The Prince

The Prince
In his book The Prince, what views of human nature does Machiavelli present and what implications does this have for his recommendations on how a prince should rule? Are his recommendations justified? (Use both primary and secondary sources to support your answer).

 

Question Two:
In his book The Prince, what views of human nature does Machiavelli present and what implications
does this have for his recommendations on how a prince should rule? Are his recommendations
justified? (Use both primary and secondary sources to support your answer).

Reading:

Primary Sources

This primary source extract is provided on the following pages:
Machiavelli, N 2013, The Prince Extract, Trinity College Foundation Studies Melbourne.

The following additional primary sources have been placed in the High Use collection at both the
Leeper and the Baillieu libraries:

Machiavelli, N 1961/1999, The Prince, trans. G Bull, Penguin, Harmondsworth.

Machiavelli, N 1979, The Portable Machiavelli, trans. P Bondanella & M Musa, Penguin Books,
Ringwood.

Machiavelli, N 2005, The Prince, trans. P Bondanella, Oxford University Press (Oxford World
Classics), Oxford. (ebook available Leeper Library)

Machiavelli, 1995. The Prince, trans. D Wootton, Hackett, Indianapolis. (ebook available Leeper
Library)

The following books have been placed in the High Use collection at both the Baillieu and Leeper
libraries:
(Where page numbers are indicated, these are the most important sections, but you may also find useful
material on other pages, depending on your approach and needs. Where page numbers are not
indicated, there are sections throughout the book which may be useful, depending on your approach
and needs.)

Brown, A 1999, The Renaissance, Longman, London.
Recommended pages: 62-69.

De Grazia, S 1989, Machiavelli in Hell, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
Recommended pages: 71-121, 241-317.

Mansfield, H 1996, Machiavelli’s Virtue, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Recommended pages: 176-190; 258-272 (ebook available Leeper Library).

Nauert, CG 1995, Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe, Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge.
Recommended pages: 66-72.
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Skinner, Q 2000, Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Recommended pages: 3-54.

Skirbekk, G & Gilje, N 2000, History of Western Thought: From Ancient Greece to the 20th century,
Routledge, London.
Recommended pages: 175-179.

Viroli, M 1998, Machiavelli, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Recommended pages: 62-69.

Viroli, M 2005, ‘Introduction’, in Machiavelli The Prince, Oxford University Press (Oxford World
Classics), Oxford, vii-xxxix.
Recommended pages: vii-xviii (ebook available Leeper Library).

Zeitlin, I 1997, Rulers and the Ruled: an Introduction to Classical Political Theory from Plato to the
Federalists, University of Toronto Press, London.
Recommended pages: 54-74.

PDF versions of chapters and sections from the following books are available at the Leeper
library and can be obtained by searching its catalogue, which is accessible via the Trinity portal
on the internet in any location. Please do not print HOI materials in the library: use the Trinity
computer labs for printing.

Brown, A 1999, (2nd edn) The Renaissance, Longman, London.
Recommended pages: 62-69.

Bull, G 1961, ‘Introduction’, in N Machiavelli The Prince, trans. G Bull, Penguin, Harmondsworth,
pp. 9-26.

Mansfield, H 1996, Machiavelli’s Virtue, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Recommended pages: 176-190.

Sabine, GH & Thorson, TL 1973, A History of Political Theory, Dryden Press, Hinsdale.
Recommended pages: 311-331.

Straus, L 1958, Thoughts on Machiavelli, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Recommended pages: 54-84.

Viroli, M 2005, ‘Introduction’, in N Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. P Bondanella, Oxford University
Press (Oxford World Classics), Oxford, pp. vii-xxxix.
Recommended pages: vii-xviii (ebook available Leeper Library).

Zeitlin, I 1997, Rulers and the Ruled: an Introduction to Classical Political Theory from Plato to the
Federalists, University of Toronto Press, London.
Recommended pages: 54-74.
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Introduction and notes to Niccolò Machiavelli by T Lewit and R Finch (2013)1

During the Renaissance period, Italy was divided into many city-states and kingdoms, often at
war with each other over territory. Many were also constantly subject to political revolts,
coups, and invasions. The term “prince” refers to any ruler, whether the head of a tiny city-
state or the king of a larger territory.

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a philosopher, writer and politician; and worked from
1498-1513 as a senior advisor to the government of the Italian city-state of Florence. In 1513
he was dismissed from this job when a new government controlled by the powerful Medici
family gained power. He was accused of conspiracy against the Medici, imprisoned and
tortured, but then freed. The Prince was written immediately after this, but it was not formally
published until 1532, five years after his death. In this book, Machiavelli advises rulers how
they should govern their territories in order to successfully gain and retain power.

