“The Prince” by Niccolò Machiavelli (1513)

“The Prince” by Niccolò Machiavelli

Hmmm... a good Prince gives his advisors lots of Grappa. Lots and lots of Grappa.
Hmmm… a good Prince gives his advisors lots of Grappa. Lots and lots of Grappa.

Chapter I

All states are either republics or principalities. Principalities are either hereditary or annexed to the hereditary state. The people in these states are used to either living in freedom or under a prince. They are either acquired by the prince or given to him.

Chapter II

The longer the prince and his family have been in power, the easier it is for them to hang on to their state. The people get used to their faces on the money and the way they rule. If a foreign power takes over the state but doesn’t do a great job imposing itself on the state, the people’s affection for the old prince will help him win it back. The Duke of Ferrara in 1484 and Pope Julius II in 1510 are good examples of this. Unless the prince is a complete asshole to his people, they will fight for him against an invading power.

Chapter III

Newer and recently annexed (“mixed”) principalities are another matter. The newly “acquired” people will willingly look for another prince when it becomes convenient for them. If they do this, they usually are wrong because it’s almost always the case that the new ruler will be even worse.

When the new guy comes in, he usually puts the clamp down on the new state. That means new taxes and lots of soldiers to make sure things don’t get out of hand. Those who lost because of the changing of power will become enemies. New friends might not be so friendly because they might not be satisfied with your favor. You can’t really punish too many people because you’re trying to build up local goodwill.

Louis XII took over Milan but was thrown out the moment anyone remotely friendly showed up in town. Louis didn’t keep his promises to those who helped him take over the city. Although if he takes over a second time, he’ll see who exactly the traitors were and that will keep things quieter. When Louis took the city back, it took all the armies of Italy to drive him out.

Some lands are acquired and added to an ancient state but aren’t of the same language and culture. When they are, they are more easily held on to especially if they have no history of ruling themselves. In this case, all you need to do is hold on to them securely. This was especially true in the cases of Gascony, Brittany and Normandy. It wasn’t a big leap for them to be ruled by France since they were practically French anyway and didn’t have a history of being independent. The old lords need to be gone, and laws and taxes stay the same. That way it seems as if nothing has changed.

When culture, laws and language are different, that’s when your troubles begin. If you want to hang on to it, you’ve got to go live there. You’ve got to make yourself visible to these people. The Turks in Greece did this. You have to be there to do with problems as soon as they happen and see that they don’t get out of hand. If the people see that your officials aren’t pillaging the place and their issues are taken care of, most of the locals won’t care that you are foreign.

Another way to do things is to send colonists somewhere and you’ve got your culture just transported to a new place. You don’t need a strong military presence and it’s fairly cheap. You also make way fewer enemies when you play favorites with some people. You’ve got to treat the people well or completely crush them. If you injure them slightly, they still have the force for revenge. If they are treated well or crushed, they either cannot threaten you or they don’t want to. Garrisons, armies, etc. cost so much to maintain and they might breed hatred from the locals. You lose more that way.

You should play big brother to smaller neighbors or at least seem to be one. If they feel threatened by some other state, they might just ask you to come in and defend them, or even run the show there. They see you as the protector and the other as the aggressor. You have to stick to this image and this job, though.

E.g. The Romans established colonies and were friendly to their neighbors. By staying strong there, they were able to make sure that other large powers didn’t cut in on their action. They anticipated problems with large powers coming down the pike. They prepared themselves and did not keep their heads in the sand about what was going on. Procrastination was one of the worst policies to enact. In the beginning, it’s hard to detect smaller problems but way easier to cure. The Romans also took their fights abroad so that they wouldn’t have to do the fighting at home.

E.g. Louis XII of France did the opposite of what I’m suggesting. The Venetians did a deal with him to try and split Lombardy. He was itching to get in but had no friends in Italy because of what Charles VIII (his predecessor) did there. He got Genoa, made friends in Florence, got well-wishing from Mantua, Ferrara, Faenza, etc. The Venetians realized that in trying to score some cheap land, they made Louis master of 2/3 of Italy. He didn’t need to go any further than that. He just needed to secure friendships with the above group and protect them from Venice and Rome. Once in Milan, he helped the Pope secure Romagna. He ruffled the feathers of his new friends and made the Church more powerful by giving it more land to rule. He ended up fighting a lot of the Pope’s battles for him. He took the Spanish on to do this. He divided his own power.

