8 Things We Can Actually Learn From Machiavelli’s “The Prince”

1. You can’t please everyone. (The need to avoid contempt and hatred).

Machiavelli constantly noted that it is impossible for a Prince to satisfy both his subjects and his nobles at the same time. The prince would have to sacrifice the needs of one for the other.

Stating clear examples from history, Machiavelli also used the Romans as a case study. He stated that aside from the subjects and nobles, Roman emperors still had soldiers to deal with.

In a modern world view, people wrestle with the notion that they can try to make everyone happy. With some accepting that they would have to displease one in order to please the other, others still hang on to the illusion that they can satisfy everyone. As noted by Machiavelli, trying to please everyone ultimately leads to disaster.

2. Being generous all the time is being stupid all the time. (Generosity and Parsimony)

It’s no rare thing to find fundamentally good people. People who display extraordinary attributes of altruism that surpass even the likes of religious clerics, which is a good thing. But giving away more than you have can be self defeating.

According to Machiavelli, in people’s efforts to become generous, they lose the ability to do so. That simply means that you can only be generous until you lose everything you can be generous with.

He emphasized that the people considered extremely generous in history only did so with what didn’t belong to them in the first place. He cited figures such as Alexander the great, Cyrus and Julius Caesar who were more liberal with what wasn’t their own.

There’s nothing bad in being generous. If you have enough to give, then by all means, do so. But if don’t, do not risk your well-being and that of your family’s for someone else.

It is important to also note that Machiavelli noticed how quickly people can turn on you if you tell them “no”. You become either poor or despised, “seeking to escape poverty”.

3. People cannot be trusted (Cruelty and Compassion)

This is harsh but true. Machiavelli strongly objected to promises made with just words. They could be easily broken.

His words were: “Men are ungrateful, fickle, liars and deceiver. They shun danger and are greedy for profit. While you treat them well, they are yours… But when you are in danger, they turn you away” those words deeply and quite aggressively reflected his views on humanity. But his stance on trust was somewhat accurate.

You should not depend entirely on trust. If you do, be ready to get your heart broken.

4. Education is important (How a prince should organize his militia)

Machiavelli’s idea of education was taking military exercises in the art of war during and after wartime.

He stated how important it is for a prince to know more about war and historical events based on war.

Similarly, in our generation, education is equally important. Knowledge has become more powerful than ever. And what is the best way of acquiring knowledge than education?

You don’t need to know about the art of war, it’s execution and implementation. But learning how to read and write is of equal importance.

5. Always expect the unexpected. (How a prince should organize his militia)

Philopoemen, as cited by Machiavelli, was praised for thinking of war during peacetime. He casually engaged in conversations about military strategy amongst friends.

You have to expect an unexpected change in your life at an unexpected point, one you could not have foreseen. It is always wise to prepare for them.

Setting aside money for an unforeseeable financial problem in the future would be the modern day equivalent to expecting the unexpected. Just like Philopomen.

6. You cannot be all good (and it’s okay). (The things for which men, and especially princes are praised or blamed)

In an era where black is white and white is black and it’s near impossible to tell one from the other, we are often faced with moral ambiguity.

Should I do the “right” thing and hurt someone else in the process? What exactly is the right thing in the first place?. Well Machiavelli says it’s okay. No one is all good.

He enumerated qualities such as faithfulness, courageousness, frivolousness and religiousness. It is laudable for a prince to have them, but due to the “conditions of the world”, princes cannot have those qualities and observe them completely.

Real life is complex and it is not without his drawbacks.

7. Decisiveness and Conviction. (how a prince must win honour)

According to Machiavelli, there’s danger in neutrality and being completely at someone else’s mercy.

Delaying a problem doesn’t actually help you in any way. Indecision equals failure. That’s not ruling out patience completely which is instrumental in solving the problem. But there’s a fine line between patience and delay.

A problem is better solved when confronted.

8. Having a reputation for cruelty is hazardous (The need to avoid contempt and hatred)

Most people do not make it their life’s mission to be known as cruel. They might consider themselves as being strict or forward, but others might see them as bad, wicked and cruel.