The Prince

Niccolo Machiavelli


Okay, it's the scary book you've heard so much about, which tells you how to destroy your enemies and manipulate your friends. Right? RIGHT. Now, let's get busy. Niccolo Machiavelli's life was a topsy-turvy one. He appears to have been born into the Italian middleclass of the late 1400s. Machiavelli, like Sun Tzu, seems to have been the person we all want to be - someone who got away with writing a serious paper on a topic using only stories and circumstantial evidence to prove his ideas, and eventually becoming the distinguished author of this near-immortal document. You should BE SO LUCKY if your paper gets this result. But it won't. Machiavelli didn’t either. So here's what you have to contend with: The Prince, in 26 chapters and one sycophantic dedication, all bound up in fewer pages than your average Hardy Boys novel, written in sentences so convoluted and circuitous that when you're done, you'll think you just finished Crime And Punishment. And you will have.




The Various Types of Government and the Ways By Which They Are Established

    • This chapter lasts less than half a page. What with the header and everything, you could be forgiven for thinking it's just filler. And you wouldn't be far wrong.
    • Any state that has ever existed is one of two types: a republic (i.e. governed by the people)or a monarchy.
    • The republics, evidently, are not worth the trouble of discussing here (no princes). The Monarchies are either old or new; that is, either they were founded years ago by some conquering dude, and maintained by his descendants, or founded recently... by some conquering dude. And maintained - well, yeah. Go figure.


Of Hereditary Monarchies

    • Um, it'seasier to maintain a ruling monarchy if you and your family have been in power for a long time, than it is to maintain your power if you're new at the job. Thanks, Nick. What else you got?


Of Mixed Monarchies

    • ATTENTION, all Bob Jones University students: this doesn't mean what you think it does. This is one of the longerchapters, so let's get into it.
    • Here's the deal – you are the prince, right? If you've just taken over a city-state (city-states were all the rage in Europe during the late 1400s and into the 1500s). Apparently, you have "injured" the people - especially some of the people who were already in or near power of some sort.
    • These people need to be coddled. You need their "favor," i.e., you want them to love you like KathieLee loves the spotlight. So you can't use "strong measures" against them. Instead, you (you're the prince, now) should simply run things business-as-usual; no scary new laws, no sweeping social reforms, and oh, one more thing: read my lips -NO NEW TAXES (that's right, it all comes back to The Prince).
    • In this way, the people, sheep that (Machiavelli believes) they are, will soon come to love you just as well as they'd loved their previous ruler who you overthrew and/or assassinated, and will start to kiss up to you the way they'd been kissing up to that old Prince What-was-his-name-anyway?
    • One thing Nick recommends that you do is this: once you & your armies have conquered a state, MOVE THERE YOURSELF. In this way you can personally oversee all the action as your power is manifested, and keep an eye on any local uprisings yourself. No crooked lieutenants to louse things up for you while you're miles away, and no rebellions over cockamamie stamp taxes, either. If you're doing your job.
    • The other thing you could do, which Nick recommends, is to set up colonies in the new land. With your own people. In the villages and homes of the people you've conquered. Not all of them - just a few.
    • This is crafty because, as Nick points out, the only people who will kick up a fuss about it are the people you kick out of their homes - but if you do it "right," those who are injured, remaining poor and scattered, can never do any harm."
    • This form of colonization also helps prohibit rebellion against you for two reasons: ONE the majority of the people aren't affected by it, so they don't trouble themselves about it, and TWO, even if they do get upset, they'll be too scared at the thought of getting the treatment themselves to do anything about it.
    • Let's see...four last quickies --
    • One: as a general rule, when the powerful ruler takes power over a province, he always becomes the leader and protector of the neighboring, lesser provinces. So make the best of it - use their facilities to your advantage, but watch out for jealous types who resent you just because you happen to be the one in charge.
    • Two: a Prince should never, in the hopes of avoiding an all-out war, allow a rebel uprising to grow. THAT'S WHAT WARS ARE GOOD FOR. If you let it go, you're only delaying the war. You should start the war on your terms - not these rebels'.
    • Three: weasels who help someone get to power don't last long after they do, since they've either done it through weasel-cunning or through use of force, and while these qualities are helpful in climbing up the ladder to power, they are also, when looked down upon from, say, a throne, less appealing.
    • And finally, it's easier to "hold" a state in which you speak the same language as they do. In case you were wondering. Comprendez-vous, Monsieur Napoleon?


