Thursday, August 17, 2023

Review of The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

This book review was written by Eugene Kernes   

Book can be found in: 
Genre = Politics
Book Club Event = Book List (04/06/2024)

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“Whenever those states which have been acquired as stated have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, 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.  Because such a government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot stand without his friendship and interest, and does its utmost to support him; and therefore he who would keep a city accustomed to freedom will hold it more easily by the means of its own citizens than in any other way.” – Niccolò Machiavelli, Chapter V: Concerning The Way To Govern Cities Or Principalities Which Lived Under Their Own Laws Before They Were Annex, Page 35

“Besides this, one cannot by fair dealing, and without injury to others, satisfy the nobles, but you can satisfy the people, for their object is more righteous than that of the nobles, the latter wishing to oppress, while the former only desire not to be oppressed.  It is to be added that a prince can never secure himself against a hostile people, because of their being too many, whilst from the nobles he can secure himself, as they are few in number.  The worst that a prince may expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned by them; but from hostile nobles he has not only to fear abandonment, but also that they will rise against him; for they, being in these affairs more far-seeing and astute, always come forward in time to save themselves, and to obtain favours from him whom they expect to prevail.  Further, the prince is compelled to live always with the same people, but he can do well without the same nobles, being able to make and unmake them daily, and to give or take away authority when it pleases him.” – Niccolò Machiavelli, Chapter IX – Concerning A Civil Principality, Pages 53-54

“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 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.  |  Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated.” – Niccolò Machiavelli, Chapter XVII – Concerning Cruelty And Clemency, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared, Page 81


Is This An Overview?

An individual will find difficulty in being loved and feared.  A choice must be made.  To either be feared, or loved.  Love is dependent on people’s internal motivation.  As people are generally fickle, and are willing to betray even those they claim to appreciate, love cannot be relied upon.  Fear is an external motivator, as people will want to avoid being punished.  Better to choose fear than love.  But there is a condition, that the fear does not come about in developing hate.  A prince is dependent on others for political power, and people are eager to betray the prince they hate.  Ways to prevent developing hate is to behave justly and avoid stealing other people’s property.  Fear might generally be better, but is not the only choice.  The choice is dependent on what the prince can control. 

People tend to want to change their rulers, for better rulers.  Willing to revolt against the worse ruler.  But, they can replace a bad ruler for a worse ruler, as the conqueror can deceive the people.  Maintaining a region gained through deception will take more effort, as the prince will have many unsatisfied expectations.  Control of a region depends on the will of the people.  A region controlled by a prince who is respected by the people, will be more difficult to seize, for the people would want to keep such a prince. 

A prince can be chosen by the citizens, rather than through wickedness or intolerable violence.  To become chosen would require gaining the support of the nobles or the people.  The nobles and people have conflicting objectives, therefore a choice must be made on whose support to gain.  A choice that will result in supporting one group, while injuring the other.  While the nobles want to oppress the people, the people do not want to be oppressed.  The people’s objective is relatively simpler, is more righteous, and can be satisfied.  There are also more people than nobles, and the prince cannot defend against a hostile people.  Nobles are few, and can be defended against.  While a prince cannot live without the people, the prince can change the authority structure of the nobles. 


How To Become A Worthy Prince?

A prince should study the histories of successes and failures, to imitate the successes and avoided the failures.  To use other people as an example for what to do, or not do. 

There are no safe courses to take in governance.  Making a decision to avoid trouble, comes into a different trouble.  The choice should be which trouble to take and avoid.

The prince needs to study the region that the prince has in possession.  To understand how to allocate resources and military might.  Knowing the geographic features of one’s one possessions, means having the knowledge of how to use military might against other regions with similar geographic features.

A prince is loved, or feared, when the officials do not pillage the people, and can gain prompt recourse to the prince.  Clemency for a prince is preferred to cruelty, but misused clemency can bring with it destruction.  There are cases of cruelty, bringing about peace.  

The prince should be cautious with how the prince speaks with others, to be heard speaking with wisdom and righteousness.  The prince’s position depends on the opinion of others, and those who would want to oppose the prince will have difficulty doing so when the majority speak highly of the prince.

The court is full of flatterers whose object is to deceive.  To only tell truths, that does not offend the prince.  The prince should seek a court of wise people who have freedom of speech, to tell the prince the truth about the questions the prince has. 

Conspiracies are fragile, because conspiracies need people and the only people who are willing to conspire are malcontents.  Malcontents that are willing to betray the other malcontents. 


 How To Seize A Region?

Regions need to have their own forces to defend their region.  They cannot rely on the enemy’s support, or gain forces quickly when the need arise. 

Regions with centralized leadership can be seized when the leaders, especially if they are hereditary leaders, are removed.  There won’t be opposition to the new rule without these leaders.

In regions with divided leadership, taking the region is relatively easy because there will always be those willing to betray their regional power structure to gain more power.  But keeping the region with divided leadership will take more effort, because those who remain cannot be satisfied or exterminated.  Only waiting for the right opportunity to retake the region.

War cannot be avoided by giving up territory to an enemy.  War will be deferred when giving up territory, but to the disadvantage of the one who gives up territory.

Should a prince recapture the same region another time, it will be easier to hold the region, because the prince would punish the delinquents, and remove suspects.

Acquiring regions accustomed to freedom, will have less effort maintaining control when the citizens are left to the means they know.  In this way, the prince does not lose the support of the people that the prince relies upon.

Upon seizing a region, better to inflict all necessary injuries quickly than have them delayed.  Delaying injuries means that they are always on people’s mind, therefore cannot attach themselves to the new prince. 



The writing can be difficult to read, as parts are convoluted.  Expressing the complexity of political decisions, by giving conditions to claims.  Although the conditions are reasonable, they do challenge the application of the claims. 

To better understand the claims in this book, would be better to learn about the author’s era.  Many events were referenced as evidence of the claims, but not given a broader description of what happened.  

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book?  For what purpose did the author write the book?  Why do people read this book?
•What are some limitations of the book?
•To whom would you suggest this book?
•How did the author’s experiences influence the book? 
•Better to be feared or loved?
•How can a prince gain the favor of the people? 
•Why do rulers change?
•Why are some regions more difficult to conquer than others?
•How does political centralization or decentralization effect the ability to conqueror the region? 
•How can be prince be chosen by the citizens?  
•How should a prince learn to become a worthy prince?
•How should a prince talk to others?
•How should flatterers be handled?  
•How reliable are conspiracies? 
•How did the Medici influence Machiavelli? 
•What happens to those who raise others to power? 
•How to gain the favor of an appropriate servant? 
•How generous should the prince be? 

Book Details
Introduction Author: No Author Stated
Translator:            No Translator Stated
Edition:                 First Digital Edition
Publisher:             Anna Ruggieri
Edition ISBN:      9788826088129
Pages to read:       152
Publication:          2017
1st Edition:           1532
Format:                 eBook 

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    3
Content          3
Overall          3