According to Machiavelli, Soderini’s virtues as a man were also his vices as a political leader. The Medici return to power in Florence.  This power is extended with the Medici occupation of the Papacy.  The Medici will not be overthrown again until 1527, at which time the Republic will be restored.  During this Medicean interlude two family members will occupy the throne of St. Peter as pope: Giovanni de Medici as Leo X from 1513 – 1521, and Giulio de Medici as Clement VII, who is elected pope in 1523 after the brief papacy of Adrian VI. It is the Medicean joint control of both the central Italian papal states and Florence that inspires Machiavelli with the idea that the entire Italian peninsula can be brought under Italian control.  A central nexus of power could then begin to expand its sphere of influence so as to encompass the entire peninsula.  This opportunity had also occurred a little over a decade earlier when Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli’s ruthless model for The Prince,had swept through Italy while his father Alexander VIsat in Peter’s chair. 

           Lorenzo de Medici (Duke of Urbino), the grandson of il Magnifico and the nephew of Pope Leo X, becomes the operative “prince” of Florence in 1513.  The Dedicatory Epistle to The Prince is addressed to Lorenzo, although at first Machiavelli intended to dedicate the work to Giuliano de Medici.   Machiavelli is seeking the favor of the “new prince,” and offers as his resume a plan for how a new prince can consolidate and maintain power, and in so doing unify Italy and free her from foreign domination.  The Prince, written in Italian with Latin chapter titles, consists of a Dedicatory Epistle to Lorenzo de Medici followed by 26 short chapters.  It is less than 100 pages long.  Harvey Mansfield in Machiavelli’s Virtue only half jokingly suggests that this brevity could have been due to the fact that Lorenzo, like the cutthroat and busy corporate executive of today, could spare but very little time to read.   The bulk of The Prince was written in 1513.  The dedicatory epistle to Lorenzo de Medici was probably added in 1515-1516. Despite the brevity of The Prince Lorenzo barely glanced at it. Machiavelli, however, needed to get back into his good graces. The Medici distrusted Machiavelli.  He was a commoner, a former underling of Soderini, and a suspect in a failed anti-Medici conspiracy.  The Prince was first published posthumously in 1532, but had been in circulation in manuscript form for years.  Along with Machiavelli’s other works, The Prince will be placed upon the Index of Prohibited Books in 1559.  But this anathema had effect only in Italy and Spain.  Whereas the central concern of the Discourses will be Florentine domestic affairs, based upon an imitation of lessons to be learned from Roman history, The Prince focuses primarily upon external affairs, and the examples are geared more to his own contemporary situation than in the DiscoursesThe Prince evolves out of Machiavelli’s epistolary exchanges with his friend Francesco Vettori, which occur during the former’s unintentional retirement to Sant’ Andrea, his country estate.  These letters show that while their chief topic was war, their main concern was peace.  Chapter 26, like the dedicatory epistle, was also a later appendage to the original text.  It is an exhortation to Lorenzo to free Italy from what he calls barbarian rule.    While the preceding chapters are predominantly analytical, ch. 26 is highly rhetorical. It reminds some scholars of Isocrates’ exhortation to Philip.  It reminds me of the much later Inno de Garibaldi, the famous fighting song of the Italian Risorgimento, which goes:  “Si scopron le tombe, si levano i morti/ i martiri nostri son tutti risorti!/ Le spade nel pugno, gli allori alle chiome,/ la fiamma ed il nome d’Italia nel cor….”

The Prince:

In The Prince the seeds of a new political/ethical order can be gleaned from the study of history and current events.  One might argue that Machiavelli is not only intending to address Lorenzo and the other potential Italian rulers of his time, but everyone, everywhere, at every time.  This is debatable.  The renaissance represented a renewal of interest in Greek and Roman antiquity.  This interest manifested itself in a mimetic movement which took hold in art, science, philosophy, and literature.  Machiavelli wants to extend this enchantment with the past to the model of Roman republican government.  Just as Columbus and others during his time were discovering new worlds that had always been there, Machiavelli invites the politically savvy intelligentsia of his day to rediscover republican Rome.  

