The Prince

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Prince published in 2003.
Preface Quotes

Nor I hope will it be considered presumptuous for a man of low and humble status to dare discuss and lay down the law about how princes should rule; because, just as men who are sketching the landscape put themselves down in the plain to study the nature of the mountains and the highlands, and to study the low-lying land they put themselves high on the mountain, so, to comprehend fully the nature of people, one must be a prince, and to comprehend fully the nature of princes one must be an ordinary citizen.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 3-4
Explanation and Analysis:

In the preface to his book, Machiavelli lays out his "plan" to explain the ways of Italian royalty. Machiavelli aims to tell his audience, Lorenzo de Medici, how to rule his people successfully. Right away, Machiavelli's project seems a little odd--why does Lorenzo need someone to tell him how to rule, and furthermore, why should Machiavelli, an ordinary citizen, be the one to teach Lorenzo?

Machiavelli claims that he is the ideal teacher for Lorenzo, precisely because he is an ordinary citizen. Someone like Machiavelli can describe how successful princes rule, because he has the advantage of witnessing the effects of a ruler's actions on the masses. Since The Prince is largely about how to create the perception of majesty and grandeur, Machiavelli's argument makes sense: he will show Lorenzo how to act in such a way that Lorenzo will shock and awe his subjects.

It's crucial to notice how transgressive Machiavelli's project is. Machiavelli's arguments contradict hundreds of years of European tradition, in which ordinary people were expressly forbidden to talk about their rulers or understand how they conducted their lives. It's even been suggested (by the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci) that The Prince is a work of satire, designed to poke holes in the illusions of majesty that all rulers try to create, exposing the true pettiness and ugliness of the monarchy. 


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And if, from your lofty peak, Your Magnificence will sometimes glance down to these low-lying regions, you will realize the extent to which, undeservedly, I have to endure the great and unremitting malice of fortune.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker), Lorenzo dé Medici
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

In real life, Machiavelli had fallen on hard times when he wrote The Prince--there had been a civil war in Florence, and Machiavelli had backed the wrong leaders against the Medici family. After the Medicis rose to power, Machiavelli was in serious danger of losing his life. In order to save his life, Machiavelli tried to make a peace offering to Lorenzo de Medici, writing him a book in which he praised Lorenzo for his greatness. Here, Machiavelli insists that his low position isn't the result of disloyalty of any kind--he's just been "unlucky."

The passage is important because it lends a certain amount of urgency and self-interest to The Prince. The author of the book, we can see, is just as selfish and cunning as the ideal prince he's trying to create--one could say that Machiavelli is performing the very qualities that he supports in Lorenzo de Medici.

Chapter 2 Quotes

The fact is that the natural prince has less reason and less need to give offense; and so it follows that he should be more loved; and if he does not provoke hatred by extraordinary vices, it stands to reason that his subjects should naturally be well disposed towards him. And in the antiquity and persistence of his rule memories of innovations and the reasons for them disappear; because one change always leaves a toothing-stone for the next.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Machiavelli describes the ideal situation for a powerful ruler: to be part of a family that has ruled the area for a long period of time. It's best for a prince to be in such a situation, because he won't have to prove his worth or importance to his people--the mere fact of his family connection is enough.

It might seem odd to think that family connection could be such an important part of a monarch's popularity--surely the fact that he's incompetent or unlikable should count for something. Machiavelli doesn't deny either possibility--nevertheless, Machiavelli lived in a time when family was a near-sacred institution, and heredity was seen as being far more important than it is today. To be the son of a great man meant being a great man oneself.

Nevertheless, it is the absence of the perfect conditions described in the passage that leads Machiavelli to write his book. In a time of civil war and widespread distrust of government, Machiavelli will show new princes without family connections how to dominate their new subjects.

Chapter 3 Quotes

For always, no matter how powerful one's armies, in order to enter a country one needs the goodwill of the inhabitants.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 8-9
Explanation and Analysis:

Machiavelli describes two basic ways for a prince to stay in power: hard and soft power. A prince has the huge advantage of controlling a large army--he can always use "hard power" of this kind to dominate his people, arrest disloyal subjects, intimidate people into submission, etc. Yet it's not enough for a prince to use hard power--even the largest army in the world can't quell every potential rebellion. Instead, a prince needs to appeal to his people's positive desires and needs: he has to convince his people that he is a likable person, and that it's in his people's own best interest to accept him as a ruler. By using "soft power" in such a way, the prince can count on the longstanding loyalty of his people, eliminating the possibilities of civil war and rebellion.

