Book Review: The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

Author: Niccolò Machiavelli
Title: The Prince
Publication Info: New York : Knopf, c1992. (1532)  (read on DailyLit)
ISBN: 0679410449


This is a book I never wanted to read mainly due to my preconceptions about what it meant to be Machiavellian.  But I figured it would be worth reading over 54 installments on DailyLit. Shortly after beginning reading I came across this Britannica article about reconsidering The Prince as well.  A short summary of The Prince is that it is a guidebook on how to be a successful monarch.  He basically sets out standards for a Prince to balance kindness and cruelty, avoiding being hated but also avoiding being seen as a patsy, and appear to be virtuous without always being virtuous.  Machiavelli’s directness often comes across as comical and according to some commentarties I’ve read may have been intended to be satire.  In toto, The Prince is not quite what I expected although it is also not necessarily a book I’ll love.  But it’s worth reading a book I don’t want to read every once in a while.

Favorite Passages:

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 watchword of liberty and its ancient privileges as a rallying point, which neither time nor benefits will ever cause it to forget.

Because men, when they receive good from him of whom they were expecting evil, are bound more closely to their benefactor; thus the people quickly become more devoted to him than if he had been raised to the principality by their favours

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life, and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you.
And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.

Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.

And this question can be reasoned thus: the prince who has more to fear from the people than from foreigners ought to build fortresses, but he who has more to fear from foreigners than from the people ought to leave them alone. … For this reason the best possible fortress is:not to be hated by the people, because, although you may hold the fortresses, yet they will not save you if the people hate you, for there will never be wanting foreigners to assist a people who have taken arms against you.

Recommended books: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Enchantress of Florence: A Novel by Salman Rushdie
Rating: **

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