In Chapter one of The Prince Machiavelli provides the reader with a classification of the different types of principalities.  Chapters 3-24 deal primarily with the political and military expression of Roman virtu, which for Machiavelli is the exercise of freedom whereby a man of energetic will can achieve and maintain dominance over a principality with his own arms.  Machiavelli calls for a new ethics in chapter 15, an ethics which is to be at the disposal of purely political goals.  This inverts the Christian conception of the proper relation between ethics and politics in which moral norms ought to serve as constructive principles for political society.  Machiavelli never refers to the notion of Natural Law in any of his known writings.  At first blush, from a Christian perspective the answer to the question of whether Machiavelli is a teacher of evil must be yes, since the prospective prince is instructed that it is acceptable in principle to sacrifice anyone except himself.  Christian moral theory sometimes calls upon people to give witness to the faith at the cost of their lives. Christian morality does not subscribe to the notion of Dirty Hands, a term which stems from a J.P. Sartre play of the same name, wherein a person can intentionally choose a lesser wrong in order to avoid a greater evil.  But of course the unspoken reference is to Pontius Pilate, who could wash but still not clean his hands in delivering Christ up to his enemies. When such dilemmas are posed in contemporary ethical literature in relation to political life the decision maker is usually limited to the two alternatives of bad and worse (e.g. Michael Walzer’s seminal article “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands,” 1973).  If Christian participation in political life is ethically possible, then the dilemma of Dirty Hands as customarily presented must be a false dichotomy.  No other conclusion is consistent with a strict observance of Christian ethics which disallows the knowing commission of any evil, even a lesser evil, in pursuit of a greater good or avoidance of a greater evil.  Such strict observance presents the flip side, so to speak, of Barry Goldwater’s famous claim that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”  In real life there often exists the logical possibility of escaping between the horns of this lesser evil/greater evil dilemma, as other choices which may be very costly to oneself are often available.  Moreover, if one abstains from choosing at all the result may be worse than if one had chosen the lesser evil, but Christian ethics does countenance such a removal of oneself from the responsibility of choice.  For Christian ethics, no morally evil choice can ever be sanctioned as politically justifiable?

For Machiavelli, such an approach to ethical problems is overly simplistic and completely unrealistic.  In the Discourses (Book I, ch. 26) he has the following to say in regard to the use of cruel methods. “These methods are most cruel and are inimical to any body politic, not only to a Christian one but to any human one, and every man should avoid them and should prefer to live as a private citizen rather than as a king who does so much damage to mankind; nevertheless, anyone who does not wish to choose this first humane course of action must, if he wishes to maintain himself, enter into this evil one.  But men choose middle ways which are very damaging and, in so doing, are unable to be entirely good or bad.”  I would now invite you to consider where you stand in regard to the following well known suggestions. In John’s Gospel (18:14) Caiphas asserts that “it was expedient that one man should die for the people.”  Lenin, in a 1920 letter to Leon Trotsky, writes that “if it must be so, then let thousands die as a result, but the country must be saved.”  Finally, a Churchillian quote: “Bolshevism should have been strangled in its cradle.”  Machiavelli would surely have responded with a smile to each of these suggestions, for he was a man, as he says in a letter to Francesco Guicciardini, who loved his country more than his soul.  It goes without saying that it is difficult to view each of these examples with complete objectivity and without the clouding of emotion.  Let me ask you a question.  If you had been Churchill, would you have allowed Coventry to be bombed in order to prevent the Nazi’s from realizing that the English had cracked their secret codes?

From Ch. 15.

“Because how one ought to live is so far removed from how one lives that he who lets go of what is done for that which one ought to do sooner learns ruin than his own preservation: because a man who might want to make a show of goodness in all things necessarily comes to ruin among so many who are not good.  Because of this it is necessary to a prince, wanting to maintain himself, to learn how to be able to be not good and to use this and  not use it according to necessity….let him not care about incurring infamy for those vices without which he might hardly save the state; because, if one considers everything well, one will find that something that appears a virtue, if followed, would be his ruin, and that some other thing that appears a vice, if followed, results in his security and well-being.”