It’s natural to want to gain things. We always do when we can. When we can and don’t, there’s something wrong. If France could have attacked Naples alone, it should have done so. If it couldn’t, it shouldn’t have asked for help. The invasion in Lombardy had nothing to do with Naples. It was just getting its foot in the door.

5 mistakes: 1- destroyed minor allies, 2- made the Pope stronger, 3- brought the Spanish into Italy, 4- He didn’t live in Italy himself, 5- he never sent colonists to Italy. A 6th one was the biggest: he took land from the Venetians, which allowed stronger powers to move in the wake of the land grab. He could have done that if he hadn’t helped the Pope or invited the Spanish. But since Venice is some much smaller than those 2, they were the small power that needed to be courted. Small states don’t want to piss off multiple larger states and so wouldn’t have done anything.

You can’t really use the excuse of trying to avoid war because he ended up going to war anyway. You shouldn’t avoid it but delay it as long as you can to build up your strength. Louis lost Lombardy and any place in Italy by violating all the rules I’ve laid out. You ruin yourself by making others more powerful.

Chapter IV

It didn’t take long for Alexander to conquer all of Asia. The real question is: How is it that Alexander had barely just conquered the place, died within a few years but Asia remained loyal to the empire he built?

There are two ways you can govern a state. 1- You rule as a prince with servants who act as ministers for him. 2- You rule as a prince and have barons who hold their positions by local laws including inheritance and local consent. In the second case, you’re not really a foreign power lording over the locals. You’re more of a club that local lords and lands belong to. The locals don’t notice any difference in who’s ruling. Also, the barons don’t have any superior in their lands. The ministers are purely there at the will of the king.

The Turkish kingdom is set up like the 1st example. You have the monarch and his servants. The servants are sent out to administer in the various regions of the empire. They get moved and replaced when he wants them to be. The King of France relies on local lords throughout the kingdom to rule locally. The king doesn’t have a whole lot of control over these lords. In Turkey, the ministers are loyal to the king because they don’t really threaten the king with revolt and they aren’t as easily bribed by those he’s ruling. If they can be bribed, he can’t really do anything to threaten the king. In France, local lords don’t give a shit about the king because there are dozens of them who are ruling their own regions. The king can’t replace them because the lords’ laws and customs are older than the monarchy itself. Every time a new king is crowned, he has to do his best to try to keep the lords loyal, which they might not do.

As for Darius and Alexander: Darius’s government was similar to the Turks’. He had ministers ruling in different regions. Once Alexander was able to conquer one region, the people didn’t really resist because they had no loyalty to the minister. Alexander needed to defeat Darius in order to take over. Once Darius had been defeated, the country no longer had ministers in its regions and Alexander could take over. As long as Alexander’s successors didn’t have a powerful enemy and kept the locals happy, the kingdom would be strong.

France is just like Rome was. It’s a large territory made of local states tied to a weak central government. Rome remained intact for a long time and the differences between the local regions faded. The local lords died out and only the power of Rome remained. This explains the ease of Alexander and the problems of Pyrrhus.

Chapter V

Now let’s talk about taking over places that used to rule themselves. You can do one of three things: 1- destroy them, 2- live there yourself while ruling them, 3- let them continue to live under their own laws and get a tribute out of them with an established oligarchy. The oligarchy wants to remain loyal to you because otherwise they wouldn’t be in power.

The Spartans and Romans tried establishing oligarchies and still eventually lost the territory. You can’t really keep a territory without destroying it. You living there will calm them down but they’ll always remember their freedom. Eventually they will try again for their freedom.

In principalities, you need to destroy the ruling family and system. The people will have no idea how to rule themselves and will need help. They will be too chaotic to defend themselves and organize a resistance. In republics, you’re in deep shit there. They will never forget that they were once free. It needs to be destroyed and rebuilt.

