Explain and assess Machiavelli’s analysis of the optimal means by which a prince maintains his state.
In the introduction give background information on Machiavelli and a general overview of ‘The Prince’.
write the essay in a clear and logical manner. Please also add criticisms of Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ to answer the question more effectively.
Biographical and Historical Background
Niccolò Machiavelli was born on May 3, 1469, in Florence, Italy, and passed his childhood peacefully, receiving the humanistic education customary for young men of the Renaissance middle class. He also spent two years studying business mathematics, then worked for the next seven years in Rome for a Florentine banker. After returning to Florence in 1494, he witnessed the expulsion of the Medici family, oligarchic despots who had ruled Florence for decades, and the rise of GirolamoSavanorola, a Dominican religious zealot who took control of the region shortly thereafter.
Italy at that time became the scene of intense political conflict. The city-states of Florence, Milan, Venice, and Naples fought for control of Italy, as did the papacy, France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire. Each of these powers attempted to pursue a strategy of playing the other powers off of one other, but they also engaged in less honorable practices such as blackmail and violence. The same year that Machiavelli returned to Florence, Italy was invaded by Charles VIII of France—the first of several French invasions that would occur during Machiavelli’s lifetime. These events influenced Machiavelli’s attitudes toward government, forming the backdrop for his later impassioned pleas for Italian unity.
Because Savanorola criticized the leadership of the Church, Pope Alexander VI cut his reign short by excommunicating him in 1497. The next year, at the age of twenty-nine, Machiavelli entered the Florentine government as head of the Second Chancery and secretary to the Council of Ten for War. In his role as chancellor, he was sent to France on a diplomatic mission in 1500. He met regularly with Pope Alexander and the recently crowned King Louis XII. In exchange for a marriage annulment, Louis helped the pope establish his son, Cesare Borgia, as the duke of Romagna. The intrigues of these three men would influence Machiavelli’s political thought, but it was Borgia who would do the most to shape Machiavelli’s opinions about leadership. Borgia was a cunning, cruel, and vicious politician, and many people despised him. Nevertheless, Machiavelli believed Borgia had the traits necessary for any leader who would seek to unify Italy.
In 1500, Machiavelli married Marietta di LodovicoCorsini, with whom he had six children. Three years later, Pope Alexander VI became sick with malaria and died. Alexander VI’s successor died after less than a month in office, and Julius II, an enemy of Borgia’s, was elected. Julius II later banished Borgia to Spain, where he died in 1506.
Meanwhile, Machiavelli helped raise and train a Florentine civil militia in order to reduce Florence’s dependence on mercenaries. Later that year, he served as Florentine diplomat to Pope Julius, whose conduct as the “warrior pope” he observed firsthand. In 1512, the Medici family regained control of Florence, and Machiavelli was dismissed from office. A year later he was wrongly accused of participating in a conspiracy to restore the republic, held in jail for three weeks, and tortured on the rack. He left Florence for the quiet town of Sant’Andrea and decided to pursue a career in writing. In 1513 he began writing his Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, a book that focused on states controlled by a politically active citizenry. It was not finished until 1521, mainly because he interrupted his work on Discourses to write The Prince.
Machiavelli desperately wanted to return to politics. One of his goals in writing The Prince was to win the favor of Lorenzo de’ Medici, then-governor of Florence and the person to whom the book is dedicated; Machiavelli hoped to land an advisory position within the Florentine government. But Medici received the book indifferently, and Machiavelli did not receive an invitation to serve as an official. The public’s reaction to The Prince was also indifferent at first. But slowly, as word spread, the book began to be criticized as immoral, evil, and wicked.
Besides the Discourses, Machiavelli went on to write The Art of War and a comedic play, The Mandrake. After Lorenzo’s premature death in 1519, his successor, Giulio, gave Machiavelli a commission to write The Florentine History as well as a few small diplomatic jobs. Machiavelli also wrote The Life of CastruccioCastracani in 1520 and Clizia, a comedic play. In 1526, Giulio de’ Medici (now Pope Clement VII), at Machiavelli’s urging, created a commission to examine Florence’s fortifications and placed Machiavelli on it.
In 1527, the diplomatic errors of the Medici pope resulted in the sack of Rome by Charles V’s mercenaries. The Florentines expelled their Medici ruler, and Machiavelli tried to retake the office he had left so before. But his reputation got in the way of his ambitions. He was now too closely associated with the Medicis, and the republic rejected him. Soon, Machiavelli’s health began to fail him, and he died several months later, on June 21, 1527.
The most revolutionary aspect of The Prince is its separation of politics and ethics. Classical political theory traditionally linked political law with a higher, moral law. In contrast, Machiavelli argues that political action must always be considered in light of its practical consequences rather than some lofty ideal.
Another striking feature of The Prince is that it is far less theoretical than the literature on political theory that preceded it. Many earlier thinkers had constructed hypothetical notions of ideal or natural states, but Machiavelli treated historical evidence pragmatically to ground The Prince in real situations. The book is dedicated to the current ruler of Florence, and it is readily apparent that Machiavelli intends for his advice to be taken seriously by the powerful men of his time. It is a practical guide for a ruler rather than an abstract treatise of philosophy.
Machiavelli’s book also distinguishes itself on the subject of free will. Medieval and Renaissance thinkers often looked to religion or ancient authors for explanations of plagues, famines, invasions, and other calamities; they considered the actual prevention of such disasters to be beyond the scope of human power. In The Prince, when Machiavelli argues that people have the ability to shield themselves against misfortune, he expresses an extraordinary confidence in the power of human self-determination and affirms his belief in free will as opposed to divine destiny.
Since they were first published, Machiavelli’s ideas have been oversimplified and vilified. His political thought is usually—and unfairly—defined solely in terms of The Prince. The adjective “Machiavellian” is used to mean “manipulative,” “deceptive,” or “ruthless.” But Machiavelli’s Discourses, a work considerably longer and more developed than The Prince, expounds republican themes of patriotism, civic virtue, and open political participation.
Machiavelli composed The Prince as a practical guide for ruling (though some scholars argue that the book was intended as a satire and essentially a guide on how not to rule). This goal is evident from the very beginning, the dedication of the book to Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ruler of Florence. The Prince is not particularly theoretical or abstract; its prose is simple and its logic straightforward. These traits underscore Machiavelli’s desire to provide practical, easily understandable advice.
The first two chapters describe the book’s scope. The Prince is concerned with autocratic regimes, not with republican regimes. The first chapter defines the various types of principalities and princes; in doing so, it constructs an outline for the rest of the book. Chapter III comprehensively describes how to maintain composite principalities—that is, principalities that are newly created or annexed from another power, so that the prince is not familiar to the people he rules. Chapter III also introduces the book’s main concerns—power politics, warcraft, and popular goodwill—in an encapsulated form.
Chapters IV through XIV constitute the heart of the book. Machiavelli offers practical advice on a variety of matters, including the advantages and disadvantages that attend various routes to power, how to acquire and hold new states, how to deal with internal insurrection, how to make alliances, and how to maintain a strong military. Implicit in these chapters are Machiavelli’s views regarding free will, human nature, and ethics, but these ideas do not manifest themselves explicitly as topics of discussion until later.
Statesmanship & Warcraft
Machiavelli believes that good laws follow naturally from a good military. His famous statement that “the presence of sound military forces indicates the presence of sound laws” describes the relationship between developing states and war in The Prince. Machiavelli reverses the conventional understanding of war as a necessary, but not definitive, element of the development of states, and instead asserts that successful war is the very foundation upon which all states are built. Much of The Prince is devoted to describing exactly what it means to conduct a good war: how to effectively fortify a city, how to treat subjects in newly acquired territories, and how to prevent domestic insurrection that would distract from a successful war. But Machiavelli’s description of war encompasses more than just the direct use of military force—it comprises international diplomacy, domestic politics, tactical strategy, geographic mastery, and historical analysis. Within the context of Machiavelli’s Italy—when cities were constantly threatened by neighboring principalities and the area had suffered through power struggles for many years—his method of viewing almost all affairs of state through a military lens was a timely innovation in political thinking.
Goodwill & Hatred
To remain in power, a prince must avoid the hatred of his people. It is not necessary for him to be loved; in fact, it is often better for him to be feared. Being hated, however, can cause a prince’s downfall. This assertion might seem incompatible with Machiavelli’s statements on the utility of cruelty, but Machiavelli advocates the use of cruelty only insofar as it does not compromise the long-term goodwill of the people. The people’s goodwill is always the best defense against both domestic insurrection and foreign aggression. Machiavelli warns princes against doing things that might result in hatred, such as the confiscation of property or the dissolution of traditional institutions. Even installations that are normally valued for military use, such as fortresses, should be judged primarily on their potential to garner support for the prince. Indeed, only when he is absolutely sure that the people who hate him will never be able to rise against him can a prince cease to worry about incurring the hatred of any of his subjects. Ultimately, however, obtaining the goodwill of the people has little or nothing to do with a desire for the overall happiness of the populace. Rather, goodwill is a political instrument to ensure the stability of the prince’s reign.