If the ruler wants to keep hold of his new possessions, he must bear two things in mind: first, that the family of the old prince must be destroyed; next, that he must change neither their laws nor their taxes.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 9-10
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Machiavelli draws a distinction between the vast changes that sometimes take place at the highest levels of government (i.e., when a prince defeats his opponents and gains control of new territory) and the banality of the average citizen's life. The point is that a new prince stands the best chance of keeping his new territories when he interferes with his new subjects' lives as little as possible; i.e., when he doesn't increase taxes or laws in any substantial way.

There's an old adage in politics: as long as there's no draft and no depression, the people will obey. In this passage, Machiavelli makes a similar point: people will willingly accept any new leaders, provided that their day-to-day lives stay the same. The best way to avoid a rebellion? Don't give the people a reason to rebel.

The Romans did what all wise rulers must: cope not only with present troubles but also with ones likely to arise in the future, and assiduously forestall them. When trouble is sensed well in advance it can be easily remedied; if you wait for it to show itself any medicine will be too late because the disease will have become incurable. As the doctors say of a wasting disease, to start with it is easy to cure but difficult to diagnose; after a time . . . it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. So it is in politics.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Ancient World, Disease
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Machiavelli praises the Roman politicians of antiquity for their attention to the details of society. By studying society carefully, the Roman leaders gave themselves a huge advantage: they could spot a potential problem early on and nip it in the bud.

The passage is important for a number of reasons. First, it exemplifies the Renaissance's emphasis on antiquity. During Machiavelli's lifetime, Italy rose to cultural prominence by reviving the spirit of the pre-Christian era; the era of Rome and Greece (and, in Machiavelli's opinion, a time before the vanilla rules of mercy and love were celebrated). Second, the passage establishes Machiavelli as one of the founders of modern political science. Machiavelli recognizes the importance of careful observation and study for governors and rulers. By understanding historical precedents and also getting the most current information about their subjects, rulers can use these tools to maintain power. In short, Machiavelli wants rulers to treat governing like a science--political science.

The Romans . . . never, to avoid a war, allowed them [their troubles] to go unchecked, because they knew that there is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Ancient World
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Machiavelli praises the Roman rulers of antiquity for their willingness to fight to the death to maintain power. Machiavelli proposes a rule for politics: once war becomes a possibility, it is inevitable.

Why is war inevitable? Machiavelli implies that it's the natural instinct of all rulers to maintain and expand their power--thus, when two sides become locked in a conflict for power, neither side will ever really back down. The only way to settle the conflict is to fight to the death.

Machiavelli's analysis of war is surprising because it's so amoral. Machiavelli never brings up concepts like right and wrong, good and evil, or justice and mercy--whatever one believes about love, Christianity, etc., violence is inevitable. Critics debate over whether Machiavelli is being prescriptive or descriptive here; i.e., whether he believes that the world really is an amoral, unmerciful place, or whether he thinks there's a place for religion, love, and affection, but it's outside the scope of politics.

We can deduce a general rule, which never or rarely fails to apply: that whoever is responsible for another's becoming powerful ruins himself, because this power is brought into being either by ingenuity or by force, and both of these are suspect to the one who has become powerful.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Machiavelli argues here that there can never be two great leaders at the same time on the same side. As a ruler ascends to power, he might require another person's help. But when the ruler succeeds in obtaining power, he'll immediately dispose of his ally (if he's smart)--if the ally was smart enough to win the ruler his power, then he's smart enough to defeat the ruler, too.

Historians have pointed out that before the modern era, there was never a country in which there were two first-rate tactical minds in power at the same time--the stronger or savvier figure always killed the weaker opponent. In this way, Machiavelli's rule seems to be correct: there's only room for one leader at a time.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Indeed, there is no surer way of keeping possession than by devastation. Whoever becomes the master of a city accustomed to freedom, and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed himself.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Machiavelli describes how to control a new territory that was previously a republic. The danger here, Machiavelli notes, is that the people have become accustomed to being free and self-determining; therefore, the presence of a new ruler is seen as a hateful thing. The only sensible thing for the new ruler to do in such a situation is to wipe out all traces of republicanism in the territory--otherwise, the people will inevitably rise up against the leader.

