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To defend against internal insurrection, princes have used a variety of strategies. Some have divided towns, some have disarmed the populace, some have tried to woo disloyal subjects, and others have built or destroyed fortresses. The effectiveness of each of these policies depends on the individual conditions, but a few generalizations can be made.
Historically, new princes have never prevented their subjects from having weapons. Arming subjects fosters loyalty among the people and defends the prince. Disarming subjects will breed distrust, which leads to civil animosity. But if a prince annexes a state, he must disarm his new subjects. He can allow his supporters in the new state to keep their arms, but eventually they must also be made weaker. The best arrangement is to have the prince’s own soldiers occupying the new state. However, weakening an annexed territory by encouraging factionalism only makes it more easily captured by foreigners, as the Venetians learned.
Princes become great by defeating opposition. Thus, one way they can enhance their stature is to cunningly foster opposition that can be easily overcome. Moreover, fostering subversion in a new state will help reveal the motives of potential conspirators.
Some princes have chosen to build fortresses to curb rebellion. Others have destroyed them, in order to maintain control in newly acquired states. The usefulness of fortresses depends on the specific circumstances. But a fortress will not be able to protect a prince if he is hated by his subjects. The issue is not whether a prince should build a fortress. Rather, a prince should not put all his trust in a fortress, neglecting the attitudes of his people.
Great enterprises and noble examples are two ways for a prince to earn prestige. Examples of great campaigns include those of King Ferdinand of Spain, who skillfully used his military to attack Granada, Africa, Italy, and France. These campaigns focused his people’s attention and prevented attacks against Ferdinand.
Nobility can be achieved by the grand public display of rewards and punishments. Above all, princes should win a reputation for being men of outstanding ability.
A prince can also win prestige by declaring himself an ally of one side of a conflict. Neutrality alienates both the victor and the loser. The victor sees the neutral prince as a doubtful friend; the loser sees the neutral prince as weak coward. Someone who is not your friend will always request that you remain neutral, while a true friend will always ask you for your armed support. A prince can escape short-term danger through neutrality, but at the cost of long-term grief. Instead, a prince should boldly declare support for one side.
If the prince allies with someone stronger than himself, and this ally wins, then the prince protects himself through the alliance, because the victor will feel an obligation to the prince. If this stronger ally loses, at least the prince will win the protection and shelter of the ally. If the prince is stronger than either opponent, an alliance essentially means the destruction of one side through the help of another.
If possible, a prince should avoid siding with an ally whose power is greater than his own. Victory in this situation will only put the prince at mercy of that ally. However, sometimes such an alliance is unavoidable. Because of these instances, a prince should never believe that a completely safe course exists. Instead, he should assess the risks presented by all options and choose the least risky course of action. A prudent prince can assess threats and accept the lesser evil.
A prince should encourage his citizens to excel in their occupations, and live their lives in peace. Thus, a prince should never discourage or excessively tax private acquisition or prosperous commerce. Instead, a prince should reward those who contribute to the overall prosperity of the state. Such rewards might include annual city-wide festivals and personal visits with guilds and family groups.
The selection of ministers is a critical task because ministers give visitors their first impression of the prince. Wise and loyal ministers contribute to the image of a wise prince. Inversely, incompetent and disloyal ministers give the prince the image of incompetence.
There are three types of intellect that men can possess: the ability to understand things independently, the ability to appreciate another person’s ability to understand things, and the ability to do neither. The first kind is best, the second acceptable, and the third useless. If a prince possesses at least the second kind of intellect, he can judge whether his ministers’ actions are good or bad.
If a minister thinks more of himself than of the prince and does everything for personal profit, then he is a bad minister. A prince should recognize this state of affairs. Good ministers, however, should be rewarded to maintain their loyalty. Rewards can be paid in money, honor, and expanded responsibilities. It is crucial for a prince to have a confident relationship with his ministers.
Flatterers present a danger to any ruler because it is natural for powerful men to become self-absorbed. The best way to defend against such people is to convince them that you are not offended by the truth. But if everyone can speak to the prince, the prince will lose respect. A prince should allow only wise advisers to speak with him, and only when he specifically requests their advice. A prince should not listen to anyone else and should be firm in his decisions. Vacillation will lead to a loss of respect.
A prince must always seek advice. But he must seek it only when he wants it, not when others thrust it upon him. Most important, a prince must always be skeptical about the advice he receives, constantly questioning and probing. If he ever discovers that someone is concealing the truth from him, he must punish that person severely. In the end, no matter how intelligent a prince’s advisers might be, a prince is doomed if he lacks intelligence of his own. Wise princes should be honored for good actions proceeding from good advice.
Chapter 20 returns to the issue of popular insurrection and how a prince should defend against it. Machiavelli argues that a prince must avoid hatred and suppress opposition before it can gain sufficient momentum to disrupt his rule. Also, he does not base his assessment of fortresses on their military value. Fortresses can be worthwhile or worthless depending on the individual circumstances. The attitude of the people outweighs the value of any physical structure. Machiavelli places emphasis on a distinctly nonmilitary aspect in his discussion of fortresses, a building traditionally associated with the military, indicating his broad interpretation of warcraft.
Chapters 21 and 22 underscore the importance of appearing honorable and wise. This goal can be achieved partly through the selection of a loyal and competent personal staff. Machiavelli distinguishes between a virtuous appearance and an honorable, wise appearance. Appearing virtuous—generous, benevolent, and pious—is desirable but not necessary. However, appearing honorable and sagacious is crucial. Machiavelli’s preference for some good qualities over others—for example, courage and decisiveness over generosity—is grounded in a practical argument. Generosity is undesirable because it wastes capital resources; decisiveness is desirable because it breeds respect among allies and subjects.
Chapter 23 states that, ultimately, a prince must possess independent intellect in order to succeed. He cannot simply rely on the wisdom of his advisers. In a way, this idea supports Machiavelli’s allusion to the possibility that a common man can become a prince through the study of warcraft and through practical experience. Machiavelli’s view of politics is more meritocratic than aristocratic, as he suggests that hereditary princes have even more to prove than those who obtain power through intelligence and skill.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Prince!