by Nicollo Machiavelli
Well used are those cruelties (if it is permitted to speak well of evil) that are carried out in a single stroke, done out of necessity to protect oneself, and are not continued but instead are converted into the greatest possible benefits for the subjects. Badly used are those cruelties which, although few at the outset, grow with the passing time instead of disappearing. Those who follow the first method can remedy their condition with God and with men….; the others cannot possibly survive.
Besides what has been said, people are fickle by nature; and it is simple to convince them of something but difficult to hold them in that conviction; and, therefore, affairs should be managed in such a way that when they no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force.
And many writers have imagined for themselves republics and principalities that have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for there is such a gap between how one lives and how one ought to live that anyone who abandons what is done for what ought to be done learns his ruin rather than his preservation: for a man who wishes to profess goodness at all times will come to ruin among so many who are not good.
From this arises an argument: whether it is better to be loved than feared. I reply that one should like to be both one and the other, but since it is difficult to join them together, it is much safer to be feared than to be loved when one of the two must be lacking.
One can make this generalization about men: they are ungrateful, fickle liars, and deceivers, they shun danger 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.
And that prince who bases his power entirely on….words, finding himself completely without other preparations, comes to ruin.
Men are less hesitant about harming someone who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared because love is held together by a chain of obligation which, since men are wretched creatures, is broken on every occasion in which their own interests are concerned; but fear is sustained by dread of punishment which will never abandon you.
For a prince should have two fears: one, internal concerning his subjects; the other, external, concerning foreign powers. From the latter he can always defend himself by his good troops and friends; and he will always have good friends if he has good troops.
If a prince wishes to maintain the state, he is often obliged not to be good; because whenever that group which you believe you need to support you is corrupted, whether it be the common people, the soldiers, or the nobles, it is to your advantage to follow their inclinations in order to satisfy them; and then good actions are your enemy.
And it will always happen that he who is not your friend will request your neutrality and he who is your friend will ask you to declare yourself by taking up arms. And irresolute princes, in order to avoid present dangers, follow the neutral road most of the time, and most of the time they are ruined.
The Prince is a small, no nonsense tract which advises that it`s better for leaders to be feared than loved; it`s power to influence political thinking has not withered with age, because the infinite variety of it`s arguments never stale. What held true for the fearsome Cesare Borgia, still holds water today because this simply awesome cynical tome is still the benchmark for politicians, corporations, soldiers, and just about anyone else who is interested in it`s maxim to crush your enemies and hear the sweet lamentation of their women; if it serves the common good as a side salad, well, there`s no need to keep your word either. Here we have a fully working instruction manual of how it`s acceptable to be economical with the truth, to manipulate public opinion by dissembling, obfuscating, lying, murdering and waging war uncoupled from any consequences of Judgement Day on it`s perpetrator. No wonder the Vatican banned it when it saw the carrot and stick of be good in this life, or else rot in hell, not just placed on the moral back burner, but removed from the kitchen altogether. It is a little book which has the whiff of unholy sulphur around it; a test ground of just how ruthless are you prepared to be to get what you want and keep it. Arriving at the foot of the greasy pole of ambition, the ruthless operator may not by necessity wish to expose himself fully to public gaze, or to his mentors; so it is shown to be beneficial to advancement by cloaking your true ruthlessness and total lack of scruples by hiding in plain sight until you have attained your ambition. For Machiavelli and his disciples, saying what you believe, and believing what you say is a protean concept which flows every which way like moral lava; because the ends justify the means, there is absolutely no concern for any of those irritating moral arguments to get in the way. From our first breath to our last, life is all about power of one kind or another; by recognising this, Machiavelli merely stated the obvious of how it can be manipulated and distorted for individual advantage if we are willing to jettison our moral compass.