Chapter VI

Some states are formed by leaders who have never ruled before. In these cases, the success of the state depends entirely on the leader’s ability to do his job. Luck has a bit to do with it but if you’re counting solely on luck it ain’t going to go well. Some famous leaders were first timers: Moses, Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus. There was an element of luck to them but they seemed to have a natural talent to lead. The proof of that is that we still talk about them long after they’ve died.

Each one of them had some trouble at the beginning. It is so difficult to establish a new government in a place because change scares people. Also, people who previously had power don’t usually sat around and watch a revolution happen. One thing that helps these guys hang on is whether or not they have a decent sized army. Even Moses had some muscle backing up what he said. The army reinforced the leader’s will. People who resisted or sat on the sidelines chirping were put out to pasture. Once they’ve been dealt with, the ruler has a much easier time.

As you can tell, these four leaders are all legends. Who actually knows if these people existed or what’s been said about them is true. Leaders need to rely on others to make sure their newly found power continues. Hiero of Syracuse is one fellow who took this advice and is still around to tell the tale.

Chapter VII

What about states won by chance or by using someone else’s force? The easy part is the conquering. The hard part is the maintenance. It’s not hard to drum up opposition and start a rebellion or even a revolution. Once you’ve established yourself, it’ll be harder because now you have a lot more work to do. You have to put down anyone trying to throw you out. It also takes way more talent to run a state successfully than to start a revolution. You’ll have to learn quickly and efficiently. It’s a military and political expertise that you’ll need to have.

Sforza became Duke of Milan. Cesare Borgia inherited his title from his father. Sforza had trouble getting his state but little in keeping it. Borgia inherited his power and saw it slip out of his grasp. Building political power needs a strong foundation just like a house.

Borgia’s father was Alexander IV. He spent his life building up power to pass on to his son. He didn’t want to procure land for his son by taking any from the church. That would have ruffled way too many feathers in Milan and Venice. Alexander, being Pope, was able to convince a few states to give up land. Cesare had to keep the land. Since he borrowed his army from the French and the Orsini family, he found trouble keeping them loyal. Alexander made friends with Louis XII by dissolving his marriage he wanted badly out of. Louis came into Milan with the help of the Venetians. Meanwhile Alexander took over Romagna. Borgia had two problems: 1- his rented armies didn’t seem loyal, 2- the goodwill of France.

Borgia didn’t like the idea of using other people’s power. He brought in the Orsini family, whose army he had been using, and killed the leaders. He was able to win over the people of Romagna. At first, the place was lawless. But Borgia sent Orco to calm the place down. It wasn’t long before the people turned on Orco because of his abuse of the people. Eventually, Borgia has Orco execution for his abuse.

Borgia seemed the ideal prince until Alexander died. Borgia didn’t do himself any favors by not trying to influence the election of the next Pope as friendly to his cause. Julius II was no friend to him. He wanted to do the following: 1- got rid of families he overthrew from power, 2- made friends with powerful families in Rome, 3- getting the cardinal college under his influence, 4- make himself so powerful that an unfriendly Pope wouldn’t harm him much. He was only able to do 3.

He really wanted all of Tuscany. The French were out of the picture at this point because the Spanish took over Naples. He took over town by town. By the time he turned his attention to Florence, his father, Alexander, was dead. His major problem was that he himself was now sick. He was unable to influence enough people to vote for a friendly Pope. He got Julius II. He really ought to have picked a Spanish Pope – someone without a dog in the Italian fight. That election caused his ruin.

Chapter VIII

Some princes get in people in different ways: crime and being tapped on the shoulder.

Agathocles was ruler of Syracuse and was looking to take over all of Sicily. He was the son of a potter but somehow found himself leading an army. He wanted more than that – to be king. He invited senators and leaders of the area to a meeting. Once they were all in the room, his soldiers promptly killed them all. That left nobody left to resist him. He began fighting with the Carthaginians and lost two battles against them. He held them off with half of his army while the other half went down to Carthage and attacked. The Carthaginians had to give up their siege in order to help their home city. They were forced to accept Agathocles as the ruler of all of Sicily. He was mostly remembered as a power-hungry nut bag. It wasn’t through smarts or talent that he became leader, just the willingness to use deception and violence to get his way.

