Machiavelli, writing in extremely disturbed times at the beginning of the 16th Century in Italy, was aware of the major social currents of his time. His advice to princes for securing and maintaining power, therefore, reflects the thinking of the influences around him. It would probably be wrong to state flatly that Machiavelli, as many people think, was unusually cruel and heartless in his opinions. In fact, much of his advice, aimed at strengthening the power of princes, makes perfect sense, even in contemporary America.
In Chapter 14, for example, he recommends that a standing army be maintained in a constant state of preparedness, to come to the assistance of a prince who may be losing authority.
In Chapter 15, he states that certain vices may be necessary in order to maintain the authority of the state. But he agrees that it is important for the public to perceive the prince as essentially virtuous on the surface.
Machiavelli seems to support the idea, as did many thinkers of his time, that a despotic ruler (such as Hiero) can embody noble qualities. This might seem immoral or unethical to some readers.
The Prince is known for its many passages in which Machiavelli seems to prefer unethical means to ensure what he considers proper ends, such as maintaining the primacy of the state, or of the prince's power. By allowing unethical acts to occur, even if the result is good, Machiavelli seems to be compromising the integrity of the concept of honest leadership.
In my opinion, Machiavelli definitely understood the darker side of human nature and capitalized on man's proclivity toward evil to help maintain the prince in power. This is subscribing to the notion of the ends justifying the means and is in tune with reality, even if it is in violation of many Western religious standards.