Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Niccolò Machiavelli, formally Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli

Italian Florentine Statesman, Political Philosopher, Historian, Humanist and Writer

"He will be successful who directs his actions according to the spirit of the times."

"For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are."

"Hatred is acquired as much by good works as by bad ones."

"I consider it a mark of great prudence in a man to abstain from threats or any contemptuous expressions, for neither of these weaken the enemy, but threats make him more cautious, and the other excites his hatred, and a desire to revenge himself."

"It is a true observation of ancient writers, that as men are apt to be cast down by adversity, so they are easily satiated with prosperity, and that joy and grief produce the same effects. For whenever men are not obliged by necessity to fight they fight from ambition, which is so powerful a passion in the human breast that however high we reach we are never satisfied."

"It is the duty of a man of honor to teach others the good which he has not been able to do himself because of the malignity of the times, that this good finally can be done by another more loved in heaven."

"There are three classes [kinds] of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others; the first is the most excellent, the second is good, the third is useless."

"Men almost always walk in the paths trodden by others proceeding in their actions by imitation."

"Every one may begin a war at his pleasure, but cannot so finish it. A prince, therefore, before engaging in any enterprise, should well measure his strength, and govern himself accordingly."

"Benefits should be granted little by little, so that they may be better enjoyed."

"For estimating the intelligence of a ruler... look at the men around him."

"He who makes war his profession cannot be otherwise than vicious. War makes thieves, and peace brings them to the gallows."

"He who overcomes an enemy by fraud is as much to be praised as he who does so by force."

"I certainly think that it is better to be impetuous than cautious, for fortune is a woman, and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force."

"Men are more ready to offend one who desires to be beloved than one who wishes to be feared."

"Men nearly always follow the tracks made by others and proceed in their affairs by imitation, even though they cannot entirely keep to the tracks of others or emulate the prowess of their models. So a prudent man should always follow in the footsteps of great men and imitate those who have been outstanding. If his own prowess fails to compare with theirs, at least it has an air of greatness about it."

"War is a profession by which a man cannot live honorably; an employment by which the soldier, if he would reap any profit, is obliged to be false, rapacious, and cruel!"

"Whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it."

"A multitude is strong while it holds together, but so soon as each of those who compose it begins to think of his own private danger, it becomes weak and contemptible."

"A prince… who wishes to guard against conspiracies should fear those on whom he has heaped benefits quite as much, and even more, than those whom he has wronged; for the latter lack the convenient opportunities which the former have in abundance. The intention of both is the same for the thirst of dominion is as great as that of revenge, and even greater. A prince, therefore, should never bestow so much authority upon his friends but that there should always be a certain distance between them and himself, and that there should always be something left for them to desire."

"A prince is further esteemed when he is a true friend or a true enemy, when, that is, he declares himself without reserve in favor of some one or against another. This policy is always more useful than remaining neutral."

"Hatreds generally spring from fear or envy."

"In the actions of men… the end justifies the means."

"Men only judge of matters by the results."

"A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances; and if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him."

"Government consists mainly in so keeping your subjects that they shall be neither able nor disposed to injure you; and this is done by depriving them of all means of injuring you, or by bestowing such benefits upon them that it would not be reasonable for them to desire any change of fortune."

"A wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always and in every possible condition of things have need of his government, and then they will always be faithful to him."

"There is no better indication of a man’s character than the company which he keeps."

"There is no other way of guarding one’s self against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth; but when everyone can tell you the truth, you lose their respect. A prudent prince must therefore take a third course, by choosing for his council wise men, and giving these alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else; but he must ask them about everything and hear their opinion, and afterwards deliberate by himself in his own way."

"There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the older order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it."

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

"When princes think more of luxury than of arms, they lose their state."

"Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great."

"Men’s hatreds generally spring from fear or envy."

"It is an infallible rule that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well-advised."

"One ought to both be feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two has to be wanting… Love is held by a chain of obligation, which men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails."

"A man's wisdom is most conspicuous where he is able to distinguish among dangers and make choice of the least."

"God will not do everything, in order not to deprive us of free will and the portion of glory that falls to our lot."

"A man who is used to acting in one way never changes; he must come to ruin when the times, in changing, no longer are in harmony with his ways. "

"A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise."

"A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it. "

"It is not titles that honor men, but men that honor titles."

"Injuries must be committed all at once, so that, being savored less, they will arouse less resentment."

"All armed prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed prophets have been destroyed."

"When neither their property nor their honor is touched, the majority of men live content."

"All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger (it's impossible), but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer. "

"And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. "

"And truly it is a very natural and ordinary thing to desire to acquire, and always, when men do it who can, they will be praised or not blamed; but when they cannot, and wish to do it anyway, here lies the error and the blame."

"Appear as you may wish to be. "

"Because just as good morals, if they are to be maintained, have need of the laws, so the laws, if they are to be observed, have need of good morals."