Oliverotto was raised by his uncle and went into the army. He was able to climb the ranks all the way to the top. He saw then that he wanted to rule Fermo, instead of taking orders. He went to his uncle’s house asking for a big party. This was to be the big event for all the powers of the area to see and be seen. He had his soldiers hidden around the place. They came out when the time was ripe. Nobody was left to have any claim to power, so he became the ruler of Fermo. He set himself up in the city and made his reign strong. He overreached himself and was eventually defeated by Cesare Borgia.

Cruelty is a tool that can be used in these cases. However, you must be careful with it. The more you use it, the more people will not accept your rule. Eventually, you will be overthrown. If you must use, you must use it seldom and at the right moments. There are much better ways of entrenching yourself in your state. You will lose your state if you mete out the cruelty on the regular.

Chapter IX

Some rulers get into power by being put there by popular demand. They might not be lucky or geniuses but the people like them enough to put them into power. They are put there through support from the nobles or from the people. In those cases, where the people, the ruler or the nobles aren’t all on the same page, you get 3 outcomes: principality, self-government or anarchy.

The principality is created by the people or nobles. The nobles may see that they can’t keep the people down for very long and choose a leader who would be acceptable to the people. He might be a bit of a mark on this one but as long as the people don’t mind, everything is fine. The people may see that they won’t be able to stop the nobles from running things against the public’s wishes and they will choose a leader that the noble would find acceptable. Either way, the ruler will have a hell of a time because he will probably be the target of someone’s rage and a roadblock to someone’s ambitions.

One difference between the people and the nobles is that the people tend to have better desires, just wanting not to be oppressed. The nobles tend to want to oppress. A prince can never be able to withstand hostile people because of their sheer numbers. A prince can withstand hostile nobles because there aren’t that many of them. A hostile public will usually only abandon the prince. The nobles, when hostile, will take a prince down.

There are two types of nobles: those who are completely with you and those who aren’t. Those who aren’t completely with you are either afraid generally, which you can safely ignore, and those who are plotting something. Those who are plotting against will do so when the time is ripe.

It’s best to have the people on your side. That’s pretty easy. They just don’t want to be arrested, tortured or generally oppressed. They are fairly easy to please so long as you listen to their needs and desires, and fulfill their needs and some of their desires. The only reason to be afraid of the people is when you aren’t too bright. Either the people, when agitated in a certain way, will fight the prince or they will protect him from nefarious villains making a move against him.

If the people want the prince to become an absolute ruler, they typically screw up somewhere along the way and choose the wrong people to run the place. As a prince, you have to make sure that the people need the government and you.

Chapter X

Up to this point, we’ve been talking about the many ways a potential ruler can get a kingdom. Getting one is all fine and good. Keeping one is another matter.

When the state is attacked, the Prince will have a question to ask himself with respect to defense. 1- Will I defend the city myself? If not, we’ve already discussed this in previous chapters, so we won’t repeat ourselves here. If so, you need to make your city a fortress. You don’t need to make every little hamlet a bulwark. You just have to make sure wherever it is you’re staying is safe. Once potential enemies see that your city is fortified properly, they will be deterred from attack. The cities in Germany are extremely well protected from predators. The cities are stocked with arms, food and other provisions. They can withstand a year of sieges. That’s adequate time for their support to come and run off invaders. The people of the city will have many of their homes and possessions destroyed in the cause. If you make it worth their while, they will support you in a case of urgency.

Chapter XI

There is another type of discussed not yet discussed: ecclesiastic states. The ruler (Pope) doesn’t have to defend them or play silly little political games to appease the people or nobles. What is great about them is that any attack on them to expand one’s domain is seen as an attack on the church. The Pope can ask any large power to help defend his territory because they will want to be seen as helping out the church.

The Church at the time was getting more and more worldly power. Until recently (the time Machiavelli was writing), the Church’s lands were tiny, even negligible. But Alexander VI got a lot of power and was able to expand his lands. He used the Church as a military and political entity. Julius continued and improved upon the model. Leo held it up too.

