Machiavelli – The Prince – Part 1

I ran across The Prince in my audiobook library and for a lovely week driving to work and back, I had the honour of listening in to Machiavelli’s work. Some of his principles no longer apply today but some of the others made sense when put into a context of dictatorships and grabs for power. It made a LOT of sense when put into context with Game of Thrones and the way Daeneris is conquering her way up to Kings Landing. 


Chapter I How Many Kinds Of Principalities There Are, And By What Means They Are Acquired

[New Principalities] acquired are either accustomed to live under a prince, or to live in freedom; and are acquired either by the arms of the prince himself, or of others, or else by fortune or by ability.

Chapter II Concerning Hereditary Principalities

I say at once there are fewer difficulties in holding hereditary states, and those long accustomed to the family of their prince, than new ones;

If the rule comes in the family, the subjects are used to the rulers and their next rulers – much like the Monarchy in Great Britain. There is no dispute as to who goes next in power.


in the antiquity and duration of his rule the memories and motives that make for change are lost, for one change always leaves the toothing for another.

Once people are used to change (imagine presidential elections here) – the people are always looking towards the next and dream how well it was during another’s rule.

Chapter III Concerning Mixed Principalities

for men change their rulers willingly, hoping to better themselves, and this hope induces them to take up arms against him who rules: wherein they are deceived, because they afterwards find by experience they have gone from bad to worse

Aye, this still happens.


In this way you have enemies in all those whom you have injured in seizing that principality, and you are not able to keep those friends who put you there because of your not being able to satisfy them in the way they expected, and you cannot take strong measures against them, feeling bound to them. For, although one may be very strong in armed forces, yet in entering a province one has always need of the goodwill of the natives.

The Surrender of Mereen (Game of Thrones)

But when states are acquired in a country differing in language, customs, or laws, there are difficulties, and good fortune and great energy are needed to hold them, and one of the greatest and most real helps would be that he who has acquired them should go and reside there

Because, if one is on the spot, disorders are seen as they spring up, and one can quickly remedy them; but if one is not at hand, they heard of only when they are one can no longer remedy them. Besides this, the country is not pillaged by your officials; the subjects are satisfied by prompt recourse to the prince; thus, wishing to be good, they have more cause to love him, and wishing to be otherwise, to fear him.

Chapter IV Why The Kingdom Of Darius, Conquered By Alexander, Did Not Rebel Against The Successors Of Alexander At His Death

 [..] The contrary happens in kingdoms governed like that of France, because one can easily enter there by gaining over some baron of the kingdom, for one always finds malcontents and such as desire a change. Such men, for the reasons given, can open the way into the state and render the victory easy; but if you wish to hold it afterwards, you meet with infinite difficulties, both from those who have assisted you and from those you have crushed. Nor is it enough for you to have exterminated the family of the prince, because the lords that remain make themselves the heads of fresh movements against you, and as you are unable either to satisfy or exterminate them, that state is lost whenever time brings the opportunity.

Chapter V Concerning The Way To Govern Cities Or Principalities Which Lived Under Their Own Laws Before They Were Annexed

there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy which will keep it friendly to you.

This is very similar to the way the Ottoman Empire handled the countries annexed to the Sultanat. For example Vallachia (the southern part of current Romania) was forced to pay a tribute to the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years or risk occupation and destruction. It was only when Vlad the Impaler came to power that this arrangement was broken, him being known of putting the impaled Turkish bodies of soldiers on each side of the road all the way to the capital, inspiring fear in the envoys.

Theodor Aman Painting of Vlad the Impaler receiving Turkish envoys

And he who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it, for in rebellion it has always the watch-word of liberty and its ancient privileges as a rallying point, which neither time nor benefits will ever cause it to forget.

Sons of Harpies (Game of Thrones)

Chapter VI Concerning New Principalities Which Are Acquired By One’s Own Arms And Ability

men, walking almost always in paths beaten by others, and following by imitation their deeds, are yet unable to keep entirely to the ways of others or attain to the power of those they imitate.

And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.

Chapter VII Concerning New Principalities Which Are Acquired Either By The Arms Of Others Or By Good Fortune

States that rise unexpectedly, then, like all other things in nature which are born and grow rapidly, cannot have their foundations and relations with other states fixed in such a way that the first storm will not overthrow them; unless, as is said, those who unexpectedly become princes are men of so much ability that they know they have to be prepared at once to hold that which fortune has thrown into their laps, and that those foundations, which others have laid before they became princes, they must lay afterwards.

If a commoner is to become a ruler, he has no previous knowledge on how to rule and does not have the necessary connections to hold his rule when threatened. So unless they acquire these qualities rather quickly, they are doomed.

But there is another approach, when an unworthy person is appointed to rule by a master. A puppet ruler who is cruel and greedy – he will be hated by the people. And if the puppet ruler gains too much power, he can be disposed of in a public manner, making sure that the people know who it was that “saved” them from the previous ruler.

And because he knew that the past severity had caused some hatred against himself, so, to clear himself in the minds of the people, and gain them entirely to himself, he desired to show that, if any cruelty had been practised, it had not originated with him, but in the natural sternness of the minister. Under this pretence he took Ramiro, and one morning caused him to be executed and left on the piazza at Cesena with the block and a bloody knife at his side. The barbarity of this spectacle caused the people to be at once satisfied and dismayed.

There is a wonderful portrait of an ideal leader:

alex.jpgTherefore, he who considers it necessary to secure himself in his new principality, to win friends, to overcome either by force or fraud, to make himself beloved and feared by the people, to be followed and revered by the soldiers, to exterminate those who have power or reason to hurt him, to change the old order of things for new, to be severe and gracious, magnanimous and liberal, to destroy a disloyal soldiery and to create new, to maintain friendship with kings and princes in such a way that they must help him with zeal and offend with caution, cannot find a more lively example than the actions of this man.


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