MACHIAVELLI: The Prince Ch. I-VII

MACHIAVELLI: The Prince

  • Machiavelli dedicates The Prince to Lorenzo Di Pedro De Medici. Machiavelli considers that his knowledge of the actions of great men is his most dear and valuable possession; and therefore believes that it is appropriate for him to offer it to the Medici Prince. He does not regard his belief that he possesses knowledge about how Princes should behave as a presumption because as a painter places himself in a valley to contemplate the nature of the mountains, and places himself on a mountain to contemplate the nature of the valleys, even so to understand the nature of the people a man must be a prince, and to understand that of princes one must be of the people.
  • All states that have held power over men are either republics or principalities. Principalities are either hereditary or new. Dominions are acquired by the force of arms – either the prince’s or others’ – or by fortune or ability.
  • Machiavelli will only address principalities, and how they should be ruled and preserved. Maintaining power in a hereditary state, especially a long-established one, is relatively easy because a prince need only not transgress the customs of his ancestors, and to deal prudently with circumstances as they arise. An extraordinary an excessive force is required to remove such a prince from power, and if anything sinister subsequently befalls the usurper, then the former prince will regain the throne immediately. Citizens in such a state are inclined to love the prince, and the motives for revolution are latent and suppressed unless the prince engages in excessive vices.
  • Difficulties arise in new principalities because men change their rulers with the hope that they are bettering their conditions, but often discover that they have gone from bad to worse. A new prince incurs the enmity of those he injured in seizing the principality, and cannot keep the friends who assisted him to the throne because the prince is unable to satisfy them according to their expectations. However, if a province is taken a second time, then it is not so lightly lost as the first because the price can punish the rebellious faction and strengthen himself in the weakest areas of the dominion.
  • When an acquired dominion possesses the same language and general customs as the conquering principality, it is easier to maintain power over it. To hold these types of dominions it is sufficient to merely kill all the family members of the previous prince, and to neither alter their laws or taxes.
  • When an acquired dominion possesses disparate languages, customs, or laws, then difficulties arise, and great energy and fortune are required to maintain power over them. The new prince can bolster his hold on the new dominion by residing there, so that he can resolve any disorders as they spring up. On the other hand, if he resides in a distant territory, he will only hear of disorder when it has grown so large that it is past remedy. Residing in the newly acquired dominion will ensure that officials will not mistreat the new citizens, and the citizens will love the prince for it, and fear disobeying his orders because of the proximity of the prince and his vengeance.
  • Besides residing in the new dominion, it is a better decision to send colonists to one or two key locations. The prince only injures a minority of citizens, from whom the prince takes land and gives it to the colonists. This injured minority remain impotent and scattered. Furthermore, the majority will remain silent lest the same fate befall them. Men ought either to be well treated or crushed because men can avenge themselves of slight injuries, but cannot avenge more serious ones; and therefore the injury done to a man must be of a kin that one does not fear revenge.
  • Maintaining armed men in a new province is unadvised. The prince must spend the income of the State in maintaining the soldiers, and engenders animosity in the conquered people by reminding them of their subjugation.
  • The prince must weaken the neighboring powers of his principality, making certain that no foreigner gain enough power to challenge his authority because the subjected states will rally to the foreigner if they are discontented with the current prince.
  • All prudent princes must regard present and future troubles because a foreseen trouble is speedily redressed. However, an unforeseen trouble that is allowed to grow into a powerful antagonism soon becomes irremediable.
  • King Louis, the king of France, committed five errors regarding the appropriate and prudent behavior of a prince that Machiavelli outlined in the first 3 chapters. Those five errors were that: he destroyed the minor powers, he increased the strength of one of the greater powers in Italy, he brought in a foreign power, he did not settle in the country, and he did not send colonists. Thus, he lost provinces in Italy.
  • A prince should never commit a blunder to avoid war because war cannot be avoided, but only deferred to the prince’s disadvantage.
  • He who is the cause of another’s rise to power is ruined because the astuteness or power which assisted the newly elevated prince is distrusted by the prince.
  • Principalities are governed in two ways: either by a prince and a body of servants, who assist him to govern the kingdom as ministers by his favor and permission, or by a prince and barons, who hold the title and power by antiquity of blood and not by the grace of the prince.
  • It is more difficult to conquer a state governed by princes and servants because the usurper cannot rely on the aid of other powers in the state because there are no other powers. But once conquered, the state is easier to maintain because there are no other powerful forces that have the favor of the people.
  • It is easier to conquer a state governed by a prince and barons because a usurper can persuade a baron or barons to assist him in the usurpation. A usurper will always be capable of finding malcontents and people that desire a change. But after a successful conquest, it is difficult to maintain power in that state because revolts will arise among opposition forces and those who assisted the usurper.

As those who draw landscapes place themselves below in the plain to contemplate the nature of the mountains and of lofty places, and in order to contemplate the plains place themselves upon high mountains, even so to understand the nature of the people it needs to be a prince, and to understand that of princes it needs to be of the people.