What the Pope had to do originally was placate the two major factions in Rome: the Orsini and the Colonna. The Pope was usually from one of these two families. They often would alternate between the two. What one did was usually undone by the next Pope. Alexander broke the cycle and acquired a lot of worldly power and respect for the Church.

Chapter XII

A peaceful and prosperous state needs good laws. We’ll discuss what those laws ought to be later. What’s really important is that you have a force to back those laws up. The army can be made of three types of soldiers: locals, mercenaries and auxiliaries.

The mercenaries and auxiliaries aren’t any good. They sound tough but they will leave you at the first sign of any real trouble. You can’t blame them. The shitty pay they get won’t be worth dying for. Italy has been using mercenaries for centuries and look at the mess it’s in. When you hire foreigners to fight your battles for you, you get all kinds of problems. But in the end, Italy has been under the thumb of France and Spain because of the states’ reliance on foreigners to fight its battles.

Even if they were any good, mercenaries are dangerous because they’ll keep an eye on any weakness of political power in the state they’re fighting for. They often become masters of these states by pouncing at the opportunity of weakness. If they’re bad, you lose your money, your reputation and your state. Whatever you do with them, you lose.

The best armies are made of up of locals. Rome and Sparta relied on its citizens to defend the state and were generally successful. Carthaginians relied on mercenaries and were destroyed by the Macedonians, who were fighting for their own country. The mercenaries don’t fight; they’re a waste of money and leave at the first sign of things starting to look scary. Italy is completely under the thumb of other powers because of them.

Chapter XIII

Auxiliary forces are also shitty. Julius used them and didn’t suffer very much for it but he also had the backing of the Swiss and Spanish armies. With auxiliary forces, you are in a tight position not matter what the outcome is. If you lose, you’re out whatever you goal was and the money you spent on the auxiliaries. If you win, you have a confident army looking for more victories, which will probably include your territory which has no defense.

Auxiliaries are loyal to their country or leader, not yours. You probably will not have the same interests as that leader/country and eventually your reliance on auxiliaries will run you into a great deal of trouble. History is loaded with states that relied on auxiliaries and either lived to regret it or they wised up and got rid of them. These examples include Hiero of Syracuse, Cesare Borgia and David of the Old Testament.

Auxiliaries are only a temporary solution that should not be used except under special circumstances. You will need your own army of soldiers loyal only to you.

Chapter XIV

If you want to be a good prince and you want to stay a prince, you’ve got to be thinking about war constantly. The moment you start thinking about other things, the game’s up. If you don’t even have an army, you’re fucked. Your thoughts should always be on war: your army, your territory, your weapons, your potential enemies. If it’s not on specific battles, go out and explore your territories. You might have to fight battles there one day. If you don’t you’ll be familiar with different types of terrain and that knowledge will be useful to you one day.

You’ve got to be better armed, better trained and better prepared than any other army if your state and your reign are to survive. Once you let war out of your sights, people will see you as weak and they will attack you.

Chapter XV

A lot has been said about how a ruler ought to be. There’s also a lot of talk about what the ideal republic and principality would look like. The truth is that we’ll probably never see them because human behavior can be imperfect. Even the most fastidious prince will be brought down by those who aim to.

Princes aren’t always going to be the ideal ruler. But they should keep in the back of their minds all that will lead to him ruling well and all that will lead to him ruling poorly. Princes aren’t always nice but they should know what leads to their approval and success, and their disapproval and failure. He should take notice of qualities that lead to success, being brave, just, faithful, generous, etc. and of qualities that lead to failure, the opposite of those.

Chapter XVI

Having a reputation for being liberal and generous is good. What’s better is having that reputation without actually being so. You do get some popularity from showering the people with gifts but you blow all your money on them. Their memories become short with generosity and they will soon turn on you. If you can find a way to get such a reputation without actually giving anything of your own, by all means, do it. You will get the credit without suffering any loss.

There are three ways you can get money: from your own pocket, taxing the people, and finding someone else to foot the bill. You really shouldn’t give anything of your own. It’s a resource that is useful for you in a time of an emergency but it will soon dry up. Taxing the people heavily will piss them off but if it’s on something they really want, fine, go ahead and do it. It makes you look good by spending the people’s money on them for things that they want. Be careful though.

