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CONCERNING CRUELTY AND CLEMENCY, AND WHETHER IT IS BETTER
TO BE LOVED THAN FEARED
Coming now to the other qualities mentioned above, I say that every
prince ought to desire to be considered clement and not cruel.
Nevertheless he ought to take care not to misuse this clemency. Cesare
Borgia was considered cruel; notwithstanding, his cruelty reconciled
the Romagna, unified it, and restored it to peace and loyalty. And if
this be rightly considered, he will be seen to have been much more
merciful than the Florentine people, who, to avoid a reputation for
cruelty, permitted Pistoia to be destroyed.[*] Therefore a prince, so
long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal, ought not to mind the
reproach of cruelty; because with a few examples he will be more
merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to
arise, from which follow murders or robberies; for these are wont to
injure the whole people, whilst those executions which originate with
a prince offend the individual only.
[*] During the rioting between the Cancellieri and Panciatichi
factions in 1502 and 1503.
And of all princes, it is impossible for the new prince to avoid the
imputation of cruelty, owing to new states being full of dangers.
Hence Virgil, through the mouth of Dido, excuses the inhumanity of her
reign owing to its being new, saying:
"Res dura, et regni novitas me talia cogunt
Moliri, et late fines custode tueri."[*]
Nevertheless he ought to be slow to believe and to act, nor should he
himself show fear, but proceed in a temperate manner with prudence and
humanity, so that too much confidence may not make him incautious and
too much distrust render him intolerable.
[*] . . . against my will, my fate
A throne unsettled, and an infant state,
Bid me defend my realms with all my pow'rs,
And guard with these severities my shores.
Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than
feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish
to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person,
it is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either
must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of
men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and
as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you
their blood, property, life, and children, as is said above, when the
need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And
that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected
other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by
payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be
earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied
upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than
one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation
which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity
for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment
which never fails.
Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he
does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well
being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as
he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from
their women. But when it is necessary for him to proceed against the
life of someone, he must do it on proper justification and for
manifest cause, but above all things he must keep his hands off the
property of others, because men more quickly forget the death of their
father than the loss of their patrimony. Besides, pretexts for taking
away the property are never wanting; for he who has once begun to live
by robbery will always find pretexts for seizing what belongs to
others; but reasons for taking life, on the contrary, are more
difficult to find and sooner lapse. But when a prince is with his
army, and has under control a multitude of soldiers, then it is quite
necessary for him to disregard the reputation of cruelty, for without
it he would never hold his army united or disposed to its duties.
Among the wonderful deeds of Hannibal this one is enumerated: that
having led an enormous army, composed of many various races of men, to
fight in foreign lands, no dissensions arose either among them or
against the prince, whether in his bad or in his good fortune. This
arose from nothing else than his inhuman cruelty, which, with his
boundless valour, made him revered and terrible in the sight of his
soldiers, but without that cruelty, his other virtues were not
sufficient to produce this effect. And short-sighted writers admire
his deeds from one point of view and from another condemn the
principal cause of them. That it is true his other virtues would not
have been sufficient for him may be proved by the case of Scipio, that
most excellent man, not only of his own times but within the memory of
man, against whom, nevertheless, his army rebelled in Spain; this
arose from nothing but his too great forbearance, which gave his
soldiers more license than is consistent with military discipline. For
this he was upbraided in the Senate by Fabius Maximus, and called the
corrupter of the Roman soldiery. The Locrians were laid waste by a
legate of Scipio, yet they were not avenged by him, nor was the
insolence of the legate punished, owing entirely to his easy nature.
Insomuch that someone in the Senate, wishing to excuse him, said there
were many men who knew much better how not to err than to correct the
errors of others. This disposition, if he had been continued in the
command, would have destroyed in time the fame and glory of Scipio;
but, he being under the control of the Senate, this injurious
characteristic not only concealed itself, but contributed to his
Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the
conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing
according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish
himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others;
he must endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted.
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