Dialogue: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Gemma Truman: “This is Gemma Truman, interviewing the legendary Niccolo Machiavelli, the author of the controversial classic The Prince. Signor Machiavelli, I’m honored to interview you this evening. Tell me, why did you write this book, The Prince?”

Niccolo Machiavelli: “Firstly, it’s not truly a book. It’s a political thesis. To answer your question, I wrote this as a gift to my prince, Lorenzo the Magnificent, son of Piero di Medici. As I wrote...

It is customary for those who wish to gain the favor of a prince to endeavor to do so by offering him gifts of those things which they hold most precious. In my desire, however, to offer to your highness some humble testimony of my devotion, I have been unable to find among my possessions anything which I hold so dear or esteem so highly as that knowledge of the deeds of the great men which I have acquired through a long experience of modern events and a constant study of the past....And should Your Highness gaze down from your lofty position towards this humble spot, you will recognize the great and unmerited sufferings inflicted on me by a cruel fate.

This was in my essay as a greeting to my lord before I started on my thesis.”

Truman: “Wow. Now, what happened to you? Why did you have to write this thesis?”

Machiavelli: “I held office in Florence and I was employed on diplomatic missions. Shortly after the Medici came back to power in the Florentine Republic, I was exiled in 1512. I don’t really know why...but I wrote this thesis to prove my loyalty, my devotion. I love my country more than my soul, and I had to prove that.”

Truman: “Moving on, let’s deal with your thesis directly. You stated in Chapter One that there are different kinds of states. So, how many kinds are there?”

Machiavelli: “Three kinds. States are primarily divided into two kinds, republics and monarchies--”

Truman: “So what’s the third?”

Machiavelli: “Let me finish, please. Monarchies are divided into hereditary ones, in which the rulers have been for many years of the same family, and those which are of recent foundation, where they are newly founded.”

Truman: “Right. Are there any special difficulties concerning the government of monarchies?”

Machiavelli: “Indeed, there are.”

Truman: “So, in your opinion, which monarchy is more difficult to govern?”

Machiavelli: “Undoubtedly the monarchy of recent foundation. You see, in hereditary states, the prince only has to not violate old ancestral traditions and to adopt himself to circumstances. He can let the principality run as it was, and simply adjust himself. A regular prince can maintain his position unless there is an extreme force depriving him of the state, and should this happen he can get his state back easily. It is the new monarchy that difficulties truly exist. If the principality is ‘mixed’--meaning a member of the hereditary has been annexed for acquired by the prince himself by force, fortune, or special ability--then you injure the people by occupying that dominion You bring about change, and the people revolt if the change doesn’t help in making their lives better.“

Truman: “Interesting--”

Machiavelli: “Be careful about annexations, though.”

Truman: “Why?”

Machiavelli: “If you annex territories with the same nationality an language, no problem, really. But if they are of mixed cultures, then, obviously, you have trouble. You can do two things to control this. You can live there yourself, so that you can keep an eye on things and correct disorder before it gets too big. Or you could send somebody else, a colony or a garrison. Colonies are better, cheaper, and more loyal. Only one minor problem, you have to push out those already living there in order to make space.”

Truman: “What about garrisons?”

Machiavelli: “With garrisons, you have to pay wages, and they’re burdensome. Everyone will fear them, for they are soldiers paid to fight. Who knows what’ll happen if they’re not satisfied with their pay?”

Truman: “Truly amazing. My next question is, how many ways can a principality be governed?”

Machiavelli: “Two ways.”

Truman: “And they are...”

Machiavelli: “One way--which I highly recommend-- is by a prince and his servants, who are loyal to him only. The other way is by a prince and barons. The barons in turn have their servants.“

Truman: “Why is the former method better?”

Machiavelli: “Barons can be persuaded by other princes to turn against you, and since they see you as their equal they may not respect you as much as they should. If you are a leader, make your people see you as their only lord and no one else. Also, barons will envy your power and try to take you out.”

Truman: “Fascinating. What about republics? How many ways can one rule them?”

Machiavelli: “For states already accustomed to liberty, you can do three things. One, despoil them. Two, go and live there yourself as their protection. Three, let them be as they were, only taking tributes off them and creating within the principality a government composed of its citizens...they will be more comfortable with that than a prince. You see, Gemma, in republics there is greater life, greater hatred, more desire for vengeance; they do not and can not cast aside the memory of their ancient liberty, thus the surest way is either to confront them with your methods and despoil them or reside in them.”

Truman: “How can a regular person become a prince?”

