Chapters 18-19

How Princes Should Keep Faith Icon

September 22, 2021

Princes who have done great things have held good faith of little account. They have known gotten their way through cheating. They overcame those who have relied on their word.

There are two ways of winning:

  • by the rules
    • This is suited to men
  • by force.
    • This is suited to beasts

If winning by the rules is not sufficient, it is necessary to win by force. Therefore, a prince should understand how to use the ways of both the beast and man.

This has been taught by example to princes by ancient writers. They describe how Achilles and many other ancient princes were given to Chiron, who was half horse and half man, to nurse them in his discipline.

This means that they had for a teacher one who was half beast and half human. So, it is necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures, and that one without the other is not sufficient.

A prince, therefore, is forced knowingly to adopt the beast. He should choose the fox and the lion because:

  • the lion cannot defend himself against traps
  • the fox cannot defend himself against wolves.

Therefore, it is necessary to be:

  • a fox to discover the traps
  • a lion to frighten the wolves.

Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they are doing. Therefore a wise lord cannot and should not keep faith:

  • when such promises may be turned against him, and
  • when the reasons that caused him to promise no longer exist.

If men were entirely good, this principle would not hold. But because men are bad, and will not keep faith with you, you too are not bound to observe it with them. There are many good reasons to excuse going back on your word.

There are many endless modern examples of this where many agreements have been broken by princes. But it is necessary to know how to hide this characteristic well and to be a great pretender.

People are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that anyone who seeks to deceive will always find someone 27 who will allow himself to be deceived. One recent example I cannot pass over in silence.

Pope Alexander 6th did nothing else but deceive men, nor ever thought of doing otherwise.

He always found people to fool, because there never was a man who could so convincingly say something was true and promise something, and yet be so unlikely to do it. Nevertheless his lies always succeeded according to his wishes,because he understood this side of mankind very well.

Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have described, but it is very necessary to appear to have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have these qualities and always to observe them is dangerous, and that to appear to have them is useful. A prince should appear merciful, faithful, kind, religious, upright, but should be flexible enough to make use of the opposite qualities when it is necessary.

A prince, especially a new one cannot do all those things for which men are praised, being often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to honesty, friendship, kindness, 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, a prince should not to turn away from the good if he can avoid doing so. But, if it is truly necessary, then he should know how to set about it.

This is why a prince should take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not full of the 5 qualities mentioned above, so that he may appear to everyone who sees and hears him completely merciful, faithful, kind, upright, and religious.

There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality. Men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand, because everybody can see you, but few come in touch with you. Everyone sees what you appear to be, but few really know what you are, and those few dare not oppose the opinion of the many, who have the power of the state to defend them.

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

For that reason, let a prince have the credit for conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody. This is because the common people are always influenced by what a thing seems to be and by what results from it. In this world only the common people matter when their minds are firmly made up.

One prince of the present time, whom it is not wise to name, never preaches anything else but peace and good faith, and yet to both he is most opposed. If he had followed what he preached, he would have lost his reputation and kingdom many a time.


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