The Prince, written by Niccolò Machiavelli, is a classic. And rightfully so, because even though it was written 500 years ago, it remains the bible of realpolitik. It was originally given to Lorenzo de Medici as a gift to help Lorenzo unite Italy, but more so to help Machiavelli get a job with him. Lorenzo never hired him, and he never united Italy. In the time since, The Prince has been studied by many and used a practical guide to gaining and maintaining power. The lessons here extend beyond politics and can be used in many applications in our modern lives.
Forging a new path is not simple.
It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes in a state’s constitution. The innovator makes enemies of those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new.
Following in the path of great men is simple.
…it is enough merely not to neglect the institutions founded by one’s ancestors and then to adapt policy to events.
Act as if.
…a prudent man must always follow in the footsteps of great men and imitate those who have been outstanding. If his own prowess fails to compare with theirs, at least it has an air of greatness to it.
Be smart, but be tough too.
…one must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves.
People need to respect you to take you seriously.
…you cannot have good laws without good arms, and where there are good arms, good laws inevitably follow.
You will be better at things that you want to do, and enjoy to do.
…where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great.
Nothing brings a prince more prestige than great campaigns and striking demonstrations of his personal abilities.[…]
Above all, in all his doings a prince must endeavor to win the reputation of being a great man of outstanding ability.
You can get away with a lot if you are well liked.
…determine to avoid anything which will make him hated and despised. So long as he does so, he will have done what he should and he will run no risk whatsoever if he is reproached for the other vices I mentioned.[…]
He will be despised if he has a reputation for being fickle, frivolous, effeminate, cowardly, irresolute; a prince should avoid this like the plague and strive to demonstrate in his actions grandeur, courage, sobriety, strength.[…]
The prince who succeeds in having himself thus regarded is highly esteemed; and against a man who is highly esteemed conspiracy is difficult, and open attack is difficult.
Conceal your true self.
…a prince must regulate his conduct.[…]
…be so prudent that he knows how to escape the evil reputation attached to those vices.
Choose your friends wisely.
The first opinion that is formed of a ruler’s intelligence is based on the quality of the men he has around him. When they are competent and loyal he can always be considered wise, because he has been able to recognize their competence and to keep them loyal. But when they are otherwise, the prince is always open to adverse criticism; because his first mistake has been in the choice of his ministers.
Be capable of doing bad things.
… a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous.[…]
… if a prince wants to maintain his rule he must be prepared not to be virtuous.[…]
… some of the things that appear to be virtues will, if he practices them, ruin him, and some of the things that appear to be vices will bring him security and prosperity.
…men are wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them. And no prince ever lacked good excuses to color his bad faith.[…]
…one must know how to color one’s actions and to be a great liar and deceiver. Men are so simple, and so much creatures of circumstance, that the deceiver will always find someone ready to be deceived.[…]
…princes who have achieved great things have been those to give their word lightly, who have known how to trick men with their cunning, and who, in the end, have overcome those abiding by honest principles.
It is better to be feared than loved.
Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than to one who makes himself feared. For love is secured by a bond of gratitude which men, wretched creatures that 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.
…to comprehend fully the nature of the people, one must be a prince, and to comprehend fully the nature of the princes’ one must be an ordinary citizen.
Ask for advice from honest, wise people.
A prince must, therefore, never lack advice. But he must take it when he wants to, not when others want him to; indeed, he must discourage everyone from tendering advice about anything unless it is asked for. All the same, he should be a constant questioner, and he must listen patiently to the truth regarding what he has inquired about.
…there is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.
As you can see from the chosen quotes, Machiavelli has a very realistic view on politics and life. There are many nuggets of wisdom in The Prince. You may want to study it if you want to go out into the world and get your hands dirty.
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