Machiavelli – The Prince – Part 3

The Prince is sometimes claimed to be one of the first works of modern philosophy, especially modern political philosophy, in which the effective truth is taken to be more important than any abstract ideal. It was also in direct conflict with the dominant Catholic and scholastic doctrines of the time concerning politics and ethics

Chapter XVIII Concerning The Way In Which Princes Should Keep Faith

A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves.

You cannot always be a lion, Machiavelli advises, as there’s a time and a place to be aggressive and rule with violence. A more cautious approach would be cunning. To bide your time until the moment is right and then deceive the people who are no longer working for you.

And men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.

Machiavelli points the fact that one should not show himself as he truly is for fear of losing his kingdom. He must deceive his people foremost and appear honest and brave even though he is neither. He needs to run the show from behind the scenes through cleverness, never winning the girl or the glory, but taking his pleasure in the secret knowledge of his own surpassing foxiness; and whose pride and skill lie in the ability to deceive without being deceived. Cynic and doubter, nobody’s fool, inside dopester, master and maeuver, the fox struggles to survive and even do good in a world where no-one can be trusted.

One prince of the present time, whom it is not well to name, never preaches anything else but peace and good faith, and to both he is most hostile, and either, if he had kept it, would have deprived him of reputation and kingdom many a time.

Euron Greyjoy does this with gusto in Game of Thrones

For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar, for the few find a place there only when the many have no ground to rest on.

Chapter XIX That One Should Avoid Being Despised And Hated

And when neither their property nor honour is touched, the majority of men live content, and he has only to contend with the ambition of a few, whom he can curb with ease in many ways.

In terms of Game of Thrones, this is where Rhaegar Targaryen screwed up. He touched upon the honour of the house Martell (as he was married at the time he ran of with Lyanna Stark), he offended Robert Baratheon who had his eyes on Lyanna and the Starks alike. He started a rebellion.

This is probably the lengthiest chapter in the whole book, an issue that most of the rulers of the period had to contend with: machination from within the castle, from the inner circle, conspirators planning to overthrow the current ruler because of his failings. One great example is of Antoninus who feared death so much because of his terrible and cruel ruling that he got killed either way.

cb699939b8f8a1e7bf35d157e756c903[Antoninus] became hated by the whole world, and also feared by those he had around him, to such an extent that he was murdered in the midst of his army by a centurion.

And here it must be noted that such-like deaths, which are deliberately inflicted with a resolved and desperate courage, cannot be avoided by princes, because any one who does not fear to die can inflict them; but a prince may fear them the less because they are very rare; he has only to be careful not to do any grave injury to those whom he employs or has around him in the service of the state. 

Chapter XX Are Fortresses, And Many Other Things To Which Princes Often Resort, Advantageous Or Hurtful?

There never was a new prince who has disarmed his subjects; rather when he has found them disarmed he has always armed them, because, by arming them, those arms become yours, those men who were distrusted become faithful, and those who were faithful are kept so, and your subjects become your adherents.

If the ruler disarms the people, they feel like he doesn’t trust them and they grow hateful. Then the ruler will have to resort to hiring mercenaries for protection – which are as reliable as the person who pays them. Discontent can grow within the principality or come from outside of it. People can rally against the ruler if they don’t squabble among themselves and factions have been known to keep a country divided.

A fortress cannot help if the people within are the source of the hatred – a Principe was found poisoned in his own home by his lady at the urging of the people who wanted him dead.

Chapter XXI How A Prince Should Conduct Himself As To Gain Renown

A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend or a downright enemy, that to say, when, without any reservation, he declares himself in favour of one party against the other; which course will always be more advantageous than standing neutral; because if two of your powerful neighbours come to blows, they are of such a character that, if one of them conquers, you have either to fear him or not.

If a country stays neutral in a zone where two former allies are fighting, and both call the country to arms and he refuses both, the winner of the war might look back and attack the neutral country, or treat it with disdain in future alliances. If instead the country chooses one side, if lucky – it will be the winner so it will have part in the celebration and the loot. If unlucky and it’s the loser side, the country is at the mercy of the winner, but at least it showed spine and decisiveness

Because he who conquers does not want doubtful friends who will not aid him in the time of trial; and he who loses will not harbour you because you did not willingly, sword in hand, court his fate.

A quiet anniversary: 1763 Treaty of Paris

Thus it will always happen that he who is not your friend will demand your neutrality, whilst he who is your friend will entreat you to declare yourself with arms.




