The Prince
Niccolò Machiavelli
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
Chapter 1-4
Summary

Chapter I: The Kinds of Principalities and the Means by Which They Are Acquired

Machiavelli provides a description of the various kinds of states. He argues that all states are either principalities or republics. There are two types of principality: the hereditary principality and the new principality. The new principality can be entirely new or it can be a new appendage to a state that already exists. A prince can use either his own army or arms belonging to others to acquire a new principality. 

Chapter II: Hereditary Principalities

Chapter 11 focuses on methods one should use to govern principalities and maintain them. Machiavelli refrains from discussing republics, stating that he has “discussed them at length on another occasion. This statement is made in reference to Book 1 of Machiavelli’s Discourses.

Machiavelli sets out two main reasons why governing a hereditary state is easier than governing a new principality. The first reason is that he people under the rule of hereditary states are already familiar with the rule of the prince’s family. In these circumstances, the natural prince’s only real task is to keep existing institutions fully intact, while making sure that these institutions are properly adapted to current circumstances. The second reason is that subjects in a hereditary state have a natural disposition towards loving the existing ruling family. This is only destroyed if the prince is foolish enough to carry out a horrible action against the people. When if the hereditary state is conquered by an overwhelming outsider, the prince will be able to reconquer the state if the outsider comes across any setbacks.

Chapter III: Mixed Principalities

Machiavelli makes it clear why it is more difficult to maintain a new principality than it is to keep power in a hereditary state. Firstly, people are likely not to see the difference between being ruled by one new ruler or another. They will likely hope that the new ruler will be more effective than the current one. They will hope for improvement, and this may push people to fight against an unestablished prince. While the people may promptly conclude that their attempt at revolt will not be effective, they will still be successful in creating significant disorder. Additionally, when princes conquer other princes’ domains, they find themselves in difficult situations when it comes to the people who gave him power. He will be not able to maintain the support provided by these people because he will not have the ability to fulfill all of the expectations they have with regard to improvements in their situations. The fact that the prince is in their debt, however, will prevent him from dealing with them too harshly. Immediately after he has taken power, the new prince will find himself in danger of losing his new position and territory.

If a prince is successful in suppressing a revolt, however, he has the ability to easily prevent additional rebellion by being harsh in his punishments and destroying all opponents. He will be able to be harsher with his principality’s subjects in his punishments than he would be able to in normal circumstances.

The prince will find it much easier to maintain his control of a new principality if its people speak the same language and have the same customs as his own country. In these circumstances, a prince need only accomplish two tasks: destroy the former prince's family and maintain the existing taxes and  laws. If their established ways of life are left as they are, people will live quietly and refrain from opposing the new prince’s rule.

The prince will have more of a challenge maintaining power in a new state if it has different customs and a different language than those of his home country. An effective tactic is for the prince to reside in the new state. It is by living in the new state that the prince will be most able to address problems efficiently and effectively. He will be able to prevent his territory being plundered by local officials. People who are generally inclined to be good will be more likely to demonstrate their allegiance to the new prince. People who tend to be bad will feel more compelled to fear him. Invaders will be more likely to hesitate before making any moves to invade the state.

The establishment of colonies within the new state is another effective way of overcoming cultural and linguistic discrepancies. Establishing colonies is less expensive than keeping up a military occupation. Also, colonialism tends to only harm inhabitants who are poor and scattered and therefore do not pose a threat. It is posited as a general rule that men must either be pampered or oppressed. The only time a prince should cause any injury to people is if he knows there is no chance of revenge being exacted upon him. The approach of setting up military bases all over the state will be ineffective in maintaining order. It will only upset the people. The people will then in turn likely become hostile and could be enemies able to greatly harm the new regime.

Domination of neighboring states should be another aim of a prince who has occupied a state in a foreign country. He needs to weaken strong neighboring states and make sure that there isn’t a strong foreign power that will be able to invade his new territory. It is natural for weaker powers to align themselves with the strongest one, but this is case only if they are unable to become strong themselves. It is necessary for the prince to be master of the entire country if he is to be able to maintain control of the state he has successfully conquered.

The prince must take action to solve problems before those problems manifest themselves fully. It is when political disorders are identified and acted on early that they are easy to resolve. It will be too late to deal with if they are left too long without being addressed. It is natural for men to always seek to acquire more. When they are successful in acquiring more, they are not condemned but praised. However, rulers who do not have the ability to acquire but persist in trying to do so at the cost of their current power ought to be condemned.