Machiavelli often uses the words “prowess” and “fortune” to describe two distinct ways in which a prince can come to power. “Prowess” refers to an individual’s talents, while “fortune” implies chance or luck. Part of Machiavelli’s aim in writing The Prince is to investigate how much of a prince’s success or failure is caused by his own free will and how much is determined by nature or the environment in which he lives. Machiavelli applies this question specifically to the failure of past Italian princes. In Chapter XXV, Machiavelli discusses the role of fortune in determining human affairs. He attempts to compromise between free will and determinism by arguing that fortune controls half of human actions and leaves the other half to free will. However, Machiavelli also argues that through foresight—a quality that he champions throughout the book—people can shield themselves against fortune’s vicissitudes. Thus, Machiavelli can be described as confident in the power of human beings to shape their destinies to a degree, but equally confident that human control over events is never absolute.
Machiavelli defines virtues as qualities that are praised by others, such as generosity, compassion, and piety. He argues that a prince should always try to appear virtuous, but that acting virtuously for virtue’s sake can prove detrimental to the principality. A prince should not necessarily avoid vices such as cruelty or dishonesty if employing them will benefit the state. Cruelty and other vices should not be pursued for their own sake, just as virtue should not be pursued for its own sake: virtues and vices should be conceived as means to an end. Every action the prince takes must be considered in light of its effect on the state, not in terms of its intrinsic moral value.
Machiavelli asserts that a number of traits are inherent in human nature. People are generally self-interested, although their affection for others can be won and lost. They are content and happy so long they are not victims of something terrible. They may be trustworthy in prosperous times, but they will quickly turn selfish, deceitful, and profit-driven in times of adversity. People admire honor, generosity, courage, and piety in others, but most of them do not exhibit these virtues themselves. Ambition is commonly found among those who have achieved some power, but most common people are satisfied with the status quo and therefore do not yearn for increased status. People will naturally feel a sense of obligation after receiving a favor or service, and this bond is usually not easily broken. Nevertheless, loyalties are won and lost, and goodwill is never absolute. Such statements about human nature are often offered up as justifications for the book’s advice to princes. While Machiavelli backs up his political arguments with concrete historical evidence, his statements about society and human nature sometimes have the character of assumptions rather than observations.
Machiavelli begins by offering a short defense of why he, an ordinary citizen, should know more than rulers about the art of ruling. He uses a metaphor to justify himself: a person standing on a mountain is best positioned to survey the landscape below, and a person standing below is best positioned to survey the mountain. Similarly, writes Machiavelli, “to comprehend fully the nature of people, one must be a prince, and to comprehend fully the nature of princes one must be an ordinary citizen.” Implicit in this claim is the idea that the removed perspective of an observer is a more reliable guide than practical experience, and a better means of improving the art of ruling.
The dedication gives the reader an idea of Machiavelli’s intended audience. Though the book has a scholarly tone, it is not for fellow scholars. The Prince is meant to advise, instruct, and influence the minds of rulers. It was, originally, a kind of practical “how-to” guide for aspiring princes. Only later did The Prince become regarded as an important treatise on political philosophy.
Summary — Chapter I: The Kinds of Principalities and the Means by Which They Are Acquired
Machiavelli describes the different kinds of states, arguing that all states are either republics or principalities. Principalities can be divided into hereditary principalities and new principalities. New principalities are either completely new or new appendages to existing states. By fortune or strength, a prince can acquire a new principality with his own army or with the arms of others.
Summary — Chapter II: Hereditary Principalities
Chapter II is the first of three chapters focusing on methods to govern and maintain principalities. Machiavelli dismisses any discussion of republics, explaining that he has “discussed them at length on another occasion”—a reference to Book 1 of his Discourses.
Machiavelli notes that it is easier to govern a hereditary state than a new principality for two main reasons. First, those under the rule of such states are familiar with the prince’s family and are therefore accustomed to their rule. The natural prince only has to keep past institutions intact, while adapting these institutions to current events. Second, the natural disposition of subjects in a hereditary state is to love the ruling family, unless the prince commits some horrible act against his people. Even if a strong outsider succeeds in conquering a prince’s hereditary state, any setback the outsider encounters will allow the prince to reconquer the state.
Summary — Chapter III: Mixed Principalities
Machiavelli explains why maintaining a new principality is more difficult than maintaining a hereditary state. In the first place, people will willingly trade one recently arrived ruler for another, hoping that a new ruler will be better than the present one. This expectation of improvement will induce people to take up arms against any relatively unestablished prince. Although the people may quickly realize that their revolt is ineffective, they will still create great disorder. Furthermore, when a prince takes over another prince’s domain, he finds himself in a tricky situation with regard to the people who put him in power. He cannot maintain the support of these people because he cannot fulfill all of their expectations that their situation will improve. But he also cannot deal too harshly with them because he is in their debt. Immediately after taking power, the prince is in danger of losing his newly gained principality.
When a prince successfully suppresses a revolt, however, the ruler can easily prevent further revolt by harshly punishing the rebels and decimating his opposition. The ruler can deal more harshly with his subjects in response to the revolt than he would be able to normally.
It is much easier to maintain control over a new principality if the people share the same language and customs as the prince’s own country. If this is the case, the prince has to do only two things: destroy the family of the former prince, and maintain the principality’s laws and taxes. People will live quietly and peacefully so long as their old ways of life are undisturbed.
New states that have different languages and customs from those of the prince are more difficult to maintain. One of the prince’s most effective options is to take up residence in the new state. By living there, the prince can address problems quickly and efficiently. He can prevent the local officials from plundering his territory. The subjects will be in close contact with the prince. Therefore, those who are inclined to be good will have more reason to show their allegiance to the prince and those who are inclined to be bad will have more reason to fear him. Invaders will think twice before attempting to take over the state.
Another effective method of dealing with linguistic and cultural differences is to establish colonies in the new state. It is less expensive to establish colonies than to maintain military occupation, and colonialism only harms inhabitants who pose no threat to the prince because they are scattered and poor. As a general rule, men must be either pampered or crushed. A prince should injure people only if he knows there is no threat of revenge. Setting up military bases throughout the new state will not effectively keep order. Instead, it will upset the people, and these people may turn into hostile enemies capable of causing great harm to the prince’s regime.
A prince who has occupied a state in a foreign country should dominate the neighboring states. He should weaken the strong ones and ensure that no other strong foreign power invades a neighboring state. Weaker powers will naturally side with the strongest power as long as they cannot grow strong themselves. The prince must remain master of the whole country to keep control of the state he has conquered.
Princes should always act to solve problems before problems fully manifest themselves. Political disorders are easy to solve if the prince identifies them and acts early. If they are allowed to develop fully, it will be too late.
Men naturally want to acquire more. When they succeed in acquiring more they are always praised, not condemned. But rulers who lack the ability to acquire, yet still try at the cost of their current state, should be condemned.
In order to hold a state, a prince must understand statecraft and warcraft. The two are intertwined. War can be avoided by suppressing disorder. However, one can never escape a war: war can only be postponed to the enemy’s advantage.
Summary — Chapter IV: Why Alexander’s Successors Were Able to Keep Possession of Darius’ Kingdom after Alexander’s Death
There are two ways to govern a principality. The first involves a prince and appointed ministers. While the ministers help govern, everyone remains subservient to the prince. The second way involves a prince and nobles. Nobles are not appointed by the prince, but they benefit from their ancient lineage and have subjects of their own. Of both these scenarios, the prince is regarded as being much stronger if he uses ministers, since he is the only ruler in the country.
It is much harder to take over a country if a prince uses ministers, because ministers have little incentive to be corrupted by foreign powers or to turn on their prince. Furthermore, even if they were to turn against the prince, they would not be able to muster support from any subjects because they hold no personal loyalties. It is easier to conquer a country governed with the cooperation of nobles, because finding a discontented noble eager for change is always possible. Moreover, nobles command the loyalty of their own subjects, so a corrupted noble will corrupt the support of his subjects.
Although it is easier to take over a state ruled by nobles, it is much harder to maintain control of that state. In a state ruled by nobles, it is not enough to kill the former ruler’s family, because the nobles will still be around to revolt. Holding onto a state with ministers is much easier, because it merely requires killing off the one prince and his family.
Machiavelli asserts that the rules he proposes are consistent with historical evidence, such as Alexander’s successful conquest of Asia and the rebellions against the Romans in Spain, France, and Greece.
