Essay on Machiavelli's "The Prince"

Categories: MachiavelliPhilosophy

Since the beginning of civilization man has continually been faced with the complexity of creating a peaceful and unified existence for all, without resistance or violence. People have been trying to develop a system of how to rule effectively while acting ethically and morally to avoid chaos and destruction. However, as history has shown us this has not been an easy endeavor and very few rulers have been able to accomplish this. “This leads us to a question that is in dispute: Is it better to be loved than feared, or vice versa?” (Machiavelli, 51) An effective ruler would be one that relies upon fear without hatred, rather than love, as described by Niccolo Machiavelli in his book The Prince.

In a perfect world all people would be good-hearted, all would treat each other equally, and all would follow and respect the rules of society. Machiavelli points out that people tend to focus how the world should be rather than how it is.

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“Let us leave to one side, then, all discussion of imaginary rulers and talk about practical realities.” (Machiavelli, 48) It is easier to complain about problems and society than it is to become a leader and produce positive change. All individuals have different perceptions of what it takes to keep order in a world where not all is good and not everyone gets along. It is easy for one to discuss ideals of how things ought to be, and to use reality to form a dream of something different that we believe would be better than the current state of affairs.

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Dreams though can not be actualized without action, and all the discussion in the world will accomplish nothing if everyone sits idly by. We all want peace, and in order to have peace there must be structure and in order to have structure you must have an effective leader that you trust to design the framework of how things will work. Ideally all would want a leader that is trustworthy, just, intelligent, compassionate, giving, and loyal to the people while at the same time having the ability to protect society from harm. “Now I know everyone will agree that if a ruler could have all the good qualities I have listed and none of the bad ones, then this would be an excellent state of affairs.

But one can not have all the good qualities, nor always act in a praiseworthy fashion, for we do not live in an ideal world.” (Machiavelli, 48) Unfortunately in reality we can not have a leader that stands on a platform of extreme love or extreme hatred, if we expect to remain safe and unharmed from the rest of the world. You need someone that is tough, and has the ability to enforce and maintain order upon people who are not always good and reliable, people who are selfish and have their own interests above all else. In reality people do not act responsibly out of love and consideration for others, but of fear what will happen if they do not act accordingly.

It is important to keep in mind that to be feared is different than being hated. “But fear restrains men because they are afraid of punishment, and this fear never leaves them. Still, a ruler should make himself feared in such a way that, if he does not inspire love, at least he does not provoke hatred. For it is perfectly possible to be feared and not hated.” (Machiavelli, 52) If there were no consequences for bad behavior, people would have no reason to act any differently. It is not that punishment in itself creates hatred, but it is how the people are punished that will determine the fear or the hatred they have for their ruler. For example if one is caught stealing and then punished by having to serve some time in jail, that would cause them to fear you and to abide by the law.

On the other hand if the punishment were death it would cause the people to hate the ruler for being so un-just and immoral. When a ruler becomes hated they lose all respect and control over the people, for they will reach a point that they can no longer endure the cruelty and rise against you. “Indeed, one of the most effective defenses a ruler has against conspiracies is to make sure he is not generally hated. For conspirators always believe the assassination of the ruler will be approved by the people.” (Machiavelli, 57) When people feel as they have been oppressed and abused for to long they will revolt and not think twice about getting rid of the ruler they are discontented with. For once the people have become determined to over throw their ruler, they have already lost all faith and feel there is nothing else to lose whether they are successful or not.

It is not enough for a Ruler to be strictly feared, but to also appear to have some compassion and respect for the people that he oversees. It is imperative that an effective ruler is one that can balance fear, goodness, authority, respect, and compassion if he wishes to maintain harmonious control. “So it is necessary for a ruler, if he wants to hold on to power, to learn how not to be good, and to know when it is and when it is not necessary to use this knowledge.” (Machiavelli, 48) The point Machiavelli makes here is that it is not enough to be completely good or completely evil, but to know when to do bad things in order to create good. Power is ultimately based on violence, and sometimes in order to preserve sovereignty and authoritative command, a ruler must engage in what society deems as immoral acts such as lying, betrayal, and even murder.

