Summary — Chapter XXIV: Why the Princes of Italy Have Lost Their States
Machiavelli suggests that any new prince who successfully follows the advice found in The Prince will enjoy the stability of a hereditary prince, since men are more aware of the present than of the past.
A number of Italian princes have lost states through their own military faults. They fled when they should have fought, expecting their subjects to call them back. These princes failed because of their own incompetence and not as a result of a string of bad luck. They took too much comfort in prosperous times, never anticipating danger. When they were conquered, they hoped that the people would revolt and recall them; but it is always folly to depend upon others for security. A prince’s best defense is his own valor.
Summary — Chapter XXV: Concerning the Influence of Fortune in Human Affairs, and the Manner in Which It Is to Be Resisted
Although it is often thought that fortune controls human affairs, fortune controls only half of one’s actions, while free will determines the other half. Fortune is like a flooding river: it is only dangerous when men have not built dykes against it beforehand. Italy has not built dykes, and as a result it has experienced tumultuous upheaval. Germany, Spain, and France have taken better care and have reaped the benefits of stability.
As fortune varies, one man may succeed and another fail, even if they both follow the same path. Times and circumstances change, so a prince must adjust to them in order to remain successful; however, men tend to stay on the course that has brought them success in the past. Circumstances allowed Julius II to act impetuously, but if he had lived longer, he would have been ruined when circumstances changed. On the whole, however, impetuosity surpasses caution. Fortune favors energetic youth over cautious age.
Summary — Chapter XXVI: An Exhortation to Free Italy from the Hands of the Barbarians
Italy’s current disarray favors the emergence of a new prince who will bring happiness to the Italian people. Until recently, there had been a prince who seemed ordained by heaven to redeem Italy. But a string of bad luck has prevented such an outcome.
Lorenzo de’ Medici is Italy’s best hope. If he has learned from the great men named in The Prince, the salvation of Italy will not be difficult. For though those men were great, they were still only men, with no greater opportunities or grace than Lorenzo’s own. Past wars and princes have failed to strengthen Italy because its military system was old and defective.
To succeed, Lorenzo must create a national army. The Italian people are good fighters; only their leaders have failed. Lorenzo’s army needs both good cavalry and infantry to defeat the Spaniards and the Swiss.
Should a prince ever succeed in redeeming Italy, he would receive unending glory and be embraced in all the provinces with love.
Analysis — Chapters XXIV–XXVI
Chapter XXV discusses the role of fortune in the determination of human affairs. Many thinkers have considered the question of whether a man’s actions are a manifestation of his own free will, or if they are simply determined by fate or his environment. Machiavelli attempts to compromise between free will and determinism by arguing that fortune controls half of human actions and leaves the other half to free will. But Machiavelli also argues that, through foresight—a quality whose importance Machiavelli stresses throughout The Prince—people can shield themselves against fortune’s slings and arrows. Thus, Machiavelli can be described as confident in the capabilities of human beings to shape their destinies, but skeptical that such control is absolute.
Machiavelli ends The Prince with an impassioned plea to redeem Italy. Stylistically, he abandons his detached tone and utilizes exhortation and poetry to communicate nationalistic fervor. He implores Lorenzo, to whom the book is dedicated, to deliver Italy. Despite Machiavelli’s efforts, the country would not be truly unified for another three and a half centuries. Some have argued that The Prince is really the manifestation of Machievelli’s desire to see a strengthened Italy, not a detached work of political science. Historical references to Italy dominate the book, and Machiavelli clearly conceives the book as a means to expedite the successful unification of Italy. But The Prince’s clear application to Machiavelli’s home country does not distract from the book’s relevance to philosophical questions. At the very least, it must be said that the book’s influence spread further than the specific audience to which it was addressed.
A desire to strengthen Italy might also serve as Machiavelli’s ethical justification for the advice he has given. Machiavelli has previously argued that a prince cannot achieve success without sometimes resorting to ruthlessness. But Machiavelli never justifies the obtainment of political success as a worthwhile goal in itself. His concern with Italy would justify his logic: if the ultimate end is the glory of Italy, the end would justify the means.
The Prince is full of historical references, but the final chapters place the book in a historical context. Moreover, these chapters give us some insight into the mind of the author and his motives for writing the book. They suggest that Machiavelli is not as diabolical as he is often portrayed.
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