The view that the playing field upon which power politics is played should be exempted from the customary norms of moral behavior was not entirely new with Machiavelli. In his Ricordi Machiavelli’s contemporary Francesco Guicciardini says things which are equally as shocking, but his writing style is pedantic and not nearly as inflammatory as that of Machiavelli. Thucydides, in the fifth book of his History of the Peloponnesian War, in the famous dialogue between the Athenians and the Melians, comes off as sounding quite Machiavellian.  And Euripides follows suit in his Phoenician Maidens: “If wrong may e’er be right, for a throne’s sake were wrong most right.”  Cicero in De officiis (Book III, ch. II) and Tacitus in the Annals (Book XIV, ch. XLIV) both expressed the belief that the violation of the moral law is permitted if it promotes the public welfare (utilitas rei publicae).  This leverage of an ultimate end trumping customary morality was even entertained in the Middle Ages by canon lawyers who looked for circumstantial loopholes in order to safeguard the prerogatives of the city of God on earth.  This however is a little misleading since what this meant, in the battle between Church and State, was that the laws of the state could be superseded in principle by the qualitatively higher laws of God.  What was new with Machiavelli  was the breakthrough that such loopholes could be weaved together into what the French encyclopedist Diderot would call an art of tyranny, a description which fits well given the aesthetic mindset of Renaissance culture.  

In chapter 17, in an infamous passage, Machiavelli considers the relative advantages of whether it is better to be loved than feared.

“I say that each prince must desire to be considered merciful and not cruel.  Nonetheless, he must be wary not to use this mercy badly.  Consequently,   a prince must not care about the infamy of cruelty in order to keep his subjects united and faithful….From this springs a dispute: whether it is better to be loved than feared or the reverse.  It is answered that one would want to be both; but, because it is difficult to force them together whenever one has to do without either of the two, it is much more secure to be feared than to be loved.”

In this passage Machiavelli draws upon his conviction concerning the unchanging uniformity of human nature. Inciting terror in the people might engender hatred but guarantees fear.  Thus the assurance that people will try to avoid pain can serve as a predictive measure for the control of their behavior.  On the other hand, when a prince tries to inculcate his people with love for him, all he can know for sure is their pretense of endearment.  Machiavelli then continues.

“Nonetheless, the prince must make himself feared in such a way that, if he does not obtain love, he may escape hatred; because being feared and not hated can go together well; which he will do always when he keeps himself from his citizens’ and his subjects possessions, and from their women…but, above all, he should abstain from other people’s things; because men sooner forget the death of the father than they do the loss of patrimony.”

Machiavelli sprinkles The Prince with liberal examples of cruelty in action drawn both from antiquity as well as from his own time (e.g. ch. 7 – Cesare Borgia; ch 8 – Agathocles; ch. 17 – Hannibal).  Cesare Borgia’s cruelty brought peace to the region of Romagna.  But what Machiavelli finds unpardonable in a politician or prince is not his crimes, but his mistakes.  Despite his admiration for Cesare Borgia, Machiavelli will take him to task for allowing the election of his enemy, Julius II, to the throne of St. Peter.

Machiavelli establishes a partial reconfiguration of virtue in chapter 18 with his metaphors of the lion and the fox.   The metaphor of the cunning fox is Machiavelli’s version of the cardinal virtue of prudence, which Aquinas, following Aristotle, calls right reason in action (STh II-II, 47, 2).  The Greeks had learned from Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound what happens when power and knowledge are severed, as when Prometheus, symbolizing knowledge, is chained to an outcropping of rock by Zeus, symbolizing strength and power, for the sin of giving mankind the gift of fire. Machiavelli likewise recognizes that even a non-Christian moral system must be systematic and symbiotic, the virtues of the lion and the fox must coexist and feed off each other in the person of the prince.

“You must know there are two kinds of fighting: the one with laws, the other with force: the first is proper to man, the second to beasts: but because many times the first does not suffice, it is expedient to recur to the second.  Therefore, it is necessary for a prince to know well how to use the beast and the man.”

