The Prince, Ed. Christian Gauss
Christian Gauss was the Dean Emeritus of Princeton University when he wrote the introduction to explain the times in which Machiavelli lived, and its meaning to today’s readers. This translation was published in 1903 and revised in 1935. Gauss says the events of the 20th century created new interest in this five century old book. “The Prince” considered the relations of the citizen to the state, the relationship between states, and the sources and limits to the powers of a state. The brevity and style makes it easy reading when Machiavelli uses historical knowledge to discuss past and present rulers, their politics, and their fates. Italy was divided between five major states, where shifts of power could affect a state adversely. Machiavelli was the Secretary of the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence, in charge of military and diplomatic affairs. He was sent on many missions to other states. The quote about “the end justifying the means” is taken out of context; it was not meant to be a general rule.
When the Republic of Florence was conquered and the Medici family re-installed in power, Machiavelli (like others) was purged from office. His “Letter to the Prince” was his resume which displayed his knowledge of politics and history. It worked to bring Machiavelli back to office. After the Medici were overthrown, Machiavelli was dismissed, and considered a collaborator. His death left his family in poverty, his son published this work to earn money. This book has been in continuous publication ever since. While others wrote books on what a ruler should do; Machiavelli described what rulers actually did and the results. This book was written at a particular period of time, many of his examples are outdated. You should not take it all as 100% true. Quoting out of context can distort this and other books.
In Chapter 12 Machiavelli notes the chief foundation of all states are good laws and good arms. Good arms and good laws go together. A disarmed populace will be oppressed by bad laws that cannot be changed by the people. The well-armed Swiss enjoy great freedom. Mercenary soldiers will act in their own interests, not for the government that hires them. They can always sell out to an enemy for a higher price, or attack the government that hired them to create a military dictatorship. [Our Founding Fathers were well aware of this: no large standing army.] In Chapter 13 Machiavelli says the use of auxiliaries, or foreign troops, is worse than mercenaries. If they win they will then be powerful and obedient to a foreign ruler. Rome began to fall after it hired Goth mercenaries.
In Chapter 14 Machiavelli says a ruler who thinks “more of luxury than of arms” will lose his state. In modern terms, it means the head of a business who concentrates on golfing, flying, or horses rather than his business and the competition will soon see a decline in revenues. The “prince who is ignorant of military matters” can be compared to the clueless pointy-haired manager in Dilbert-land. That will lead to poor decisions and failures. In Chapter 18 Machiavelli notes how rulers keep faith: they follow a promise only when it is in their interest to do so. But this is no different from mankind in general. A ruler must adapt according to current fortune. A ruler must seem to be all mercy, faith, integrity, humanity, and religion. [Does this remind you of Presidents over the last 50 years?]
In Chapter 19 Machiavelli says a ruler must be considered merciful rather than cruel, but not misuse mercy. Cruelty must be used to keep subjects united and faithful, rather than a mercy that causes disorders. A ruler should be both feared and loved, but is it safer to be feared than loved. Men in general are weak and ungrateful, and not reliable or trustworthy unless there is a fear of punishment that never fails. A ruler should never be hated; abstain from taking the property or women from subjects or citizens. A reputation for cruelty is needed to control soldiers. [I wonder how many failing corporations lacked a Department of Internal Affairs to detect and punish corruption?]