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Article :: Supporting Evidence

Machiavailli Reconsidered


The Prince

by Nicolo Machiavelli


CHAPTER XVIII

Concerning The Way In Which Princes Should Keep Faith

EVERY one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have relied on their word. You must know there are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the second. Therefore it is necessary for a prince to understand how to avail himself of the beast and the man. This has been figuratively taught to princes by ancient writers, who describe how Achilles and many other princes of old were given to the Centaur Chiron to nurse, who brought them up in his discipline; which means solely that, as they had for a teacher one who was half beast and half man, so it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures, and that one without the other is not durable. A prince, therefore, being compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are about. Therefore a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons that caused him to pledge it exist no longer. If men were entirely good this precept would not hold, but because they are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you too are not bound to observe it with them. Nor will there ever be wanting to a prince legitimate reasons to excuse this nonobservance. Of this endless modern examples could be given, showing how many treaties and engagements have been made void and of no effect through the faithlessness of princes; and he who has known best how to employ the fox has succeeded best.[1]

But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic, and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and 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. One recent example I cannot pass over in silence. Alexander VI did nothing else but deceive men, nor ever thought of doing otherwise, and he always found victims; for there never was a man who had greater power in asserting, or who with greater oaths would affirm a thing, yet would observe it less; nevertheless his deceits always succeeded according to his wishes, because he well understood this side of mankind.

Therefore 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.

And you have to understand this, that a prince, especially a new one, cannot observe all those things for which men are esteemed, being often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to faith, friendship, humanity, and religion. Therefore it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself accordingly as the winds and variations of fortune force it, yet, as I have said above, not to diverge from the good if he can avoid doing so, but, if compelled, then to know how to set about it.[2]

For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality, 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; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent to challenge, one judges by the result.[3]

For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world there are only the vulgar, for the few find a place there only when the many have no ground to rest on.

One prince 1 of the present time, whom it is not well to name, never preaches anything else but peace and good faith, and to both he is most hostile, and either, if he had kept it, would have deprived him of reputation and kingdom many a time.


1. Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.


    Synopsis:
  • A prince must be prepared for the two kinds of combat - with laws and with force. A prince must learn how to use both natures - both man and beast.
  • Men are wicked and do not observe faith with you, so you should not have to observe it with them
  • A prudent lord cannot and should not observe faith when such observance turns against him.
  • A prince must appear to be merciful, faithful, humane, honest, and religious. By having these qualities and always observing them, a prince will do harm to himself. However, appearing to have these qualities but being able to change to the contrary is very useful and necessary for a prince to maintain his state.
  • Appearance is key, because "Men in general judge more by their eyes than by their hands, because seeing is given to everyone,touching to few."


[1] Machiavailli makes the following points regarding rulers keeping "faith", meaning be honest and keep agreements and promises:
  • Everyone is in agreement that it is a virtue to be honest and keep your promises and agreements, insofar as others keep their promises which were exchanged for your promises (real trade considerations, expectations of reciprocracy).
  • However, history is very clear. Those rulers whom betrayed, backstabbed allies, were dishonest, employed craftiness, trickery, fraud and, in general did not behave honestly achieved the greatest personal success and glory.
  • What Machiavaiil did not state and was perhaps unaware of is that force / fraud are the most efficient methods of goal seeking, providing maximal gain for minimal cost, at least in the short term. This explains his observation that those whom are dishonest, prosper greatest. A major problem is that the gain is not earned and must be siezed from those who produced it. They will defend against forceful / fraudulent plundering and, there will be a significant defensive cost to prevent your victims revenge. Should you continue your predations, the entire economy will collapse, consuming you in its wake.
  • Machiavailli claims there are two ways of competing, by law and by force. He makes assumptions regarding the civilized nature of the law which do not bear rational scrutiny. He is incorrect on this point. Regarding competing, there are only two methods: by excellence, being the best OR, by destroying your competetion. If the law actually did rule for the best, the statement above wouuld be correct, but, alas, the law does not and, perhaps never has enforced public good, despite a near infinite number of false excuses to the contrary.
    Regarding goal seeking, reality offers some combination of three methods: force, fraud and honest / mutually agreed trade. Machiavailli has already established in previous arguments that, in his opinion, the proper domain of rulers is force / fraud. He re-iterates this point here.
  • Machiavailli totally buys into the "original sin", mankind is evil subversion that arbitrary power has drummed into mankind, for all of known history, to rationalize the "neccessary" usage of force and compulsion by our self-alleged betters, rulers wielding organized force. He states this "fact" regarding mankind's inherent evil means that people will not keep their promises to you and, it is best to break your promises / agreements when it is advantageous to you, before they inevitably break theirs, to your disadvantage.

[2] It is crucially important for a ruler to cultivate the perception of having the following five qualities: mercy, faith, friendship, humanity, and religion. Whether a ruler actually has these qualities is irrelevant. They may be employed when "of use", or not. A ruler should not hesitate to act contrary when to these qualities when circumstance or opportunity makes it neccessary.

[3] Machiavailli states that of all of the five qualities above, the perception of being religious is most important. The reason is that, at that point in time, religious propaganda permeated virtually all of European civilization due to the church's educational and information monopoly. For anyone, even a ruler to act contrary to religious dogma would make him appear to be some kind of heretical pariah and result in loss of support.
Updating this sage advice for rulers of the 21st century. Do not allow the perception of being contrary to current dogma, as held by the propagandized serfs to be uttered nor seen. Current dogma is: Manmade global warming, Keyneysian economics, socialism, war of terror, groups trump individuals, our "rulers" are "leaders" selflessly working in our interests, democracy provides self-determination, the law is honest, and so on.



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