Analysis — Chapters I–IV
Machiavelli builds his case through a combination of historical examples and methodical argument. The first step in his argument is to establish the terms and categories that he will use to make sense out of the multitude of different political situations that exist in the real world. The clear-cut distinctions Machiavelli makes between different kinds of states—beginning with principalities and republics—are very effective insofar as they enable him to present his ideas clearly and concisely. Whether his categories do justice to the complexity of political history is a different question. Machiavelli creates an impression of directness and practicality by presenting the world in simple, clearly defined terms.
At the same time, Machiavelli does not rely heavily on theory or abstract thought to make his points; these chapters illustrate his reliance on history as the basis for his theory of government. He sets out to answer the question “How best can a ruler maintain control of his state?” His response, a set of empirically verifiable rules and guidelines, is derived from a study of the conquests of the past, especially those of the French, the Romans, and the Greeks.
One important difference between Machiavelli’s philosophy and other philosophies of government lies in his description of the ordinary subject. Aristotle’s political writings describe a citizenry that is by nature political and very interested in the welfare of the community. Though Aristotle disregards the majority of people who live within the Greek city-state—women and slaves—he considers the free citizens to be the very reason for the state’s existence. Machiavelli, on the other hand, sees the ordinary citizen as a piddling, simpleminded creature. Such people will either love or hate their ruler, depending on whether they are harmed or injured, but as long as the prince can maintain control, he need have little concern for their welfare.
Thus, the purpose of government is not the good of the people but the stability of the state and the perpetuation of the established ruler’s control. Machiavelli does not concern himself with what goes on inside the state but what occurs externally. A successful prince must always be aware of foreign powers and the threat of invasion. A focus on power diplomacy and warcraft, at the expense of domestic affairs, is a distinctive element of Machiavelli’s project.
Finally, the guidelines set forth in The Prince have often been characterized as “amoral” because some of Machiavelli’s advice—killing off the family of the former ruler, the violent suppression of revolts and insurrections—seems cruel, brutal, and perhaps downright evil. Whereas the ancient Greeks conceived of a close relationship between ethics and politics, Machiavelli seems to separate these disciplines altogether. Nonetheless, to deny that Machiavelli’s political theory accommodates any form of morality and ethics would be inaccurate. For example, religion does play a role in Machiavelli’s state. Moreover, although Machiavelli does not use the words “ethical” or “moral” as such, later chapters of The Prince suggest that rulers have duties or obligations that could be considered ethical or moral.
Summary — Chapter V: How to Govern Cities and Principalities That, Prior to Being Occupied, Lived Under Their Own Laws
Machiavelli describes three ways to hold states that have been accustomed to living freely under their own laws. The first is to devastate them. The second is for the conqueror to occupy them. The third is to allow the state to maintain its own laws, but to charge taxes and establish an oligarchy to keep the state friendly. The third option is advantageous because the newly imposed oligarchy will work hard to secure the authority of the conquering prince within the conquered state because it owes its existence to the prince and cannot survive without his support. Thus, as long as the goal is not to devastate the other state, it is easiest to rule it through the use of its own citizens.
Complete destruction is the most certain way of securing a state that has been free in the past. A prince who does not take this route places himself in a position to be destroyed himself. No matter how long it has been since the state was acquired, rebellions will always revive the legacy of ancient institutions and notions of former liberty, even if the state has benefited from the prince’s rule. This sense of tradition will unify the people against the prince.
On the other hand, cities or provinces that are accustomed to being ruled by a prince are easy to take over once the ruling family has been destroyed. People in such states are accustomed to obedience and do not know how to live in freedom without having someone to rule over them. Therefore, the new prince can win the province and hold onto it more easily.
In republics (or former republics), sentiments of hatred and revenge against the conquering prince will run strong. The memories of ancient liberty never die, so a prince will be better off destroying the republic or personally occupying the conquered state.
Summary — Chapter VI: Concerning New Principalities Acquired by One’s Own Arms and Ability
Princes should strive to imitate the examples set by great rulers of the past, even if that means setting lofty goals. This way, if a prince fails to meet those lofty goals, his actions will nevertheless enhance his reputation as a great or powerful ruler.
One way that rulers acquire states is through their own prowess, meaning their own abilities, rather than the good fortune of noble birth, inheritance, or lucky circumstances. Relying on one’s personal prowess is a very difficult method of acquiring a state. However, a state acquired by a ruler’s natural skill will prove easier to maintain control over. Examples of rulers who triumphed on the strength of their own powers include Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus.
Rulers who rely on prowess instead of fortune are generally more successful in holding power over states because they can meet the challenge of establishing a new order. Nothing is more dangerous or difficult than introducing a new order. This is because those who benefited from the old order will fiercely oppose the prince who tries to introduce a new order, whereas those who stand to benefit from the imposition of a new order will offer only lukewarm support. A prince who relies on his ability to persuade others to support him will be unable to succeed against such opposition. However, a prince who relies on his own prowess and can “force the issue” will usually succeed. At times, “forc[ing] the issue” might literally mean the use of force. This can be dangerous, but if the ruler succeeds in his use of force, he will become strong, secure, and respected.
Summary — Chapter VII: Concerning New Principalities Acquired with the Arms and Fortunes of Others
Sometimes private citizens become princes purely by good fortune. Such people buy their way into power, receive favors from someone else in power, or bribe soldiers. Such princes are weak not only because fortune can be capricious and unstable, but also because they do not know how to maintain their position. They do not have loyal troops who are devoted to them. They do not know how to deal with problems, command troops, or keep their power in the face of opposition. Princes who succeed on their own prowess have built a strong foundation for themselves. Princes who succeed due to the sway of fortune or the goodwill of others lack such a foundation from which to rule and will have difficulty building a foundation quickly enough to prevent power from slipping out of their hands. Thus, although princes who rely on fortune reach their position easily, maintaining that position is extremely difficult.
Laying a solid foundation is a crucial prerequisite for maintaining power. A prince must eliminate rival leaders and win the favor of their followers. Machiavelli cites the life of Cesare Borgia (also called Duke Valentino) as an example. The son of Pope Alexander VI, Borgia was a man of great courage and high intentions. He was made duke of Romagna through the good fortune that his father, as Pope Alexander VI, had amassed a great deal of power. However, he was unable to maintain his rule, even though he made competent attempts to consolidate his new power. His efforts included the use of force in the strategic conquest of foreign lands. He tried to make himself loved and feared by his subjects. He wiped out disloyal troops and established a loyal army, and he maintained a friendly yet cautious relationship with other kings and princes. Despite all his efforts, he was unable to complete the consolidation of his power when his father died, and his good fortune was reversed. He did, however, lay a strong foundation for future rule, as only a man of great prowess could.
Analysis — Chapters V–VII
The coldhearted, calculating logic for which Machiavelli is renowned shines through in Chapter V. His argument that devastating a region is often the most reliable way of securing power does not even attempt to address the moral or ethical objections to his advice. His rationale is strictly pragmatic: the only reason to spare the institutions of newly conquered states is that keeping old institutions alive might help keep citizens happy, subdued, and submissive under the new ruler.
Moreover, in Chapter V, Machiavelli sets out his conception of the natural state of a populace. He writes that most subjects are “used to obeying” and that they cannot live as free subjects without someone telling them what to do. This argument echoes Machiavelli’s assertion in Chapter III that men are naturally disposed to “old ways of life” and therefore harbor an inclination to follow tradition. These passages underline the assumption that men are, by nature, followers. Even rulers are followers to some extent: Machiavelli notes at the start of Chapter VI that aspiring princes are always inclined to “imitate” the examples of great men.
Machiavelli imagines subjects who are self-interested, but not to an extreme degree. They are not concerned with forms of enlightenment or self-improvement, yet they still notice (and appreciate) improvements in their overall well-being. Though generally obedient and complacent, they will not hesitate to rise up against their ruler should he offend them. The Prince devotes little space to the concerns of subjects, and Machiavelli’s picture of the common people, though detailed, is not complex. Louis XIV’s famous statement, “L’Etat, c’estmoi” (“The state is me”), accords with the philosophy espoused in The Prince: The ruler is the state, and the state is ruler. The people hardly matter.This idea does not necessarily contradict Machiavelli’s view that the effectiveness of government depends on the firm support of its people. Rather, it implies that Machiavelli is not concerned with understanding what motivates the people to lend support to a ruler. The only important question is whether such support exists.
The primary virtue of Machiavelli’s prince is self-reliance. A prince who manages to gain power by relying on his own prowess will succeed at maintaining power because his prowess will have built him a firm foundation for ruling. He will have the loyalty of his army and the respect of those he has conquered and the leaders of surrounding principalities. He therefore will be better equipped to deal with problems and difficulties, without relying on the help of others. Thus, the more self-reliant the prince, the more he will prove capable of success.
