Machiavelli’s Rules

Machiavelli’s ideas about power and governing can be boiled down to a handful of rules, somewhat paraphrased below and not in any particular order of importance:

  1. Winning matters.
  2. If you win, people will judge the methods you used to win as appropriate. If you lose, they will despise both you and your means.
  3. If you can’t be both loved and feared, choose fear. Affection is fickle, but the fear of punishment is constant.
  4. Crush your opponents.
  5. Use your power harshly only for a short time, to achieve a greater stability for the municipality.
  6. Learn the rules of the game so you can use them to your advantage.
  7. Consultants and lobbyists are working for their own interests, not yours. Where possible use your own people and staff, instead of outsiders.
  8. You need both cunning and strength to survive in the political wilderness. Strength alone isn’t enough.
  9. Only keep your promises when it is beneficial to do so. It’s okay to break them when times change, or the need to keep them has gone.
  10. Appear inflexible, decisive and resolute, but act as the situation and the political climate demand.
  11. Pick sides. The middle ground offers the worst of both sides, not the best.
  12. Avoid flatterers and sycophants.
  13. Learn how not to be good: be bad when necessity demands it.
  14. Knock a few heads together when you have to show the rest who’s boss.
  15. Be stingy, not generous.
  16. Place your own stamp on the municipality: erase anything that remains of the former mayor and council.
  17. Change with the times.
  18. It is better to be adventurous than cautious.
  19. Make sure all your advisors, your friends and staff know their benefits and their positions depend on your success.
  20. Guard your reputation: it is your most precious asset.
  21. You owe your allegiance to the people, not to the civil servants, special interest groups, lobbyists or your friends.
  22. Study the greats, study history, study politics, strategy and most of all, study war.
  23. Hire smart people.

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