If you are like me, you probably had heard of Niccolo Machiavelli and probably assumed as I did that he was some type of cold hearted tyrant who ruled with an iron fist. I was surprised to find out that he was actually what can be described in today’s terms a middle management civil servant. Machiavelli never seemed to weild any real power and his fortunes depended upon the rulers that he was associated with.
The Prince was written by Machiavelli as a gift to his master, Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici. In his dedication Machiavelli notes that “I have not among my possessions anything which I hold more dear than, or value so much as, the knowledge of the actions of great men…I now send, digested into a little volume, to your Magnificence.” Machiavelli’s gift urged that “A wise man ought always follow the paths beaten by great men…so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savour of it.”
Machiavelli’s gift to his lord was an unrestrained guide on how to rule. The forward of the copy that I read claimed thata Oliver Cromwell read it, that Napoleon Bonaparte carried his copy into battle and Adolph boasted about reading it in bed. With the exception of Napoleon, they may not be the best references for the book. Those kinds of connections may be why Machiavelli has the reputation that persists.
The Prince certainly has its share of cruel recommendations; “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 kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.” Were it written today, The Prince would certainly contain many footnotes and references. Machiavelli provides many examples of successful and unsuccessful leaders and dissects why they had their fates.
“in seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which it is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily”
“They have no other attraction or reason for keeping in the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you.” [on using paid mercenaries]
“the arms of others either fall from your back, or they weigh you down, or they bind you fast.”
“Hence 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.”
“when it is necessary for him [the prince] to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.”