The Prince

How can a prince being cruel possibly be an act of mercy?

How can this happen?

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“On Cruelty and Clemency: Whether It Is Better To Be Loved or Feared,” posits the seemingly simple argument that, though it is ideally better to be merciful than cruel, clemency should be handled in moderation. Again, Machiavelli complicates the notion of good as purely subordinate to power, invoking utilitarian reasoning to argue that an excess of “good” can actually lead to harm. In this case, too much clemency can lead to uprisings and civil war. Machiavelli cites the example of Florence, which was afraid to intervene with the required force in Pistoia and was in turn destroyed through civil conflict. If a prince needs to be cruel to keep his subjects united and loyal, so be it. Cruelty can serve the greater good.