All princes must build on strong foundations. The two essential components of a strong state are good laws and good armies. Good laws cannot exist without good armies. The presence of a good army, however, indicates the presence of good laws.
There are three types of armies: a prince’s own troops, mercenary troops, and auxiliary troops. Mercenary and auxiliary troops are useless and dangerous. Mercenaries are “disunited, undisciplined, ambitious, and faithless.” Because their only motivation is monetary, they are generally not effective in battle and have low morale. Mercenary commanders are either skilled or unskilled. Unskilled commanders are worthless, but skilled commanders cannot be trusted to suppress their own ambition. It is far more preferable for a prince to command his own army.
Historically, dependence on mercenaries ruined Italy. During the breakup of Italy, which the Church supported in hopes of increasing its own stature, many townships hired mercenaries because they had little experience in military matters. Since the mercenaries were more concerned with increasing their own prestige and status than with taking risks or accomplishing military objectives, the conflicts between these mercenary forces devolved into a series of ineffective, staged, pseudo-battles, ultimately degrading Italy’s political and military might.
Auxiliary troops—armies borrowed from a more powerful state—are as useless as mercenaries. Although they often fight well, a prince who calls on auxiliaries places himself in a no-win situation. If the auxiliaries fail, he is defenseless, whereas if the auxiliaries are successful, he still owes his victory to the power of another. Auxiliary troops are often skilled and organized, yet their first loyalty is to another ruler. Thus, they pose an even more dangerous threat to the prince than mercenaries.
If a prince does not command his own native troops, the principality can never be secure. Depending on outside armies is essentially the same as depending on good fortune. The use of auxiliaries and mercenaries is effective during prosperous times, but in times of adversity, reliance on borrowed troops, like reliance on fortune, is a perilous liability.
A prince must have no other objective, no other thought, nor take up any profession but that of war.
The only thing a prince needs to study is the art of war. This is the primary discipline of the ruler. Mastery of this discipline can make even a common citizen a great ruler. The easiest way to lose a state is by neglecting the art of war. The best way to win a state is to be skilled in the art of war.
Machiavelli offers an analogy, asking us to picture two men: one armed, the other unarmed. It would not be reasonable to expect the armed man to obey the unarmed man. Nor would it be reasonable to expect the unarmed man to feel safe and secure if his servants are armed. The unarmed man will be suspicious of the armed man, and the armed man will feel contempt for the unarmed man, so cooperation will be impossible. A prince who does not understand warfare attempting to lead an army is like the unarmed man trying to lead the armed.
The prince must spend all of his time studying the art of war. This study is both a physical and mental process. The prince must train his body to hardships and learn to hunt wildlife. He must study geography and its effect on battle strategy. He must read history and study the actions of great leaders. A prince must prepare rigorously during peacetime in order to be well prepared for wartime.
Machiavelli’s famous statement that “the presence of sound military forces indicates the presence of sound laws” is a succinct description of the relationship between war and the formation of states in The Prince. Warcraft is conventionally understood as the component of statesmanship that involves the expansion of the state by conquering neighbors and establishing colonies. But Machiavelli argues that successful warcraft is not just one component among other equally important components of statesmanship. Instead, it is the very foundation upon which all states are built. Machiavelli defines the term “warcraft” quite broadly. For him, the idea encompasses more than just the direct use of military force. It comprises international diplomacy, domestic politics, tactical strategy, geographic mastery, and historical analysis. Perhaps influenced by the context in which he was writing, Machiavelli viewed war as something that never could disappear completely, nor did he even conceive of the absence of war as a goal. Even in the most peaceful of times, the clouds of war always threaten.
Machiavelli’s advocacy of the use of internal troops, rather than mercenaries or auxiliaries, follows naturally from previous chapters, in which he asserts the need for self-reliance and the projection of power. Historical anecdotes are prevalent throughout these chapters. Machiavelli’s reference to Italy in the context of mercenaries is significant, since he wrote The Prince partly to help Italy become more stable and powerful in the face of its aggressive neighbors. However, in these chapters Machiavelli does not refer to Italy’s history more than that of other countries, so it is not readily apparent at this point in the book that he intends to single out his home country.
In Chapter XIV, Machiavelli shifts his focus from the role of the prince to the personality of the prince. While previous chapters have focused upon the correct actions for the prince to perform and the characteristics of a strong state, in this chapter Machiavelli examines the psychology of a good prince. Machiavelli writes that “the prince ought to read history, and reflect upon the deeds of outstanding men, … examine the causes of their victories and defeats, and thereby learn to emulate the former and avoid the latter.” The portrait of an ideal prince does not describe a ruler who equally values politics, philosophy, and art as aspects of his rule, but one who focuses exclusively on the military strength of the state that he governs.