Summary — Chapter VIII: Concerning Those Who Become Princes by Evil Means
Machiavelli continues to describe the ways that a man can become a prince. In addition to fortune and prowess, criminal acts or the approval of his fellow citizens can facilitate a man’s rise to power.
Those who come to power by crime kill fellow citizens and betray friends. They are “treacherous, pitiless, and irreligious.” Princes who commit criminal acts can achieve power, but never glory.
King Agathocles of Syracuse is an example of a man who rose to power through crime. Agathocles was a common citizen who joined the militia, rose to a leading rank in the army, and then assembled a meeting of the senate at which he ordered his men to kill all the senators and to install him in power. Agathocles’ reign was characterized by constant difficulties and threats to his power. However, he withstood them and maintained his rule. Once in power, Agathocles proved as competent as any eminent commander, but the severity of the crimes he committed during his ascension preclude his being considered great. Cruelty, which is itself evil, can be used well if it is applied once at the outset, and thereafter only employed in self-defense and for the greater good of one’s subjects. Regular and frequent perpetration of cruel actions earns a ruler infamy. If a prince comes to power by crime and wishes to be successful, he, like Agathocles, must only use cruelty in the first sense.
Therefore, when a prince decides to seize a state, he must determine how much injury to inflict. He needs to strike all at once and then refrain from further atrocities. In this way, his subjects will eventually forget the violence and cruelty. Gradually, resentment will fade, and the people will come to appreciate the resulting benefits of the prince’s rule. Most important, a prince should be consistent in the way he treats his subjects.
Summary — Chapter IX: Concerning the Civil Principality
The other way a prince can come to power is through the favor of his fellow citizens. Princes who rise through this route are heads of what Machiavelli calls constitutional principalities.
Machiavelli argues that every city is populated by two groups of citizens: common people and nobles. The common people are naturally disposed to avoid domination and oppression by the nobles. The nobles are naturally disposed to dominate and oppress the common people. The opposition between the two groups results in the establishment of either a principality, a free city, or anarchy.
The power to form a principality lies with either the nobles or the people. If the nobles realize they cannot dominate the people, they will try to strengthen their position by making one of the nobles a prince. They hope to accomplish their own ends through the prince’s authority. The people will follow the same course of action; if they realize they cannot withstand the nobles, they will make one of the people a prince and hope to be protected by the prince’s authority.
A prince placed in power by nobles will find it more difficult to maintain his position because those who surround him will consider themselves his equals and his selection as prince arbitrary. However, a prince created by the people stands alone at the top. Not only are nobles much harder to satisfy than the people, they are less honest in their motives because they seek to oppress the people. The people, on the other hand, only seek to be left alone. If the people are hostile to the prince, the worst that can happen is desertion. However, if the nobles are hostile, the prince can expect both desertion and active opposition. Nobles are astute and cunning and always safeguard their interests.
Nobles will either become dependent on the prince or remain independent of his control. A prince should honor and love those nobles who have become dependent on him. Nobles who remain independent are either timid or ambitious. Timid nobles are benign, but a prince should be wary of ambitious nobles, since they will become enemies in times of adversity.
A prince created by the people must retain the people’s friendship, a fairly easy task. A prince created by the nobles must still try to win over the people’s affection, because they can serve as protection from hostile nobles. Benevolence is the best way to maintain the mandate of the people. If people expect hostility from a prince but instead receive kindness and favors, they feel a great obligation to their prince.
Principalities usually face difficulties when switching from a government with limited powers to one that is more absolute. To make this transition, a prince can either rule directly or through magistrates. The prince is more vulnerable in the latter case because he is dependent on the will of his magistrates. In times of adversity, the magistrates may depose him, through direct action against him or simply by disobeying his orders. Moreover, if the magistrates do revolt, the prince will be unable to assume absolute power, because the people are accustomed to obeying the magistrates rather than the prince. In prosperous times, it is fashionable to declare allegiance to a prince. But during times of danger, trusted men become scarce. A wise prince must find a way to ensure that his citizens are always dependent on his authority. Thus, they will always remain loyal.
Analysis — Chapters VIII–IX
These chapters describe how different types of princes should establish power, within a state’s environment of fluctuating power dynamics. Machiavelli makes an eloquent argument for the importance of a domestic power base. He does not hesitate to acknowledge the necessity of cruelty and crime in establishing this power and even explains how to use cruelty most effectively. He does not advise moderation in the degree of cruelty used, but rather a limit on how long extreme cruelty is to be employed. That is, Machiavelli does not say that princes must be cruel but not extremely cruel. Instead, he argues that cruel acts must be committed as necessary, but all at once and then ceased, so that the populace will forget them. This kind of argument is extremely pragmatic and ignores all questions of right and wrong. Taking historical examples as the basis for his argument, Machiavelli simply describes how power has effectively been deployed and consolidated in the past, and does not assume that human nature will take a turn for the better in the future.
Even when princes do not need to rely on cruelty, Machiavelli still describes a necessary, dangerous game of internal politics, which involves the pitting of one group of citizens against another. As a guiding principle, a prince’s power invariably depends on internal support. Whether a prince uses cruelty or benevolence to obtain that support is secondary to the necessity of gaining the support itself.
Machiavelli is more than the amoral pragmatist he is sometimes made out to be. The distinction made between power and glory indicates that, in Machiavelli’s view, some princes are better than others. While any prince can achieve and maintain power, glory remains a more elusive goal. Although Machiavelli is primarily concerned with how princes perform as rulers, he also gives an assessment of the different kinds of princes. Machiavelli’s view is that the prince who rises and survives by means of treachery and the prince who succeeds by his innate prowess are both technically princes. But he also admits that the two are not equal in honor or glory, and, perhaps, even moral worth.
Moreover, Machiavelli also characterizes the use of cruelty as “evil.” In some cases, cruelty is a necessary evil, and using it can be justified in the interests of some greater public good, like internal stability or protection from invasion. Yet Machiavelli’s very recognition of the intrinsic immorality of cruel behavior contradicts the depiction of The Prince as a completely amoral book.
Machiavelli’s description of class conflict in Chapter IX, which states that there is an inevitable tension between common people and nobles, is also worth noting. Superficially, this statement brings Machiavelli in line with political philosophers such as Karl Marx, who view class conflict as an inevitable aspect of civilized society. But Machiavelli’s description of “classes” is much less sophisticated than that of Marx. More fundamentally, Machiavelli does not see class conflict as a driving force behind political structures. Rather, it is one of a number of challenges that a prince must learn to negotiate if he is to be successful. Consequently, in describing the great struggle between commoners and nobles, Machiavelli does not side with either group. Instead, his stance is more detached, focusing only on a hypothetical prince’s relationship with these groups.
One of the most significant components of Machiavelli’s argumentative style is his use of definition by division, a rhetorical device that can be quite convincing. This device can be described schematically as “A prince must accomplish X. Accomplishing X entails either method Y or method Z. Y is preferable to Z, so a prince should choose method Y.” It is a logical and practical line of reasoning, but if the original assumption linking the chain of logic is fallacious, then all the conclusions that follow are necessarily questionable. If Y and Z aren’t the only way to accomplish X, then the course of action that Machiavelli proposes for a prince is not necessarily the best possible option. One might ask, for example, whether there are other ways of becoming a prince besides prowess, fortune, crime, and favor. And it may be possible that there are other, more various factions within cities besides commoners and nobles. For that matter, it can be argued that there are other more subtle ways to win support than cruelty and benevolence.
Summary — Chapter X: How the Strength of All Principalities Should Be Measured
Although a prince should always aim to keep an army of size and strength equaling that of any aggressor, it is just as important to maintain defenses and fortifications. These defensive preparations not only provide security but also deter enemies from attacking.
Some might argue that if an enemy lays siege to a fortified city, the people inside, upon witnessing their countryside pillaged and possessions destroyed, will turn against their prince. But a prince who has made adequate defensive preparations can actually inspire his subjects during such times. To do so, he must convince the people that the hardships are only temporary and, more importantly, create feelings of patriotism and enthusiasm for the city’s defense. This way, when the siege is over, the grateful and obliged people will love the prince all the more.
Summary — Chapter XI: Concerning Ecclesiastical Principalities
Ecclesiastical principalities, regions under the control of the Catholic Church, are different from other kinds of principalities. Taking control of these principalities is difficult, requiring either unusual good fortune or prowess. Machiavelli sarcastically remarks that principles of religion, rather than governments, rule ecclesiastical principalities, so the prince does not even need to govern. Ecclesiastical principalities do not need to be defended, and their subjects require no administration. Nonetheless, these states are always secure and happy. Since these principalities are “sustained by higher powers which the human mind cannot comprehend,” delving further into why this is the case would be presumptuous.