“Therefore, since a prince is constrained by necessity to know well how to use the beast, among the beasts he must choose the fox and the lion; because the lion does not defend itself from traps, the fox does not defend itself from wolves.  One therefore needs to be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to dismay the wolves.”

In chapter 25 Machiavelli switches gears from virtu to Fortuna, the goddess of fate.  For Machiavelli, there is no divine providence or wrath with which to contend; neither is Fortuna blind.  Fortune, for Machiavelli, is not an implacable deity, but a woman to be mastered by a man of Machiavellian virtue. If human nature is predictable, then despite its depravity, Machiavelli is optimistic that this knowledge can be used to advantage, for an astute prince will be able to mold the future based upon having learned the lessons of the past.  Thus the Christian virtue of hope is recast as the possibility that certain individuals can  control their destinies if they possess the knowledge and wherewithal to recognize and respond to the contingency of history.                                                                                                                     

       In the Mirror of Princes Literature throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages princes were viewed as the ideal embodiment of human nature.  Machiavelli undermines this view.  Princes are not to be the paradigm of classical or Christian virtues, but to have the pragmatic skills that lead to success (survival, power, glory). (e.g. Xenophon – The Education of Cyrus;Erasmus – Institution of a Christian Prince, 1515)   For Machiavelli, laws backed up by force (good arms) are the best laws.  Recall the line of Robert Frost:  “Good fences make good neighbors.” The army, for Machiavelli, is the foundation of political power. Yet as the founder of a “new order” Machiavelli intends to rival Jesus.  Even though Machiavelli, like Jesus,  is armed with words, both were unarmed in the military sense.  Machiavelli cites OT passages, but never the NT.  For Machiavelli, language, in keeping with the humanistic revolt against the stylistic barbarism of scholastic logic, is a weapon of persuasion.  For example, he collapses the distinction between doing well and doing good (bene) in The Prince. Hence Machiavelli would have loved G.K Chesterton’s quip that anything worth doing is worth doing badly.   Machiavelli is thus self-consciously at odds with Dante who viewed language to be the product of a well crafted reason.   For Machiavelli, the eradication of enemies and changing the way people think are analogous modes of behavior.   While weapons may be preferable to words as the ultimate foundation of power, still they must function in tandem much like the virtues of the lion and the fox.

Machiavelli by no means wishes to overestimate the role of cruelty.  Cruelty is not his main concern.  Although a “Machiavellian virtue”, Scipio did very well for Republican Rome during the Spanish campaigns without it.  Cruelty is just a tool.  Machiavelli does not want to exalt cruelty in The Prince as much as he wants to degrade the classical and Christian conception of virtue. The central teaching of The Prince is the following: If inhuman cruelty and animal cunning are verified by experience to be necessary conditions of political success, then conventional morality is false.  The Prince is an attempt to wholly discredit Christian virtue as well as the entire post-Platonic tradition of enshrining morality as an ideal.   Shakespeare’s Brutus says that his participation in the slaying of Caesar was due, not to the fact that he loved Caesar less, but because he loved Rome more.  One might argue that Machiavelli preaches cruelty not because he loved morality less but because he cherished a free and unified Italy even more.  Machiavelli begins ch. 19 with a parody of Aristotle’s ethical conception of the golden mean.  He tries to show, mockingly, how his own table of virtues are a mean between extremes of excess and deficiency.  Interestingly, Machiavelli does not explicitly refer to either Plato or Aristotle.  But one should read The Prince in light of what Aristotle has to say about tyrants in the Politics (Book 5, ch. 10 ff.)

      Lest one think The Prince is devoid of republican sentiments in applauding the attributes of the successful prince, keep in mind how democratically based governments might come into existence in the first place: a) by Force; or b) by Vote.  Can one “justify” or bootstrap a democracy by force, which seems contradictory, or by a majority vote, which seems self-justifying?  Furthermore, without an ultimate recourse to force, what good is the result of legislative or judicial prerogatives?  In a disunited Italy and unstable Florence, the political skills of Machiavelli’s prince are intended as a necessary first step in the restitution of republican rule.  And in Book 1, ch. 9 of the Discourses Machiavelli asserts that new republics must be founded by just one person.  Machiavelli’s world is of course much different than our own, for neither he nor his contemporaries could count long periods of domestic peace as part of their first hand experience.  In Machiavelli’s Italy a leader who fell out of favor would often find himself torn in two.  Nowadays a former leader is more likely to find himself or herself courted by think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute than drawn and quartered in the town square for all to see.

