The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1532)

The Prince
by Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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