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"And here comes in the question whether it is better to be loved rather than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered that we should wish to be both; but since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved."
—What everyone remembers from The Prince
"However, it is important above all to avoid being hated."
—What he says right afterward, but what nobody seems to remember.

Written by Italian statesman Niccolo Machiavelli in 1513, The Prince (Il Principe) is the single most famous political treatise and the first entirely secular work of The Renaissance. At the time it was first published, The Prince was seen as extremely scandalous for its endorsement of ruthlessness and amorality. Nevertheless, it quickly became popular with politicians and remains highly influential in Western politics today. If there's any Magnificent Bastard in anything set after the Renaissance, it's very probable he's taken cues from this [1].

Most people are familiar with Machiavelli as the man who said, "it is better to be feared than loved". Over the years Machiavelli's name has become associated with dishonesty, duplicity, and ruthlessness, so much that they even made his name an adjective most often used for unsavoury characters. However, Machiavelli repeats that while it is better for one to inspire fear, one must also remember not to inspire hatred. Machiavelli's original message was to stress the importance of pragmatism in politics, one of the attributes of modern politics. The Prince should be regarded as a guidebook to maintaining power for the good of the prince and ultimately the state, not how to kick puppies left and right.

Also, he wrote this book when Italy was in a very chaotic state: to ensure order the prince had to rule with an iron fist. Finally, one must remember that Machiavelli was attempting to ingratiate himself with the Medici, who had just taken over Florence (and promptly ignored his advice: they chose to be universally loved, and ended up massively in debt for it), and that most of his work was about supporting (small-r) republican regimes with an emphasis on freedom (although the means he recommended for operating and preserving them were rather, well, Machiavellian); more educated political theorists tend to regard him as something of a Deep-Cover Agent for what eventually became modern liberal democracy. Though if so that would be an ironically Machievellian plan in itself.

[2]

Compare The Book of Lord Shang, whose traditional author actually was that big a prick. See also Discourses on Livy, Machiavelli's other book, and Hobbes Was Right.

(It's worth noting that the English translation of The Prince came out several years after the English rebuttal book was published. Good news travels fast, it seems.)

Tropes used in The Prince include:
  • Zero-Percent Approval Rating: Something a prince must avoid or else the serfs will revolt.
  • Above Good and Evil: "The ends justify the means", after all.
    • Subverted. The actual lesson is that one must be willing to Shoot the Dog if the situation calls upon it as the leader.
  • Armies Are Evil: Once you wise up, stop using mercenaries or other nations' armies and create your own army. It's very important that you don't make your soldiers or officers too greedy or too ambitious, and that you don't get too soft on the discipline part. On the other hand, a balance between courage, rewards for their loyalty and A Father to His Men attitude, and hard discipline and harsh punishments if they don't listen to you, will make them a Badass Army.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: You shouldn't put too much trust in the social elite. There's a chance if they don't like your governing, they either rebel against you, try to overthrow you, try to assassinate you, or ally themselves with your enemies. And allowing them to commit corruption sure is gonna awake the people's wrath, and that is something a wise prince must not allow to happen. If they would commit treason against you then you must depose them immediately. That shouldn't be too difficult if you have the people's support and the army's loyalty, and if you don't have it then executing the traitors will help your popularity rise amongst the average people. If the prince is able to Take a Third Option and create a social and economic society that both the aristocrats and the people are satisfied with, he may not need to use violence (at least internally) to rule the country.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty: Machiavelli never said "the ends justify the means", which is a mistranslation. His exact quote is "si guarda al fine", which should be translated to "one must think of the final result" in regards to the ultimate effect a prince's words and actions have on his image.
    • Similarly, the line is "It is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both", not "It is better to be feared than loved".
  • Beneath the Mask: He speaks about social masks in detail in chapter XVIII
  • Bread and Circuses: Helps, but not a requisite.
  • Crazy Prepared: Machiavelli advises the reader to prepare himself and anything else for war, and never to forget it, because you never know if The Empire, La Résistance or The Starscream is gonna pick a fight with you.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Machiavelli warns not to trust aristocrats and to avoid lavishness, as it would force the prince to raise taxes in order to support the court. And everyone knows that higher taxes lead to revolutions.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: If you want to make a good impression after you've conquered an enemy, pardon them and allow them to swear loyalty to you in exchange for their lives. If that doesn't work, you can always dispose of them anyway.
  • Dirty Coward: Easy to force to join your side. If they are actually competent in military warfare or any other area, than you should force them to join you so that their abilities don't end up in the enemies' hands. It's really important that the prince himself isn't this, or even rumored to be this, or his popularity will fall.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: "Upon this, one has to remark that 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 a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge." (The Prince trans. W. K. Marriott, chp. III)
  • The Dog Bites Back: This sure as hell is gonna happen if you act like a Complete Monster for too long. Just look that happened to the Roman Emperor Caracalla Antoninus, after he abused his own bodyguard to the point he couldn't take it anymore.
    • The page quote comes from a passage that continues:

 Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred.

