Books & Art

These 15 Quotes from Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince Reveal His Ruthless Approach To Leadership

“He who has the power is always right; the weaker is always wrong.”

A few facts about Niccolò Machiavelli—the perpetually disputed Italian diplomat, philosopher, political theorist, and author of one of the most controversial political treatises in history.

He wrote The Prince while he was in prison, for his unsuccessful attempt to organize a Florentine militia against the ruling–and equally ruthless–Medici family. He was heated in his pleas for Italian “unity,” and firmly believed that the way to achieve this was through the iron hands of an absolute ruler. In The Prince, he pens his instruction guide on how rulers and royals should amass, exercise, and hold their power: he insists (among many other deeply questionable things) that deception and corruption are elemental fixtures in a ruler’s toolbox, that leaders need not base their actions with concern for what is morally right, and that a prince should exercise force when necessary, all while keeping his motives hidden from the public. 

Machiavelli ended up being banished from an active role in political life. The Prince has since become known as a “dictator’s handbook,” earning him his infamous reputation as a ruthless, self-serving, immoral cynic. 

For reasons that hopefully require no further explanation, it pays to be cautious of leaders who accept, justify, and even outwardly campaign the use of immoral means to rule over their subjects. And a nation being ruled by anyone who non-jokingly calls themselves a Machiavellian—and a nation that genuinely believes he has a rightful place in government—is a nation in deep distress. 

Read along to find some of Machiavelli’s most controversial quotes from The Prince

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On deception

“Men are so simple of mind, and so much dominated by their immediate needs, that a deceitful man will always find plenty who are ready to be deceived."

“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”

“People are by nature fickle, and it is easy to persuade them of something, but difficult to keep them persuaded. And therefore, it is necessary to arrange things so that when they no longer believe, they can be made to believe by force.”

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.” 

On the place of morality in politics 

“Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.”

"Politics have no relation to morals.”

On vengeance and revenge 

“People should either be caressed or crushed. If you do them minor damage they will get their revenge; but if you cripple them there is nothing they can do. If you need to injure someone, do it in such a way that you do not have to fear their vengeance.”

“At this point one may note that men must be either pampered or annihilated. They avenge light offenses; they cannot avenge severe ones; hence, the harm one does to a man must be such as to obviate any fear of revenge."

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On war and militarization

“War should be the only study of a prince. He should consider peace only as a breathing-time, which gives him leisure to contrive, and furnishes as ability to execute military plans.”

“War is just when it is necessary; arms are permissible when there is no hope except in arms.”

“A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war, its methods and its discipline, for that is the only art expected of a ruler.” 

On gaining and maintaining political power

“Power is the pivot on which everything hinges. He who has the power is always right; the weaker is always wrong.”

“He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command.”

“And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

“The new ruler must determine all the injuries that he will need to inflict. He must inflict them once and for all.”

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