The Prince

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The Prince Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Having discussed the most important virtues and vices, Machiavelli turns to the other qualities, which he groups under a generalization: "The prince should .... determine to avoid anything which will make him hated and despised." A prince will earn hatred if he steals "the property and the women of his subjects," and therefore he "must refrain from these." A prince will be despised "if he has a reputation for being fickle, frivolous, effeminate, cowardly, [and] irresolute." A ruler must avoid these behaviors "like the plague." A prince must demonstrate "grandeur, courage, sobriety, [and] strength" and act in such a way that "no one ever dreams of trying to deceive or trick him."
Machiavelli again stresses the extreme importance of avoiding the hatred and scorn of one's subjects. A prince must abstain from behaviors, such as theft and extortionate taxation, that unnecessarily enrage the populace. A skilled ruler will avoid the vices, like indecision and cowardice, that will poison his state and turn the people against him. A ruler must exude prowess and gain a reputation for certain virtues so that his opponents are not tempted to challenge or undermine his control.
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A prince who earns this reputation will gain respect, and "against a man who is highly esteemed conspiracy is difficult, and open attack is difficult." A prince must have two fears: "internal subversion from his subjects; and external aggression by foreign powers." A ruler can defend himself against foreign foes by being "well armed and having good allies." Machiavelli writes that good allies follow from good arms. A prince can overcome internal threats by managing relations with foreign powers and guarding against conspiracy. Machiavelli argues, "One of the most powerful safeguards a prince can have against conspiracies is to avoid being hated by the populace." A conspirator will never carry out his deed if he believes that he will "outrage the people." A potential conspirator always fears the "prospect of punishment," and if he also fears the hostility of the prince's loyal subjects, then he will never attempt his crime.
As previously explained, a prince who possesses good arms and avoids the hatred of the people ably protects himself against foreign and domestic threats. The goodwill of the people functions as a useful deterrent against conspiracies and rebellion. Machiavelli once again highlights the value of good arms, from which "good allies" and stability follow. If a prince maintains the goodwill and loyal support of his subjects, then a potential conspirator fears both princely revenge and the wrath of the prince's devoted subjects. In short, the people form a critical aspect of a prince's defense.
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Machiavelli references a modern example of this principle, recounting the conspiracy of the Canneschi against Annibale Bentivogli, the prince of Bologna. The Canneschi family of Bologna killed Annibale, whose only heir was the infant Giovanni. Immediately, the people "rose up and killed all the Canneschi" due to "the goodwill that existed for the House of Bentivoglio at that period." A regent ruled in Giovanni's stead until he was "old enough to assume the government himself." Therefore, a prince can protect himself with the goodwill of the people, but if the people are hostile, then "he must go in fear of everything and everyone." A wise prince takes "great pains not to make the nobles despair, and to satisfy the people and keep them content." This is one of the most important tasks that a prince faces.
Machiavelli emphasizes the mutual dependence that exists between the people and their ruler. An able and just ruler promises to protect his people and abstain from their property; in return, they promise to rise up and fight in his favor. A prince's reward for skilled rule is the people's goodwill, which critically supplements physical defenses. Additionally, a ruler must strive to appease both the nobles and the people, a difficult task because their interests are often at odds. A prince must balance the concerns of the elite with those of the masses.
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Machiavelli cites France as a kingdom that is "well organized and governed." The French king's security rests on the "countless valuable institutions" of the state, especially its parliament. As an "independent arbiter" that functions somewhat separately from the king, the parliament balances the power of the nobles and the people, keeping both groups in check and allowing the king to refrain from favoring one faction over the other. From this "sensible institution," Machiavelli deduces a general rule: "Princes should delegate to others the enactment of unpopular measures and keep in their own hands the means of winning favors." A prince must "value the nobles," but not to the extent that he makes himself "hated by the people," who are the perennial opponents of the nobles.
