DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.





The purpose of this paper is to examine Machiavelli’s book The Prince, while questioning the teachings of the book from a moral and ethical standpoint.



The Prince is written as a practical guide for ruling and is shaped by several major themes which are as follows[1]:

  • ‘Statesmanship and War craft’- Machiavelli believes that good laws follow from good military.
  • ‘Good Will and Hatred’- To remain in power, a prince must avoid the hatred of his people. It is not necessary for him to be loved; in fact it is often better for him to be feared. Being hated, however, can cause a prince’s downfall.
  • ‘Free Will’- Machiavelli often uses the words ‘prowess’ and ‘fortune’ to describe two distinct ways in which a prince can come to power. Prowess refers to individual talents, which are more useful while fortune implies chance or luck.
  • ‘Virtue’- A prince should try to appear virtuous, but should not necessarily avoid vices such as cruelty or dishonesty if employing them will benefit the state.
  • ‘Human Nature’- Machiavelli asserts that a number of traits are inherent in human nature. People are generally self-interested, although their affection for others can be won and lost.


Machiavelli argues that a prince should make use of vices in order to secure his rule over people but he should only do it to the extent that people do not feel oppressed and start hating him. This is because the hatred of people can cause a prince’s downfall. Machiavelli’s philosophy and observations argue to the conclusion that, given the way the political and commercial worlds operate, the price of moral nobility (or even decency) is often failure, a price too large for a reasonable person to pay. This, of course, challenges our ordinary ideas that basic decency and morality ought to be the foundation of all areas of our lives- our family lives, our civic lives and business and professional lives[2].



Leaders can employ The Prince to determine their best course of action. However, it is not based on strict moral or even political code, but simply Machiavelli’s general logic. Therefore, one must decide what’s more important: self preservation or morality and question whether it is justified to pursue the wrong means for the right end.

[2] Hartwick Classic Leadership Cases. “Niccolo Machiavelli The Prince” Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. 1985 by the University of Chicago Press.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.