Machiavelli: The end justifies the means


A PRINCE must defend his state with either his own subjects or mercenaries, or auxiliaries. Mercenaries are utterly untrustworthy; if their captain be not an able man the prince will probably be ruined, whereas if he be an able man he will be seeking a goal of his own. This has been perpetually exemplified among the cities and states of Italy which have sought to maintain themselves by taking foreigners into their pay.

But he who would deprive himself of every chance of success should have recourse to auxiliaries; that is, to the troops of a foreign potentate. For these are far more dangerous than mercenary arms, bringing ruin with them ready made. The better such troops are the more dangerous they are. From Hiero of Syracuse to Cesare Borgia, princes have become powerful in proportion as they could dispense with such aid and place their dependence upon national troops.

A prince, then, who would be powerful should have no care or thought but for war, lest he lose his dominions. If he be ignorant of military affairs he can neither be respected by the soldiers nor trust them. Therefore, he must both practise and study this art. For the practice, the chase in many respects provides an excellent training both in knowledge of the country and in vigour of the body. As to study, a prince should read histories, note the actions of great men and examine the causes of their victories and defeats, imitating those who have been renowned.

Anyone who would act up to a perfect standard of goodness in everything must be ruined among so many who are not good. It is essential therefore for a prince to have learnt how to be other than good and to use, or not to use, his goodness as necessity requires.

It may be a good thing to be reputed liberal, but liberality without the reputation of it is hurtful. Display necessitates the imposition of taxes, whereby the prince becomes hateful; whereas through parsimony his revenue will be sufficient. Hence we have seen no princes accomplish great results save those who have been accounted miserly by the world.

Every prince should desire to be accounted merciful, not cruel; but a new prince cannot escape a name for cruelty, for he who quells disorder by a few signal examples will, in the end, be the more merciful.

Men are less careful how they offend him who makes himself loved than him who makes himself feared; yet should a prince inspire fear in such a fashion that, if he do not win love, he may escape hate; remembering that men will sooner forget the slaying of their father than the loss of their patrimony.

Princes who set little store by their word but have known how to over-reach men by their cunning have accomplished great things, and in the end got the better of those who trusted to honest dealing. The prince must be a lion, but he must also know how to play the fox. He who wishes to deceive will never fail to find willing dupes. The prince, in short, ought not to quit good courses if he can help it, but should know how to follow evil courses if he must.

A PRINCE must avoid being despised as well as being hated; therefore courage, wisdom and strength must be apparent in all his actions. Against such a one conspiracy is difficult. That prince is wise who devolves on others those matters that entail responsibility, and may therefore make him odious either to the nobles or to the commons, but reserves to himself the matters that relate to grace and favour.

What I have said is not contradicted by the history of the Roman emperors; for they had to choose between satisfying the soldiers and satisfying the people. It was imperative that at any cost they should maintain control of the soldiery, which scarce any of them could do without injustice to the people. If we examine their histories we shall find that they fully bear out the principles I have laid down.

But in our time the standing armies of princes have not the same power as the armies of the Roman Empire, and except under the Turk and the Soldan it is more needful to satisfy the people than to satisfy the soldiery.


A NEW prince will never disarm his subjects, but will rather arm them, at least in part. For thus they become his partisans, whereas without them he must depend on mercenaries.

But a prince who adds a new state to his old possessions should disarm its inhabitants, relying on the soldiers of his own ancient dominions. Some have fostered feuds among their new subjects in order to keep them weak, but such a policy rarely proves useful in the end. The prince who acquires a new state will gain more strength by winning over and trusting those who were at first opposed to him than by relying on those who were at first his friends.

The prince who is more afraid of his subjects than of strangers ought to build fortresses, while he who is more afraid of strangers than of his subjects should leave them alone. The best fortress you can have is in not being hated by your subjects.

Nothing makes a prince so well thought of as to undertake great enterprises and give striking proofs of his capacity. Ferdinand of Aragon, in our own time, has become the foremost king in Christendom. If you consider his achievements, you will find them all great and some extraordinary. First he made war on Granada, and this was the foundation of his power. Under the cloak of religion, with what may be called pious cruelty, he cleared his kingdom of the Moors, made war on Africa, invaded Italy and finally attacked France; while his subjects, occupied with these great actions, had neither time nor opportunity to oppose them.

TO retain a good minister the prince will bind him to himself by benefits. Above all, he will avoid being deceived by flatterers, and while he consults his counsellors should reflect and judge for himself. A prince who is not wise himself cannot be well advised by others.

The Italian princes who in our own times have lost their dominions have either been deficient in respect of arms, or have had the people against them, or have not known how to secure themselves against the nobles. As to the influence of fortune it may be the case that she is the mistress of one half of our actions, but leaves the control of the other half to ourselves. That prince will prosper most whose mode of acting best adapts itself to the character of the times; so that at one time a cautious temperament, and at another an impetuous temperament, will be the more successful.

Now, at this time the whole land of Italy is without a head, without order, beaten, spoiled, torn in pieces, overrun, and abandoned to destruction in every shape. She prays God to send someone to rescue her from these barbarous cruelties; she is eager to follow anyone who could undertake the part of a deliverer; nor does this seem too hard a task for you, the Magnificent Lorenzo of the illustrious house of Medici. The cause is just; we have before us unexampled proofs of Divine favour. Everything has concurred to promote your greatness. What remains to be done must be done by you, for God will not do everything Himself.

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