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Chapters 15 and 16

Chapter XV: Of the Things for Which Men, and Especially Princes, are Praised or Blamed

Machiavelli begins this very notorious chapter by acknowledging that what he is about to write might surprise, and even offend people. However, he continues, it is better to give advice based on what the world is actually like, and the way that politics actually works, than to give idealized advice based only on what sounds nice. In a well-known passage, Machiavelli declares that the man who "abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin than his preservation." Here, Machiavelli admits that he is a political realist, and finds conventional standards of morality useless as practical advice. Since so many people fail to act according to these standards in reality, he argues, continuing to be "good" can only weaken a ruler. Instead, he writes, "it is necessary for a prince. . . to learn how not to be good" according to the circumstances.

He then lists a number of the qualities that can bring a prince praise (liberality, mercy, trustworthiness, wisdom, etc.), or blame (viciousness, greed, cruelty, lust, atheism, etc.). Obviously, he writes, it is better for a prince to be praised than blamed, and a prince would be loved completely by all his citizens if he actually possessed all of those praiseworthy qualities. However, he writes, let's get real: no prince will have every good quality, and most princes will have at least a few of those bad ones. The key, then, is that the prince should hide from the people those vices that he may have, and to make sure that he seems to have as many virtues as possible.

Chapter XVI: Of Liberality and Niggardliness

Of course, always eager to shock, Machiavelli points out that quite a few of those so-called "virtues" would be politically disastrous, while many of the "vices" would actually benefit the state - and if committing a "vice" is ever necessary for the safety of the state, the prince should commit it without shame. Machiavelli examines more carefully one of his oppositions of virtue and vice: liberality (free giving) and niggardliness (unwillingness to give, or miserliness). Every prince would love to be considered liberal - but if a prince were really to give up his possessions freely, he would quickly ruin himself. In fact, the more liberal a prince is, the poorer he will inevitably become - and then he'll have to tax his citizens, making them hate him in the end anyway. Better, Machiavelli writes, for a prince to be considered a miser for a while, so that he will be able to govern better and give his subjects more in the long term. The best case scenario, however, is for a prince to be miserly with his own kingdom's wealth, but free and lavish with the money he steals from other countries in wartime. That way, he can have the reputation for generosity without breaking the bank! If a prince doesn't have that last option, though, Machiavelli advises him to give up the ideal of "liberality" in the interest of practicality. The people will understand.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Important Persons
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Summary of the Argument
Prefatory Letter
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapter 3
Chapters 4 and 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapters 9 and 10
Chapters 11 and 12
Chapters 13 and 14
Chapters 15 and 16
Chapters 17 and 18
Chapters 19 and 20
Chapters 21, 22, and 23
Chapters 24, 25, and 26


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