Extracts from Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513)2
Adapted for TCFS use from Machiavelli, N 1961, The Prince, trans. G Bull, Penguin, Harmondsworth.
The section numbers used in this extract approximately correspond to the page numbers in this edition.

90. We must now discuss how a prince should conduct himself towards his subjects or his friends. I
know that this has often been written about before, and so I hope it will not be thought presumptuous
for me to do so, especially as, in discussing this subject, I draw up an original set of rules. But since
my intention is to say something that will prove of practical use to the inquirer, I have thought it proper
to represent things as they are in real truth, rather than as they are imagined. Many have dreamed up
republics and principalities3 which have never in truth been known to exist; the gulf between how one
should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what
should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation. The fact is that a man
who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily suffers problems among so many who are not
virtuous. Therefore if a prince wants to maintain his rule he must learn how not to be virtuous, and to
use this knowledge and not use it, according to the needs of the situation.

91. So leaving aside imaginary things, and referring only to those which truly exist, I say that whenever
men are discussed (and especially princes, who are more exposed to view), they are noted for various
qualities which earn them either praise or condemnation. Some, for example, are considered to be
generous, and others miserly… Some are considered to be benefactors, others are called grasping; some
cruel, some compassionate; one man faithless, another faithful; one man effeminate and cowardly,
another fierce and courageous; one man courteous, another proud; one man lascivious, another pure;
one guileless, another crafty; one stubborn, another flexible; one serious, another frivolous; one
religious, another sceptical; etc. I know everyone will agree that it would be most praiseworthy if a
prince possessed all the qualities considered to be good among those I have enumerated. But, human
nature being what it is, princes cannot possess those qualities, or rather they cannot always exhibit
them. So a prince should be so prudent that he knows how to escape the evil reputation attached to

1
Please read the introduction and footnotes given in this extract carefully, as they are provided to assist your understanding.
However, it is not recommended that you directly cite them as a secondary source in your essay. If for any reason you need
to do so, follow the format provided in the HOI referencing guide.
2
Refer to this as (Machiavelli Prince Ex. 90), changing the section number according to the one you are using; and list in
the bibliography as Machiavelli, N 2013, The Prince Extract, Trinity College Foundation Studies, Melbourne.
3
A principality is a territory ruled by a prince. Machiavelli here refers to writers such as the Greek philosopher Plato, who
wrote of an imaginary perfect republic ruled by philosophers.
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those vices which could lose him his state, and how to avoid those vices which are not so dangerous, if
he possibly can; but, if he cannot, he need not worry so much about the latter. And then, he must not
flinch from being blamed for vices which are necessary for safeguarding the state. This is because,
taking everything into account, he will find that some of the things that appear to be virtues will, if he
practises them, ruin him, and some of the things that appear to be wicked will bring him security and
prosperity.

92. So, starting with the first of the qualities I enumerated above, I say it would be splendid if one had a
reputation for generosity; nonetheless if your actions are influenced by the desire for such a reputation
you will suffer misfortune. This is because if your generosity is good and sincere it may pass
unnoticed and it will not save you from being reproached for its opposite. If you want to acquire a
reputation for generosity, therefore, you have to be ostentatiously lavish; and a prince acting in that
fashion will soon squander all his resources, only to be forced in the end, if he wants to maintain his
reputation, to lay excessive burdens on the people, to impose extortionate taxes, and to do everything
else he can to raise money. This will start to make his subjects hate him, and, since he will have
impoverished himself, he will be generally despised. As a result, because of this generosity of his,
having injured many and rewarded few, he will be vulnerable to the first minor setback, and the first
real danger he encounters will bring him failure. When he realizes this and tries to retrace his path he
will immediately get the reputation of a miser.

93. So as a prince cannot practise the virtue of generosity in such a way that he is noted for it, except
to his cost, he should – if he is prudent – not mind being called a miser. In time he will be recognized as
being essentially a generous man, seeing that because of his parsimony his existing revenues are
enough for him, he can defend himself against an aggressor, and he can begin enterprises without
burdening people. So he proves himself generous to all those from whom he takes nothing, and they
are innumerable, and miserly towards all those to whom he gives nothing, and they are few.

94. So if a prince does not have to rob his subjects, if he can defend himself, if he is not plunged into
poverty and shame, if he is not forced to be rapacious, he ought not to worry about being called a
miser. Miserliness is one of those vices which sustain his rule.

