A fascinating, thought-provoking and disturbing read.
Machiavelli based his arguments on the premise (or rather observation) that men are inherently evil unless compelled by necessity to do good. If a man follows moral principles, he would be at a disadvantage to the majority who don’t. Therefore, for a man to obtain power, it is necessary for him to resort to deceit, false promises, hypocrisy, cruelty and other immoral devices. (“Men should be either pampered or annihilated”, since the annihilated can not avenge themselves)
I’m reminded of a joke about a man who robbed a bank and used his booty to buy a diamond necklace for his girlfriend but later found out that the necklace was a fake. What good end can one achieve by unjust means?
Morals aside, however, Machiavelli made poignant observations of human nature and the power struggles among principalities. For instance, it is better to send settlers or establish friendly local governments than to deploy troops to stabilize and control newly conquered territories; Support the weak neighboring nations, but weaken the strong ones; A highly-centralized, uniform state power is harder to conquer but easier to hold, whereas a decentralized, heterogeneous state power is easier to overturn but harder to control; Political and social disorders, like human diseases, are better dealt with as early as possible before they become incurable, therefore wars are not to be avoided or deferred; Injuries, if necessary, should be inflicted swiftly in one fell swoop, so that they may be more easily forgotten, and benefits should be bestowed gradually, “so that the flavor of them may last longer”.