FACT CHECK: Did Niccolò Machiavelli Say, ‘Never Attempt To Win By Force What Can Be Won By Deception’?

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Editor

A post shared on Facebook claims that Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli once stated, “Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”

Verdict: False

This saying doesn’t appear in any of Machiavelli’s works.

Fact Check:

Niccolo Machiavelli was a diplomat, political philosopher and writer active during the Italian Renaissance. His book, “The Prince,” which details his political philosophy, helped establish him as an important figure in modern political theory. (RELATED: ‘I Want To Overthrow It’ — Did Machiavelli Say This Quote About The Status Quo?)

Though Machiavelli expounded upon a variety of political subjects, there is no evidence that he ever made this statement. Nowhere in this work, or any of his others, does the saying attributed to him in the Facebook post appear.

Indeed, Princeton University politics professor Maurizio Viroli told the Daily Caller News Foundation that he had not encountered it in any of Machiavelli’s writings. “He detested and condemned fraud and deception eloquently,” said Viroli in an email. “See, for instance, Discourses on Livy, III.40. He wrote that the prince should learn to use deception or force, if necessary, but he never wrote the statement you have cited.”

In “Discourses on Livy,” as Viroli pointed out, Machiavelli writes, “Although the use of fraud in every action is detestable, nonetheless in managing war it is a praiseworthy and glorious thing, and he who overcomes the enemy with fraud is praised as much as the one who overcomes it with force.”

The quote may be a paraphrase of Machiavelli’s work. It also resembles a quote found in Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu’s “Art of War,” which reads, “All warfare is based on deception.”

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Editor
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