       Machiavelli will not dedicate the Discourses to a prince, but to commoner friends.  He    points out in a letter that only those who know how to govern are worthy of being prince, not those who can govern a kingdom without knowing.  Being a prince is not an entitlement of blood, but a station open to anyone who possesses the merits of the office.  Thus it is a position of upward mobility.  Power is  not something that you earn by birth, it is something that you take because it does not exceed your grasp.  Machiavelli is of course one who himself has been held back by a system which pays more attention to one’s genealogy than to one’s genes.

       Machiavelli merits being called the earliest exponent of realpolitik, a style of statecraft based upon a cynical view of human motives, and devoted to advancing the interests of a state without regard for moral or religious strictures.  Such a view does not square with that of T.S. Eliot who, for reasons I cannot fathom, characterizes Machiavelli as possessing an innocence of soul completely devoid of cynicism.  Machiavelli viewed Christianity as the paradigmatic case of fraud in politics.  Much of its political strength and success was, he contended, the result of the sword wielded by Christian princes, contrary to Christian values.  Christianity, according to Machiavelli, could not deliver on its own promises of eternal rewards and punishments, although the expectation of these could and did often serve to constrain the behavior of individuals, and of states who would threaten the authority of the Church (e.g. Julius II at the hands of Baglioni in Perugia – Discourses Book 1, ch. 27).  One can easily see then how Machiavelli has the institution of the Church very much in mind in the development of his blueprint for the complete secularization of political life.  Like a good chef who will not discard even the scraps, Machiavelli has a place for forgiveness in his scheme for political life.  In the Discourses (Book 3, ch. 47) he says that good citizens should forget injuries for the love of their city.  In (Book 1, ch. 26) he would have a new prince behave like Robin Hood, making the rich poor and the poor rich, by purloining a line from Luke’s Magnificat (1:53).  “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”


     The Prince was at first largely ignored.  When it finally started to receive attention the verdict  upon it was mostly negative.  It is from this negative interpretation of Machiavelli that we get the term Machiavellism.  Machiavelli was initially thought to be a teacher of evil.  For the newly formed Jesuits he was the devil’s partner in crime, later for Frederick the Great he was the enemy of mankind. In the England of Henry VIII Cardinal Reginald Pole in 1539 made the comparison between Machiavelli’s Christian name and old Nick, a traditional appellation of the devil, in his book entitled Apologia Reginaldi Poli ad Carolum V. The first systematic attack upon Machiavelli came from France. In Innocent Gentillet’s Discours sur les moyens de bien gouverner …contre Nicolas Machiavel Florentine (1576) Machiavelli’s political ideas are blamed for the Saint Bartholomew’s day massacre of fifty thousand Hugenots in 1572. In Ignatius his Conclave (1611) John Donne has Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, disputing with Machiavelli before Lucifer himself as to which of them is the greater agent of evil.  Shakespeare, for example, will invoke the name of Machiavelli as a pejorative in his comedy The Merry Wives of Windsor.  Richard III is an innate Machiavellian who needs no coaching to cure the winter of his discontent, while Iago has mastered the art of manipulating people par excellence.  In Henry VI (Part III, Act III, Scene ii) the young Duke of Gloucester (Richard III) speaks the following chilling words. “Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile; And cry content to that which grieves my heart; And wet my cheeks with artificial tears, And frame my face to all occasions.” A few lines later he promises to “set the murderous Machiavel to school.”  Stendhal’s hero Julien Sorel from The Red and the Black (1831) is characterized as Machiavellian, and Stendhal even borrows quotations from Machiavelli for chapter headings.  And in the imaginary Bulletins from Parnassus (1630) Traiano Boccalini stages a trial for the dead Machiavelli before the court of King Apollo which reads eerily like a preview of later trials for crimes against humanity.  The executive privilege of a U.S. president is an extraordinary faculty that allows the chief executive to rise above normal protocols when the nation is in jeopardy.  Like the phrase coups d’etat ( 1639; tricks of state) it is rooted in a Machiavellian conception of princely power.

