According to Machiavelli, the most effective leaders governed not according to some abstract notion of morality, but more pragmatically. Machiavelli begins from a view of human nature that is hard-bitten and pessimistic. In chapter seventeen, where he famously asks whether it is better for a prince to be feared or loved, he most fully describes his view of men:
For of men it may generally be affirmed that they are thankless, fickle, false, studious to avoid danger, greedy of gain, devoted to you while you are able to confer benefits upon them, and ready, as I said before, while danger is distant, to shed their blood, and sacrifice their property, their lives, and their children for you; but in the hour of need they turn against you.
Machiavelli thus recommended that a prince had to be ruthless when necessary, but above all behave with an eye to keeping up appearances. The prince should be perceived as firm, but not cruel. He should be stingy while maintaining the appearance of generosity. He should appear honest to the people while negotiating the more devious aspects of statecraft. In short, a prince should always recognize, and say, what his people want to hear while doing things that could be politically unpopular. So the most important characteristics a prince should have would be an honest appraisal of human nature and a willingness to behave in ways that did not conform to morality.