Steven H Propp
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469-1527) was an Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist, and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance. He was for many years an official in the Florentine Republic, with responsibilities in diplomatic and military affairs. He also wrote Discourses.
He wrote this book to "Lorenzo the Magnificent, Son of Piero Di Medici," hoping that he would be invited back to public service. (Machiavelli had been accused of conspiracy against the Medici family, and was exiled after being imprisoned and even tortured for three weeks.) In his introduction, he commends his "knowledge of the deeds of great men which I have acquired through a long experience of modern events and a constant study of the past... it is necessary to be a prince to know thoroughly the nature of the people, and one of the populace to know the nature of princes."
He suggests, "one ought never to allow a disorder to take place in order to avoid war, for war is not thereby avoided, but only deferred to your disadvantage." (Pg. 42) Of a duke who allowed the appointment of Julius II as Pope, he advises, "he ought never to have permitted any of those cardinals to be raised to the papacy whom he had injured, or who when pope would stand in fear of him. For men commit injuries either through fear or through hate... whoever thinks that in high personages new benefits cause old offenses to be forgotten, makes a great mistake." (Pg. 58)
He observes, "it would be well to be considered liberal; nevertheless liberality such as the world understands it will injure you, because if used virtuously and in the proper way, it will not be known... But one who wishes to obtain the reputation of liberality among men, must not omit every kind of sumptuous display, and to such an extent that a prince of this character will consume by such means all his resources... There is nothing which destroys itself so much as liberality, for by using it you lose the power of using it, and become either poor and despicable, or, to escape poverty, rapacious and hated... It is, therefore, wiser to have the name of a miser, which produces its disgrace without hatred, than to incur of necessity the name of being rapacious, which produces both disgrace and hatred." (Pg. 86, 88)
He famously says, "From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved more than feared, or feared more than love. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting." (Pg. 89-90) He goes on, "a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist. If men were all good, this precept would not be a good one; but as they are bad, and would not observe their faith with you, so you are not bound to keep faith with them." (Pg. 92-93)
He notes, "The choice of a prince's minister is a matter of no little importance... The first impression that one gets of a ruler and of his brains is from seeing that men that he has about him. When they are competent and faithful one can always consider him wise, as he has been able to recognize their ability and keep them faithful. But when they are the reverse, one can always form an unfavorable opinion of him, because the first mistake that he makes is in making this choice." (Pg. 114) He also points out, "there is no other way of guarding one's self against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth; but when every one can tell you the truth, you lose their respect. A prudent prince must therefore take a third course, by choosing for his council wise men, and giving these alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else... Beyond these he should listen to no one, go about the matter deliberately, and be determined in his decisions." (Pg. 116)
This classic book (written when Machiavelli was desperately applying for a JOB, so to speak) does not represent Machiavelli's actual political philosophy; see his Discourses, for his own ideas.