Lessons in Strategy from Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’

Lessons in Strategy from Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’

 

Niccolò Machiavelli was an eminent philosopher and diplomat in the Florentine Republic, between the late 1400’s and the early 1500’s. His renowned writing on strategy and politics led to the creation of the term Machiavellianism, which refers to the use of cunning and duplicity in statecraft and in general conduct. Furthermore, because of his notable contributions to these fields, he is sometimes referred to as the founder of modern political science.

Machiavelli’s best-known work is The Prince, which is considered to be one of the premier books about political philosophy. The book is intended as a how-to guide for rulers, but many of the lessons there apply to everyday people too. In the following article, you will see a selection of some of the most valuable lessons from The Prince, which you can apply yourself in various areas of life.

 

The lessons

A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent.

(VI)

 

A prince who is not wise himself will never take good advice.

(XXIII)

 

The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.

(XXII)

 

There is no other way of guarding oneself against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth; but when everyone can tell you the truth, you lose their respect.

(XXIII)

 

There are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others; the first is the most excellent, the second is good, and the third is useless.

(XXII)

 

All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it’s impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.

(III)

 

It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

(VI)

 

He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is deceived.

(VII)

 

The Romans never allowed a trouble spot to remain simply to avoid going to war over it, because they knew that wars don’t just go away, they are only postponed to someone else’s advantage.

(III)

 

Upon this, one has to remark that men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.

(III)

 

A man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good.

(XV)

 

I say that every prince must desire to be considered merciful and not cruel. He must, however, take care not to misuse this mercifulness.

(XVII)

 

It is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.

(XV)

 

You must know, then, that there are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must have recourse to the second. It is therefore necessary to know well how to use both the beast and the man…  A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from snares, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize snares, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this.

(XVIII)

 

…and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.

(XVIII)

 

For a Prince is exposed to two dangers, from within in respect of his subjects, from without in respect of foreign powers. Against the latter he will defend himself with good arms and good allies, and if he have good arms he will always have good allies;

(XIX)

 

The best fortress which a prince can possess is the affection of his people.

(XX)

 

It should be borne in mind that the temper of the multitude is fickle, and that while it is easy to persuade them of a thing, it is hard to fix them in that persuasion.

(VI)

 

Men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.

(XVIII)

 

Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are.

(XVIII)

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Niccolò Machiavelli was an eminent philosopher and diplomat in the Florentine Republic, and is sometimes referred to as the founder of modern political science.
  • Machiavelli wrote The Prince, which is considered to be one of the premier books about political philosophy. The book is intended as a how-to guide for rulers, but many of its lessons apply to everyday people too.
  • These lessons encompass a variety of topics, from accounting for the fickleness of a crowd, to understanding how you will be judged by others.
  • One of the main lessons in The Prince is that a person should know how to be strong-handed, and be willing to use a forceful approach when necessary.
  • Of all the lessons however, the most important one is that a wise person should always seek the advice of other knowledgeable people, and listen to them in a way that encourages them to share their advice again in the future.