Why The Kingdom of Darius, Occupied by Alexander, Did Not Rebel Against the Successors of the Latter After His Death

    • The answer is simple -- he just played "Let Her Cry" over & over until they all surrendered. (Which is a Hootie & The Blowfish reference, and if you didn't get it, more power to you. For extra credit, explain why the kingdom of Hootie seems to have disappeared from the face of the planet, or, at least, Mtv.) (Hint: this ain't a tough one, kids.) But seriously!
    • This is one of the (many) chapters in which Nick not only uses a bunch of ideas,but doesn't even end up coming down solidly on one side or another.
    • The long and the short of it is this: A government chosen by a prince will have trouble enforcing its will, because the people will resent it, and will be aware that the real power is held by the prince, and his appointees are just tools. If, instead, he leaves the hereditary ruling class in power, the people will follow them.
    • But then, what's the point, you ask? Well, in terms of keeping this country that you've just invaded, Nick claims that it's harder for outside forces to conquer a blood government but easier to maintain it once you do.
    • Conquering a servant (i.e. prince-selected) government is much easier, but your difficulty then lies in maintaining it, which will be difficult because (well, here it gets a little vague) of the people who've aided you and also the people you've oppressed. Hey, look, I didn't write this. I'm just helping you.


The Way To Govern Cities or Dominions That, Previous to Being Occupied, Lived Under Their Own Laws

    • Boy, these liberals. Give 'em an ounce of Freedom and they expect that same freedom under every single dude who comes along to conquer them.
    • The plan here is to establish a small government to keep things running smoothly. Maintain the status quo, so the people are happy, and you'll also be able to count on the government because they're aware that their sole source of power is your authority. Or so says Nick.
    • Your other choice is to "despoil," i.e. ravage and destroy, a province, or a few provinces, in order to demonstrate your power. This is unfortunate, but, says Nick, necessary. "...[W]hoever becomes the ruler of a free city and does not destroy it, can expect to be destroyed by it." Why? Because Stone Cold Niccolo said so!


Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired by One's Own Arms and Ability

    • Tough to conquer, easy to keep.
    • See Chapter Seven.


Of Dominions Acquired by The Power of Others, or By Fortune

    • Guess what? Easy to conquer, tough to keep.
    • Let me break it down for you. When you bust your ass and the asses of your armies to conquer a state, you've got the might on your side, and you've got the fear of the people working for you, and the loyalty of the army, and the running and the screaming and the hey hey hey. These are all good things.
    • You've fought for the prize, and won it, and now all that's left is maintaining your scary power over a newly downtrodden people.
    • When, on the other hand, you weasel your way in through the back door, whether by mistake, "fortune," or otherwise, you're likely to get a less cordial welcome. The people aren't afraid of you, and you've relied on weaselly people to get in, and as we've already seen, weaselly people are just not to be trusted. This is just pure, common sense. Hell, I coulda written this book my damn self.
    • Chapter Seven's got a great anecdote in it, though, which illustrates one way to deal with the pitfalls of the "dominion acquired by power of others" situation. It also shows us a little about Machiavelli's cold, cold heart.
    • To wit: seems there was this king, named Alexander VI (pronounced "the sixth"), who wanted to get his son a little play. So he worked it so that the son was in charge of a province called the Romagna. Now, this province was all kinds of jacked-up. Disrespect for the law, chaotic social environment, unsafe streets, and papparazzi EVERYWHERE.
    • So the son hires this guy called Messer Remirro de Orco (already you're shaking in your boots, right?), a "cruel and able man," and, through a methodical process of intimidation, torture, and near-limitless ferocity, this guy Remirro proceeds to drop mad wreck on the citizenry, instilling in everyone a fear of the law and its enforcers. And the Romagna becomes, after a while, a fit place to live.
    • The king's son becomes aware of the change for the better, and decides it's time to step in and reap the benefits. But he doesn't want to be known as the guy who brought in the cruel, bloodthirsty law-enforcer. What to do? Simple: he cuts Messer Remirro de Orco in half and leaves him in the town square, with the bloody blade lying at his side.
    • To quote the Mach: "The ferocity of the spectacle caused the people both satisfaction and amazement. But to return to where we left off." See that? From a gory description of a calculating monarch's underhanded plot, right back into the narrative WITHOUT EVEN STOPPING FOR BREATH. The man's heart is made of snails.