  • Even Evil Has Standards: A few of his contemporary examples are noted as being effective, but so underhanded or bloodthirsty that you'd probably go straight to hell for them.
  • Flanderization
  • Follow the Leader: Machiavelli advices the reader to read the histories of great leaders, such as Cyrus the Great or Hiero II of Syracuse, and learn the ways they used to get and kept power, but also learn what mistakes they made, so that you don't makes them as well.
  • Great White Hunter: Hunting is an excellent way for the prince to exercise himself in his free time. It also will teach him the ways of nature and basic tactics on how to take down competitors.
  • Hired Guns: The prince is advised to avoid these as often as possible, as they're difficult to control.
    • The chapters on war might as well be called "Why one should never use mercenaries parts I, II, and III."
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: By the common pop cultural idea of the book, you'd think it was a guide on being the biggest Complete Monster you could be.
  • Hobbes Was Right: One of the most familar examples. This book made the name "Machiavelli" basically a synonym to "Hobbes".
  • Humans Are Bastards: the prince is advised to assume this from the start, and govern accordingly. Your subjects are fickle, greedy cowards. They will like you, or at least tolerate you, as long as you leave them to their own devices. But don't make the mistake of equating affection with loyalty. Your subjects will profess their love and loyalty when things are good in the kingdom, but when things are not so good they will most likely turn on you, and you have to be prepared to deal with that eventuality. Yeah, maybe they'll surprise you, and show genuine loyalty in times of crisis. But that's not a certainty, and a prince can't afford to make such assumptions. It's a safer bet to make sure they're simply too afraid to disobey you.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: The prince's morals should not get in the way of governing his state. After all, don't expect that the other nations will be ruled by paragons of virtue.
  • It's All About Me: The Prince takes the healthy individualism of the Renaissance to the extreme.
  • Jerk Justifications: Type 1.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Just like Sun Tzu once said in his book The Art of War, deception is a very useful tool in both the military and the political game.
  • Let No Crisis Go to Waste: Crises brings opportunities for men who want to become a prince. Use them, it's a great first step in your way to power. With them, you can gather the support of the people for whatever action you plan to do to end the crisis, and then it's hard work, strength, intelligence and determination which determine the results. If you succeed, you'll be seen as a great leader by the people.
  • Miser: While it's good for the wise prince to be seen as generous, he shouldn't make his name from overwhelming generosity. Instead, he should spend as little money as possible, and not worry too much about being seen as a miser - because if things go to hell, he'll have enough money to set things right again. That would've been impossible if the prince was overwhelmingly generous and so if things did go to hell, he wouldn't have any money left to set things right again.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Actually, you're supposed to avoid this one. At least, if you're going to Kick the Dog, do it in a way that makes people too afraid to do anything about it.
  • The Neidermeyer: A truly dumb choice of military leadership. It's one thing to be a strict disciplinarian, and another to be a complete Jerkass to the troops. The troops can tolerate the first, since it causes them to shut up and do as they're told. The second will only make them pissed at you, and they will lose morale, and in worst cases, they'll frag your ass.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Machiavelli acknowledges that old ideals or rules usually have more followers who are more fierce and loyal to them. It's why it's importent for the leader of new ideals or rules to have a greater sence of discipline, or soon all his followers will be dead or turned traitors in less than a year.
  • Playing Both Sides: Subverted. It's effective during peace times, when the Prince has some time to weaken his conquered subjects will to fight him and instead strengthen their will to fight each other, but it's a risky tactic during war times, because the weaker faction will likely ally with the enemy.
  • The Power of Friendship/A Friend in Need/Gondor Calls for Aid: If your friends/allies are in trouble, the first thing you shall do is to help them, not to stand outside and declare "neutral". It just makes you look weak in the eyes of the enemy, and unreliable in the eyes of your allies.
  • Power of Trust: Newly conquered people should be left their weapons. They will, after all, need to defend themselves, and while disarming them will slow rebellion, it will not stop it since they will be able to get arms somehow, and the good will generated by this trust is better against rebellion than the delay.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: "The prince can always avoid hatred if he abstains from the property of his subjects and citizens and from their women."