Men ought either to be well treated or crushed, because they can avenge themselves of lighter injuries, of more serious ones they cannot; therefore the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.

The Romans did in these instances what all prudent princes ought to do, who have to regard not only present troubles, but also future ones, for which they must prepare with every energy, because, when foreseen, it is easy to remedy them; but if you wait until they approach, the medicine is no longer in time because the malady has become incurable. In the beginning of a malady, it is easy to cure but difficult to detect, but not having been detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect and difficult to cure.

War cannot be avoided, only deferred to the principality’s disadvantage.

He who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined; because that predominance has been brought about either by astuteness or else by force, and both are distrusted by him who has been raised to power.

Machiavelli explains that he is in a privileged position to speak about statecraft because he is not a statesman. This is an interesting claim. He bolsters his claim with an analogy of a painter who places himself in a valley to contemplate the mountains and lofty places. This argument has some merit. The subjects of a ruler know whether a prince’s conduct will arouse love or hatred in the people because they need only look into themselves to answer that question. However, subjects of a ruler have never experienced the emotions engendered by the responsibilities of a prince, nor do they have access to what actions a prince engages in private, away from the eye of the public.

The term Machiavellian is used to describe a ruler, or person, who utilizes immoral means to attain power. The advice to destroy all the family members of a conquered prince is shocking, and reinforces the unrestrained manner in which a prince, in Machiavelli’s opinion, should behave to attain power. Furthermore, Machiavelli advises the prince to either treat people well or crush them because men are able to revenge light injuries, but cannot revenge serious ones. Thus, a prince should injure people to such an extent that he will fear no retaliation. This callous counsel is truly disturbing.

  • Whenever a republic is conquered, the prince can maintain power in three ways: the first is to ruin them, the second is to reside there in person, and the third is to establish an oligarchy that will keep it friendly toward the prince. A prince can secure a state that has been governed by another prince more easily than he can secure his power within a previous republic. In republics, there is more vitality, greater hatred, and more desire for revenge, which will never permit the memory of their lost liberty to rest; so that the safest way is destroy them or reside there.
  • Machiavelli advises the reader to imitate great men, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savor of it.
  • The prince who relies most on his ability is established stronger than a prince who relies most on fortune. These princes are generally ones that have rose to eminence from a private station.
  • Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus are worthy of emulation. Fortune provided them only with opportunity, which the men seized and molded with their eminent ability into the form that they deemed best. Without the opportunity the powers of their minds would have extinguished, but without those powers the opportunity would have come in vain.
  • These valorous men acquire principalities with difficulty, but keep it with ease. The difficulties arise in introducing the new rules and customs necessary to establish the government and its security. The most difficult, perilous, and uncertain endeavor is to establish a new order. The innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old system, and only lukewarm defenders who might do well under the new. The opponents have the old law on their side, and men do not readily believe new things until they have had a long experience of them; thus they are less likely to defend the new order.
  • To establish the new order, the innovator must rely upon himself and force, not others and supplication. All armed prophets have conquered, and the unarmed ones have been destroyed. People are variable, and while it is easy to persuade them, it is difficult to fix them in that persuasion. Therefore, a prince must always have the power to force them to believe in the new order.
  • Princes who have been elevated to a prince by others face difficulties in maintaining their power because they must rely on the goodwill and fortune of those who elevated him – two very inconstant and unstable things.
  • Men injure others either from fear or hatred. New benefits conferred upon a great individual will not induce that individual to forget past injuries inflicted upon him.

In republics there is more vitality, greater hatred, and more desire for vengeance, which will never permit them to allow the memory of their former liberty to rest; so that the safest way is to destroy them or to reside there.

A wise man ought always to follow the paths beaten by great men, and to imitate those who have been supreme, so that if his ability does not equal theirs, at least it will savor of it.

All armed prophets have conquered, and the unarmed ones have been destroyed.

Men injure either from fear or hatred.

He who believes that new benefits will cause great personages to forget old injuries is deceived.

One of Machiavelli’s particularly intriguing insights found in this section of The Prince is his observation that citizens of a conquered republic possess more vitality, hatred, and desire for revenge upon the conquering prince than citizens of a conquered principality. The reason why citizens of a republic harbor such severe animosity toward a conquering prince is that the memory of their lost freedom will never let them rest. The memory will incite them to action and opposition of the new order. This type of emotion is very similar to the general feelings of the American Revolutionaries. They were accustomed to living in a free society, unhindered by excessive taxation. This loss of economic freedom aroused tremendous animosity among the colonists, and thus they determined to revolt against the established order.

I also particularly enjoyed Machiavelli’s exhortation to imitate the lives of great men, so that even if one falls short of their chosen hero, at least one’s actions will savor of greatness. This advice is similar to the well-known advice to aim for the stars, so that you at least end in the trees if you fail to reach the stars.

The Prince

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