Of Those Who Have Attained the Position of Prince by Villain

    • In this chapter, we're given some more anecdotal examples about, basically, how people who rise up from the gutter always have some of the gutter left in 'em, and how broken homes lead to broken lives. Real family-values type stuff. If you don't believe me, read the chapter yourself.
    • What you need to know is this: rising to power by means of villainy is bad, and it makes you bad. But it doesn't mean that you DIDN'T RISE TOPOWER. Got it? So you've got power, but not glory. According to Nick. But you do have power. Got it?
    • Also, if you were wondering, it's best to commit all your war atrocities at once, and not drag them out. This way the sting is over swiftly and the people will begin the process of forgetting all about it, and starting to kiss up to you. That's when (this is also mentioned) you start to distribute the "benefits" little by little, "so they may be better enjoyed."
    • Again, Nick really seems to feel like he knows the people, but I'll tell you, I'd rather have my benefits in a big pile all at once, especially if my butt is still stinging from the war atrocities. Thank you.


Of The Civic Principality

    • Quick summary - it's better, in a "civic principality," i.e. a quasi-democracy, to be voted into office by the people than it is to be placed in power by the nobility.
    • Partly because, again, it's the love of the people you're shooting for, and also because you'll just end up with trouble from a bunch of nobles who all think they can boss you around just because they gave you the throne. Now you know.


How the Strength of All States Should Be Measured

    • Very Important: you should always have at least one year's worth of supplies on hand in order to be prepared for a siege. This means food, armaments, and toilet paper, because the people won't back you for long if they have to start using leaves. The invading army won't have to use any force at all -they'll just lob a few rolls of quilted Charmin over the wall and the people will beg them to come in and conquer.
    • Actually, Machiavelli doesn't mention anything about toilet paper in The Prince, probably because it hadn't been invented at the time. If it HAD been around, he probably would've just tried to write on it. But it's important to stay abreast of these kinds of societal developments.


Of Ecclesiastical Principalities

    • These, apparently, are the best. What Nick means by an "Ecclesiastical Principality" is a city-state which is unified in a religious belief.
    • These are great because they seem to just run themselves. Little government is needed, there is no unrest, and the people are happy - all because they share the same belief system. That is so great. You should really try to get one of these.


The different kinds of Militia and Military Soldiers

    • This is a pretty easy chapter. Ready? Here it comes: Mercenaries Are Bad. We don't need to go into details (let's face it, the "historical evidence" Machiavelli provides is so old by now, and so unfamiliar in context, that he may as well have made it all up anyway).
    • Just trust me when I tell you that Nick believes that mercenaries almost single-handedly brought the level of Italian civilization down to a level of "slavery and degradation." And you can quote me on that.


Of Auxiliary, Mixed, and NativeTroops

    • So, anyway, skip the mercenaries, form your own army out of loyal members of the citizenry, and you're good to go.