  • The Purge: If you must do this then you should only do this on your first years as a ruler, and only on your political enemies. If you do this on the civilians, or continue with purges every single year then you'll lose popularity points.
  • Realpolitik
  • Revenge by Proxy: To avoid this, when taking over a new country, the prince must kill off the deposed prince's family as well.
  • Screw Destiny: "I certainly think it is better to be impetuous than cautious, for fortune is a woman and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to take her by force."
  • Self-Made Man: If you plan to take power through your own guts, skills and will alone, and with minimal to no help from stronger factions, you'll have to fight long and hard to get it but if you succeed with it, you'll have it easy to rule, since your efforts more likely will inspire true and sincere loyalty and respect from your followers and subjects. If you got the power handed to you on a silver plate, you'll find it easy to gain it but hard to keep it, since the easy way in doesn't inspire any true loyalty or respect from your subjects, and there's a chance that those who gave it to you will take it back if they think you don't do well enough.
  • Shoot the Messenger: The term, "Machiavellian" is often used to describe dirty or corrupt politics, but Machiavelli wasn't a bad guy. All he did was write a history book and identified which leaders did certain things and stayed in power and which leaders did other things and lost power.
  • Take That: Machiavelli mocks the political philosophers that came before him for their refusal to look reality in the eye.
  • The Starscream: These guys are something a ruler should be careful of, since they're more dangerous than foreign enemies. If you find out that someone is a Starscream, then you should dispose of him in order to teach the other Starscreams a lesson.
  • Treacherous Advisor: Similar to The Starscream, these guys are something a prince should be careful of. A backstabbing adviser is much more dangerous since they have more influence in the court, and if they grow too ambitious, they will gladly use this influence for their own needs. If a prince finds out that his adviser is much more concerned about himself than about the prince or the state, he should fire him at once.
  • The Unfettered
  • Vetinari Job Security: Suggested as the best possible position to be in.
  • Villain Ball Magnet: "A new prince, of all rulers, finds it impossible to avoid a reputation of cruelty, because of the abundant dangers inherent in a newly won state."
  • Villains Never Lie: Machiavelli advises that a prince should maintain his word as honesty would earn him respect. However, he shouldn't be above breaking promises if necessary. The most pragmatic decision however is to not make any promises at all.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Good public relations are good, but not necessary.
  • Warrior Prince: Fighting on the front lines alongside with your troops is a great way to boost positive PR, especially among the soldiers.
  • We ARE Struggling Together!: The last few chapters of the book blame many of Italy's woes on this trope. He concludes by asking the Medicis to seize Italy and conquer it with Italian armies, thereby averting the problems that had cropped up with using mercenaries. His pleas would eventually be answered... 350 years later by Giuseppe Garibaldi.
  • What an Idiot!: Invoked Trope - Louis XII of France is cited as a prime example of how to not screw with another country effectively.
  • What Would X Do?: Chapter XIV: To ensure his success, a prince must choose a model that he admires and follow his actions to be like him (but obviously, don’t follow his errors).

 But to exercise the intellect the prince should read histories, and study there the actions of illustrious men, to see how they have borne themselves in war, to examine the causes of their victories and defeat, so as to avoid the latter and imitate the former; and above all do as an illustrious man did, who took as an exemplar one who had been praised and famous before him, and whose achievements and deeds he always kept in his mind, as it is said Alexander the Great imitated Achilles, Caesar Alexander, Scipio Cyrus. And whoever reads the life of Cyrus, written by Xenophon, will recognize afterwards in the life of Scipio how that imitation was his glory, and how in chastity, affability, humanity, and liberality Scipio conformed to those things which have been written of Cyrus by Xenophon.

Notes

  1. Although they aren't quite as likely to actually have an in depth knowledge of the book as much as a pop-culture impression
  2. "Prince" (or "principe" in the original Italian) at the time just meant "ruler", more or less (from Latin "princeps" = "first one"). It didn't mean "the son of a king". If there was only one person in the state who really mattered, it was called a monarchy. Even a democratically elected president would have still been called a "Principe".
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