There are examples of great leaders like Caesar, Alexander and Cyrus who have been seen as showering the people with goodies. The reality is that none of that came out of their own pockets. If they had done so, the money would have been dried up within no time. They actually bestowed the people with all that “free shit” out of tax money or spoils of war. It boosted morale and kept them popular with the people in times of crisis. The people’s memories will be short but they’ll remember you having given them something when potential rivals haven’t given them anything.

Chapter XVII

The question of clemency/forgiveness is another issue to consider. You don’t want to be seen as cruel. However, compassion for your people will only suit you if it doesn’t come at the expense of their fear for you. A mixture of the two would be ideal. But if you had to choose exclusively between the two, it’s better that people fear you than love you.

Compassion usually results in their love for you. Their love for you is good but it doesn’t really have a lasting effect. If you are seen as just but enforcing rules, you will be feared and, at the same time, respected. This fear and respect have a much longer life than love. Remember, their fear for you is not the same as their hatred for you. If you are seen as enforcing just laws and sticking to that, then you will be feared and respected. You can’t go taking people’s property and their women. It seems that they will be more pissed off at you for taking their shit and their women than you killing their fathers for breaking laws.

As good as Hannibal was at expanding Carthage’s territory and fighting the Romans, what stayed in the minds of his people was his cruelty. All the greatness he gave to his country would have been quickly forgotten if his people weren’t so terrified of him. Scipio had the opposite effect on his people. He wanted to be kind to his people by being so forgiving. Eventually, he was so forgiving of lawbreakers that law and order ceased to have any real meaning.

You should focus on using people’s fear of you to stabilize your state instead of generosity. Generosity’s effects are much shorter-lived than fear’s.

Chapter XVIII

In order to succeed at being a prince, you’re going to have to appear to be telling the truth and in reality to lie whenever necessary. You have to be cunning like a fox. You can see all the traps laid out for you and avoid them skillfully. On the other hand, you have to be terrifying like a lion. Everyone will have to tiptoe around you for fear of angering you. People will see the lion side of you and you will know that the fox side of you will be able to see any traps set for you.

Alexander VI was an inveterate liar but always seemed to be telling the truth to all of those around him. His role as Pope was supposed to be the face of the Church and there he was sneaking around everyone’s back to slip the knife in. All of this is to show that you have to be seen as being truthful and innocent but when in reality, you have to be sneaky and two-faced. Those who don’t do so won’t be around very long to tell the tale.

Chapter XIX

It’s very important not to be hated by your people or your armies. What is most important is not to take people’s property or mess with their families or else you will be hated. You must not appear to the people and the army to be weak or they will be tempted to overthrow you. You must at least seem to be loving and generous, although you must not actually be so. Not following that advice will get you menaces from within and without your ranks.

To stop internal attempts on your rule, you must not be hated. It’s fine if one person doesn’t like you for some silly little reason. But the more people you piss off, the higher the chance is that they will band together to try to kill you or at least overthrow you. If you are generally well liked, any conspiring dissenters will be pointed out to you by those who are loyal. The Duke of Romagna killed because he was hated by rivals and even his entire family was killed. The people were so upset by this act that they got together and killed the assassins. However, one baby escaped assassination and the entire city allowed the boy to grow up and rule.

Another way to deal with such problems is based on the government of France. They’ve got a really nice set-up there. The king has a parliament to deal with dissent among the ranks of the nobility and people. That way the king doesn’t have to be seen as the one who’s kicking ass and taking names to everyone. He doesn’t have any black mark on his reputation. But he gives out any rewards or generosity on his own. This allows him to minimize the amount of hatred pointed at him directly and maximize the amount of love for him.

Many Roman emperors did not follow this path and they all ended up in a bad way. The people wanted an emperor who was peaceful and generous. The army, however, wanted constant war and killing and pillaging. It’s damn near impossible to do both. However, you deal with the side that seems the most dangerous to you and for the emperors, that was the army. Unfortunately for the emperors, this pissed the people off to no end. The only one who escaped death at someone’s hands was Severus. He actually was able to be admired on all sides.

