Machiavelli wrote that "it is necessary for a ruler, if he wants to hold on to power, to learn how not to be good, and to know when it is and when it is not necessary to use this knowledge". While at first glance Machiavelli's statement may seem simple and perhaps even harsh, upon closer examination, the statement is indeed the opposite. .
Firstly, the statement is not as simple as it seems because it is two-fold. Not only does Machiavelli point out that a ruler must learn how not to be good - he implies that there is a time when that information is not to be used. What then does it mean to not to be good? Not to be good may instinctively force us to think of one being bad, however one not being good is not always one being bad - in fact, I believe that when Machiavelli wrote this statement he was not referring to learning how to be bad at all. He was referring to learning how to be strong and act as a disciplinarian in some cases. For instance, a ruler who punishes treason with death cannot be said to be good but he is not bad either. He set down a law whereby the consequence of breaking that law is death. Making such a law is not good because the end result is murder. But, it is not bad either. Making the law is an act of discipline. Carrying out the law is an act of strength. In ruling over people effectively, both strength and discipline are needed, but neither is equal to being bad, they are merely not good. .
A ruler needs to be strong and show that he is capable of discipline; in effect not being good, because the people he is dealing with will not be good all the time. The distinction between not being good and being bad can be seen in the example of parents dealing with their children. Parents that raise their children always being good will not set down rules for their children, and even if they do, they most certainly will not discipline their children if the children break the rules because the parents are more concerned with being good than they are with retaining their power over their children.