The passage is remarkable because it makes it clear that the people are dangerous--indeed, they're always more powerful than their leader. (Strangely, Machiavelli might be a democrat at heart--unlike his contemporaries, he's perfectly willing to admit that the masses are more powerful than the monarchy.) A tyrant is no match for a republican territory, full of thousands of people accustomed to freedom. Therefore, the ruler's only hope is to kill his subjects before they kill him.

Chapter 6 Quotes

Men who become rulers by prowess . . . acquire their principalities with difficulty but hold them with ease. The difficulties they encounter in acquiring their principalities arise partly because of the new institutions and laws they are forced to introduce in founding the state and making themselves secure. It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes in a state's constitution.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 20-21
Explanation and Analysis:

So far, Machiavelli has been talking about hereditary rulers and conquerors of new territories that were previously controlled by a different ruler. Here, though, Machiavelli begins talking about a different situation: a ruler who conquers a territory in which there's no tradition of law and government in place.

The problem with acquiring a new territory without a tradition of government is that the people will be reluctant to submit to authority for the first time in their history. As Machiavelli says, "initiating" government is incredibly difficult. The implication is that government is unnatural and foreign to the human spirit--when it's introduced, humans' first impulse is to reject it immediately. It's precisely because humans' natural instinct is to reject government that Machiavelli writes The Prince--he needs to show Lorenzo how to con his subjects into accepting his authority.

Chapter 8 Quotes

So it should be noted that when he seizes a state the new ruler must determine all the injuries that he will need to inflict. He must inflict them once for all . . . and in that way . . . win them [his subjects] over to him when he confers benefits. Whoever acts otherwise . . . can never depend on his subjects because they . . . can never feel secure with regard to him. Violence must be inflicted once for all; people will then forget what it tastes like and so be less resentful. Benefits must be conferred gradually; and in that way they will taste better.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Machiavelli describes how a prince should inflict punishment on his people: quickly and decisively. By contrast, a good prince will offer benefits to his people very slowly, so that they're especially grateful to the ruler for providing them in the first place.

Machiavelli describes the ruler's subjects as if they're animals that need to be trained to be obedient. Like the owner of a naughty dog, the prince must punish his people immediately after they've disobeyed him, so that the lesson he teaches will be crystal-clear: disobey me and I'll hurt you. On the other hand, a prince must reward his people gradually, recognizing that he's trying to make his people grateful to him and dependent on his generosity. In short, Machiavelli shows that pain is a far better motivator than pleasure: pain's lessons are immediate and shocking, while pleasure's lessons are slow and gradual.

Chapter 9 Quotes

I shall only conclude that it is necessary for a prince to have the friendship of the people; otherwise he has no remedy in times of adversity.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, in one sentence, is the basic message of The Prince: a successful ruler needs to convince his people to like him, by any means necessary. The reason is simple: there will come a day when a prince's position is insecure, and in such situations, the prince will need to rely on his people's support. By convincing (or conning) his people to love him when he is powerful, a good prince will buy some "insurance" for the future.

Machiavelli's point is both deeply cynical and strangely optimistic. On one hand, Machiavelli treats government like an amoral activity with only one goal: maintaining power at any cost. And yet the unspoken message of the passage is fundamentally democratic: Machiavelli acknowledges that the people are powerful and dangerous--that's why a good prince needs to get the people on his side.

Chapter 12 Quotes

A prince must build on sound foundations; otherwise he is bound to come to grief. The main foundations of every state, new states as well as ancient or composite ones, are good laws and good arms; and because you cannot have good laws without good arms, and where there are good arms, good laws inevitably follow, I shall not discuss laws but give my attentions to arms.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Machiavelli describes the "skeleton" of a successful state. A good leader, he argues, will establish a state that is based on two kinds of authority: the authority of law and the authority of force. Strangely, Machiavelli refuses to discuss the law in any detail: as he sees it, the law can be understood by understanding force. It's worth thinking about what Machiavelli means in more detail.