       Francesco Patrizzi in his Dialogues of History (1560), on the very verge of a skeptical furor that was about to deafen all of Europe to any pretense of knowledge, invokes a Machiavellian conception of rulers in order to support the skeptical view that historical knowledge is either informed or impartial, but never trustworthy. If an historian is impartial then he will not be given access to historical records.  Hence what he writes  will be factually inaccurate.  If the historian is partial to the ruler then he will be given access to historical information but will skew it  so as to show his sovreign in a better light.  By the 19th century, Machiavelli had become respected as a prophet of the nation state.  On the other hand, the ethical strain of the rationally dominated Enlightenment did not permit the violation of ethical norms.  A significant part of our contemporary ambivalence towards Machiavelli is based upon this tension.  By the time Leo Strauss tries to recast Machiavelli as an outright enemy of mankind in the 1950’s, many in the scholarly community will view this as a cause for rebuke and ridicule.  Stalin, however, not exactly a charter member of the academic fraternity, is rumored to have read The Prince nightly.  Mussolini, who had no concrete knowledge of Machiavelli’s works, bragged that he intended to write a dissertation on Machiavelli.  No doubt he had sufficient on the job training. According to Betrand Russell, The Prince is a handbook for gangsters.  Jacques Maritain, one of the leaders of the Thomist revival in the 20th century, also was no fan of Machiavelli.  In contemporary management theory there exists a scale called the “Mach,” which is employed as a predictive measure of manipulative success.  In many ways the modern business executive, who is constantly “looking out for number one,” is the quintessential Machiavellian, keeping his enemies close and his friends even closer.  As Oscar Wilde once put it, anyone can sympathize with the sufferings of a friend, but few of them will be ecstatic over your success.  Although Marsilius of Padua (Defensor Pacis 14th c.), for example,  will refer to government as an executive that implements the will of the people, Machiavelli was the first political writer to frequently use the concept of execution to connote the exercise of executive power in a modern sense.  A spate of books in recent years have been written on the relation between Machiavelli and modern business practices. Two such are Antony Jay’s Management and Machiavelli: An Inquiry into the Politics of Corporate Life and Alastair McAlpine’s The New Machiavelli: The Art of Politics in Business.  Harriet Rubin has even written a Machiavellian handbook for women entitled The Princessa.  According to John Freccero of New York University, the only woman who ever really gained Machiavelli’s respect was Caterina Sforza.  Machiavelli writes that when her castle in Forlì was under siege by Cesare Borgia “she was the only one of manly spirit, among so many defenders of womanly spirit….”  In the Discourses (Book 3, ch. 6) Machiavelli recounts how in one incident Caterina offered to put up her own children as hostages, baring her genitals to her enemies and saying that “she still had the means to make more of them.”  One might argue therefore that when the world is no longer appalled by Machiavelli it is because it has already become Machiavellian itself.

       For both Spinoza and Rousseau The Prince was a cautionary tale or handbook for anti-monarchists.  Machiavelli was viewed as a patriot, a democrat, and an advocate of liberty, while The Prince was intended as a warning for the havoc that tyrants could wreak.  In the Leviathan (1651) Hobbes relied upon a Machiavellian view of political life to describe why men would prefer to live as subjects of a sovereign state.  But unlike Machiavelli he offers a definition of justice as based upon self-preservation.  For Machiavelli, self-preservation latches onto the false concept of justice as a mere pretense to promote its own ends. A whimsical yet true tyrant story is often recounted by the famous conductor and music teacher Benjamin Zander.  He tells of the philharmonic musician with twenty seven years in the orchestra who was fired by the tyrannical conductor Arturo Toscanini for playing a wrong note.  While leaving the music hall after packing up his belongings he was heard by all, including Toscanini, to mutter under his breath, along with some choice four letter words, that the great conductor was a scoundrel.  To this Toscanini replied that it was too late to apologize.

