Lessons From Machiavelli’s ’The Prince’ マキャベリの『君主論』からの教訓

A short disclaimer in advance. I am only a philosopher by heart and not by training. Therefore, the following text only reflects my personal interpretation and lessons, which I took from the philosophy of Machiavelli.

In the 16th century, the Italian philosopher and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) wrote his magnum opus titled ’The Prince’ (’Il Principe’). It is a comprehensive guide for political governance that offers valuable lessons for effective leadership. Due to its controversial moral nature, the work of Machiavelli has generally fallen from grace. Today, his name has even become a synonym for an immoral political actor. To be precise, according to the ‘Online Etymological Dictionary’, the term ’Machiavellian’ describes a person who is “cunning, deceitful, habitually duplicitous, unscrupulous, destitute of political morality”. However, the current negative interpretation of the term does not reflect Machiavelli's actual political philosophy. In essence, his political theories are not immoral, but rather a realistic and honest assessment of monarchical rulership. Although the moral nature of ’The Prince’ remains highly debatable, it nonetheless provides the reader with valuable information about the delicate art of political governance. This article briefly discusses three crucial maxims of Machiavelli’s political treatise.

The Balance Act between Generosity and Parsimony
“Nothing consumes itself so much as generosity, because while you practice it you’re losing the wherewithal to go on practicing it”.
(Machiavelli 2009, p. 64)

To begin with, maintaining the reputation of being a benevolent monarch is not an easy task. It is not only time-consuming, but also very expensive. Therefore, financial charity always carries the risk of leading to one's own indigence. According to Machiavelli, as soon as a ruler’s prosperity begins to turn into poverty, he will be forced to levy additional taxes in order to keep the administrative apparatus running. Such a shift in financial behavior carries a great risk, as the monarch could lose the favor of the people. If the ruler fails to maintain the support of his followers, his reign will eventually come to an end. Instead, Machiavelli proposes a different kind of generosity: “Since a ruler can’t be generous and show it without putting himself at risk, if he’s sensible he won’t mind getting a reputation for meanness. With time, when people see that his penny-pinching means he doesn’t need to raise taxes and can defend the country against attack and embark on campaigns without putting a burden on his people, he’ll increasingly be seen as generous – generous to those he takes nothing from [...]” (p. 62). In short, Machiavelli proclaims that for established monarchs, classic generosity has never led to success: “In our own times the only leaders we’ve seen doing great things were all reckoned mean. The others were failures” (p. 63).

The Entanglement of Skill and Luck
“So these rulers of ours, who were well-established kings and dukes yet still lost their states, should spare us their bad-luck stories; they have only themselves to blame”. (Machiavelli 2009, p. 97).

What does it take to become a successful monarch? Skill or luck? For Machiavelli, the answer was simple: ‘Skill always beats luck’. Fortune might lead to a prospective outcome, but only in the short-term.
An aspiring politician may rise to a high-level position due to fortunate circumstances, but luck alone will not be enough to secure his status in the long run. The Roman philosopher Seneca argued once that “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” (p. 1). Machiavelli, in contrast, slightly disagrees by proclaiming that luck might change, but preparation will always be valuable. Essentially, life can be best understood as an entanglement of fate and choice: “[...] I reckon it may be true that luck decides the half of what we do, but it leaves the other half, more or less, to us” (p. 98). Without doubt, fate can be a cruel mistress. Nevertheless, in times of need, a skillful ruler can always draw on his own abilities to avert the blows of fate. Machiavelli summarized it bluntly by saying that “[...]those who haven’t relied too much on lucky circumstances have lasted longer” (p. 21). Fortunately, ‘The Prince’ even offers a simple advice on how monarchs can increase their probability of luck: “[...] it’s better to be impulsive than cautious; fortune is female and if you want to stay on top of her you have to slap and thrust. You’ll see she’s more likely to yield that way than to men who go about her coldly” (p. 101).

The Debate about Love and Fear
“[...] if you always want to play the good man in a world where most people are not good, you’ll end up badly. Hence, if a ruler wants to survive, he’ll have to learn to stop being good, at least when the occasion demands”.
(Machiavelli 2009, p. 60)

Love is perhaps the greatest value of Christianity. However, should it also be the key principle of a ruler's reign? Machiavelli believes that since it is difficult for a ruler to be both feared and loved, it is much safer to be feared than loved, if one of the two must be lacking (p. 66). When it comes to political governance, there is a simple reason why fear is superior to love. Love is not a dependable means of crowd control. In essence, Machiavelli argues that while a leader has no influence on who loves him, it is within his power to decide who fears him: “[…] since people decide for themselves whether to love a ruler or not, while it’s the ruler who decides whether they’re going to fear him, a sensible man will base his power on what he controls, not on what others have freedom to choose” (p. 68). To support his thesis, Machiavelli makes historical references to the two famous military leaders Hannibal (247 BCE – c.a. 183-181 BCE) and Cesare Borgia (1475-1507). The Carthaginian general Hannibal effectively utilized respect and fear (achieved through “tremendous cruelty” (p. 67)) to keep strict control over his multiracial army. The former Italian cardinal and mercenary leader Cesare Borgia also built his reign partly on violence. He was a prime example of a ruthless leader who was able to balance his leadership style between cruelty and benevolence. Machiavelli only spoke in admiration of Borgia: “Cesare Borgia was thought to be cruel, yet his cruelty restored order to Romagna and united it, making the region peaceful and loyal” (p. 65). In the end, Machiavelli’s verdict was clear: ‘Fear prevails over love’.