A strong understanding of statecraft and warcraft are necessary for a prince to hold a state. Statecraft and warcraft are intertwined. It is only through suppressing disorder that war can be avoided. Yet it is not possible to escape a war. Postponement of war is done only to the advantage of the enemy.

Chapter IV: Why Alexanders Successors Were Able to Keep Possession of Darius Kingdom after Alexanders Death

There are two main methods for governing a principality. The first way involves a prince and his appointed ministers. Everyone is subservient to the prince, although the ministers assist in governing. The second method includes a prince and nobles. The prince does not appoint the nobles, but they have their own subjects and benefit from their lineages. The first method is considered stronger for the prince, as when there is only the prince and his ministers, the prince is the country’s only ruler.

A country where the prince uses ministers is much more difficult to take over. This is because ministers are much less susceptible to the corruption of foreign powers in order to turn against their prince. Even if ministers were to decide to turn against their prince, they wouldn’t have the capability of getting support from any of the subjects as they do not have the personal loyalties that nobles have. Nobles have their own subjects and these subjects are loyal to them. When a noble is corrupt, they will corrupt their subjects.  When a country has nobles, it is easier to conquer because one can corrupt them and get their cooperation. This is especially easy if the nobles are discontented.

While it is easier to take over when a state has nobles, it is more difficult to maintain power for the new ruler. This is because when there are nobles in a state, it is insufficient to only destroy the family of the former ruler. The nobles will be powerful enough to revolt and overthrow the new ruler. It is easier to keep control of a state that has ministers. Machiavelli argues that his ideas are consistent with the evidence of historical events, such as the rebellions against the Romans in Greece, France, and Spain and Alexander’s conquests in Asia.

Analysis

Machiavelli supports his arguments with a combination of methodical argument and historical examples. His first step is the establishment of terms and categories that will be used to understand many different political situations that we come across in the real world. The sharp distinction the author makes between the different kinds of state, starting with principalities and republics, are useful as they let him set out his ideas in a concise and clear way. It can be disputed whether Machiavelli’s categories are sufficient in describing the complexities of political history. Machiavelli’s decision to present reality in clear and simple terms allows him to create an impression of directness.

It is true that Machiavelli does not draw heavily on abstract thought or theory in communicating his points. This section of the book shows how much he relies on history in supporting his theory of government. He seeks to answer the question: “How best can a ruler maintain control of his state?” The author’s response to this question is comprised of numerous rules and guidelines that he holds to be empirically verifiable, and these have been arrived at by study of conquests of the past, focusing especially on those involving the Greeks, Romans, and French.

Machiavelli’s portrayal of the ordinary subject encapsulates one significant difference between his philosophy and the political philosophies of other writers. In Aristotle’s political writings, we read of a citizenry that is concerned with the community’s welfare and that is political by its very nature. While it’s true that Aristotle dismisses the majority of individuals who live in the Greek city-state (women and slaves), he believes that the free citizens are the reason why the state exists. By contrast, Machiavelli sees ordinary citizens as simple-minded and insignificant. He believes that these people will either hate or love their ruler, and that their feelings will depend on whether they are injured or harmed. As long as a prince is able to keep his control, however, he doesn’t need to feel compelled to care about their welfare.

For Machiavelli, the government’s purpose is the stability of the state and the ruler’s control, not the well-being of the people. Machiavelli does not spend any significant time thinking about the things that happen within the state but rather focusses on that which occurs outside of it. It is necessary for a prince to be constantly aware of the actions of foreign powers and any possible threats of invasion. Machiavelli focuses on power diplomacy and the concerns of warcraft and largely ignores domestic affairs.

Many people have characterized the guidelines Machiavelli sets forward in The Prince as being “amoral.” They point to how the author seems to condone cruel and brutal actions such as violent suppression of insurrections and revolts and killing the family of conquered rulers. While the Greeks believed there was a close connection between politics and ethics, Machiavelli appears to consider these two things as being entirely separate. However, it is inaccurate to assert that Machiavelli dismisses the accommodation of any kind of ethics or morality. It should be pointed out that religion does have a role in Machiavelli’s idea of the state. Also, while he fails to use words such as “moral” or “ethical”, we do see in later chapters of the book that he believes rulers have obligations and duties that could be termed as moral or ethical.

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