As Machiavelli sees it, people have one and only one reason for obeying the laws: if they don't, they'll be severely punished by the state's forces (soldiers, police officers, etc.). At the time, Machiavelli's claim must have seemed pretty shocking in its bluntness--people still like to believe that they obey law (the laws of society, the laws of religion, etc.) because the laws themselves are "right." Machiavelli disagrees: if it weren't for force, he insists, nobody would obey the laws. Machiavelli's basic view of human nature, then, is chaotic--he thinks that humans are naturally disobedient creatures who will refuse to obey laws of any kind unless threatened with physical punishment. Thus, the only way to understand law is to understand physical punishment.

Chapter 13 Quotes

Wise princes, therefore, have always shunned auxiliaries and made use of their own forces. They have preferred to lose battles with their own forces than win them with others, in the belief that no true victory is possible with alien arms. . . . In short, armor belonging to someone else either drops off you or weighs you down or is too tight.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Machiavelli synthesizes several of his most important points (see quotes above) to argue that a prince should never make use of someone else's army. Although Machiavelli doesn't go into much detail about why a prince should maintain his own army, the reasons should be clear to anyone who's been reading the book so far. First, the passage presupposes that force is the most important part of a state's stability, one of the clearest points Machiavelli has made so far. If the army isn't totally loyal to the prince, the prince's subjects probably aren't, either. Second, Machiavelli has already argued that the state is too small for two leaders. By hiring someone else's army, a prince runs the risk of empowering a group that's loyal to another commander--if the commander's army is successful in maintaining order, the commander poses a threat to the prince's power. (It's also worth noting that Machiavelli bases his argument on Roman history--Gaius Marius's establishment of an auxiliary army is often credited with catalyzing the fall of the Roman Republic.)

Chapter 14 Quotes

A prince, therefore, must have no other object or thought, nor acquire skill in anything, except war, its organization, and its discipline. The art of war is all that is expected of a ruler. . . . The first way to lose your state is to neglect the art of war.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Machiavelli reduces the prince's responsibilities to military prowess. No prince can succeed for long without knowledge of the art of war, he insists. The best way to avoid a literal war is to be prepared for it at all times.

Machiavelli's point might seem like a bit of an oversimplification--Machiavelli has described plenty of duties a prince must fulfill, not all of which are concerned with literal war. Yet in another sense, one could argue that the passage sums up the entirety of The Prince. Machiavelli argues that a prince's various duties are just different forms of war, waged in many different capacities. As Foucault said, governments wage war on their own people. Machiavelli shows the prince fighting a constant war with his subjects: negotiating with them for power; executing them for disobedience; wiping out traitors, rewarding loyalty, etc. In short, governing is all about the effective use of force--the waging of war.

A wise prince . . . must never take things easy in times of peace, but rather use the latter assiduously, in order to be able to reap the profit in times of adversity. Then, when his fortunes change, he will be found ready to resist adversity.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Machiavelli urges Lorenzo to use prosperity to his advantage. A good prince, he argues, is always thinking two steps ahead--in times of peace and wealth, a prince will use his wealth to buy his people's love and support, so that in leaner years, the people will remember the prince's "generosity" and remain on his side.

The passage provides an important reminder that being a prince is hard, constant work. Even in good times, a prince can't rest on his laurels; he needs to prepare for the future, recognizing that the good times won't last forever. As Machiavelli sees it, every moment offers an opportunity to the leader of a territory--the leader can either seize the opportunity or squander it.

Chapter 15 Quotes

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 moves towards self-destruction rather than self-preservation. The fact is that a man who wants to act virtuously in every way necessarily comes to grief among so many who are not virtuous. Therefore if a prince wants to maintain his rule he must be prepared not to be virtuous, and to make use of this or not according to his need.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage Machiavelli makes a point he's been implying throughout the entire book. Morality, he claims, is more or less irrelevant to good government.  A good ruler must be willing to break the rules of religion, "sinning" in order to maintain his power. For Machiavelli, the highest value isn't good; it's survival and power. Therefore, when confronted with a moral dilemma, a clever prince will always sacrifice the lesser value (morality) in favor of the higher goal, his own power.