Machiavelli: “By fortune or ability--”

Truman: “Pretty simple answer. Now--”

Machiavelli: “Let me finish, please! There are still two ways of becoming prince which can not be attributed entirely to fortune or ability. These are the ones who become prince by some nefarious or villainous means, or when a private citizen becomes prince of his own country through the favor of his fellow citizens.”

Truman: “And, is there anything to beware of then?”

Machiavelli: “Why, yes, of course. In taking a state the conqueror must arrange to commit all his cruelties at once, and by not doing it everyday he assures the people and wins them over by benefiting them. If you act otherwise, whether through bad counsel or timidity, then you should always be obliged to stand with knife in hand and never depend on your subjects. In terms of benefits, they should be granted little by little, so that they may be better enjoyed. All in all, the prince must live with his subjects in such a way that no accident good or bad can divert him from his course.”

Truman: “Fascinating!”

Machiavelli: “Now we come to the case where a private citizen becomes prince through his fellow citizens. To attain this one need not depend on worth or fortune, but rather on cunning assisted by fortune. One attains it by help of popular favor or by the favor of the aristocracy.”

Truman: “So, which is better?”

Machiavelli: “Of course, to be favored by the populace. There are too many difficulties associated with aristocratic favor.”

Truman: “And those would be...”

Machiavelli: “You see, Gemma, when the nobles see that the people are getting to them they unite in exalting one from their circle and make him prince. This way they can carry out their own design under his authority. However, the prince is then surrounded by those who think themselves his equal, and is thus unable to command as he pleases. Those in nobility are more farsighted and cunning, and should they become vicious they will take active opposition.”

Truman: “What are the benefits of becoming a prince via popular favor?”

Machiavelli: “The populace, when unable to resist authority, endeavors to create a prince in order to be protected under his authority. The prince finds himself alone, and has no one, or very few, who are not ready to obey him, yet it is easy to satisfy the mass by being fair. It must also be added that the aim of the people is more honest than that of the nobility. The prince can never ensure himself against the hostile populace on account of their number, but the worst he can expect from a hostile populace is to be abandoned, which is by far better than the active opposition of the nobility.”

Truman: “What is your opinion of mercenaries in the army?”

Machiavelli: “A prince requires an army to defend himself and his principality, and he can do so with two kinds of armies. Mercenaries and auxiliaries or his own army with citizens from his own state. Mercenaries are useless and dangerous. They are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, faithless, bold, boisterous among friends, cowardly among enemies. They have no fear of God and keep no faith with men. They have no love, no motive to be at war but their wages. The wages you pay are not enough to make them die for you, and it does not make them faithful. If you must use mercenaries, then mix them with your own army and never let them hold important positions, for they are not reliable.”

Truman: “Do you think a prince should be kind, generous, honest, basically a good man?”

Machiavelli: “Yes and no.”

Truman: “How’s that?”

Machiavelli: “Not all negative aspects are truly negative. A good prince in every way must learn to live with those who aren’t as good as him. It is necessary for a prince to learn how not to be good, when to be bad, and how to make use of his evil according to the necessity of the case. A prince must do what it takes avoid being hated and despised, for it will lead to his doom.”

Truman: “Is it safer to be feared or to be loved?”

Machiavelli: “It is so much more secure to be feared than to be loved. Men love at their own free will, but fear at the will of the prince. As long as they are in fear, you have control over them, for fear is so strong an emotion that people will everything they can do avoid it.”

Truman: “How true. Now, this is my last question. Is it true that it’s better to be cruel?”

Machiavelli: “In certain circumstances, yes. I say that every prince must desire to be considered merciful and not cruel. He must, however, take care not to misuse this mercifulness. A prince must not mind incurring the charge of cruelty for the purpose of keeping his subjects united and faithful; for, with a very few examples, he will be more merciful than those who, from excess of tenderness, allow disorders to arise, from whence spring bloodshed and rapine; for these as a rule injure the whole community, while the executions carried out by the prince injure only individuals. Do not let the disorder spread as a result from being too kind, instead end the problem at the source for once and for all. And of all princes, it is impossible for a new prince to not be cruel, new states being always full of dangers.”

Truman: “Signor Machiavelli, I thank you very much for your time. Arrivederci."

. . .

Copyright (c) 1998 by Gemma Truman
| back to Essays |

This was written as a book report for my English X class. What surprised me is that my reading choice blew my teacher's socks off and my classmates didn't even blink. They were too busy reading R.L. Stine (can we say 'yak' everyone?) and the sort. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the political thesis, which I was interested in ever since I read about it in Modern World History class.