The Duties of a Prince With Regard to the Militia

    • Not only should a Prince study nothing but war, to keep his skills tight, but he should double up on war studies during peace-time AND go hunting a lot (no joke; Nick says he should do it "continually") so as to keep his body accustomed to the crap of living in the wild and killing what you eat, and vice versa, and so on, and so on. War - what is it good for? EVERYTHING! Say it again!


Of the Things for Which Men, and Especially Princes, Are Praised or Blamed

    • A Prince should learn both how to be good, and how to be not-good, and use these skills where necessary.
    • A Prince should behave himself.
    • A Prince should not get caught letting his intern give him oral. Seriously, it's all in here.


Of Liberality and Niggardliness

    • Sigh. Attention, Bob Jones University students: this chapter's title doesn't mean what you think it does. It's neatly (if I say so myself) summed up thusly: it's better to seem cheap, so that in time of need you can justify your stinginess, than to be greedy and have everybody hate you.


Of Cruelty and Clemency, and Whether It Is Better To Be Loved or Feared

    • Do I really have to spell this out? Better to be cruel, better to be feared. But you knew that, having come this far.


In What Way Princes Must Keep Faith

    • The key to this chapter is right there in the title - "in what way." That is to say, if you ask yourself "HOW should I keep my promises," you're already most of the way to your answer.
    • Either you keep your promises consistently, or you don't... and you decide when and where to honor your word.
    • Guess which side Nick comes down on - no, really, guess. I think you've got it. The answer is: keep your promises when it's to your benefit, and ignore any promises you've made if honoring them will be harmful to you in any way. Period. If you guessed wrong, please stop reading this now and return to the beginning.


That We Must Avoid Being Despised and Hated

    • Well, first of all, if everyone loves you, you don't have to worry about rebellions or conspiracies. There be fewer conspirators. They'll be even less inclined to work against you because not only will they have to fear your wrath if they're caught before their plans are enacted, but if they do actually succeed in getting rid of you, they'll have to face the wrath of the people, who all loved you. So you have that going for you, which is pretty nice.
    • Nick says "numberless instances might be given of this, but I will content myself with one." Surprise, surprise.
    • Another lesson we learn in this chapter is to let your staff do your dirty work, so that you may beloved as a benevolent overseer, and not hated as a cruel enforcer.
    • Also, the doing of evil deeds can even, at times, cause your position to be strengthened, because if the forces which are helping keep you in power are corrupt, well, you will sometimes have to get your hands dirty.
    • But don't get them TOO dirty, like Antoninus, son of Severus of Slavonia, who was so evil and feared so completely that he was killed by a soldier in his own army just to keep him from getting even EVILER. Or something; Nick doesn't really go into the soldier's motive, and he also says that the danger of being assassinated by your own soldiers is pretty small. Sodon't sweat it.
    • Nick also mentions the case of Commodus, whose fate was similar to that of Antoninus - so evil he was killed by his own men - and Maximinus (literally,"Maxi-Mini-Me," "us" being the Latin version of the royal "we"), who came to power after Alexander was killed by his own men (for being "considered effeminate, and a man who allowed himself to be ruled by his mother"), who was such a notoriously cruel ruler that pretty much the whole known world was pissed off at him, including his own army. Who killed him.
    • But, as Nick says, this is a fairly rare occurrence. Not to worry. And the chapter concludes with further emphasis from Nick on how important it is for your army not to hate you.


Whether Fortresses and Other Things Which Princes Often Contrive are Useful or Injurious

