Summary and Analysis Chapter 18



Everyone knows that princes should keep their word, but we see that the princes who have accomplished the most have been accomplished at deception. A prince may fight with laws, which is the way of human beings, or with force, which is the way of animals. A prince should imitate the fox in cunning as well as the lion in strength. A wise prince should never keep his word when it would go against his interest, because he can expect others to do the same. In order to pull it off, you must be a good liar, but you will always find people willing to be deceived.

To sum it up, it is useful to seem to be virtuous, but you must be ready to act the opposite way if the situation requires it. A prince should do good if he can, but be ready to do evil if he must. Yet a prince must be careful to always act in a way that appears virtuous, for many can see you, but few know how you really are. If a ruler conquers and maintains his state, everyone will praise him, judging his actions by their outcome.


This chapter concludes Machiavelli's discussion of the qualities a prince should display. Keeping his feet firmly in the real world, as he promised, he begins by stating that even though everyone assumes princes should keep their word, experience shows that those who do not keep their word get the better of those who do. This is Machiavelli's justification for deceit: Because you can expect other princes not to honor their word to you, you should not feel obligated to honor your word to them. Sebastian de Grazia, writing about this chapter, refers to Machiavelli's precept as the "Un-Golden Rule"—do unto others as you can expect they will do unto you. In this bestial world, princes must act like beasts, imitating the clever fox, instead of relying only on strength, as does the lion. In a world full of deceivers, there must also be someone to deceive, and Machiavelli finds that there are plenty of people willing to overlook all kinds of deceit as long as their state is peaceful and prosperous.

The prince's control of his public image gets special attention in this chapter. A prince must always appear to be truthful, merciful, and religious, even if he must sometimes act in the opposite way. Interestingly, these are the very same qualities he condemns Agathocles for lacking in Chapter 8, but here, he advises the prince to dispense with them when necessary. But the great mass of people will never see the prince as he really is; they will see only the image he projects. The few insiders who know the prince's true nature will do nothing to harm him as long as the people support him, and the people will support him as long as he has been successful. Here, Machiavelli sounds remarkably like a modern spin doctor advising a politician on how to get good press.


Chiron the wisest of all centaurs (half-man and half-horse), famous for his knowledge of medicine: he is the teacher of Asclepius, Achilles, and Hercules.

prince who is not named the reference is to King Ferdinand of Spain, who had a wide reputation for being deceptive and crafty.