Whilst perusing the Net for some material for my book on Machiavelli, I came across this maxim: “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
It’s attributed on many, many sites to Machiavelli in his most famous work, The Prince.
Sounds pretty Machiavellian, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t.
Machiavelli never wrote those words.
Sun Tzu wrote that, “All warfare is based on deception.” (Book 1, 18), which is close. Sun Tzu went on to add in the next two lines (19 and 20),
“Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
“Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.”
In The Art of War, Book 4, Machiavelli wrote, “It may also be well to do with cunning that which happened to Fabius Maximus at home,” which follows with the example of Fabius’ cunning use of cavalry to beguile an enemy encampment.
And in Book 7, he wrote, “Those who are besieged must also guard themselves from the deceit and cunning of the enemy, and, therefore, the besieged should not trust anything which they see the enemy doing continuously, but always believe they are being done by deceit, and can change to injure them.”
Neither quote is close to the one at the top.