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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) was a Florentine diplomat and a founding father of modern political theory and ethics. “Men never do good unless necessity drives them to it.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli, philosopher of political ethics.

Quotes from Machiavelli: sources – Web search, GoodReads,

“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.”

“A method for estimating the ability of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him and judge their intelligence and loyalty to him.”

“A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.”

“Men never do good unless necessity drives them to it; but when they are free to choose and can do just as they please, confusion and disorder become rampant.”

“It is much safer to be feared than loved because …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.”

“Politics have no relation to morals.”

“The wise man does at once what the fool does finally. ”

“For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with these five qualities, that he may appear to those  who see and hear him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality of religion, inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them.”

“It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright, and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.”

“A wise ruler ought never to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interests.”

“A promise given was a necessity of the past: a word broken is a necessity of the present.”

“When neither their property nor honor is touched, the majority of men live content, and he has only to contend with the ambition of a few, whom he can curb with ease in many ways. It makes him contemptible to be considered fickle, frivolous, effeminate, mean-spirited, irresolute, from all of which a prince should guard himself; and he should endeavor to show in his actions greatness, courage, gravity, and fortitude; and in his private dealings with his subjects let him show that his judgments are irrevocable, and maintain himself in such reputation that no one can hope either to deceive him or to get round him. That prince is highly esteemed who conveys this impression of himself, and he who is highly esteemed is not easily conspired against; for, provided it is well known that he is an excellent man and revered by his people, he can only be attacked with difficulty.”

“A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.”

“Many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality, for how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done will rather bring about his ruin than his preservation.”

“The manner in which we live, and that in which we ought to live, are things so wide asunder, that he who quits the one to betake himself to the other is more likely to destroy than to save himself; since any one who would act up to a perfect standard of goodness in everything, must be ruined among so many who are not good.”

“If you only notice human proceedings, you may observe that all who attain great power and riches, make use of either force or fraud; and what they have acquired either by deceit or violence, in order to conceal the disgraceful methods of attainment, they endeavor to sanctify with the false title of honest gains. Those who either from imprudence or want of sagacity avoid doing so, are always overwhelmed with servitude and poverty; for faithful servants are always servants, and honest men are always poor; nor do any ever escape from servitude but the bold and faithless, or from poverty, but the rapacious and fraudulent. God and nature have thrown all human fortunes into the midst of mankind; and they are thus attainable rather by rapine than by industry, by wicked actions rather than by good. Hence it is that men feed upon each other, and those who cannot defend themselves must be worried.”

“A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules, and it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank. And, on the contrary, it is seen that when princes have thought more of ease than of arms they have lost their states. And the first cause of your losing it is to neglect this art; and what enables you to acquire a state is to be master of the art.”

“The gulf between how one should live and how one does live is so wide that a man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done learns the way to self-destruction rather than self-preservation.”

“The reason is, that valor produces peace; peace, repose; repose, disorder; disorder, ruin; so from disorder order springs; from order virtue, and from this, glory and good fortune.”

“And in examining new princes’ life and deeds it will be seen that they owed nothing to fortune but the opportunity which gave them matter to be shaped into the form that they thought fit; and without that opportunity their powers would have been wasted, and without their powers the opportunity would have come in vain.”

“As all those have shown who have discussed civil institutions, and as every history is full of examples, it is necessary to whoever arranges to found a Republic and establish laws in it, to presuppose that all men are bad and that they will use their malignity of mind every time they have the opportunity; and if such malignity is hidden for a time, it proceeds from the unknown reason that would not be known because the experience of the contrary had not been seen, but time, which is said to be the father of every truth, will cause it to be discovered.”

“And as the observance of religious teaching is the cause of the greatness of republics, similarly, disdain for it is the cause of their ruin. For where the fear of God is lacking, the state must necessarily either come to ruin or be held together by the fear of a prince that will compensate for the lack of religion.”

“There is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rites of religion held in contempt. ”

“In the beginning of a malady it is easy to cure but difficult to detect, but in the course of time, not having been either detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure”

“Therefore a wise prince ought to adopt such a course that his citizens will always in every sort and kind of circumstance have need of the state and of him, and then he will always find them faithful.”

“When evening comes, I return home and go into my study. On the threshold I strip off my muddy, sweaty, workday clothes, and put on the robes of court and palace, and in this graver dress I enter the antique courts of the ancients and am welcomed by them, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born. And there I make bold to speak to them and ask the motives of their actions, and they, in their humanity, reply to me. And for the space of four hours I forget the world, remember no vexation, fear poverty no more, tremble no more at death: I pass indeed into their world.”


COMMENTS:

Machiavelli’s statement, “Men never do good unless necessity drives them to it,” seems harsh to those of us who live in a well governed democracy; and yet the founding fathers of the United States assumed this to be true and did all they could to create a Constitution and Government for the United States to prevent those who came into power from doing bad to the public, and to compel them to do good. But we need transparency of what our government and both its elected officials and the bureaucratic ones too are doing, and that transparency is best maintained by a free press. The recent government spying on the press and the corollary problem of doing tax audits on political enemies is a clear violation of the intent of the founding fathers.

“In the beginning of a malady it is easy to cure but difficult to detect, but in the course of time, not having been either detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure.” It appears the government has already highly developed its monitoring capabilities of the people of the whole world and that includes Americans. This has some positive aspects, but the potential for abuse is profound. When some unmonitored person has access to everyone else everyone becomes a slave to their manipulations of information.

“Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society.” It is in the greatest self-interest of the public to make sure the governments of the world are responsive to the needs of the whole people. If the individuals who rise to power are not firmly controlled they will become corrupt and eventually drive everyone to abject poverty and famine.