Severus was poised to pounce on Rome the moment he saw that the Senate wasn’t paying any mind to him. They were so scared of his army invading the city that they made him emperor on the spot. As soon as he was named, he heard that one man in the west and one man in the east were claiming to be the Roman Emperor. He had a strategy. He sorted out the one in the west right away. Then he made friendly with the one in the east until his back was turned to him. Then Severus stabbed him in the back. This was enough bloodshed to please the troops and established order out of chaos, which pleased the people. They didn’t even mind his allowing the troops to run riot on their lands.

That was the times of the Roman Empire. Today (1500s) the military doesn’t have quite the pull on the ruler as it did then. They usually do as they are told as long as they respect their ruler. One notable exception to this fact is Turkey. They have a sultan which is not a hereditary position. This means that each new ruler has to establish the respect of both the people and the military, which is not always easy.

Chapter XX

The question of disarming the people has come up. It’s not a very good idea. Giving people arms makes them feel in control because it actually puts them in control. When you take their arms away from them they feel deprived, oppressed and hopeless. People don’t organize easily so those having weapons won’t be any major problem to you.

If the people don’t like you and want to get rid of you or kill you, they’ll find a way with or without their arms. Once a prince disarms his citizens, he makes his state weak. They cannot defend the state. It’s important to remember that when an enemy comes to invade, they are attacking you and the people. You are in this together. If they can’t help you, you really are fucked.

Taking away arms from people only makes sense when you are adding a territory to your state. Understandably, the people being incorporated into your state won’t be very happy about it. You have to disarm them to avoid them making any real fuss about the situation. After a while, people will begin to accept the reality of the situation and they will eventually come around to you. That takes a long, long, long time.

You shouldn’t divide towns into factions. They are almost never split exactly in two, so there will be one stronger faction and one weaker faction. If the weaker faction isn’t friendly to you, then they will ask for help from somewhere else to deal with you. Now you have two groups pissed off at you and the stronger faction won’t be very much help to you anyway. By dividing a town, you’ve unnecessarily created a huge problem.

If you want to take over somewhere, it’s much easier to do so with a bit of inside help. You will be asked to intervene by the shill and you can take over by looking like a savior. When all of that is said and done, be sure to keep an eye on the people who asked you for help. They will never really be on your side. They were only using you to get the power for themselves. They will stab you in the back whenever they get the chance. Remember, they betrayed the old leader, so why not you?

The subject of fortresses is an interesting one. They are good for protecting yourself against foreign invaders. It’s best not to think of them as protection against your own people should they ever turn on you. If they turn on you, they’ll ask a larger power to deal with you and that’s when your troubles begin. Plus, if you don’t have the people on your side, what’s the point of being prince? Fortresses are no substitute for being well liked by your people. If they like you, they will go to battle for you. Only then will your fortresses be of any use.

Chapter XXI

Here is the subject of how a ruler can gain himself a good reputation. It’s possible for the smallest ruler to make himself into a huge power. Ferdinand of Aragon started off small but he built his kingdom by adding piece by piece, starting off with safe bets and then as his kingdom grew, he began to take more calculated risks until he became the most powerful man in Europe.

You don’t even need to be involved in wars to get yourself a good name. When you see two neighbors going at each other, it’s important to take sides before you see the tide turning one way or another. This makes you look like you were on their side all along. If your ally wins, then you can divvy up the rewards of victory. If your side loses, you can plan your vengeance. Either way allows you to build relationships.

A good ruler also makes himself seen as someone who encourages talent. That means fostering arts, trade, science, etc. Also, you should plan festivals, at least once a season to give the people something to look forward to and enjoy themselves. You also need to be visible. You don’t have to be in the streets everyday but people like to know that you care about them and know what they’re going through.

Chapter XXII

You’ve got to choose your advisors carefully. They are representing you to the people and abroad and you don’t want to look like an idiot to them. Also, they are in charge of the state of your territory. Choosing bad ones will cause everything to go badly.