Critics have offered many different interpretations of this passage. Is Machiavelli really advocating for amoral, nihilistic rulers? Most say that he is--hence the word "Machiavellian," still synonymous with the ruthless drive for power and control. But some have argued that Machiavelli is making a more subtle point. Perhaps Machiavelli does believe in right and wrong; instead of arguing that princes should break the laws of Christianity to maintain power, he's just illustrating the basic conflict between power and morality. Some have even suggested that Machiavelli is satirizing the tyrants of his day, exposing their fundamental lack of principles.

Chapter 17 Quotes

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. . . . Men worry less about doing an injury to one who makes himself loved than to one who makes himself feared. . . . but fear is strengthened by a dread of punishment which is always effective.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the most famous passage in The Prince. Machiavelli poses a question: is it more important for a leader to be loved or feared? In the end, Machiavelli argues that it's better for people to be frightened of their leaders, because fear is a more powerful motivator than love. When people love their leader, they'll be loyal, but in the end, they'll prioritize their own self-interest and disobey. On the other hand, when the people fear their leader, their own desire to survive will compel them to obey at all times, ensuring a stable society.

Notice that Machiavelli doesn't advocate love or fear; he argues that both are necessary for a successful prince, even if fear is ultimately more powerful. Critics have pointed to the passage as an example of Machiavelli's deification of the head of state. In Christianity, there is a long tradition of both loving and fearing God--here, Machiavelli essentially argues that people should treat their leader like a god, to be obeyed at all times. (Some critics have argued that Machiavelli's suggestion that leaders should be like gods was deliberately intended to provoke outrage in his readers.)

The prince must none the less make himself feared in such a way that, if he is not loved, at least he escapes being hated. For fear is quite compatible with an absence of hatred; and the prince can always avoid hatred if he abstains from the property of his subjects and citizens and from their women.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 54-55
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Machiavelli clarifies his controversial argument that a leader must be both loved and feared. While it's more important for a leader to be feared than loved, Machiavelli argues, it's important for a leader to refrain from complete tyranny. A leader should ensure that he's feared, but he should never try to be hated. Leaders who are hated run the risk of stirring their people into rebellion. The combination of love and fear in a leader, on the other hand, is powerful because the people will never rebel against such a leader: love acts as a check against real hatred.

Many think of Machiavelli as advocating outright tyranny and total deviousness in leaders. Such an interpretation of The Prince is a caricature of Machiavelli's beliefs. Instead, Machiavelli argues that princes should try to engender some goodwill in their people (who, it should be noted, are all assumed to be men), if only to avoid outright rebellion.

But above all a prince must abstain from the property of others; because men sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Machiavelli argues that princes must never steal their people's property. Property is the most sacred right of the people; therefore, to infringe upon it is a surefire way to provoke the people into rising up against their ruler.

Although Machiavelli is often interpreted as an opponent of democracy, the passage shows that Machiavelli has considerable respect for certain democratic values, even if his respect is purely pragmatic. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Machiavelli doesn't believe that a monarch has automatic ownership of his people's possessions. Rather, he acknowledges that the prince's power is greatly limited--a prince can't just seize his people's property at the drop of a hat. So even if Machiavelli is writing The Prince to ensure the supremacy of tyrants and dictators for years to come, his arguments presuppose a certain amount of respect for people's natural rights, reflecting the fledgling democratic values in Italian society at the time. (The right to property would later form the core of the arguments of important political thinkers like Rousseau and John Locke, who openly criticized the kinds of rulers Machiavelli supported.)

Chapter 18 Quotes

So, as a prince is forced to know how to act like a beast, he must learn from the fox and the lion; because the lion is defenseless against traps and a fox is defenseless against wolves. Therefore one must be a fox in order to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten off wolves.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Fox and The Lion
Page Number: 56-57
Explanation and Analysis:

In one of the most famous passages in The Prince, Machiavelli argues that a good leader must be both clever and powerful. Throughout history, leaders have ruled because of the strength of their armies; other leaders have stayed in power because of their cleverness and wiliness. The ideal ruler, however, will use every resource at his disposal--i.e., he'll be both strong and clever.