It is useful, however, to look at how the Church has obtained its great temporal power. Italy was once divided among the pope and the city-states of Venice, Naples, Milan, and Florence. Each of these powers was wary of the others and prevented the intervention of any foreign power. Papal power was fairly weak during this time, due to disagreement among the Roman barons and the short duration of papacies. But Popes Alexander VI and Julius II greatly increased the power of the Church by using armed force to weaken the other factions, accumulating wealth to strengthen the Church’s own position, and nurturing factionalism within any remaining factions.Thus, the current Church, under the leadership of Pope Leo X, has been made strong through the force of arms. It is now hoped that Pope Leo will use his goodness and virtue to maintain its power.
Analysis — Chapters X–XI
Although Chapter X focuses partly on maintaining the well-being of the people in a city during a period of difficulty, Machiavelli views this only as a necessary step in making the city itself strong and immune from attack. One surprising characteristic of The Prince is how completely it defines the city as an entity existing to serve its ruler rather than its populace. The discussion of fortification emphasizes this conception of the city: obtaining the support of the people is not a goal in itself but rather a means for ensuring that the city remain fortified and resistant to foreign conquest. The purpose of convincing the people that their hardships are temporary, for example, is not to lighten the burden of the people whose city is besieged, but rather a way to ensure the defense of the city. The ultimate goal is not happiness but patriotism: the defense of the state and its ruler. While Machiavelli often advocates the use of military force, he also recognizes that military strength alone cannot maintain a state’s strength. Although the fortification of cities has a military value, Machiavelli focuses on fortification as a tool by which a prince can solidify popular support in times of war or siege.
Chapter XI may initially seem inconsistent with the rest of Machiavelli’s writing. His acknowledgment that ecclesiastical principalities are not subject to the historical patterns he observes, and his description of their immunity from bad rulers and war, initially seem to point to a respect for religion and acknowledgment of a higher moral plane on which a state can exist. But Machiavelli’s remarks in this chapter are bitterly ironic—he actually opposes the presence of the Church in politics altogether, a view that he makes explicit in his Discourses. In reality, Machiavelli understands ecclesiastical principalities to be examples of the effective consolidation of power, much in the same way as the examples of successful princes that he cites. He focuses on the factors that ultimately led to the Catholic Church gaining control over Italian principalities, and reveals that these factors were not essentially different than those used by other princes to gain power. Like other princes, the Church used armed force, the accumulation of wealth, and astute political strategy in order to gain control. Even though Machiavelli opens the chapter professing that ecclesiastical principalities exist in their own category, ultimately he views them just as he does any other state.
Summary — Chapter XII: Concerning Various Kinds of Troops, and Especially Mercenaries
All princes must build on strong foundations. The two essential components of a strong state are good laws and good armies. Good laws cannot exist without good armies. The presence of a good army, however, indicates the presence of good laws.
There are three types of armies: a prince’s own troops, mercenary troops, and auxiliary troops. Mercenary and auxiliary troops are useless and dangerous. Mercenaries are “disunited, undisciplined, ambitious, and faithless.” Because their only motivation is monetary, they are generally not effective in battle and have low morale. Mercenary commanders are either skilled or unskilled. Unskilled commanders are worthless, but skilled commanders cannot be trusted to suppress their own ambition. It is far more preferable for a prince to command his own army.
Historically, dependence on mercenaries ruined Italy. During the breakup of Italy, which the Church supported in hopes of increasing its own stature, many townships hired mercenaries because they had little experience in military matters. Since the mercenaries were more concerned with increasing their own prestige and status than with taking risks or accomplishing military objectives, the conflicts between these mercenary forces devolved into a series of ineffective, staged, pseudo-battles, ultimately degrading Italy’s political and military might.
Summary — Chapter XIII: Concerning Auxiliary, Mixed, and Native Forces
Auxiliary troops—armies borrowed from a more powerful state—are as useless as mercenaries. Although they often fight well, a prince who calls on auxiliaries places himself in a no-win situation. If the auxiliaries fail, he is defenseless, whereas if the auxiliaries are successful, he still owes his victory to the power of another. Auxiliary troops are often skilled and organized, yet their first loyalty is to another ruler. Thus, they pose an even more dangerous threat to the prince than mercenaries.
If a prince does not command his own native troops, the principality can never be secure. Depending on outside armies is essentially the same as depending on good fortune. The use of auxiliaries and mercenaries is effective during prosperous times, but in times of adversity, reliance on borrowed troops, like reliance on fortune, is a perilous liability.
Summary — Chapter XIV: A Prince’s Concern in Military Matters
The only thing a prince needs to study is the art of war. This is the primary discipline of the ruler. Mastery of this discipline can make even a common citizen a great ruler. The easiest way to lose a state is by neglecting the art of war. The best way to win a state is to be skilled in the art of war.
Machiavelli offers an analogy, asking us to picture two men: one armed, the other unarmed. It would not be reasonable to expect the armed man to obey the unarmed man. Nor would it be reasonable to expect the unarmed man to feel safe and secure if his servants are armed. The unarmed man will be suspicious of the armed man, and the armed man will feel contempt for the unarmed man, so cooperation will be impossible. A prince who does not understand warfare attempting to lead an army is like the unarmed man trying to lead the armed.
The prince must spend all of his time studying the art of war. This study is both a physical and mental process. The prince must train his body to hardships and learn to hunt wildlife. He must study geography and its effect on battle strategy. He must read history and study the actions of great leaders. A prince must prepare rigorously during peacetime in order to be well prepared for wartime.
Analysis — Chapters XII–XIV
Machiavelli’s famous statement that “the presence of sound military forces indicates the presence of sound laws” is a succinct description of the relationship between war and the formation of states in The Prince. Warcraft is conventionally understood as the component of statesmanship that involves the expansion of the state by conquering neighbors and establishing colonies. But Machiavelli argues that successful warcraft is not just one component among other equally important components of statesmanship. Instead, it is the very foundation upon which all states are built. Machiavelli defines the term “warcraft” quite broadly. For him, the idea encompasses more than just the direct use of military force. It comprises international diplomacy, domestic politics, tactical strategy, geographic mastery, and historical analysis. Perhaps influenced by the context in which he was writing, Machiavelli viewed war as something that never could disappear completely, nor did he even conceive of the absence of war as a goal. Even in the most peaceful of times, the clouds of war always threaten.
Machiavelli’s advocacy of the use of internal troops, rather than mercenaries or auxiliaries, follows naturally from previous chapters, in which he asserts the need for self-reliance and the projection of power. Historical anecdotes are prevalent throughout these chapters. Machiavelli’s reference to Italy in the context of mercenaries is significant, since he wrote The Prince partly to help Italy become more stable and powerful in the face of its aggressive neighbors. However, in these chapters Machiavelli does not refer to Italy’s history more than that of other countries, so it is not readily apparent at this point in the book that he intends to single out his home country.
In Chapter XIV, Machiavelli shifts his focus from the role of the prince to the personality of the prince. While previous chapters have focused upon the correct actions for the prince to perform and the characteristics of a strong state, in this chapter Machiavelli examines the psychology of a good prince. Machiavelli writes that “the prince ought to read history, and reflect upon the deeds of outstanding men, … examine the causes of their victories and defeats, and thereby learn to emulate the former and avoid the latter.” The portrait of an ideal prince does not describe a ruler who equally values politics, philosophy, and art as aspects of his rule, but one who focuses exclusively on the military strength of the state that he governs.
Summary — Chapter XV: Concerning Things for Which Men, and Princes Especially, Are Praised or Censured
Machiavelli turns the discussion from the strength of states and principalities to the correct behavior of the prince. Machiavelli admits that this subject has been treated by others, but he argues that an original set of practical—rather than theoretical—rules is needed. Other philosophers have conceived republics built upon an idealized notion of how men should live rather than how men actually live. But truth strays far from the expectations of imagined ideals. Specifically, men never live every part of their life virtuously. A prince should not concern himself with living virtuously, but rather with acting so as to achieve the most practical benefit.
In general, some personal characteristics will earn men praise, others condemnation. Courage, compassion, faith, craftiness, and generosity number among the qualities that receive praise. Cowardice, cruelty, stubbornness, and miserliness are usually met with condemnation. Ideally, a prince would possess all the qualities deemed “good” by other men. But this expectation is unrealistic. A prince’s first job is to safeguard the state, and harboring “bad” characteristics is sometimes necessary for this end. Such vices are truly evil if they endanger the state, but when vices are employed in the proper interests of the state, a prince must not be influenced by condemnation from other men.