Certainly, Machiavelli's work is far more complicated than presented in this article. However, a detailed analysis would go beyond the scope of this text. What makes Machiavelli’s ’The Prince’ worth reading is its approach to reveal the unsparing truth about the power play behind state governance. In the end, it remains to be a must-read for every person who is interested in the fine art of political leadership.



16世紀、イタリアの哲学者であり政治理論家のニッコロ・マキャベリ(1469-1527)は、『君主論』('Il Principe')と題する大作を執筆した。この本は、政治的統治のための包括的なガイドであり、効果的にリーダーシップを取るために必要な教訓を示している。マキャベリの著作は、その道徳的な性質が物議を醸すため、人々から尊敬されることはなかった。今日、彼の名前は不道徳な政治家の代名詞とさえなっている。「オンライン語源辞典」によると、「マキャベリアン」という言葉は、「ずる賢い、欺瞞に満ちた、二枚舌、不謹慎、政治道徳に欠ける」人物を表している。しかし、この著作に対する否定的な解釈は、マキアヴェリの実際の政治哲学を反映してはいない。本来、彼の政治理論は不道徳なものではなく、むしろ君主支配に対する現実的で正直な評価なのである。『君主論』の道徳的な部分については依然として大きな議論の余地があるが、それでも、この本は政治的統治の為に必要とされる繊細なスキルについての重要な情報を提供している。本稿では、マキアヴェリの政治論集から、3つの重要な格言を取り上げ、簡単に説明する。

「寛大さほど自分を消耗させるものはない。なぜなら、それを実践している間に それを実践し続けるための手段を失ってしまうからだ」
(マキャベリ 2009, p.64)


(マキャベリ 2009, p.97)

成功する君主になる為には何が必要なのだろう? 技術だろうか? 運だろうか? マキャベリにとって、その答えは簡単だった。「スキル(技術)は常に運に勝るものだ」
政治家を志す者は、幸運に恵まれ高い地位に就くことはあっても、運だけでは長期にわたってその地位を確保することは出来ない。ローマの哲学者セネカはかつて、「運とは、準備と機会が出会ったときに起こるものだ」(p.1)と主張したが、これに対してマキャベリは、「運は変わるかもしれないが、準備というのは常に価値があるものだ」と主張し、セネカに対して若干の異論を唱えている。人生というのは、本質的には運と選択のもつれの結果として理解するのが一番である。「[...]私たちがすることの半分は運によって決められているというのは事実かもしれないが、残りの半分は、多かれ少なかれ私たちに委ねられているというのは本当かもしれない」(p.98)。運命は残酷な愛人であるとはいえ、いざとなれば、手腕にたけた支配者というのはいつでも自分の能力を発揮して、運命からの打撃を避けることが出来るのだ。マキャベリは、「幸運な境遇にあまり頼らなかった者ほど、長続きした」(21ページ)という言葉で、それを要約している。幸いにも、『君主論』の中で、マキャベリは君主が幸運を得る確率を高める方法について簡単なアドバイスまでしている。「用心深いよりも、衝動的であるほうがいい。フォーチュン(幸運)は女性なので、彼女の上に留まりたい場合は、叩いたり突いたりしなくてはならない。彼女を冷たくあしらう男よりも、そのような男に屈服する可能性が高いということがわかるだろう」(p. 101)。

(マキャベリ 2009, p.60)



Machiavelli, N. (translated by Parks, T.) (2009) ’The Prince’, London, UK, Penguin Press.
Online Etymology Dictionary (2023) ’Machiavellian (adj.)’, online available at https://www.etymonline.com/word/machiavellian#:~:text=Machiavellian%20(adj.),to%20place%20advantage%20above%20morality accessed on January 27, 2023.
Seneca, L. A. (2018) ’99 Quotes by Seneca – Meditations to Live by’, online available at https://existentialstoic.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/99quotesbyseneca-export1.pdf accessed on January 27, 2023.

ソシエタス総合研究所 研究員Niklas Holzapfel ホルツ アッペル ニクラス
ドイツ出身。Goethe University Frankfurt am Main(ヨハン・ヴォルフガン グ・ゲーテ大学フランクフルト・アム・マイン)にて日本学・中国学(学士、 法・経済分野)専攻して卒業後、1年間立教大学に留学。その後、Martin- Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg(マルティン・ルター大学ハレ・ヴィッテ ンベルク)大学院に進学し、日本学と南アジア学を専攻。同時に、経済・経営 学、英米学学士号(経営倫理分野)も取得。研究テーマ・関心は、現代日本社会 の構造、システム、制度をめぐる言説と、それらの社会哲学的・社会経済的視点 からの脱構築化の実践。2022年4月より、橋本財団ソシエタス総合研究所に 勤務し、主に日本の福祉制度をめぐる動きとその社会福祉政策(生活保護など) への影響についての研究に従事する。
ドイツ出身。Goethe University Frankfurt am Main(ヨハン・ヴォルフガン グ・ゲーテ大学フランクフルト・アム・マイン)にて日本学・中国学(学士、 法・経済分野)専攻して卒業後、1年間立教大学に留学。その後、Martin- Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg(マルティン・ルター大学ハレ・ヴィッテ ンベルク)大学院に進学し、日本学と南アジア学を専攻。同時に、経済・経営 学、英米学学士号(経営倫理分野)も取得。研究テーマ・関心は、現代日本社会 の構造、システム、制度をめぐる言説と、それらの社会哲学的・社会経済的視点 からの脱構築化の実践。2022年4月より、橋本財団ソシエタス総合研究所に 勤務し、主に日本の福祉制度をめぐる動きとその社会福祉政策(生活保護など) への影響についての研究に従事する。
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