In the early 16th century, when Italy consisted of city-states ruled by princes, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote a handbook for princes and dedicated it to Lorenzo de Medici, Duke of Urbino and the ruler of Florence. This work became infamous because it justified criminal deeds committed for the sake of politics. This paper will summarize the main points made by Machiavelli related to the types of principalities, war and the military, and the qualities of princes.
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Types of Principalities
The first eleven chapters of the book concern different types of princedoms depending on the way in which the ruler came to power. According to Machiavelli, states can be either principalities or republics, and either hereditary or new (5). Hereditary principalities are easy to rule because it is enough for a prince to follow the politics of the predecessors (Machiavelli 6). However, an extraordinary force is necessary to conquer such a state because the monarch will reacquire its power if invaders are not strong enough (Machiavelli 7). New principalities are easy to take over but hard to rule because people tend to rebel if they believe that another prince will make their lives better (Machiavelli 8).
The author suggested three ways of conquering republics and other self-governing states: to destroy them, to settle down in that place, and to establish a small government for them and make them pay tribute (Machiavelli 20). However, the first way seems to be the most secure one.
Further, the book explains the association between the qualities of a conqueror and his future in a newly seized state. For princes, who take over a principality through their virtues, the conquest is difficult, but the rule is easy (Machiavelli 23).
Those who rise to power by fortune, meaning with someone’s help, acquire a state easily but govern it with difficulty (Machiavelli 25). If one conquers a principality by crime, one should complete all the wrongdoings at once because “injuries must be done all together, so that, being tasted less, they offend less” (Machiavelli 38). A person who becomes a prince after being elected by people has difficulties neither in acquiring power nor in maintaining it (Machiavelli 39). Thus, the way in which the ruler rises to power influences his subjects’ willingness to support him.
The book also suggests how to measure the force of a principality and its governor. First, a prince should always be able to defend his state using a mighty army (Machiavelli 43). Secondly, he needs to fortify his town to discourage enemies from attacking it (Machiavelli 43). Consequently, a ruler should always be concerned about the military to be able to protect his lands from invaders.
War and the Military
Chapters 12-14 explain what kind of army is necessary for the military success of a state. According to Machiavelli, a prince should avoid involving mercenaries and auxiliaries in his army (48). Mercenaries are worthless and harmful because of their cowardice, a lack of discipline, and disloyalty (Machiavelli 48). Moreover, if they have a strong leader, they are likely to turn against the ruler who hired them (Machiavelli 49).
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Auxiliary arms are even more dangerous because they are not as uncoordinated as mercenaries and, therefore, they can unite and seize power (Machiavelli 55). Consequently, a wise prince should have an army consisting of his own citizens to ensure the security of the state (Machiavelli 55). Generally, a ruler always has to think of war, and in peace, he should prepare for future battles (Machiavelli 59). Thus, warfare was a crucial concern of the governor in Italy in the 16th century.
The Qualities of Princes
Chapters 15-23 provide Machiavelli’s vision of qualities that a good prince should possess. First of all, a ruler should “learn to be able not to be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity” (Machiavelli 61). However, the public should not know about the prince’s wrongdoings, so he has to maintain a virtuous image of himself (Machiavelli 62). A prince should not be generous because it will not be appreciated and will entail unnecessary expenses (Machiavelli 63). Furthermore, if a ruler has to choose between being loved or feared, he should prefer the latter because people become better subjects when they are afraid of punishment (Machiavelli 66).
It is crucial for a prince “to appear merciful, faithful, humane, honest, and religious,” but to possess these qualities is harmful (Machiavelli 70). A ruler should also avoid being hated, especially by common people, and, to achieve this, it is enough not to deprive citizens of their property, honor, and women (Machiavelli 72). Hence, in Machiavelli’s opinion, a prince has to appear virtuous while being capable of vicious deeds.
Further, the book gives suggestions as to how a ruler can win respect among people. A prince should take sides when there is a conflict in the neighboring principalities because if he does not, the winner will come for him (Machiavelli 89). As for the choice of ministers, the book suggests that a good minister thinks of a prince more than of himself (Machiavelli 93). Rulers are also advised to avoid flatterers and to listen to a selected group of wise and truthful men (Machiavelli 94). The author concluded by appealing to Lorenzo de’ Medici to unite Italy with the help of the provided advice.
To sum up, it is quite clear why Machiavelli’s The Prince was regarded with disapproval. According to the book, two facades should be one of the major qualities of a successful governor since he has to seem virtuous to people while being vicious in reality. However, Machiavelli may be right in suggesting that moral principles applied to ordinary people are not applicable in the field of politics.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield, 2nd ed., The University of Chicago Press, 1998.