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Machiavelli’s The Prince is not a long work, but one that is full of digressions and historical examples that do not mean much to the modern reader. Between these digressions are pearls of observation about managing human beings that are absolutely priceless. Before Machiavelli, writers described human beings as they ought to be, not as they are. Machiavelli was brutally realistic—not to mention cynical and amoral. Today many people consider Machiavelli to be the first social scientist. But we mainly read him because his insights are absolutely essential for anyone who plans to manage a business, organization, or nation.
About the Author
Niccoló di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (1469–1527) was an Italian philosopher, humanist, and writer largely based in Florence during the Renaissance. He was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic. He also wrote comedies, carnival songs, poetry, and some of the most well-known personal correspondence in the Italian language.
About the Editor
Carlo Celli holds degrees from the University of Virginia and UCLA, and studied at the universities of Florence and Bologna. He is currently a professor at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and author of books on the historical, economic, and social factors influencing culture
Letter from Niccolo Machiavelli to Francesco Vettori
Men change rulers willingly in the belief they will better themselves. This belief induces them to take up arms against their present ruler: wherein they are deceived, because afterward they will see from experience that things are worse.
Newly acquired states added to a formerly existing state, are either of the same region and language or not. When they are, it is quite simple to retain them, especially if they are not used to living in freedom. To hold them securely it is enough to have extinguished the line of the ruling prince. If previous conditions can be retained and there are no dissimilarities in customs, men can live quietly.
Although there may be some difference in language, nevertheless when customs are alike the people can easily behave themselves. He who has annexed them, if he wants to retain them, has only to bear in mind two considerations: first, that the bloodline of their former prince is extinguished; second, that neither their laws nor taxes are altered, so that in a very short time they will become entirely one body with the old principality.
But when states are acquired in a country differing in language, customs, or institutions, there are difficulties, and good fortune and great industry are needed to retain them. One of the best and most efficient solutions is for the person who has acquired them to go and reside there. Because, being there, one sees disorders as they form, and can soon remedy them; but if one is not there, problems are understood only when they are overwhelming and no longer have a solution. Furthermore the country will not be pillaged by your officials and the subjects will be satisfied by ready access to the prince. They will have more cause to love him if they want to be good and more cause to fear him if they want to behave otherwise. Anyone wanting to attack that state from outside would hesitate; for it will be very difficult for the prince residing there to lose it.
The other better solution is to send colonies to one or two places, to act almost like shackles on that state, for it is necessary either to do this or else to maintain them with many men at arms and infantry. There is not much expense with colonies, for with little or no expense of one’s own they can be sent out and held, offending only those from whom fields and houses are taken to be given to the new inhabitants. Those he offends, remaining scattered and poor, will never be able to hurt him. The rest are easily kept quiet and remain calm since they were not harmed nor injured. They will also be hesitant about making any mistakes out of fear that what happened to the despoiled could happen to them. Let me conclude that these colonies are not costly, are more faithful and are not problematic; on the other hand those who were injured can do little harm since they are poor and scattered.
For it must be noted that men should either be well treated or crushed; because they can avenge themselves of light injuries but not more serious ones. Therefore any injury done to a man should be such that one does not fear a vendetta for it.
Whoever is in a province that is different must also make himself the leader and defender of less powerful neighbors, and strive to weaken the more powerful amongst them, taking care that no foreigner as powerful as himself shall, by some circumstance, gain entry there. It always happens that a foreigner will be called in by those who are unhappy either due to excess ambition or fear.
The usual course of affairs is that, as soon as a powerful foreigner enters a country, all the subject states are drawn to him, moved by the resentment they feel against the former ruling power. With respect to those subject states, the foreigner need take no trouble to win them over, for all of them will quickly rally to the state he has acquired there. He has only to be careful that they do not get hold of too much power and too much authority. Then, with his own forces and with their goodwill, he can easily suppress the more powerful of them, so as to remain entirely in control of the country. He who does not properly manage this business will soon lose what he has acquired; and will have endless difficulties and troubles while he holds it.
The Romans did what all prudent princes should do by using all resources at their disposal to counter future as well as present troubles. When problems are anticipated, they are easily remedied; but if you wait until they are pressing, then the medicine will be too late because the disease will have become incurable. What happens is akin to what physicians say about consumption: in the beginning the illness is easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, but over time, if undiagnosed and left untreated, it becomes easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. This also applies to affairs of state: if troubles are detected early, then they can be quickly redressed; but when they remain undetected, they will be left to grow to the point where everyone is aware of them and there is no longer a remedy. Therefore, the Romans always overcame difficulties because they anticipated them and would not let them develop in an effort to avoid a war, because they understood that war cannot be eliminated but only delayed to the advantage of others. They never liked what nowadays continuously comes out of the mouths of wise men—to enjoy the benefits of biding one’s time—instead they relied on their own ability and wisdom, because time flushes out everything bringing the good with the bad as well as the bad with the good.
The desire to acquire is quite natural and common, and men will always do so when they can; and they will be praised, not criticized for it. However, when they cannot but want to anyway, here is the error and the blame.
When Cardinal Rouen observed to me that the Italians do not understand war, I replied to him that the French do not understand statecraft, for if they did, they would never have allowed the Church to attain such power. From experience it may be seen that the power of the Church and of Spain in Italy has been caused by France, whose downfall may be attributed to them. From this a general rule may be drawn that never or rarely fails: whoever causes another to become powerful is ruined, because that predominance has been brought about either by industry or by force, and both are suspect to the one who has become powerful.
Read the complete public domain version translated by W. K. Marriott showing deletions and additions
[The Prince pdf]