CONCERNING THE WAY IN WHICH PRINCES SHOULD KEEP FAITH
[*] "The present chapter has given greater offence than any other
portion of Machiavelli's writings." Burd, "Il Principe," p. 297.
Every one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and
to live with integrity and not with craft. Nevertheless our experience
has been that those princes who have done great things have held good
faith of little account, and have known how to circumvent the
intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome those who have
relied on their word. You must know there are two ways of
contesting,[*] the one by the law, the other by force; the first
method is proper to men, the second to beasts; but because the first
is frequently not sufficient, it is necessary to have recourse to the
second. Therefore it is necessary for a prince to understand how to
avail himself of the beast and the man. This has been figuratively
taught to princes by ancient writers, who describe how Achilles and
many other princes of old were given to the Centaur Chiron to nurse,
who brought them up in his discipline; which means solely that, as
they had for a teacher one who was half beast and half man, so it is
necessary for a prince to know how to make use of both natures, and
that one without the other is not durable. A prince, therefore, being
compelled knowingly to adopt the beast, ought to choose the fox and
the lion; because the lion cannot defend himself against snares and
the fox cannot defend himself against wolves. Therefore, it is
necessary to be a fox to discover the snares and a lion to terrify the
wolves. Those who rely simply on the lion do not understand what they
are about. Therefore a wise lord cannot, nor ought he to, keep faith
when such observance may be turned against him, and when the reasons
that caused him to pledge it exist no longer. If men were entirely
good this precept would not hold, but because they are bad, and will
not keep faith with you, you too are not bound to observe it with
them. Nor will there ever be wanting to a prince legitimate reasons to
excuse this non-observance. Of this endless modern examples could be
given, showing how many treaties and engagements have been made void
and of no effect through the faithlessness of princes; and he who has
known best how to employ the fox has succeeded best.
[*] "Contesting," i.e. "striving for mastery." Mr Burd points out that
this passage is imitated directly from Cicero's "De Officiis":
"Nam cum sint duo genera decertandi, unum per disceptationem,
alterum per vim; cumque illud proprium sit hominis, hoc beluarum;
confugiendum est ad posterius, si uti non licet superiore."
But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic,
and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and
so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will
always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived. One recent
example I cannot pass over in silence. Alexander the Sixth did nothing
else but deceive men, nor ever thought of doing otherwise, and he
always found victims; for there never was a man who had greater power
in asserting, or who with greater oaths would affirm a thing, yet
would observe it less; nevertheless his deceits always succeeded
according to his wishes,[*] because he well understood this side of
[*] "Nondimanco sempre gli succederono gli inganni (ad votum)." The
words "ad votum" are omitted in the Testina addition, 1550.
Alexander never did what he said,
Cesare never said what he did.
Therefore it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good
qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to
have them. And I shall dare to say this also, that to have them and
always to observe them is injurious, and that to appear to have them
is useful; to appear merciful, faithful, humane, religious, upright,
and to be so, but with a mind so framed that should you require not to
be so, you may be able and know how to change to the opposite.
And you have to understand this, that a prince, especially a new one,
cannot observe all those things for which men are esteemed, being
often forced, in order to maintain the state, to act contrary to
fidelity,[*] friendship, humanity, and religion. Therefore it is
necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself accordingly as
the winds and variations of fortune force it, yet, as I have said
above, not to diverge from the good if he can avoid doing so, but, if
compelled, then to know how to set about it.
[*] "Contrary to fidelity" or "faith," "contro alla fede," and "tutto
fede," "altogether faithful," in the next paragraph. It is
noteworthy that these two phrases, "contro alla fede" and "tutto
fede," were omitted in the Testina edition, which was published
with the sanction of the papal authorities. It may be that the
meaning attached to the word "fede" was "the faith," i.e. the
Catholic creed, and not as rendered here "fidelity" and
"faithful." Observe that the word "religione" was suffered to
stand in the text of the Testina, being used to signify
indifferently every shade of belief, as witness "the religion," a
phrase inevitably employed to designate the Huguenot heresy. South
in his Sermon IX, p. 69, ed. 1843, comments on this passage as
follows: "That great patron and Coryphaeus of this tribe, Nicolo
Machiavel, laid down this for a master rule in his political
scheme: 'That the show of religion was helpful to the politician,
but the reality of it hurtful and pernicious.'"
For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets
anything slip from his lips that is not replete with the above-named
five qualities, that he may appear to him who sees and hears him
altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There
is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality,
inasmuch as men judge generally more by the eye than by the hand,
because it belongs to everybody to see you, to few to come in touch
with you. Every one sees what you appear to be, few really know what
you are, and those few dare not oppose themselves to the opinion of
the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the
actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not prudent
to challenge, one judges by the result.
For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and
holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he
will be praised by everybody; because the vulgar are always taken by
what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it; and in the world
there are only the vulgar, for the few find a place there only when
the many have no ground to rest on.
One prince[*] of the present time, whom it is not well to name, never
preaches anything else but peace and good faith, and to both he is
most hostile, and either, if he had kept it, would have deprived him
of reputation and kingdom many a time.
[*] Ferdinand of Aragon. "When Machiavelli was writing 'The Prince' it
would have been clearly impossible to mention Ferdinand's name
here without giving offence." Burd's "Il Principe," p. 308.
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