Quotations and Analysis
“At this point one may note that men must be either pampered or annihilated. They avenge light offenses; they cannot avenge severe ones; hence, the harm one does to a man must be such as to obviate any fear of revenge.”
This quote is from Chapter 3 and it demonstrates the emphasis on vengeance over benevolence. This is presented without any ethical or moral considerations. The prince must choose between violent revenge in order to eliminate any and all opposition, or he must pampered and be conciliatory to his people.
It is only through violence and the willingness to destroy even potential enemies that the ruler survives and keeps his grip on power. What is more, the prince must display his vengeance so that others will know he is capable of violence. As elsewhere, the prince must balance this against the need to keep his people loyal.
“People are by nature changeable. It is easy to persuade them about some particular matter, but it is hard to hold them to that persuasion. Hence it is necessary to provide that when they no longer believe, they can be forced to believe.”
Machiavelli frequently makes general statements about human nature. That people are by nature changeable is a sweeping statement on basic human psychology. He draws from this the conclusion that the prince must take care to ensure that once he has established himself as ruler, he continue to take measures to re-establish this fact.
It is not enough to strike reverence, awe, and fear into the hearts of his people, he must re-assert this again over time. Again, Machiavelli does not rely on rhetorical strategies for the continued establishment of the ruler’s authority. It is by force that the ruler maintains his power.
“Here a question arises: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse. The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved. . . . Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present.”
Perhaps the most famous passage in The Prince, this comes in Chapter 17. The ruler must face the choice between being loved by his subjects or feared. Ideally, he will be both loved and feared, but Machiavelli believes this is nearly impossible. In order to keep his hold on power and maintain his authority, it is preferable for the ruler to instill fear in people than command affection. People are more moved by the fear of pain than by the sympathy of love.
The security of the ruler and the state are best assured by a ruler who instills the fear of pain and death on his subjects and other rulers. Again, this depends on a generalization about human psychology, specifically, that humans are more compelled to think and act in specific ways by fear than by love of their fellows.
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