       Fichte regarded The Prince as an apologia for a pagan way of life, while the anonymous 19th century compiler of Religious Maxims faithfully extracted from the works of Niccolo Machiavelli regards Machiavelli as a passionate and sincere Catholic.  For Benedetto Croce, Machiavelli is the man who divorced politics from ethics.  One might even say that it was Machiavelli who established the standard operating procedure for contemporary social science, which remains detached from moral judgments while pursuing an empirical confirmation or falsification of the evidence.

       According to Leo Strauss, the U.S. is the only country in the world founded in explicit opposition to Machiavellian principles.  Alexander Hamilton, an advocate of Natural Law, is considered to be a model of anti-Machiavellianism in politics.  The colonial antipathy to a professional army, however, in favor of a militia of citizen-soldiers during the war of independence from England was definitely in keeping with Machiavelli’s theory of  government.

For Ernst Cassirer, Machiavelli was both ethically and politically neutral.  He was a precursor of modern science who anticipated Galileo by his application of inductive methods to social and historical material.  For Antonio Gramsci, Machiavelli was a revolutionary innovator who railed against the obsolescence of the feudal aristocracy and the papacy.  For him The Prince is a myth which signifies the hegemony of the collective will and the birth of new politically progressive forces in which the masses will play a major role.

For Francis Bacon, Machiavelli was the supreme realist, who avoided utopian fantasies at all costs.  According to Napoleon Bonaparte the political works of Machiavelli were the only ones worth reading.  And it should come as no surprise that Machiavelli can claim Nietzsche as an admirer.  The prince is perhaps a prototype of the superman.

In the Anti-Machiavel (1740), coauthored with his cultural adviser Voltaire, Frederick the Great of Prussia  wrote a book which slammed Machiavelli.  In The Prince Frederick saw a blueprint for regicide, so his own attack against Machiavelli was self-serving.  He himself would go on to wrest Silesia from Maria Theresa as ruthlessly as if he had been Cesare Borgia himself.

For Hegel, Machiavelli played a leading role in the dialectical progression of the World-Spirit.  While proposing evil, Machiavelli, according to Hegel, contributed to the higher good by which actual states are to be rationally transformed throughout the course of history into ideal states.  Hegel asserts that Machiavelli possessed the vision for uniting a chaotic collection of feeble principalities into a coherent whole under a set of fundamental and universal principles.  In Faust, Part I Goethe (1808) presents Mephistopheles as an Hegelian-Machiavellian figure.  He is “part of that Power that in always willing evil always procures good.”  Thus the devil acts as an instrument of the divine will.

Christopher Marlowe has the figure of Machiavelli introduce the hero-villain Barabas in his tragedy The Jew of Malta (1589).

“Though some speak openly against my books, Yet will they read me, and thereby attain to Peter’s chair;…I count religion but a childish toy, And hold there is no sin but ignorance.”


            Sebastian deGrazia’s intellectual profile of the author of The Prince is entitled Machiavelli in Hell.  Is that where Machiavelli really belongs?  After all, in his alleged dream he claims that he would actually prefer to spend an eternity there hobnobbing with the cognoscenti of previous times.  In the midst of the longstanding faith versus reason debate over just what Athens has to do with Jerusalem, Machiavelli opted for Republican Rome as a model for political life in the ongoing polemic between Church and state.  And just as Parmenides in his day would offer a solution to the problem of the One and the Many by getting rid of the Many, Machiavelli offered a blueprint for society that, notwithstanding the sociological and psychological utility of religion, would in principle, from his perspective, do away with the conceptually incoherent belief system of the Church as a foundation for moral and political life.