There are three types of intellects: 1- people who are just smart on their own. 2- People who get it once it’s all been explained to them carefully. 3- People who will never get it. Advisors really come in handy if you are of the second type of person because they can coach you through decisions without you having to think to hard about things. If you are of the first type, you can just simply make your decision on your own and delegate the task to them. God help us all if you are the third type because these advisors can run riot over the city and then the whole place will be a huge mess.

So, when you are choosing your advisors, make sure that they are intelligent and care for you and the state. A sign that they aren’t really looking out for your best interest is when they are really wrapped up in things that don’t involve you or the state. You should give him honors, rewards, comforts, etc. Not too much or it’ll all go to his head. Not too little or he’ll get angry and start looking for ways to screw you over.

Chapter XXIII

It’s very important to avoid flatterers. Many people in a prince’s court will just say “yes” to anything he says and tell him whatever they think he wants to hear. That’s not helpful at all to the prince himself. You have to foster an environment in which advisors are willing to tell you the truth. However, you have to make it clear that they are not to offer unsolicited advice. You must choose a few councilors whom you trust to give you an honest opinion when you ask them a question.

As a prince, you must also foster within yourself a habit of asking many poignant questions of your advisors. Also, you must allow some of your advisors into your confidence so that they can help you through the maze of your plans. They may be able to offer advice or steer you away from making mistakes. If you don’t let anyone into the fold, everyone will be confused and may think that you are insane. The most important thing I can say is this: you have to be smart enough to know when and how to take advice. If you leave it to the advisors, things will end badly. If you don’t let them in, you will seem erratic and error-prone.

Chapter XXIV

Everything I’ve gone over is a guide on how to get a state, how to keep a state and how to run a state. In the present years (1500s), we’ve seen Italy as the doormat of Europe. The main reason behind this fact is that all the major armies doing the fighting in Italy are foreign. No state in Italy has kept a proper army either to fight his own battles against his neighbors or to defend against invasions. Anyone claiming that it was bad luck is lying to himself. The army is the only key to building and maintaining a state properly.

Chapter XXV

So many people make a lot out of luck. I’ll admit that luck is about 50% of everything. That’s a lot but that leaves you 50% that depends on you. We usually fail when we aren’t prepared for what luck has to bring us. If we are prepared for what fortune has in store for us, then fortune won’t have very much effect on us at all. But if you ignore your role in history, you will be completely at the whim of luck and it will destroy you. That is how Italy got in the shape it’s in.

Luck is merely the circumstances of what you do. A good idea isn’t always a good idea. Everything has its time and its place. You can learn what those times and places are and make your plans around them accordingly. That is the difference between a good prince and an idiot. The good prince will understand that luck will sometimes favor him and sometimes not. If he prepares for it, what luck throws at him won’t make much difference.

Julius understood this and went around expanding his lands. He knew how to play a weak hand in his own favor. Part of this was understanding that he was an aggressive man and playing to his strengths almost always yielded positive results. If he had rested on his laurels, things might not have turned out so nicely for him. Fortune is like a woman. You need to take what is there and make it yours in whatever way you want.

Chapter XXVI

I’ve written the guide book on how to do it; it remains for someone actually to do it. There have been examples of people in the past who may have made Italy a great nation but they let the chance slip through their hands. Italy needs a leader and someone with the knowledge on how to build something great. He needs a guide and adviser, like yours truly. Italy can take on anyone who dares to come in a try to run things; it just needs that final thing: a leader. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.

Author: knowit68

2 thoughts on ““The Prince” by Niccolò Machiavelli (1513)

  1. I have just finished the Prince. What a piece of work Machiavelli is! The end justifies the means…no matter WHAT the means. And by the way if you need an advisor to help you be as self centred as possible whilst appearing nice, just ask me to help……Onto Rabalais….

  2. Well, I’ve thought the term “Machiavellian” was often misapplied. He mentions leaving the people armed. An armed and trained population is important because nobody’s going to fight harder for your city than the citizens. I think you can look at it as sneaky or nefarious. But knowing a little about Italian history, Italy was a doormat for the Spanish, the French, the Pope, you name it. I think he was just tired of his side being on the losing end of history. He really puts it on the line by just giving a strong patriotic flavor by the final chapters. I think he was hoping the Medicis would just get their act together and set up a political dynasty for all of Italy.

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