Machiavelli encourages princes to use institutions to delegate tasks and to maintain the balance of power between competing interest groups. With a system of checks like the one that exists in France, a ruler can appease both the nobles and the people without angering either faction. As with other delicate issues, a prince must walk a fine line between these opposing groups, taking care to avoid incurring their hatred. A prince who delegates "unpopular measures" directs his subjects' anger away from himself. A ruler who dispenses favors attracts their goodwill.
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To support his conclusions, Machiavelli turns to the examples of several Roman emperors. Machiavelli begins by noting a particular challenge that Roman rulers faced: "Whereas other princes have to contend only with the ambition of the nobles and the insolence of the people," the Romans also had to manage the greed of the soldiers. Many emperors found it difficult to appease both the people and the soldiers, since the people sought peace while the soldiers "loved a warlike ruler." Therefore, those rulers who could not control both the people and the soldiers inevitably "came to grief." Machiavelli adds, "Princes cannot help arousing hatred in some quarters, so first they must strive not to be hated by . . . every class of subject; and when this proves impossible, they should strive assiduously to escape the hatred of the most powerful classes."
If a prince cannot avoid incurring hatred, then he must take care to avoid the hatred of the most powerful faction. A prince must be shrewd in his efforts to temper the hatred of certain groups and must cunningly maintain the goodwill of influential classes. In short, a ruler must balance out hatred with equal and opposite goodwill. Drawing on ancient examples to give his opinions legitimacy, Machiavelli again stresses the importance of loyal arms. Machiavelli's practical advice ignores moral qualms and focuses on the security of the state.
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Machiavelli writes that the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius, Pertinax, and Alexander, "who all lived unadventurously, who loved justice, hated cruelty, [and] were kind and courteous," met "unhappy" ends, with the exception of Marcus. Marcus maintained high esteem "because he succeeded to the empire by hereditary right, and did not have to thank either the soldiers or the populace for it." However, Pertinax came to grief because he became emperor against the soldiers' will and then attempted to enforce rules of decency on them. Machiavelli writes, "And here it should be noted that one can be hated just as much for good deeds as for evil ones." Machiavelli explains that a ruler must adopt "the same disposition" as "the class of men" on which his "continued ruled depends" to satisfy them and secure his position. The Roman army killed the emperor Alexander, renowned for his "goodness," because it considered him "effeminate."
Returning to his discussion of virtue and vice, Machiavelli explains that rulers can as easily weaken their positions with "good deeds" as with "evil ones." For a ruler, the distinction between virtue and vice is largely circumstantial. Machiavelli also encourages rulers to adapt their policy to their circumstances, adopting "the same disposition" as the class on which their power rests. If a prince's main constituents are ruthless, then a prince must act ruthlessly to appease this faction. Rulers must secure the goodwill of their most powerful supports in order to secure the state itself. Marcus alone, established as a hereditary ruler, prospered while acting virtuously.
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In contrast, Commodus, Severus, Antoninus Caracalla, and Maximinus, who were all "extremely cruel" and greedy rulers, met "unhappy ends," with the exception of Severus. Despite his oppression of the people, Severus "reigned successfully" because he maintained the friendship of the soldiers. Severus' prowess "so impressed" the people that they remained "astonished and stupefied" while the soldiers "stayed respectful and content."
Severus was able to incur the hatred of the people because he maintained the goodwill of a more powerful faction, the Roman soldiers. Additionally, the people so feared Severus' prowess that they refrained from conspiring against him. Suited to the times, Severus' unsavory qualities functioned as virtues, fortifying his rule.
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Machiavelli elevates Severus, who as a new prince ably acted "the part of both a fox and a lion," as an "outstanding" example for new rulers. Under the pretext of avenging Pertinax's death, Severus marched his army on Rome, which prompted the Senate, "out of fear," to declare him emperor. To overcome the remaining divisions between the western and Asiatic parts of the empire, Severus tricked Albinus, who hoped to rule the western half of the empire, into aiding his campaign against Pescennius Niger, commander of the Asiatic army. After defeating Niger, Severus turned on Albinus, eventually conquering his state and killing him. Machiavelli praises Severus' conduct as a "ferocious lion and a very cunning fox," applauding his ability to maintain fear and respect without becoming hated by the troops. Machiavelli argues that Severus' "tremendous prestige always protected him from the hatred which his plundering had inspired in the people."
