What are some of the best quotes from The Prince? What captures the essence of Machiavelli’s message?
In his 16th-century political treatise The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli describes how authoritarian leaders, or “princes,” should rule their states. The Prince is an unapologetic depiction of the “real truth” of politics, where states and leaders are motivated by ambition as much as by their ideals.
Keep reading for several quotes from The Prince, along with context and explanation.
Quotes from The Prince
Here are five quotes from The Prince. They include one that you’ve likely heard before—but you might not know the context.
“Everyone sees what you appear to be; few experience what you really are.”
Interestingly, while Machiavelli argues that princes shouldn’t be concerned with behaving morally, he says they should be very concerned with appearing moral. Princes should strive to have a reputation of being just, loyal, kind, and generous. Machiavelli particularly emphasizes the need for a leader to appear religious, even if they don’t truly subscribe to religious principles.
“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
While Machiavelli argues that princes should always be prepared to do the wrong thing, he also acknowledges that people want to believe that their leaders are fundamentally good. A prince who is obviously cruel or dishonest or who makes promises with no intention of keeping them will eventually lose the love of their people and the trust of their allies.
“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.”
Machiavelli advises that princes should surround themselves with reliable government officials who can assist them in ruling the state by forming a kind of advisory council. Whatever they accomplish will be linked to the prince in the eyes of the people.
“There is no other way to guard yourself against flattery than by making men understand that telling you the truth will not offend you.”
Machiavelli contends that advisors should feel confident in telling the truth, but should only do so when asked. Advisors who exist to flatter the prince serve no purpose, but even those who offer genuine and realistic advice should never offer unprompted criticism or express doubt in the prince’s decisions.
“It is much safer to be feared than loved.”
Machiavelli’s adage that it’s better to be feared by people than loved by them is one of The Prince’s most infamous lessons. His justification for this idea is simple: Obedience due to love and affection is unreliable, while obedience due to fear is not. People are inherently disloyal, and no matter how much love they have for a prince, they may betray him if they believe it’s in their best interest, or even in the best interest of the state.
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Here's what you'll find in our full The Prince summary :
- Niccolò Machiavelli's description of how authoritarian leaders should rule
- An unapologetic depiction of the “real truth” of politics
- Analyses of how Machiavelli's lessons survive in modern-day politics