The Prince, Chapter 18


Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter 18



XVIII.  How a prince should keep his word

How praiseworthy it is for a prince to keep his word and to live with integrity and not by cunning, everyone knows.  Nevertheless, one sees from experience in our times that the princes who have accomplished great deeds are those who have thought little about keeping faith and who have known how cunningly to manipulate men’s minds; and in the end they have surpassed those who laid their foundations upon sincerity. 

Therefore, you must know that there are two modes of fighting: one in accordance with the laws, the other with force.  The first is proper to man, the second to beasts.  But because the first, in many cases, is not sufficient, it becomes necessary to have recourse to the second: therefore, a prince must know how to make good use of the natures of both the beast and the man.  This rule was taught to princes symbolically by the writers of antiquity: they recounted how Achilles and many others of those ancient princes were given to Chiron the centaur to be raised and cared for under his discipline.  This can only mean that, having a half-beast and half-man as a teacher, a prince must know how to employ the nature of the one and the other; for the one without the other is not lasting. 

Since, then, a prince must know how to make use of the nature of the beast, he should choose from among the beasts the fox and the lion; for the lion cannot defend itself from traps, while the fox cannot protect itself from the wolves.  It is therefore necessary to be a fox, in order to recognize the traps, and a lion, in order to frighten the wolves: those who base their behavior only on the lion do not understand things.  A wise ruler, therefore, cannot and should not keep his word when such an observance would be to his disadvantage, and when the reasons that caused him to make a promise are removed.  If men were all good, this precept would not be good.  But since men are a wicked lot and will not keep their promises to you, you likewise need not keep yours to them.  A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to color over his failure to keep his word.  Of this, one could cite an endless number of modern examples to show how many pacts and how many promises have been made null and void because of the faithlessness of princes; and he who has known best how to use the ways of the fox has come out best.  But it is necessary to know how to color over this nature effectively, and to be a great pretender and dissembler.  Men are so simple-minded and so controlled by their immediate needs that he who deceives will always find someone who will let himself be deceived. 

I do not wish to remain silent about one of these recent examples.  Alexander VI never did anything else, nor thought about anything else, than to deceive men, and he always found someone to whom he could do this.  There never has been a man who asserted anything with more effectiveness, nor whose affirmations rested upon greater oaths, who observed them less.  Nevertheless, his deceptions always succeeded to his heart’s desire, since he knew this aspect of the world very well. 

Therefore, it is not necessary for a prince to possess all of the above-mentioned qualities, but it is very necessary for him to appear to possess them.  Furthermore, I shall dare to assert this: that having them and always observing them is harmful, but appearing to observe them is useful: for instance, to appear merciful, faithful, humane, trustworthy, religious, and to be so; but with his mind disposed in such a way that, should it become necessary not to be so, he will be able and know how to change to the opposite.  One must understand this: a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those things for which men are considered good, because in order to maintain the state he must often act against his faith, against charity, against humanity, and against religion.  And so it is necessary that he should have a mind ready to turn itself according to the way the winds of Fortune and the changing circumstances command him.  And, as I said above, he should not depart from the good if it is possible to do so, but he should know how to enter into evil when forced by necessity. 

Therefore, a prince must be very careful never to let anything fall from his lips that is not imbued with the five qualities mentioned above; to those seeing and hearing him, he should appear to be all mercy, all faithfulness, all integrity, all humanity, and all religion.  And there is nothing more necessary than to seem to possess this last quality.  Men in general judge more by their eyes than their hands: everyone can see, but few can feel.  Everyone sees what you seem to be, few touch upon what you are, and those few do not dare to contradict the opinion of the many who have the majesty of the state to defend them.  In the actions of all men, and especially of princes, where there is no tribunal to which to appeal, one must consider the final result.  Therefore, let a prince conquer and maintain the state, and his methods will always be judged honorable and praised by all.  For ordinary people are always taken in by appearances and by the outcome of an event.  And in the world there are only ordinary people; and the few have no place, while the many have a spot on which to lean.  A certain prince of the present times, whom it is best not to name, preaches nothing but peace and faith, and to both one and the other he is extremely hostile.  If he had observed both peace and faith, he would have had either his reputation or his state taken away from him many times over. 

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Machiavelli, Niccolo