The Politics of Deception

“So it follows that a prudent ruler cannot, and must not, honour his word when it places him at a disadvantage and when the reasons for which he made his promise no longer exist.  If all men were good, this precept would not be good; but because men are wretched creatures who would not keep their word to you, you need not keep your word to them.  And no prince ever lacked good excuses to colour his bad faith.  One could give innumerable modern instances of this, showing how many pacts and promises have been made null and void by the bad faith of princes: those who have known best how to colour one’s actions and to be a great liar and deceiver. Men are so simple, and so much creatures of circumstances, that the deceiver will always find someone ready to be deceived.” Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. George Bull (London 1961), 55. [Emphasis added]

Niccolo Machiavelli, the (in)famous writer and political leader of Florence in the late 15th and early 16th century, applied his knowledge of domestic and foreign policy here.  He advises wise political leaders to be prepared to lie.  It’s that simple.  If you want to succeed as a politician you must be willing to deceive others.  Why? If you keep your word it will make you weak since others are lying to you.  Therefore, a prudent leader will act as circumstances dictate and break his word when it will benefit him or his state.

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