Summary — Chapter XVI: Liberality and Parsimony
Liberality, or generosity, is a quality that many men admire. But if a prince develops a reputation for generosity, he will ruin his state. A reputation for generosity requires outward lavishness, which eventually depletes all of the prince’s resources. In the end, the prince will be forced to burden his people with excessive taxes in order to raise the money to maintain his reputation for generosity. Ultimately, the prince’s liberality will make the people despise and resent him. Moreover, any prince who attempts to change his reputation for generosity will immediately develop a reputation for being a miser.
A parsimonious, or ungenerous, prince may be perceived as miserly in the beginning, but he will eventually earn a reputation for generosity. A prince who is thrifty and frugal will eventually have enough funds to defend against aggression and fund projects without having to tax the people unduly.
In history, the actions of Pope Julius II, the present king of France, and the present king of Spain all support the view that parsimony enables the prince to accomplish great things. Some might argue that successful leaders have come to power and sustained their rule by virtue of their generosity, such as Caesar. But if Caesar had not been killed, he would have found that maintaining his rule required moderating his spending.
In sum, generosity is self-defeating. Generosity uses up resources and prevents further generosity. While parsimony might lead to ignominy, generosity will eventually lead to hatred.
Summary — Chapter XVII: Concerning Cruelty: Whether It Is Better to Be Loved Than to Be Feared, or the Reverse
Compassion, like generosity, is usually admired. But a prince must be careful that he does not show compassion unwisely. If a prince is too compassionate, and does not adequately punish disloyal subjects, he creates an atmosphere of disorder, since his subjects take the liberty to do what they please—even to the extremes of murder and theft. Crime harms the entire community, whereas executions harm only the individuals who commit crimes. Some measure of cruelty is necessary to maintain order. But a prince should be careful in his exercise of cruelty, tempering it with humanity and prudence.
Machiavelli then asks whether being feared or loved is preferable. Ideally, a prince should be both loved and feared, but this state of affairs is difficult to attain. Forced to make a choice, it is much better to be feared than loved. This is because men, by nature, are “ungrateful, fickle, dissembling, anxious to flee danger, and covetous of gain.” In times of remote danger, they are willing to take risks for their prince, but if the danger is real, they turn against their prince. It is easy to break a bond of love when the situation arises, but the fear of punishment is always effective, regardless of the situation.
When inducing fear, however, a prince must be careful to avoid inducing hatred. He must make sure that any executions are properly justified. Above all, a prince should never confiscate the property of his subjects or take their women, since these actions are most likely to breed hatred. If a prince must confiscate property, he must make sure he has a convincing reason. With one’s army, however, there is no such thing as too much cruelty. Keeping an army disciplined and united requires cruelty, even inhuman cruelty.
Analysis — Chapters XV–XVII
Chapter XV attacks the conceptions of virtue proposed by classical philosophers. Machiavelli criticizes the concept of a “good life,” the Aristotelian doctrine that demands virtuous actions in all types of behavior. Machiavelli debunks Aristotle’s metaphysical approach to politics by arguing that metaphysics is inconsistent with the real world. Ultimately, a philosophy must be judged by its practical consequences. Because virtue, as an abstract concept, does not concern itself with such consequences, it can never serve as an effective guide for political action. Machiavelli’s definition of virtue is not the same as that of classical philosophers. While Aristotle and others define virtue in relation to a highest good, Machiavelli defines it simply as that which receives the praise of others. Thus, generosity is a virtue only because other people praise it.
From this premise, Machiavelli builds a case for the necessity of committing certain crimes. A prince, if he truly wishes to safeguard his state, will inevitably be forced to act in a manner that others consider evil or deplorable. Although Machiavelli only mentions cruelty and stinginess in Chapters XVI and XVII, the argument could extend to other so-called vices, such as stubbornness or cowardice. The mind of Machiavelli’s prince is cold and calculating, concerned with ends rather than means. Virtually any action that contributes to the overall goal of maintaining control of the state is acceptable to him.
Unlike the previous chapters, which contain specific instructions regarding domestic, international, and military affairs, these chapters deal with general trends of popular opinion that might affect the prince’s actions. Machiavelli urges the prince not to worry too much about what others might think of his actions and to act only in the way that will result in the best practical advantage—which will often garner greater approval from other people in the long run. In most cases, the prince must favor miserliness over generosity, and cruelty over benevolence. But Machiavelli does not advocate wholesale cruelty or a complete lack of generosity; it is possible for a prince to be too miserly or too cruel. A prince might choose cowardice over courage—for example, fleeing a palace under siege instead of remaining and rallying the people—but the effectiveness of either option depends on the surrounding circumstances. The advice put forth in these chapters is substantially less concrete than that offered in previous chapters.
Machiavelli’s oft-quoted line “Anyone compelled to choose will find far greater security in being feared than in being loved” is sometimes misinterpreted to suggest that a prince need not worry about public opinion. But Machiavelli explicitly argues the contrary: it is critical that a prince avoid the hatred of his subjects. The statement is less radical than it might seem. People, states Machiavelli, are all self-interested to a certain degree. During difficult times, this sense of self-interest is stronger than any sense of obligation toward the ruler or the state. No matter how strongly they might love their prince, people will not follow orders if it means sacrificing their own well-being. The only motivating factor that can guarantee citizens’ obedience to a prince’s orders is the threat of punishment.
Although Machiavelli’s conclusions may seem disturbing, if we consider contemporary society, we might conclude that little has changed since the era of The Prince. Even today, while some people certainly follow laws because they feel that they have a moral obligation to do so, or because they respect the institution that makes the laws, many others follow them simply because they fear the punishment that comes with breaking those laws. Supporters of the death penalty in the United States usually argue that the use of capital punishment acts as a deterrent, discouraging the general populace from committing capital crimes.
Summary — Chapter XVIII: In What Way Princes Should Keep Their Word
Machiavelli acknowledges that a prince who honors his word is generally praised by others. But historical experience demonstrates that princes achieve the most success when they are crafty, cunning, and able to trick others. There are two ways of fighting: by law or by force. Laws come naturally to men, force comes naturally to beasts. In order to succeed, the prince must learn how to fight both with laws and with force—he must become half man and half beast.
When a prince uses force, he acts like a beast. He must learn to act like two types of beasts: lions and foxes. A fox is defenseless against wolves; a lion is defenseless against traps. A prince must learn to act like both the fox and the lion: he must learn, like the fox, how to frighten off wolves and, like the lion, how to recognize the traps. In dealing with people, a prince must break his promises when they put him at a disadvantage and when the reasons for which he made the promises no longer exist. In any case, promises are never something on which a prince can rely, since men are by nature wretched and deceitful. A prince should be a master of deception.
However, a prince must be careful to exude a virtuous aura that belies his deceitful mind. Pope Alexander VI was one ruler who excelled at this art. A prince should present the appearance of being a compassionate, trustworthy, kind, guileless, and pious ruler. Of course, actually possessing all these virtues is neither possible nor desirable. But so long as a prince appears to act virtuously, most men will believe in his virtue. If the populace believes the prince to be virtuous, it will be easier for him to maintain his state. Moreover, men will judge their prince solely on appearance and results. Thus, it doesn’t matter to the people that a prince may occasionally employ evil to achieve his goal. So long as a prince appears virtuous and is successful in running the state, he will be regarded as virtuous.
Summary — Chapter XIX: The Need to Avoid Contempt and Hatred
A prince must avoid being hated and despised at all costs. A prince may be criticized for a lack of virtue, but he will never be hated for it. However, a prince will be hated if he takes the property or women of his subjects. A prince must also avoid robbing his subjects of their honor. A prince will be despised if he has a reputation for being fickle, frivolous, effeminate, cowardly, or irresolute. If a prince is regarded highly by his subjects, he will be shielded from conspiracies and open attacks.
A prince should worry about two things: internal insurrection from his subjects and external threats from foreign powers. Defending against foreign enemies requires a strong army and good allies. A strong army always leads to good allies.
A prince can defend against internal insurrection by making sure he is not hated or scorned by the people. This is a powerful defense against conspiracies. A conspirator will have the courage to proceed with his conspiracy only if he believes the people will be satisfied when he kills the ruler. But if the people would be outraged by the ruler’s death, the conspirators will never have the gall to carry out the conspiracy. By default, conspiracies are at a disadvantage. They require the support of many people, each of whom faces severe punishment if the conspiracy is discovered. Furthermore, each of these people can profit richly by informing the prince about the conspiracy. A prince has on his side the entire government, his allies and the laws of the state. If he secures the goodwill of the people, he seems invulnerable in the eyes of conspirators.
Whenever possible, a prince should delegate the administration of unpopular laws to others and keep in his own power the distribution of favors.
Sometimes it will not be possible to avoid being hated by some members of the populace. If it is not possible for the prince to avoid being hated, he must make it his first priority to escape the hatred of the most powerful parties. In many instances, this will mean ensuring good standing within the ranks of the military. But a prince should not worry too much about satisfying the demands of the troops, especially if it comes at the expense of the people. A number of later Roman emperors were overthrown due to excessive cruelty performed for the sake of their army. The exception was Septimius Severus, who, emulating both lion and fox, overawed both his army and his people. Most present-day princes need not fear their armies and should be attentive to the people.
