Machiavelli's "The Prince" Explained In 3 Minutes

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A nation state can either be a Republic or a Principality and either old or new.

An old hereditary state that has been passed down the generations is easy to rule, but taking control and then holding onto a new state is difficult. The difficulty is reduced if you personally supervise it.

An old hereditary state such as a monarchy can be taken by destroying the entire royal family. This is what Alexander the Great did to conquer and hold onto the Persian empire of Darius III. However, states that are used to freedom must be crushed.

For those who are not yet princes, it is possible to rise to become one by carrying out two steps: follow the example of those in the past who saw their opportunities, and be well-armed.

To keep hold of a new state securely, all resistance must be destroyed by using cruel, swift and firm methods, but then benefits to the people should be given gradually.

A prince must win the favour of the people and dispel any hostility, but he will only be truly secure when he can raise his own army to defend against all comers. Mercenaries cannot be relied on. Neither can other people’s armies.

To be successful, a prince must read history, study war and know his own land. He must give the appearance of being good, but also know how to be evil. He should not be afraid to be thought of as mean, as giving liberally and spending freely will lead to ruin. He also shouldn’t worry about being thought of as cruel, as fear is one of the only things he can control.

A prince should be willing to use cunning if needed and deception if necessary. He may or may not be loved, but as long as he is not hated, he is secure. Fortresses are of little use as even though they can be used to defend against outsiders, they do not stop you being betrayed by your own people.

A prince must be purposeful, determined, and unwavering. He must clearly follow one path or another.

He should encourage art and craft, commerce and agriculture. Entertain his people with spectacles and festivities, rewarding those who honour his state.

Only capable servants should be used by a prince and he should keep them under control. Anybody who flatters, must be avoided. Machiavelli claimed that the once-powerful princes of Italy lost their power not through misfortune but by their own inaction and indecisiveness.

Fortune directs half of our actions, but the other half is left for us to direct through hard-work, cautiousness and virtue. Fortune needs to be beaten and dominated. It is often like a torrential river that cannot be stopped, but during periods of calm, preparations can be made to control and minimise the damage.

Machiavelli concludes by stating that a leader is needed that will follow the advice in the book to conquer Italy and free her from the barbarians.

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Adam Holownia

Adam Holownia

Adam Holownia loves reading and writing about successful people from history. He has spent the last five years sharing what he's learnt online. He is the creator of educational YouTube channels Eudaimonia and The Art of Improvement which together have over 400,000 subscribers.

His first book, Mastering Machiavelli, is a collection of essays, breaking down key concepts and themes from the highly influential work, The Prince, written by Niccolò Machiavelli. It is almost everything he knows about Machiavelli, packed into a short digital book.