95. Taking others of the qualities I enumerated above, I say that a prince should want to have a
reputation for compassion rather than for cruelty: nonetheless, he should be careful that he does not
make bad use of compassion. … A prince should not worry if he incurs reproach for his cruelty so long
as he keeps his subjects united and loyal. By making an example or two he will prove more
compassionate than those who, being too compassionate, allow disorders which lead to murder and
robbery. These nearly always harm the whole community, whereas executions ordered by a prince
only affect individuals. A new prince,4 of all rulers, finds it impossible to avoid a reputation for
cruelty, because of the abundant dangers inherent in a newly won state. … Nonetheless, a prince should
be slow to take action, and should watch that he does not come to be afraid of his own shadow;5 his
behaviour should be tempered by humanity and prudence so that over-confidence does not make him
rash or excessive distrust make him unbearable.

 

4
Machiavelli is particularly concerned with the problems facing the “new prince” i.e. rulers of newly gained states. He
argues that those princes who have come to power via hereditary succession in a state that has long been ruled by the
prince’s family have less problems maintaining their rule because their families have been long established and accepted as
rulers.
5
An expression meaning to be afraid of things that should not be feared.
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96. From this arises the following question: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse.
The answer is that one would like to be both the one and the other; but because it is difficult to combine
them, it is far better to be feared than loved if you cannot be both. One can make this generalization
about men: they are ungrateful, fickle, liars, and deceivers, they shun danger and are greedy for profit;
while you treat them well, they are yours. They would shed their blood for you, risk their property,
their lives, their children, so long, as I said above, as danger is remote; but when you are in danger they
turn against you. Any prince who has come to depend entirely on promises and has taken no other
precautions ensures his own ruin. Friendship which is bought with money and not with greatness and
nobility of mind is paid for, but it does not last and it yields nothing. 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 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.

98. I conclude that since some men love as they please but fear when the prince pleases, a wise prince
should rely on what he controls, not on what he cannot control. He should only endeavour… to escape
being hated.

99. Everyone realizes how praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his promises and to be straightforward
rather than crafty in his dealings. Nevertheless contemporary experience shows that princes who have
achieved great things have been those who have made promises lightly, who have known how to trick
men with their cunning, and who, in the end, have overcome those [men who were] abiding by honest
principles.

100. A prudent ruler cannot, and should not, keep a promise when it places him at a disadvantage and
when the reasons for which he made his promise no longer exist. If all men were good, this precept
would not be good; but because men are wretched creatures who would not keep their promises to you,
you need not keep your promises to them.

A prince, therefore, need not necessarily have all the good qualities I mentioned above, but he should
certainly appear to have them. I would even go so far as to say that if he has these qualities and always
behaves accordingly he will find them ruinous; if he only appears to have them, then they will serve
him well. He should appear to be compassionate, faithful to his word, guileless, and devout. And
indeed he should be so. But his disposition should be such that, if he needs to be the opposite, he
knows how.

101. You must realize this: that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things
which give men a reputation for virtue, because in order to maintain his state he is often forced to act in
defiance of good faith, of charity, of kindness, of religion. And so he should have a flexible
disposition, varying as fortune and circumstances dictate. … He should not deviate from what is good,
if that is possible, but he should know how to do evil, if that is necessary.

A prince, then, should be very careful not to say a word which does not seem inspired by the five
qualities I mentioned earlier. To those seeing and hearing him, he should appear a man of compassion,
a man of good faith, a man of integrity, a kind and religious man. And there is nothing so important as
to seem to have this last quality. Men in general judge by their eyes rather than by their hands…
Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are… In the actions of all men,
and especially of princes, where there is no court of appeal,6 one judges by the result. So let a prince

6
A court of appeal is a higher law court to which one can apply if justice has not been done in a court decision.
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set about the task of conquering and maintaining his state; his methods will always be judged
honourable and will be universally praised. The common people are always impressed by appearances
and results.

125. There is one important subject I do not wish to pass over, the mistake which princes can only with
difficulty avoid making if they are not extremely prudent or do not choose their ministers well. I am
referring to flatterers… Men are so happily absorbed in their own affairs and indulge in such self-
deception that it is difficult for them not to fall victim to this problem; and if they try to avoid doing so
they risk becoming despised. This is because the only way to safeguard yourself against flatterers is by
letting people understand that you are not offended by the truth; but if everyone can speak the truth to
you, then you lose respect. So a shrewd prince should adopt a middle way, choosing wise men for his
government and allowing only those the freedom to speak the truth to him, and then only concerning
matters on which he asks their opinion, and nothing else. But he should also question them thoroughly
and listen to what they say; then he should make up his own mind, by himself… A prince must,
therefore, always seek advice. But he must do so when he wants to, not when others want him to;
indeed, he must discourage everyone from giving 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. Moreover, if he finds that anyone for some reason holds the truth back, he must show
his wrath.