The passage sums up the argument about war and force that Machiavelli has been making throughout his book. The ideal prince, we've seen, mustn't be afraid to use his army to crush his opponents. And yet too many princes are too quick to use their armies--they're too much like a lion and not enough like a fox. It's better for a ruler to be perpetually prepared to go to war, while using his charisma and "soft power" to prevent such a possibility.

So it follows that a prudent ruler cannot, and must not, honor his word when it places him at a disadvantage and when the reasons for which he made his promise no longer exist.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Machiavelli argues that the best prince will not keep his word unnecessarily. Objectively, there is no rational reason for a prince to keep his word when doing so will weaken his position in the state. Therefore, a ruler should not keep his word--as always, he should prioritize power and control over honor and morality.

The passage reinforces Machiavelli's rejection of conventional morality. The average person would say that there is a clear reason to keep one's word: religious morals, or the intuitive rules of right and wrong, say that one should be honest and trustworthy. Machiavelli has no patience for such ideas--it's pointless for a prince to be honest, if his honesty endangers his position.

Chapter 19 Quotes

Princes cannot help arousing hatred in some quarters; so first they must strive not to be hated by all and every class of subject; and when this proves impossible, they should strive assiduously to escape the hated of the most powerful classes.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Machiavelli warns Lorenzo of alienating the most powerful classes in society. As always, a prince should avoid the people's hatred, but if necessary, it's better for a prince to be hated by the lower classes than by the middle and upper classes.

The passage is interesting because it draws a clear distinction between the different strata of society. Early on, Machiavelli has drawn a rough distinction between a prince and his people. Here, though, Machiavelli's account of society is much more complicated: there are poor, weak people; wealthy, somewhat powerful people; and one wealthy, powerful prince presiding over everything.

The passage reflects the rise of the middle classes in Italian society in the centuries leading up to Machiavelli's life. Middle-class people in Italy enjoyed an unusual amount of independence and economic clout--indeed, some middle-class people eventually rose to become rulers (including Lorenzo's family, the Medicis!). In short, Machiavelli recognizes that all commoners aren't created equal--some are more powerful, and therefore more dangerous, than others. So it's always best to have the middle and upper classes on your side, even if it means sacrificing the loyalty of the lower classes.

Chapter 23 Quotes

A prince must, therefore, never lack advice. But he must take it when he wants to, not when others want him to. . . . a prince who is not himself wise cannot be well advised.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Machiavelli argues here that the best prince will have a good assembly of advisors at all times. Advisors are important because they can help the prince decide what to do in times of crisis; they can use their experience and expertise to ensure military victories and quell potential rebellions.

The danger of having advisors, of course, is that the advisors can become more powerful than the prince himself. Machiavelli fully recognizes such a possibility—that’s why it’s so important for a prince to be wise himself. A wise prince will make it clear that he is the “decider” and his advisors are just that—advisors. And yet the passage also brings up an interesting question—what’s the relationship between Machiavelli and Lorenzo; i.e., isn’t Machiavelli just an advisor, offering advice that Lorenzo is free to accept or ignore? Perhaps Machiavelli sees himself as the ultimate advisor—someone who teaches Lorenzo how to be wise, in order that Lorenzo will never be truly dependent on advisors again.

Chapter 25 Quotes

So as not to rule out our free will, 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.

Related Characters: Niccolò Machiavelli (speaker)
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Machiavelli spells out his model of the universe: a universe in which humans have some control of their own destinies, though much of their lives remains controlled by "fortune." The passage is important because it situates Machiavelli in the rise of humanism during the European Renaissance. During the Middle Ages, philosophers thought of people's lives being almost entirely controlled by fortune (i.e., God). During the Renaissance, however, thinkers began to argue that humans, with their capacity for free will and free thought, could often control their own destinies. So even though the passage might seem restrictive in its account of human freedom (at least by modern standards), it was actually progressive for its time: it acknowledges that humans have the agency to accomplish their goals, instead of relying on an all-powerful God to give them what they want. (Machiavelli’s belief in human freedom is a basic premise of his book, and of his belief in political science: it’s precisely because humans have the freedom to control their own destinies that they’re capable of controlling other people.)

No matches.