The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1532) The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1532) Type of Work: Political and philosophical discourse Book Overveiw “It is customary for those who wish to gain the favour of a prince to endeavour to do so by offering him gifts of those things which they hold most precious.” To Machiavelli, his own most precious possession was the “knowledge of great men,” which he acquired through experience and “constant study.” He offered his guiding gift of knowledge to his prince, Lorenzo the Magnificent Di Medici. “All states and dominions which hold or have held sway over mankind are either republics or monarchies.” Thus begins his primer for princes, combining his detailed training, logic and imagination to teach how political power may be obtained and “how the various kinds of monarchies can be governed and maintained.” For the monarch who acquires a new state, there are many difficulties. According to Machiavelli, “Men change masters willingly [but a prince will] find enemies in all those whom you have injured by occupying that dominion.” Moreover, those who have helped you in taking the new territory will stray from your camp because you cannot fulfill their expectations nor can you “use strong measures against them.” Hence, “you will always need the favour of the inhabitants to take possession of a province.” If a prince has the support of his new subjects, his position will be relatively secure. When new provinces share the same nationality and language as the prince’s main dominion, then “it is very easy to hold them.” However, if great differences in language and customs exist, “the difficulties to be overcome are great.” The best way to overcome such differences is for the new ruler to set up residence in the principality. This enables a prince to keep close watch on his state and to quickly resolve any troubles as they arise. The next best option is to “plant colonies in one or two key places.” Colonies have several advantages: They are inexpensive and are far “more faithful, and give less offence,” because those few landowners who are dispossessed are too weak and scattered to fight back. Maintaining a new state by posting armed guards is the least favorable method.
“The kingdoms known to history have been governed in two ways: either by a prince and his servants [ministers]; or by a prince and by barons.” In the latter case, ruling is burdensome; barons have subjects of their own and are accustomed to exerting authority. In conquering a state, a prince can easily find barons who will join a movement to overthrow their king; but once the region is conquered it will be difficult to hold, since the barons may again band together to overthrow their new prince. On the other hand, “in those states which are governed by a prince and his servants, the prince possesses more authority.” Princes acquire power by a number of methods: by good fortune, ability, villainy, or by “the favour of his fellow-citizens, which may be called a civic principality.” If a villain-prince conquers a state, he “must arrange to commit all his cruelties at once, so as not to have to recur to them everyday and so as to be able .. to reassure people and win them over by benefiting them.” In instances when a prince has been elevated to power by his fellow-citizens, authority is conferred either by the aristocracy or by the populace. However, ” he who becomes prince by help of the aristocracy has greater difficulty in maintaining his power than he who is raised by the populace,” for the aristocracy rarely relinquishes complete power and often has the means to usurp a prince’s authority.
The wise prince gains and maintains control of principalities both by “good laws and good arms.”For these reasons an understanding of the various types of armies is essential. “The arms by which a prince defends his possessions are either his own, or else mercenaries, auxiliaries, or mixed.” It is a mistake to employ mercenaries. They are”useless and dangerous” and cannot be trusted; “disunited, ambitious, without discipline, faithless .. they have no fear of God and keep no faith with men.” Likewise with the services of auxiliaries (powerful neighboring troops used for defense). Except in the most extreme case, it is wise to shy away from their aid. “If any one ..
wants to make sure of not winning he will avail himself of troops such as these.” Both mercenary and auxiliary armies can turn on a prince: “If they lose, you are defeated, and if they conquer, you remain their prisoner.” His own subjects serve a prince much more effectively as soldiers, but this advantage also carries the responsibility of command. “A prince should therefore have no other aim or thought, nor take up any other thing for his study, but war and its organization and discipline, for that is the only art that is necessary to one who commands.” In times of peace, a prince should still practice the skills of war by action and study, and keep his troops well disciplined and exercised. “To exercise for the mind, the prince ought to read history and study the actions of eminent men.” As to the opinions of others toward the prince, “I say that it would be well to be considered liberal; nevertheless liberality such as the world understands it will injure you.” Worldly liberality (“generosity, broad-mindedness”) encourages luxurious “display,” and a prince thereby “will consume by such means all his resources … For these reasons a prince must [willingly accept] the reputation of being a miser, if he wishes to avoid robbing his subjects, if he wishes to be able to defend himself, and to avoid becoming poor and contemptible.” There is one exception to this rule, however: In rewarding his army with plunder, the prince “may be very generous indeed” with what is not the property of himself or his subjects. A ruler may wonder “whether it is better to be loved or feared.” Machiavelli answers: “One ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved.” It is also better to be bold than cautious.
“Imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves.” Be both strong and clever. Because men do not act in good faith, a wise prince is not “bound to keep faith with them.” However, it is best for a prince to “appear” to possess the qualities of “mercy, faith, integrity, humanity, and religion.” In short, “the ends justify the means.” A prince may be ruthless when it is prudent, but wanton cruelty is foolish. He must avoid the hatred of his subjects by keeping them well armed and contented; and by refraining from “rapacious [acts], and usurping [their] property and women.” In this way, he will convert potential enemies into partisans and keep his friends faithful. “Great enterprises and giving proof of his prowess” bring a prince respect and esteem. “A prince is further esteemed when he is a true friend or a true enemy, when, that is, he declares himself without reserve in favour of some one or against another.” Neutrality will bring him to ruin.
By choosing to come to the aid of an ally, a prince wins in victory as well as in defeat. Either way, the ally “is under an obligation to you and friendship has been established.” Since it is better for a prince to rule by the counsel of ministers, these must be chosen carefully. The prince must select ministers who are completely devoted to him, and he, in return, must always reward his ministers with praise and wealth so that they remain devoted. “When a prince can discern what is good and bad in the words and deeds of another, he will be able to distinguish between his minister’s good and bad performance, praising the one and correcting the other … When you see a minister who thinks more about his own interests than about yours .. then you will be sure that such a man will never be a good minister .
. . ” A prince, at times, requires honest opinions. “A prudent prince [selects] for his council wise men, and [gives] these alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else.” Above all else, “flatterers must be shunned.” The conquering prince who follows these admonitions will do well for himself and will be “more secure and firmer in the state than if he had been established there of old.” Men live in the present, not in the past, and when, by a prince’s intelligent rule, “they find themselves well off in the present, they enjoy it and seek nothing more.” They will defend their monarch when threatened in order to maintain their own security and high standard of living. But “those rulers of Italy who have lost their dominions” did not build up arms, and they alienated their subjects, “a common failing of men not to take account of tempests during fair weather.” Now, says Machiavelli, Italians everywhere have called on Lorenzo the Magnificent to act as their prince, “as a prudent and resourceful man to shape them . .
. ” just as the Israelites waited to be led out of Egyptian bondage by mighty Moses, so Italy, left almost lifeless after years of foreign occupation and internal dissension, prays for someone “who may heal her wounds .. who will rescue her from her barbarian insolence and cruelty..” Commentary Machiavelli’s prime motive in writing The Prince was to encourage Lorenzo the Magnificent to unite Italy. Like many writers during the Renaissance, Machiavelli was a student of history; this, tied to his fervent belief in an Italian nation-state, led him to hope that Lorenzo would use his advice to liberate Italy from its host of foreign invaders. The modern usage of the term Machiavellian” denotes ruthless opportunism and manipulative techniques.
And, in fact, as a practical guide for leadership, the author’s proffered advice lacks any semblance of morality. But in the Florentine theorist’s world, morality was in short supply. His paradigm of princehood was Prince Cesare Borgia. Praising Borgia’s killing and despoiling of as many lords and lands “as he could lay hands on,” Machiavelli cites this Prince as an almost perfect archetype of bold rule: “I can find nothing with which to reproach him.. ” The influence of The Prince has been felt deeply, even in the twentieth century, as evidenced by the actions of such men as Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, and many other international statesmen. Political leaders (Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan, Gordon Liddy, Oliver North, and countless other Presidential advisers), plus endless hordes of salesmen, advertisers and authors on managerial techniques all were ardent students of the book.