130. I am not unaware that many have held and hold the opinion that events are controlled by fortune
and by God in such a way that the prudence of men cannot modify them, indeed, that men have no
influence whatsoever. Because of this, they would conclude that there is no point in sweating over
things, but that one should submit to the rulings of chance. This opinion has been more widely held in
our times, because of the great changes and variations, beyond human imagining, which we have
experienced and experience every day. Sometimes, when thinking of this, I have myself inclined to
this same opinion. Nonetheless, because free choice cannot be ruled out, I believe that it is probably
true that fortune is the arbiter of half the things we do, leaving the other half or so to be controlled by
ourselves.

132. We see that some princes flourish one day and suffer misfortune the next, without appearing to
have changed in character or any other way. This I believe arises for the reason that those princes who
are utterly dependent on fortune suffer when their fortune changes. I also believe that the one who
adapts his policy to the times prospers, and likewise that the one whose policy clashes with the
demands of the times does not. It can be observed that men use various methods in pursuing their own
personal objectives, such as glory and riches. One man proceeds with circumspection, another
impetuously; one uses violence, another stratagem; one man goes about things patiently, another does
the opposite; and yet everyone, for all this diversity of method, can reach his objective. It can also be
observed that with two circumspect men, one will achieve his goal, the other not; and likewise two men
succeed equally well with different methods, one of them being circumspect and the other impetuous.
This results completely from the extent to which their methods are or are not suited to the nature of the
times. … This also explains why prosperity is ephemeral; because if a man behaves with patience and
circumspection and the time and circumstances are such that this method is called for, he will prosper.
But if time and circumstance change he will be ruined because he does not change his policy. Nor do
we find any man shrewd enough to know how to adapt his policy in this way; either because he cannot
do otherwise than what is in his character or because, having always prospered by proceeding one way,
he cannot persuade himself to change. Thus a man who is circumspect, when circumstances demand
impetuous behaviour, is unequal to the task, and so he comes to fail. If he changed his character
according to the time and circumstances, then his fortune would not change.
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133. I conclude, therefore, that as fortune is changeable whereas men are obstinate in their ways, men
prosper so long as fortune and policy are in accord, and when there is a clash they fail. I hold strongly
to this: that it is better to be impetuous than circumspect; because fortune is [like] a woman and if she is
to be submissive it is necessary to beat and coerce her. Experience shows that she7 is more often
subdued by men who do this than by those who act coldly. Always, being a woman, she favours young
men, because they are less circumspect and more ardent, and because they command her with greater
audacity.

134. After deliberating on all the things discussed above, I asked myself whether in present-day Italy
the times were propitious to honour a new prince, and whether the circumstances existed here which
would make it possible for a prudent and capable man to introduce a new order, bringing honour to
himself and prosperity to all Italians. Well I believe that so many things conspire to favour a new
prince, that I cannot imagine there ever was a time more suitable than the present…Italy is waiting to
see who can be the one to heal the wounds, put an end to the sacking of Lombardy, to extortion in the
Kingdom and in Tuscany, and cleanse those sores which have been festering so long.8 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 flag, if someone will raise it. And at the present time it is
impossible to see in what she can place more hope than in your illustrious House,9 which with its
fortune and prowess, favoured by God and by the Church, of which it is now the head, can lead Italy to
its salvation.

 
7
Machiavelli refers to Fortune as if she were a real woman. He takes the 16th century male view that women should be
beaten to make them obey men.
8
Machiavelli is referring to the political coups, wars and foreign invasions commonly suffered by Italy’s city-states and
kingdoms at the time. Lombardy is the northern region of Italy centred on the city-state of Milan, “The Kingdom” is a
reference to the Kingdom of Naples in southern Italy, and Tuscany is the region of central Italy centred on Machiavelli’s
native city-state of Florence.
9
“House” here means a ruling family or dynasty. Machiavelli is addressing the ruler of Florence at the time, Lorenzo de’
Medici (1492-1519), to whom Machiavelli had dedicated his book, The Prince. Lorenzo’s second son, Giovanni, had
become head of the Church as Pope Leo X in 1513.
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