There exists of course a great Christian writer and thinker who devoted an entire treatise to the defense of Christianity against the charge that it was responsible for the crumbling of a mighty empire by the sapping of its virility or virtu.  The empire was Rome, the thinker was St. Augustine, and the book was The City of God.  You might find it interesting to learn that The City of God was among the very first texts, along with the Bible, to be published by the new printing press after its invention in the middle part of the 15th century.  I would argue that Machiavelli’s secular political agenda represented not only an inversion of the Mirror of Princes literary tradition, but was also intended to stand up against St. Augustine’s City of God.

            Saint Augustine taught that no state could ever embody justice unless it was inspired by Christian ideals.  The Church therefore, according to St. Augustine, had as its mandate the responsibility to act as a leaven for mankind and its institutions.  As the only existing perfect society, he viewed the Church as superior to the state, which therefore should stamp its principles into the dynamic unfolding of the social order.  St. Augustine stood at the beginning of the tradition which elevated the Church in relation to the state, a tradition which had become severely undermined by the time of the humanistic assault upon Christian religious beliefs that began with the opening of the floodgates of antiquity during the renaissance.

            Even in a Church dominated society the social order was supposed to rest atop an Augistinian conception of human freedom promoting moral ends.  Machiavelli, in what one might characterize as a form of political Pelagianism, taught that both political power and the vicissitudes of Fortune could be properly managed by men alone without Providence so as to maximize the chances for the political survival and prosperity in perpetuity of a city state like Florence.  Some scholars have recently begun to explore the issue of whether Machiavelli should be rightly considered to be a precursor of game theory, given that The Prince, for example, recommends at least sixty separate strategies as the rational outcome of the analysis of situations involving incomplete information and myriad possibilities for cooperation.  Machiavelli  was, at least in spirit, attempting to maximize a numerical utility function for various preferences that were laden with dissimilar and asymmetrical risks.  Machiavelli thus occupies the opposite extreme on the governmental spectrum from Augustine in the Church versus state debate.  For Machiavelli, the City of Man would be much better off in theory without the Church as even a minimal partner in the management of the affairs of state.  Machiavelli is willing to use the Church and religion, but he is not willing to abide by them.  In the Discourses (Book 1, ch. 12) he would persevere in his attack upon the shortcomings of Augustine’s Church by laying the blame for Italy’s predicament at its feet.  “The Church has kept, and still keeps, this land of ours divided…for although the Church possesses temporal power and has its seat in Italy, it has not been powerful enough nor has it possessed sufficient skill to be able to tyrannize Italy and make itself her ruler….”

Statecraft, according to Machiavelli, should be kept within the limits of human possibility.  He holds that a Church which advocates ideals suitable only for angels is irresponsible and will lead the ship of state to its ruin.  When in Hamlet (II,ii) Shakespeare inquires as to what a piece of work is man, how noble in reason and infinite in faculty, in action how like an angel and in apprehension how like a God, he mimics a passage from Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man.  This portrait of human nature is very much in keeping with the Christian conception of imago dei.  Machiavelli, like Hobbes, would feel much more comfortable with the portrait of human nature drawn by Alexander Pope in his famous Essay on Man: “Great lord of all things yet a prey to all; Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d, the glory, jest, and riddle of the world!”.

Concluding Remarks

            There is a plaque near the entrance to the prestigious Rugby school in England which credits William Webb Ellis with inventing the sport of rugby, when in the midst of a game of soccer he picked up the ball and  ran with it, with a fine disregard for the rules of the game.  Likewise Machiavelli, a student of political strategy, tried, with a similar disregard, to change the way the games of politics and life are played.

Let me now, as promised, close with a toast, or that is, with the inscription that is chiseled into Machiavelli’s tombstone at the church of Santa Croce: tanto nomini nullum par elogium (For such a name no praise is adequate.).


Source :

Web site link:

Google key word : Machiavelli notes file type : doc

Author : not indicated on the source document of the above text

If you are the author of the text above and you not agree to share your knowledge for teaching, research, scholarship (for fair use as indicated in the United States copyrigh low) please send us an e-mail and we will remove your text quickly.


Machiavelli notes


If you want to quickly find the pages about a particular topic as Machiavelli notes use the following search engine:




Machiavelli notes


Please visit our home page Terms of service and privacy page




Machiavelli notes