Analysis — Chapters XVIII–XIX
The argument in Chapter XVIII that princes should be prepared to break promises for practical advantage develops Machiavelli’s position on virtue and vice. Machiavelli does not argue that a prince should actively avoid doing what is good but that, if necessary, a prince must be prepared to act unethically. He does not advise ruthlessness for its own sake, but rather indicates the perhaps unfortunate necessity of ruthlessness in leadership.
Although the proposal that a prince must exude a false aura of virtue may seem merely one more kind of deception that the prince must learn to master, Machiavelli’s advice here remains valid even in contemporary politics. Although some of Machiavelli’s writing might be dismissed as irrelevant to democratic political life, his perceptive analysis of the importance of image is still accurate. Machiavelli points out that image is as important as action, and that rulers must manipulate the perceptions of the populace to appear as other than who they really are. A prince should eagerly take credit for successes and place responsibility for unpopular laws on the shoulders of nobles or lesser officials. Of course, the prince’s aim is not to be loved, but merely to avoid being hated. Although Machiavelli’s prince rules in an autocratic state, he must nonetheless practice the kind of politics of image demanded within republics and democracies.
These chapters give us further insight into Machiavelli’s view of human nature. Men are naturally deceitful and untrustworthy. They are likely to break promises. They are easily impressed by appearances and results. They are selfish but somewhat naïve. They respect and praise virtue, but most do not possess it themselves. These assumptions about the basic behaviors and attitudes of the general population underlie all of Machiavelli’s suggestions for the actions of princes. If the populace is intelligent, well-educated, and acutely aware of history, the prince will not be able to generate the deceptive image that Machiavelli argues is integral to successful leadership. Although these assumptions may or may not be true, Machiavelli is much more willing to make unsupported generalizations about human nature than about history. His historical examples are painstakingly accurate and demonstrate Machiavelli’s great erudition. But he does not support his descriptions of human behavior with the same wealth of evidence.
Machiavelli consistently refers to the ruler as “he” and assumes that his gender is male. One could dismiss this fact as simply a consequence of history—rulers during Machiavelli’s time were almost always men. But Machiavelli’s association of leadership with masculinity extends beyond simple historical context. He also writes that a prince should avoid behaving effeminately at all costs, and associates effeminacy with cowardice and fickleness. The implication is that manliness is a prerequisite for ruling. Machiavelli notes that Alexander was thought to be ruled by his mother, and therefore deemed effeminate, a perception that led to his downfall. Machiavelli’s definition of manliness encompasses the “harder” virtues, such as courage and decisiveness, in contrast with “softer” virtues like compassion and generosity. In this sense, although cruelty is not a virtue, the ability to act cruelly whenever necessary can be considered manly, and, therefore, virtuous.
Summary — Chapter XX: Whether Fortresses and Many Other Expedients That Princes Commonly Employ Are Useful or Not
To defend against internal insurrection, princes have used a variety of strategies. Some have divided towns, some have disarmed the populace, some have tried to woo disloyal subjects, and others have built or destroyed fortresses. The effectiveness of each of these policies depends on the individual conditions, but a few generalizations can be made.
Historically, new princes have never prevented their subjects from having weapons. Arming subjects fosters loyalty among the people and defends the prince. Disarming subjects will breed distrust, which leads to civil animosity. But if a prince annexes a state, he must disarm his new subjects. He can allow his supporters in the new state to keep their arms, but eventually they must also be made weaker. The best arrangement is to have the prince’s own soldiers occupying the new state. However, weakening an annexed territory by encouraging factionalism only makes it more easily captured by foreigners, as the Venetians learned.
Princes become great by defeating opposition. Thus, one way they can enhance their stature is to cunningly foster opposition that can be easily overcome. Moreover, fostering subversion in a new state will help reveal the motives of potential conspirators.
Some princes have chosen to build fortresses to curb rebellion. Others have destroyed them, in order to maintain control in newly acquired states. The usefulness of fortresses depends on the specific circumstances. But a fortress will not be able to protect a prince if he is hated by his subjects. The issue is not whether a prince should build a fortress. Rather, a prince should not put all his trust in a fortress, neglecting the attitudes of his people.
Summary — Chapter XXI: What a Prince Must Do to Be Esteemed
Great enterprises and noble examples are two ways for a prince to earn prestige. Examples of great campaigns include those of King Ferdinand of Spain, who skillfully used his military to attack Granada, Africa, Italy, and France. These campaigns focused his people’s attention and prevented attacks against Ferdinand.
Nobility can be achieved by the grand public display of rewards and punishments. Above all, princes should win a reputation for being men of outstanding ability.
A prince can also win prestige by declaring himself an ally of one side of a conflict. Neutrality alienates both the victor and the loser. The victor sees the neutral prince as a doubtful friend; the loser sees the neutral prince as weak coward. Someone who is not your friend will always request that you remain neutral, while a true friend will always ask you for your armed support. A prince can escape short-term danger through neutrality, but at the cost of long-term grief. Instead, a prince should boldly declare support for one side.
If the prince allies with someone stronger than himself, and this ally wins, then the prince protects himself through the alliance, because the victor will feel an obligation to the prince. If this stronger ally loses, at least the prince will win the protection and shelter of the ally. If the prince is stronger than either opponent, an alliance essentially means the destruction of one side through the help of another.
If possible, a prince should avoid siding with an ally whose power is greater than his own. Victory in this situation will only put the prince at mercy of that ally. However, sometimes such an alliance is unavoidable. Because of these instances, a prince should never believe that a completely safe course exists. Instead, he should assess the risks presented by all options and choose the least risky course of action. A prudent prince can assess threats and accept the lesser evil.
A prince should encourage his citizens to excel in their occupations, and live their lives in peace. Thus, a prince should never discourage or excessively tax private acquisition or prosperous commerce. Instead, a prince should reward those who contribute to the overall prosperity of the state. Such rewards might include annual city-wide festivals and personal visits with guilds and family groups.
Summary — Chapter XXII: Concerning the Prince’s Ministers
The selection of ministers is a critical task because ministers give visitors their first impression of the prince. Wise and loyal ministers contribute to the image of a wise prince. Inversely, incompetent and disloyal ministers give the prince the image of incompetence.
There are three types of intellect that men can possess: the ability to understand things independently, the ability to appreciate another person’s ability to understand things, and the ability to do neither. The first kind is best, the second acceptable, and the third useless. If a prince possesses at least the second kind of intellect, he can judge whether his ministers’ actions are good or bad.
If a minister thinks more of himself than of the prince and does everything for personal profit, then he is a bad minister. A prince should recognize this state of affairs. Good ministers, however, should be rewarded to maintain their loyalty. Rewards can be paid in money, honor, and expanded responsibilities. It is crucial for a prince to have a confident relationship with his ministers.
Summary — Chapter XXIII: How to Avoid Flatterers
Flatterers present a danger to any ruler because it is natural for powerful men to become self-absorbed. The best way to defend against such people is to convince them that you are not offended by the truth. But if everyone can speak to the prince, the prince will lose respect. A prince should allow only wise advisers to speak with him, and only when he specifically requests their advice. A prince should not listen to anyone else and should be firm in his decisions. Vacillation will lead to a loss of respect.
A prince must always seek advice. But he must seek it only when he wants it, not when others thrust it upon him. Most important, a prince must always be skeptical about the advice he receives, constantly questioning and probing. If he ever discovers that someone is concealing the truth from him, he must punish that person severely. In the end, no matter how intelligent a prince’s advisers might be, a prince is doomed if he lacks intelligence of his own. Wise princes should be honored for good actions proceeding from good advice.
Analysis — Chapters XX–XXIII
Chapter XX returns to the issue of popular insurrection and how a prince should defend against it. Machiavelli argues that a prince must avoid hatred and suppress opposition before it can gain sufficient momentum to disrupt his rule. Also, he does not base his assessment of fortresses on their military value. Fortresses can be worthwhile or worthless depending on the individual circumstances. The attitude of the people outweighs the value of any physical structure. Machiavelli places emphasis on a distinctly nonmilitary aspect in his discussion of fortresses, a building traditionally associated with the military, indicating his broad interpretation of warcraft.
Chapters XXI and XXII underscore the importance of appearing honorable and wise. This goal can be achieved partly through the selection of a loyal and competent personal staff. Machiavelli distinguishes between a virtuous appearance and an honorable, wise appearance. Appearing virtuous—generous, benevolent, and pious—is desirable but not necessary. However, appearing honorable and sagacious is crucial. Machiavelli’s preference for some good qualities over others—for example, courage and decisiveness over generosity—is grounded in a practical argument. Generosity is undesirable because it wastes capital resources; decisiveness is desirable because it breeds respect among allies and subjects.
