The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli is one of the most influential books ever written about how to gain and maintain power. This is because the book forces you to see the world like it is.

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Here are some of the big ideas from the book:

  1. In life, it’s not enough to have good intentions and a warm heart but also about getting results.  A dark idea is that the wicked tend to win in life because they are not held by morals. They are willing to lie or use violence to get what they want. Machiavelli argues that morals and pragmatism cannot marry in politics. So the big idea is that rulers have to be ruthless and crush their enemies while appearing to be moral.
  2. Any man who is good all the time is bound to come along the masses who is not good. Therefore a prince must be evil when it is necessary. In order to rule it is better to be feared than to be loved if a ruler cannot be both. – Machiavelli, The Prince
  3. Machiavelli argues the success in politics meant not sticking to morals or principles since this makes you predictable. He says over and over that Christian ethics and politics cannot go together. A real life example would be Girolamo Savonarola who was a Dominican friar that took control of Florence. He preached against the greed of Medici government. He was executed when a corrupt pope Alexander decided to get rid of him. This is what happens to the “nice guys” in politics thus why it is better to be feared.
  4. He talks about the three main factors that help political leaders succeed:
    1.  “Virtù” – virtù for Machiavelli has more to do with a brutal pragmatism, strategy, and betraying your opponent when necessary. Virtù should not to be mistaken for virtue such as kindness, generosity, and patience.
    2. Necesita – the ability to be cruel when necessary. The Romans had a saying that promises must be kept. However, Machiavelli says the opposite. He advises that violence should be done swiftly, done at night, and not done too often.  Else it will be seen as tyrannical and will cause the government to be hated and lead to treason.
    3. Fortuna –  the power of luck and the belief that success will follow decisive action.
  5. Machiavelli says we can’t be good all the time and our lives are filled with difficult decisions. To keep a relationship working, we may have to lie about our feelings or have to fire a lazy employee to keep a business afloat.
  6. A one-word sentence summary of Machiavelli would be: In certain times in your life, you will face hard decisions and will need a lot of faith in yourself. Use your reasoning and trust your heart. 

Biography of Machiavelli

His father was a lawyer so Machiavelli worked as a secretary to the state. However, during his time in Florence, the Medici family was overthrown so Machiavelli worked first as a diplomat, next as a general, and was exiled for treason when the Medici returned to power.

The irony of Machiavelli’s life is that he didn’t follow his own dark advice to advance his career since his most famous work The Prince was written to get himself an advisory position with Lorenzo Di Medici. However, he can be remembered as a great man for his two famous works The Prince and The Discourses. He wrote them when he was in exile because he couldn’t work in government.