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The Virtues of a Prince

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Niccolò Machiavelli offers a provocative concept of virtue for a prince. It is stated that a perfect prince would naturally possess all the imaginable virtues, like being noble and humane, merciful and faithful, frank and religious and so on. But on the other hand, it is obvious that it is impossible for a human being to have all those virtues at the same time. Therefore, the way out Machiavelli offers is to create an illusion the prince has them. In this way, a prince should learn how to make his people believe that he possesses those virtues, but of course avoid lies without necessity. 

It is stressed that the art of war should be perfected by the prince, and that would be one of the main virtues for him. Regarding generosity, it is concluded that it is better to make people guarded from hatred than to base the reputation of a prince on his generosity. Reputation of a miser is better than the reputation for generosity, according to Machiavelli. As for keeping to promises, it is again underlined that a wise prince would seem to keep to his promises, but act according to his own optimal choices.

In choosing whether a prince should be loved or feared, Machiavelli prefers the latter. As it is impossible to be feared and loved at the same time, fear provides more credit for a governor because it is something commanded by the prince himself, not by the will of the people. The reproach of cruelty should not be minded by a prince, Machiavelli considers, because more evil can be caused by mercy resulting in disorders or murders. It is safer to be feared than to be loved because punishment will never fail as opposed to inner feelings.

In this way, in Machiavelli’s concept, a good prince is a good illusionist. 

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