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The Prince

Machiavelli's classic text on leadership and politics

By Niccolò Machiavelli
  • Read in 19 minutes
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  • Contains 12 key ideas
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The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

The Prince is a 16th century guide on how to be an autocratic leader of a country. It explains why ends like glory and power always justify even brutal means for princes. Thanks to this book, the word “Machiavellian” came to mean using deceit and cunning to one’s advantage.

Key idea 1 of 12

To sustain his new principality, a prince must make his subjects feel valued while guarding against rivals.

Imagine you’re a renaissance prince who has just conquered a new territory. The population of this new principality probably doesn’t want you as their ruler and sees you as an invader and outsider. So how would you keep them under control?

The first rule for a prince is that you should always try to move to the principality yourself. The proximity to their new prince will make the locals feel appreciated, while simultaneously discouraging rivals from trying to reclaim the area.

If you cannot move yourself, the second best option is to send a colony of your own subjects to live in the principality. This way your new subjects will become accustomed to the ways of your people and slowly adapt their society accordingly.

A second rule is that you must always take measures to protect yourself from potential rivals to your power. To achieve this measure, adopt a policy of defending weak leaders around your new principality. If you protect them against more powerful enemies, they will gladly join your new state too and an alliance of such states can be powerful enough to challenge the more powerful leaders and states in the area who could otherwise threaten your power as well.

The third rule is that you must constantly be on guard for future threats: be vigilant and take preemptive action. Just like illnesses are easier to treat in the beginning, so is it easier to halt the advance of an overly zealous rival early in their attack, such as after the first step.

The ancient Romans used this tactic when they occupied Greece. They would allow no single local leader to grow more powerful than the others, no matter how loyal the leader was to the Romans.

The importance of these rules can be seen in the plight of Louis XII of France who invaded Northern Italy. After successfully conquering the land, he then rapidly lost control of it because he violated all of the above rules. Don’t repeat his mistake.

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