Chapter XXIII states that, ultimately, a prince must possess independent intellect in order to succeed. He cannot simply rely on the wisdom of his advisers. In a way, this idea supports Machiavelli’s allusion to the possibility that a common man can become a prince through the study of warcraft and through practical experience. Machiavelli’s view of politics is more meritocratic than aristocratic, as he suggests that hereditary princes have even more to prove than those who obtain power through intelligence and skill.
Summary — Chapter XXIV: Why the Princes of Italy Have Lost Their States
Machiavelli suggests that any new prince who successfully follows the advice found in The Prince will enjoy the stability of a hereditary prince, since men are more aware of the present than of the past.
A number of Italian princes have lost states through their own military faults. They fled when they should have fought, expecting their subjects to call them back. These princes failed because of their own incompetence and not as a result of a string of bad luck. They took too much comfort in prosperous times, never anticipating danger. When they were conquered, they hoped that the people would revolt and recall them; but it is always folly to depend upon others for security. A prince’s best defense is his own valor.
Summary — Chapter XXV: Concerning the Influence of Fortune in Human Affairs, and the Manner in Which It Is to Be Resisted
Although it is often thought that fortune controls human affairs, fortune controls only half of one’s actions, while free will determines the other half. Fortune is like a flooding river: it is only dangerous when men have not built dykes against it beforehand. Italy has not built dykes, and as a result it has experienced tumultuous upheaval. Germany, Spain, and France have taken better care and have reaped the benefits of stability.
As fortune varies, one man may succeed and another fail, even if they both follow the same path. Times and circumstances change, so a prince must adjust to them in order to remain successful; however, men tend to stay on the course that has brought them success in the past. Circumstances allowed Julius II to act impetuously, but if he had lived longer, he would have been ruined when circumstances changed. On the whole, however, impetuosity surpasses caution. Fortune favors energetic youth over cautious age.
Summary — Chapter XXVI: An Exhortation to Free Italy from the Hands of the Barbarians
Italy’s current disarray favors the emergence of a new prince who will bring happiness to the Italian people. Until recently, there had been a prince who seemed ordained by heaven to redeem Italy. But a string of bad luck has prevented such an outcome.
Lorenzo de’ Medici is Italy’s best hope. If he has learned from the great men named in The Prince, the salvation of Italy will not be difficult. For though those men were great, they were still only men, with no greater opportunities or grace than Lorenzo’s own. Past wars and princes have failed to strengthen Italy because its military system was old and defective.
To succeed, Lorenzo must create a national army. The Italian people are good fighters; only their leaders have failed. Lorenzo’s army needs both good cavalry and infantry to defeat the Spaniards and the Swiss.
Should a prince ever succeed in redeeming Italy, he would receive unending glory and be embraced in all the provinces with love.
Analysis — Chapters XXIV–XXVI
Chapter XXV discusses the role of fortune in the determination of human affairs. Many thinkers have considered the question of whether a man’s actions are a manifestation of his own free will, or if they are simply determined by fate or his environment. Machiavelli attempts to compromise between free will and determinism by arguing that fortune controls half of human actions and leaves the other half to free will. But Machiavelli also argues that, through foresight—a quality whose importance Machiavelli stresses throughout The Prince—people can shield themselves against fortune’s slings and arrows. Thus, Machiavelli can be described as confident in the capabilities of human beings to shape their destinies, but skeptical that such control is absolute.
Machiavelli ends The Prince with an impassioned plea to redeem Italy. Stylistically, he abandons his detached tone and utilizes exhortation and poetry to communicate nationalistic fervor. He implores Lorenzo, to whom the book is dedicated, to deliver Italy. Despite Machiavelli’s efforts, the country would not be truly unified for another three and a half centuries. Some have argued that The Prince is really the manifestation of Machievelli’s desire to see a strengthened Italy, not a detached work of political science. Historical references to Italy dominate the book, and Machiavelli clearly conceives the book as a means to expedite the successful unification of Italy. But The Prince’s clear application to Machiavelli’s home country does not distract from the book’s relevance to philosophical questions. At the very least, it must be said that the book’s influence spread further than the specific audience to which it was addressed.
A desire to strengthen Italy might also serve as Machiavelli’s ethical justification for the advice he has given. Machiavelli has previously argued that a prince cannot achieve success without sometimes resorting to ruthlessness. But Machiavelli never justifies the obtainment of political success as a worthwhile goal in itself. His concern with Italy would justify his logic: if the ultimate end is the glory of Italy, the end would justify the means.
The Prince is full of historical references, but the final chapters place the book in a historical context. Moreover, these chapters give us some insight into the mind of the author and his motives for writing the book. They suggest that Machiavelli is not as diabolical as he is often portrayed.
Important Quotations Explained
1.At this point one may note that men must be either pampered or annihilated. They avenge light offenses; they cannot avenge severe ones; hence, the harm one does to a man must be such as to obviate any fear of revenge.
This passage from Chapter III is an example of logical reasoning conspicuously devoid of ethical considerations. A prince must realize that he has two options: benevolence and destruction. Because the latter option will cause resentment among the people, he should choose it only if he is absolutely sure there will be no ill consequences—that the destruction he incurs will eliminate or disable any parties that might seek to revenge themselves against him. Feelings of pity or compassion are meaningless. Self-interest and self-protection are in this case the motivating factors and are to be pursued ruthlessly.
2. People are by nature changeable. It is easy to persuade them about some particular matter, but it is hard to hold them to that persuasion. Hence it is necessary to provide that when they no longer believe, they can be forced to believe.
This passage from Chapter VI is an example of Machiavelli’s use of assumptions about human nature to justify political action. This quotation follows a formula used throughout The Prince: because people are X, a prince must always do Y. Whereas Machiavelli laces his historical points with a wealth of evidence and detail, he tends not to provide significant explanations for many broad statements he makes about human nature. We may assume that when Machiavelli writes a statement such as “people are by nature changeable,” he is uttering a belief generally accepted in sixteenth-century Florentine society.
3.A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war, its methods and its discipline, for that is the only art expected of a ruler. And it is of such great value that it not only keeps hereditary princes in power, but often raises men of lowly condition to that rank.
This quote from Chapter XIV highlights warcraft as both an academic discipline that can be studied through historical examples and as a matter of practical experience. For Machiavelli, all affairs of government are viewed through a military lens, because the ultimate goal of a government is self-preservation; military defense—embracing ideas of strategy, diplomacy, and geography—is the means by which governments preserve themselves. Machiavelli does not conceive of the prince as a man skilled in many disciplines, but rather as one whose sole responsibility is to ensure the stability of the state that he governs.
4.Only the expenditure of one’s own resources is harmful; and, indeed, nothing feeds upon itself as liberality does. The more it is indulged, the fewer are the means to indulge it further. As a consequence, a prince becomes poor and contemptible or, to escape poverty, becomes rapacious and hateful. Of all the things he must guard against, hatred and contempt come first, and liberality leads to both. Therefore it is better to have a name for miserliness, which breeds disgrace without hatred, than, in pursuing a name for liberality, to resort to rapacity, which breeds both disgrace and hatred.
This passage from Chapter XVI illustrates Machiavelli’s attitude toward virtue and statecraft. Machiavelli advises the prince to disregard the principles of virtue when acting on behalf of his state. Instead, while it is desirable for a prince to act virtuously when he can, he should never let perceptions of virtue interfere with statecraft. Even though generosity seems admirable, it is ultimately detrimental to the state, and therefore should be avoided. A prince will never be hated for lack of virtue, he will be hated only if he fails in his duty to maintain the state. Virtuous action, in that it often promotes self-sacrifice, often conflicts with that duty.
5.Here a question arises: whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse. The answer is, of course, that it would be best to be both loved and feared. But since the two rarely come together, anyone compelled to choose will find greater security in being feared than in being loved. . . . Love endures by a bond which men, being scoundrels, may break whenever it serves their advantage to do so; but fear is supported by the dread of pain, which is ever present.
This passage from Chapter XVII contains perhaps the most famous of Machiavelli’s statements. Often, his argument that it is better to be feared than loved is taken at face value to suggest that The Prince is a handbook for dictators and tyrants. But a closer reading reveals that Machiavelli’s argument is a logical extension of his assessments of human nature and virtue. In the first place, people will become disloyal if circumstances warrant. In the second, the prince’s ultimate goal is to maintain the state, which requires the obedience of the people. From these two points, it follows that between benevolence and cruelty, the latter is the more reliable. Machiavelli never advocates the use of cruelty for its own sake, only in the interests of the ultimate end of statecraft.
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