    • In this chapter, Nick uses the fortress as a metaphor for -- well, not so much a metaphor as an example of - well, it's difficult to say, really, exactly why he brings up the whole fortress idea at all, since the bulk of the chapter is taken up with describing how it's important that your people ("the people") not hate you. Which might seem obvious, but then, Machiavelli spends large chunks of this book articulating the obvious.
    • He also points out that it's a good thing, when you secure a province, to arm the inhabitants, because they'll be so happy to have been given arms and the right to use them, that they'll start to not hate you right away.
    • And if you disarm them, they'll start to not not hate you. But already we're back in the territory of the obvious. What is NOT obvious to state is Machiavelli's idea that a prince will find more "faith and usefulness" in those who, when he came into power, he was suspicious of. But he doesn't really get into WHY. "Of this," he says, "we cannot speak at large, because it strays from the subject."
    • Basically his idea has something to do with them needing the prince's support to maintain their positions, and since they were looked on with suspicion early on, they'll work twice as hard to win his favor. Make sense? Sure, why not? Any concrete evidence to prove it? Heck, no - why start now?
    • And here are two more things to know: a prince should always be aware of the people on the inside who helped him gain power; their motives may have less to do with his interests and more to do with their own.
    • Also, finally, here's a genuine example of medieval political science BS: "And on well examining the cause of this in the examples drawn from ancient and modern times it will be seen that it is much easier to gain the friendship of those men [who don't have their own hidden agendas]." Can you imagine what would happen if you tried to use that in a paper? Forgetaboutit.
    • Oh, and Nick says fortresses are fine. As long as your people don't hate you. But that's obvious.


How a Prince Must Act in Order to Gain Reputation

    • Two words: razzle-dazzle. Keep the peasants' eyes spinning and they won't have a chance to plot against you.
    • He uses a contemporary example, King Ferdinand, of Spain (yes, THAT King Ferdinand). Ferdinand seems to have gone around attacking and conquering anything with a pulse; Nick describes the result in this way: "he has continually contrived great things, which have kept his subjects' minds uncertain and astonished, and occupied in watching the results." Kind of makes you wonder what might happen if Michael Jordan ran for President, don't it.
    • Nick also says that "above all a prince must endeavor in every action to obtain fame for being great and excellent." Thanks, Medieval Bill! Most non-heinous, Medieval Ted!
    • In this chapter, Nick praises consistency in a prince. Either be a true friend, or a true enemy. "Irresolute princes, to avoid present dangers, usually follow the way of neutrality and are mostly ruined by it."
    • And finally, a prince should never ally himself with a more powerful ruler, against another – because once you win, you owe the more powerful ruler and are under his thumb. Which is where the really good princes never end up. Duh.
    • I forgot one last thing: Princes should encourage their people to work diligently and, yes, "quietly." You don't want to turn the people into slackers because they're afraid of having the fruits of their labors taken from them, whether by taxation or other more nefarious methods. "What the hell does THAT have to do with a prince's reputation?" you might ask. That's a good question. I suggest you put it to the author, smartass.


Of the Secretaries of Princes

    • Simple stuff: you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
    • Choose a good staff, because they're the first ones that everybody meets. If your secretary or primary advisor is a slob or a chucklehead, it doesn't say much for your judgment, now, does it?
    • Nick goes on to describe his method of choosing a good staff which "never fails," which basically comes down to keeping an eye on your various ministers and looking out for the ones who have their own interests before yours, priority-wise. Which is fine, except you've already hired them, and now you have to go through the hassle of firing and/or beheading them. Thanks for the foolproof method, Nick. Something in a pre-hire screening process might be nice if you have a minute. Take your time.


How Flatterers Must Be Shunned

    • You don't want a bunch of yes-men around you. Or yes-women, either. Unless you're a President cruising for oral action.
    • To avoid the crowd of flatterers who will only tell you what they think you want to hear when you ask for advice, you have to make it VERYCLEAR that anyone who expresses his or her genuine opinion to you when asked for it will NOT be beheaded.
    • In this way, you will get people's actual thoughts and opinions when you ask for them. The trick now, Nick says, is not to ask too often, because then you come off as a pushover. So watch it.
    • And here's a little gem, just in case you though Niccolo Machiavelli might have had a soul: " will always be false to you unless compelled by necessity to be true." Cheerful bloke, ain't he? (Admit it, though, ladies - deep down, you know he's right.)


