The Prince
Niccolò Machiavelli
Contributed by Joslyn Justiniano
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Chapter 5-7

Chapter V: How to Govern Cities and Principalities That, Prior to Being Occupied, Lived Under Their Own Laws

Machiavelli sets out three methods for holding states that have long lived freely and with their own laws. He explains that first they must be devastated. The second approach is to occupy them. The third is to let the state have its own laws but to also collect taxes and set up an oligarchy that will ensure the state stays friendly. Establishing a friendly oligarchy is useful because it will back up the conquering prince’s authority. It is because of this that the third approach can be the easiest and most effective. It is always easiest to use a state’s own citizens to help one rule. 

The most certain method of gaining control of a state that has enjoyed freedom is complete destruction. Not taking this route puts the prince at risk of being destroyed himself. Regardless of when the state was acquired, a rebellion is always able to call on ideas of former liberty and the impact of ancient institutions. This is true even if the state has gained benefits as result of the prince’s rule. The people will be unified against the prince by their sense of tradition.

It is easy to take over cities and provinces that are accustomed to being ruled by princes after the ruling families have been destroyed. People who live in these places don’t know how to live their lives in freedom without being ruled by someone. They are used to being obedient to the person who rules them. This makes it easier for a new prince to take over and rule.

If a prince takes over a republic (or former republic), there will be strong feelings of hatred as well as revenge against him. Memories of freedom never entirely die. This is why it would be more effective for the prince to occupy the state personally or destroy it.

Chapter VI: Concerning New Principalities Acquired by Ones Own Arms and Ability

Machiavelli recommends that princes try to imitate the behavior of historical great rulers, even when that would involve lofty goals. Even if the prince does not fulfill these lofty goals, the things that he will do in the process of trying to will help to improve his reputation as a powerful and great ruler. 

One method by which a ruler may acquire a state is by way of their own personal prowess. This means that they rely on their own abilities instead of inheritance, noble birth, or other fortunate circumstances. It is extremely difficult to acquire a state just using one’s prowess. Yet when a prince is successful in doing this, he will find the state easier to keep control over. Cyrus, Moses, Theseus, and Romulus are rulers who were able to acquire states using only their own powers.

Rulers who acquire states on the basis of their prowess rather than fortune or birth usually have greater success in keeping power. This is because they are better able to deal with the challenges involved in setting up a new order. Introducing a new order is a very dangerous and difficult process. People who liked the old order because they benefited from it will vehemently oppose a prince who attempts to impose a new one. Also, individuals who will likely benefit from the new order will provide merely moderate support. Princes who only rely on his talents of persuasion will find himself unsuccessful. However, princes who use their prowess and are willing to “force the issue” will generally enjoy success. It is possible that to “force the issue” will mean using force. This process can be a dangerous one. However, if the use of force is successful, the ruler will find himself to be respected, secure, and strong.

Chapter VII: Concerning New Principalities Acquired with the Arms and Fortunes of Others

Occasionally, it is good fortune that causes private citizens to become princes. These people are able to use their money to buy their way into a powerful position, get favors from someone else who is in a powerful position, or bribe individuals such as soldiers. Princes such as this tend to be weak. Fortune can be unstable and capricious, and these princes do not have the skills necessary to maintain their position. They lack the support and devotion of loyal troops, and they do not know how to maintain their power when opposed. Unlike princes who gain power with their fortune, those who do so on the basis of their own prowess are successful in creating a strong foundation for their rule. Princes who gain rule by using their fortune or harnessing the goodwill of others do not have this strong foundation that they can use to rule. They will experience difficulties in creating a foundation that will help to prevent them from losing power. Therefore, we see that princes who rely only on fortune to gain power will be able to do so quite easily but keeping their power will be very difficult.

In order to be able to maintain power, it is necessary for the ruler to create a solid foundation. In doing this, the prince is obliged to eliminate rivals for leadership and gain the favor of these rivals’ followers. Machiavelli calls attention to the example of the life of Cesare Borgia (who was also called Duke Valentino). Borgia had high intentions and was courageous. He was the son of Pope Alexander VI. It was the good fortune of his father that caused Borgia to be made duke of Romagna. He found himself unable to maintain his rule, despite the fact that he tried to consolidate his power. He utilized force and was strategic in his conquest of foreign lands. He made efforts to make himself both feared and loved by the people he ruled. He destroyed disloyal troops and set up an army of loyal soldiers, and he was diligent in maintaining relationships with other kings and princes in a friendly yet cautious way.  In spite of all this, however, Borgia found completion of the consolidation of his power impossible after his father (the source of his good fortune) died. He was successful, however, in creating a strong foundation for future power. This was because he had great prowess as well as good fortune.


Machiavelli is well-known for calculating and even cold-hearted logic, and this is seen in abundance in Chapter V. When he argues that destroying a region is frequently the most effective method for gaining power, he fails to even try to discuss ethical or moral objections to his strategy. He uses an entirely pragmatic approach: he posits that the sole reason why one might want to maintain a newly conquered states established institutions is because it could keep citizens happy and in a subdued and submissive state.

In Chapter V, Machiavelli describes his ideas regarding the populace’s natural state. He argues that subjects are generally “used to obeying” and that they consequently are unable to live with complete freedom and without being told what to do. In making this argument, the author harks back to what he says in Chapter III about men naturally tending to prefer “old ways of life.” He feels that people are inclined to stick with tradition. This section of the book emphasizes the author’s assumption that man’s natural tendency is to be a follower. We find that to some extent, rulers are followers, too. At the beginning of Chapter VI, Machiavelli points out that those aspiring to be princes always tend to “imitate” examples set by great men.

The author believes that subjects may be self-interested, but not in an extreme way. He believes that they are not preoccupied with forms of self-improvement or enlightenment. However, he knows that they take notice of and appreciate improvements in the overall quality of their lives. While they are usually complacent and obedient, they are willing to rebel against a ruler that offends them. Machiavelli does not provide a complex image of the common people, and his book spends very little time discussing the concerns of subjects. The philosophy promoted in The Prince is seen in Louis XIV’s famous declaration, “L’Etat, c’est moi” (“The state is me”). The people matter very little, as the state is the ruler and the ruler is the state.

This position is not necessarily in opposition to the author’s argument that a government’s effectiveness is determined by its people’s firm support. Instead, it suggests that Machiavelli is not interested in finding out what might motivate people to support their ruler. It seems that the only significant question is whether this support exists. 

For Machiavelli, the prince’s primary virtue is self-reliance. Princes who are able to seize power on the basis of their own prowess alone will be most successful in maintaining their power. This is because prowess creates an unshakeable foundation from which to rule. Such a ruler will enjoy loyalty from his army, as well as the respect of the people he has conquered and leaders of nearby principalities. As a result, he will be well-equipped to address difficulties and problems without having to rely on help. The more self-reliance a prince has, the more successful he is likely to be.

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