So the conclusion is: If you take control of a state, you should make a list of all the crimes you have to commit and do them all at once. That way you will not have to commit new atrocities every day, and you will be able, by not repeating your evil deeds, to reassure your subjects and to win their support by treating them well. He, who acts otherwise, either out of squeamishness or out of bad judgment, has to hold a bloody knife in his hand all the time.

A hated, thus unsuccessful ruler would be one that would not know his limits, and continue to use violence to obtain desired results. A wise ruler would be one who could look ahead and see when it is necessary to do harm so that he can know exactly what needs to be done, how to do it, and when to do it. Most importantly the ruler must have the ability to stop once what he has set out to do is accomplished. Violence and evil doing must be used sparingly to prevent the populous from hating you.

A powerful leader needs the ability to equally rely upon intelligence and brute force, he must be able to discern when to use the different characteristics and be able to step into the role of either the lion or the fox at any moment. “Since a ruler, then, needs to know how to make good use of beastly qualities, he should take as his models among the animals both the fox and the lion, for the lion does not know how to avoid traps, and the fox is easily overpowered by wolves. So you must be a fox when it comes to suspecting a trap and a lion when it comes to making the wolves turn tail.” (Machiavelli, 54) Machiavelli is referring to the symbolism of the lion over the monarch power in England.

The lion represented courage, strength, and leadership; it was seen as being the dominant animal that could wipe out smaller animals. A fox on the other hand is timid, reserved, and clever; it thinks before it acts. There are only two ways to obtain power, either lawfully or un-lawfully. To do it lawfully is to be considered human and to do it un-lawfully by inciting violence is to be considered animalistic, so when stepping outside the law a ruler must choose whether to be lion and exercise brute force or to be the fox and exercise the mind.

Nevertheless, you should be careful how you assess the situation and should think twice before you act. Do not be afraid of your own shadow. Employ policies that are moderated by prudence and sympathy. Avoid excessive self-confidence, which leads to carelessness, and avoid excessive timidity, which will make you insupportable.

Machiavelli is reinforcing the significance of a ruler to have the ability to know when to act like a man and when to act like an animal. A feared but not hated ruler is one that does not act upon impulse but carefully calculates his moves in order to do what is necessary for the people, even if it means acting outside of the law.

This essay began with the notion that if one wishes to be a successful ruler he or she must induce fear among the people to gain their respect as opposed to loving and being loved. How a ruler treats the people and how the people treat the ruler is the determining factor of how successful society will be. We have to look at the relationship between the people and the ruler as we would the relationship between a child and a parent. To be an effective parent you can not inflict harm upon your child, but you can inflict fear by imposing consequences to their negative behavior. If a child does something wrong we do not physically abuse him or her, but make them sit in time out or perhaps take away a privilege like playing video games. The child may be upset with you for a short time, but will not hate you and will respect your authority enough to abide by the rules in the future.

On the other hand though, if you play the role of the best friend and consequences for negative behavior are non-existent then the child will go about doing what they please without regard for anyone else. Once the child realizes that he or she will not be punished they have the ability to over power the parent. Religion also uses fear in order to enhance positive behavior and love among the people. No matter which religion one chooses to believe, he or she does not always willingly act with morals and ethics because in their heart they believe its right, but do so because they fear what will happen to their soul if they don’t. People fear negative consequences whether it is timeout, prison, or even hell and will most always act how they are told in order to avoid such punishments. Ruling with fear to create stability and harmony can be used in many everyday situations whether running the country, the household, the office, or the church.


Wootton, David, ed. The Prince. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1995.

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Essay on Machiavelli's "The Prince". (2016, Jul 30). Retrieved from

Essay on Machiavelli's "The Prince"

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