[A]nyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved.

See Important Quotations Explained

The most revolutionary aspect of The Prince is its separation of politics and ethics. Classical political theory traditionally linked political law with a higher, moral law. In contrast, Machiavelli argues that political action must always be considered in light of its practical consequences rather than some lofty ideal.

Another striking feature of The Prince is that it is far less theoretical than the literature on political theory that preceded it. Many earlier thinkers had constructed hypothetical notions of ideal or natural states, but Machiavelli treated historical evidence pragmatically to ground The Prince in real situations. The book is dedicated to the current ruler of Florence, and it is readily apparent that Machiavelli intends for his advice to be taken seriously by the powerful men of his time. It is a practical guide for a ruler rather than an abstract treatise of philosophy.

Machiavelli’s book also distinguishes itself on the subject of free will. Medieval and Renaissance thinkers often looked to religion or ancient authors for explanations of plagues, famines, invasions, and other calamities; they considered the actual prevention of such disasters to be beyond the scope of human power. In The Prince, when Machiavelli argues that people have the ability to shield themselves against misfortune, he expresses an extraordinary confidence in the power of human self-determination and affirms his belief in free will as opposed to divine destiny.

Since they were first published, Machiavelli’s ideas have been oversimplified and vilified. His political thought is usually—and unfairly—defined solely in terms of The Prince. The adjective “Machiavellian” is used to mean “manipulative,” “deceptive,” or “ruthless.” But Machiavelli’s Discourses, a work considerably longer and more developed than The Prince, expounds republican themes of patriotism, civic virtue, and open political participation.