Chapter XXII Concerning The Secretaries Of Princes

A man should have loyal servants and followers. They speak volumes about his character – be they good or bad. Machiavelly intends not for the Prince to be a fox himself (like in the previous chapters) but for him to employ a foxy counselor (Machiavelly himself is available). The fox is the clever one without overt power or glory. He remains inconspicuous.

And the first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him; and when they are capable and faithful he may always be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize the capable and to keep them faithful. But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was in choosing them.

Littlefinger is one great example of self-interest and advancement (Game of Thrones)

But to enable a prince to form an opinion of his servant there is one test which never falls; when you see the servant thinking more of his own interests than of yours, and seeking inwardly his own profit in everything, such a man will never make a good servant, nor will you ever be able to trust him;

But if the rulers have good servants, they will stand with them and serve loyally, and be shown great benefits as a result.

Missandei is a good servant – freed and serving of her own will (Game of Thrones)

On the other to keep his servant honest the prince ought to study him, honouring him, enriching him, doing him kindnesses, sharing with him the honours and cares; and at the same time let him see that he cannot stand alone, so that many honours not make him desire more, many riches make him wish for more, and that many cares may make him dread changes.

Chapter XXIII How Flatterers Should Be Avoided

Because there is no other way of guarding oneself from flatterers except letting men understand that to tell you the truth does not offend you; but when every one may tell you the truth, respect for you abates.

Therefore a wise prince ought to hold a third course by choosing the wise men in his state, and giving to them only the liberty of speaking the truth to him, and then only of those things of which he inquires, and of none others; but he ought to question them upon everything, and listen to their opinions, and afterwards form his own conclusions

Sounds familiar? It’s the Small council that was present in all of the monarchies and great families. Robert Baratheon had one, Danaeris built one from scratch and even Jon Snow is forming a very small and tidy one.

The issue arises when the people in the Small Council don’t act truthfully.


A prince, therefore, ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes and not when others wish; he ought rather to discourage every one from offering advice unless he asks it; but, however, he ought to be a constant inquirer, and afterwards a patient listener concerning the things of which he inquired; also, on learning that any one, on any consideration, has not told him the truth, he should let his anger be felt.

Chapter XXIV The Princes Of Italy Have Lost Their States

For the actions of a new prince are more narrowly observed than those of an hereditary one, and when they are seen to be able they gain more men and bind far tighter than ancient blood; because men are attracted more by the present than by the past, and when they find the present good they enjoy it and seek no further; they will also make the utmost defence for a prince if he fails them not in other things.

When the rule has been lost, it’s mostly due to ineptitude or uprisings – which were caused by people not being happy by the way they were ruled or by external factors trying to conquer the state.

Chapter XXV What Fortune Can Effect In Human Affairs, And How To Withstand Her

I compare her to one of those raging rivers, which when in flood overflows the plains, sweeping away trees and buildings, bearing away the soil from place to place; everything flies before it, all yield to its violence, without being able in any way to withstand it; and yet, though its nature be such, it does not follow therefore that men, when the weather becomes fair, shall not make provision, both with defences and barriers, in such a manner that, rising again, the waters may pass away by canal, and their force be neither so unrestrained nor so dangerous. So it happens with fortune, who shows her power where valour has not prepared to resist her, and thither she turns her forces where she knows that barriers and defences have not been raised to constrain her.

Changes in estate also issue from this, for if, to one who governs himself with caution and patience, times and affairs converge in such a way that his administration is successful, his fortune is made; but if times and affairs change, he is ruined if he does not change his course of action.


For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. 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 city is a woman and the citizens are her lovers. Commentators often see Italy, in the famous few chapters of The Prince as a woman, “beaten, despoiled, lacerated, devastated” who will welcome a rescuing prince as her “redeemer” but also as her lover, “with gratitude, with what tears!”. And of course fortune is explicitly called a woman, favouring the young, the bold and manly, to be confronted with whatever virtu a man can muster.

Chapter XXVI An Exhortation To Liberate Italy From The Barbarians

With us there is great justice, because that war is just which is necessary, and arms are hallowed when there is no other hope but in them.

Having carefully considered the subject of the above discourses, and wondering within myself whether the present times were propitious to a new prince, and whether there were the elements that would give an opportunity to a wise and virtuous one to introduce a new order of things which would do honour to him and good to the people of this country, it appears to me that so many things concur to favour a new prince that I never knew a time more fit than the present.


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