Why the Princes of Italy Have Lost Their States

    • The answer is simple - why have this pack of Italian princes been overthrown? THEY SLACKED. They failed to live up to the standards and policies set forth in Machiavelli's The Prince (maybe you've heard of it) and in neglecting to do so, they got caught out and that's they ass. Um, there's really nothing else in this chapter. Next!


How Much Fortune Can Do In Human Affairs and How It May Be Opposed

    • First of all, you have to understand that "Fortune" isn't an it. It's a "she." But "she" is also a river. I know, I know. Look, just bear with me. Here's Nick's theory: Fortune is like a big, crazy river that sluices through your life; in places where you've built up protections (let's say, oh, dams, dykes, or -hey, are there any words I can use here that don't double as swear words?), the big, crazy Fortune River will not do much damage. But in the areas you've left unprotected, she (yes, the river is a lady) will swoosh through your action and leave you soggy and ravaged, and broke, and single, and badly hung over, and - oh, uh, sorry. Got a little off track there.
    • Anyway, the point is, Nick is willing to allow that we (you and I, all of us folks) are able to control what happens to us about 50% of the time. On the other side of the equation, "fortune is the ruler of half our actions." So what you have to do, then, he advises, is make preparations where you can, and try to be flexible the rest of the time. (But he does recommend trying to master Fortune as you would master a woman, i.e., by using force, and acting impulsively. Not a good analogy.)
    • And remember: "the prince who bases himself entirely on fortune is ruined when fortune changes." Boy, when I meet Nick in hell I'm gonna smack him a good one. And then shout "DUH!" in his face. He won't know what I mean, but it'll make me feel better.


Exhortation to Liberate Italy From the Barbarians

    • Someone told me that they read somewhere that this is the most important chapter in the whole book. I'm not sure I buy it. It's basically the part where Nick sums up and begs the guy he's sending the book to, to conquer Italy and save it from the foreign sleazebags who are ruining it.
    • It's a tedious combination of ass-kissing and hollow theory, and is mercifully over fairly quickly. He cites the disorganization of Italy's armies as one reason Italy has suffered its current fate, and cites a universal truth, seemingly unaware that it applies to groups, committees, etc., other than the Italian army: "those that know are not obeyed, and every one thinks that he knows." How true, eh? Finally he's talking about things we can agree on.
    • The chapter closes, as does the book, with a passage surely meant to strike a nationalistic frenzy into the heart of the reader, about how the prince who takes on the task of rescuing Italy will surely be more loved and feared and all that than any other prince.
    • And then he quotes Petrarch. All of you who know who Petrarch is can stay after class and type 100 times, "I am a big brown-noser" in the chat room.


    • In his dedication of The Prince, Machiavelli talks about how it's important to be of the people to understand a prince, and to be a prince to understand the people.
    • He writes, " the same way that landscape painters station themselves in the valleys in order to draw mountains or high ground, and ascend an eminence in order to get a good view of the plains, so it is necessary to be a prince in order to know thoroughly the nature of the people, and one of the populace to know the nature of princes."
    • Never mind that this is ludicrous - it also leaves him out of the equation entirely. Neither a prole nor a prince, Nick was an academic - an intellectual.
    • Not high enough on the economic chain to be an aristocrat (excuse me, he WORKED for a living!), but too high up to truly be considered one of the common people about whom he writes so extensively and authoritatively, Niccolo Machiavelli was essentially talking out of his butt at both ends. Which is quite a trick if you can pull it off.
    • Did he succeed? Ask his publisher.
    • Machiavelli was a sycophant. He grew up under the reign of the Medici, who neither he nor his father supported.
    • In 1494, the Medici government was deposed; in the aftermath, Nick managed to get himself elected to the lofty position of Secretary to the Second Chancery of the Republic of Florence.
    • But then the government shifted again, the Medici came back into power, and Nick was out on his keister. He wrote The Prince as part of an effort to win back the favor of the Medici, the same government that had exiled him. It didn't work. He died before anyone in the new regime ever read his book.