The Prince


Chapters VIII–IX

Summary Chapters VIII–IX

Summary — Chapter VIII: Concerning Those Who Become Princes by Evil Means

Machiavelli continues to describe the ways that a man can become a prince. In addition to fortune and prowess, criminal acts or the approval of his fellow citizens can facilitate a man’s rise to power.

Those who come to power by crime kill fellow citizens and betray friends. They are “treacherous, pitiless, and irreligious.” Princes who commit criminal acts can achieve power, but never glory.

King Agathocles of Syracuse is an example of a man who rose to power through crime. Agathocles was a common citizen who joined the militia, rose to a leading rank in the army, and then assembled a meeting of the senate at which he ordered his men to kill all the senators and to install him in power. Agathocles’ reign was characterized by constant difficulties and threats to his power. However, he withstood them and maintained his rule. Once in power, Agathocles proved as competent as any eminent commander, but the severity of the crimes he committed during his ascension preclude his being considered great. Cruelty, which is itself evil, can be used well if it is applied once at the outset, and thereafter only employed in self-defense and for the greater good of one’s subjects. Regular and frequent perpetration of cruel actions earns a ruler infamy. If a prince comes to power by crime and wishes to be successful, he, like Agathocles, must only use cruelty in the first sense.

Therefore, when a prince decides to seize a state, he must determine how much injury to inflict. He needs to strike all at once and then refrain from further atrocities. In this way, his subjects will eventually forget the violence and cruelty. Gradually, resentment will fade, and the people will come to appreciate the resulting benefits of the prince’s rule. Most important, a prince should be consistent in the way he treats his subjects.

Summary — Chapter IX: Concerning the Civil Principality

The other way a prince can come to power is through the favor of his fellow citizens. Princes who rise through this route are heads of what Machiavelli calls constitutional principalities.

Machiavelli argues that every city is populated by two groups of citizens: common people and nobles. The common people are naturally disposed to avoid domination and oppression by the nobles. The nobles are naturally disposed to dominate and oppress the common people. The opposition between the two groups results in the establishment of either a principality, a free city, or anarchy.