Severus' effectively used fear to secure his position as a new ruler, employing cruelty and cunning to keep his opponents and subjects in line. Machiavelli applauds Severus' prowess, using this ancient example to support his advice that rulers must act "the part of both a fox and a lion." Severus exercised a combination of military might and cunning to overcome an array of opponents and obstacles. These paired talents allowed Severus' to earn the soldiers' goodwill, which counteracted the scorn that "his plundering had inspired in the people." Maintaining the friendship of the most powerful class, Severus secured himself against domestic and foreign threats.
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Severus' son, Antoninus Caracalla, was also a "military man" who won the devotion of the soldiers. However, Antoninus' "ferocity and cruelty were so great and unparalleled . . . that he became universally hated." As a result, one of Antoninus' own soldiers assassinated him. As a side note, Machiavelli adds, "Princes cannot escape death if the attempt is made by a fanatic, because anyone who has no fear of death himself can succeed in inflicting it." However, Machiavelli notes, "Such assassinations are very rare." Returning to Antoninus, Machiavelli asserts that a prince should not gravely injure "anyone in his service whom he has close to him in affairs of state," which constituted Antoninus' mistake.
As emphasized earlier, rulers must avoid all actions that earn them hatred and scorn. With excessive and unpurposeful vices, Antoninus inspired the hatred of both the people and the soldiers, which resulted in his downfall. Antoninus' violence presents an example of cruelty used poorly, since the extent of the cruelty rendered Antoninus "universally hated" instead of feared and respected. Assassinated by one of his own soldiers, Antoninus fell to the lethal hatred of his subjects.
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Turning to Commodus, Machiavelli explains that, as the son of Marcus Aurelius, Commodus succeeded to the throne by hereditary right and thus should have found ruling the empire "an easy task." Commodus needed only "to follow in the footsteps of his father" to control the soldiers and the people. However, with his "cruel, bestial disposition," Commodus earned the hatred of the people by stealing from his subjects, Similarly, Commodus "forgot his dignity" when he "descended into the amphitheaters to fight with gladiators," which made the soldiers despise him. Hated by both the people and the soldiers, a conspiracy resulted in Commodus' death.
Like Antoninus, Commodus' excessive vice earned him the soldiers' and the people's hatred, which ultimately led to his downfall. With a hereditary right to the throne, Commodus should have ruled securely, needing only to build on the institutions and practices of his father's government. However, Commodus made the critical errors of stealing from his subjects and acting in a way that compromised his dignity. Lacking prowess and hated by all, he was easily overthrown.
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Lastly, Machiavelli discusses the rule of Maximinus, a "very warlike man" who, with the favor of the soldiers, succeeded to the empire after the effeminate Alexander's death. Maximinus' reign was short, owing to the fact that he was hated and despised for two reasons: Maximinus was of low birth, which "lowered him in everyone's eyes," and also gained a reputation for extreme savagery. Therefore, the people and the soldiers conspired against Maximinus and killed him.
Although Maximinus earned hatred due to his savagery, he also incurred scorn owing to his low birth. With this detail, Machiavelli hints that both the masses and the nobles dislike taking orders from rulers of lowly birth. Using cruelty poorly, Maximinus failed to secure his position and thus the people and soldiers, united by their hatred, overthrew him.
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Machiavelli concludes his discussion of Roman emperors by stating, "Contemporary princes are less troubled by this problem of having to take extraordinary measures to satisfy the soldiers," because modern rulers do not possess the massive standing armies that Rome maintained. Machiavelli declares, "In our own times it is necessary for all rulers, except the Turk and the Sultan, to conciliate [i.e., appease] the people rather than the soldiers, because the people are the more powerful." Machiavelli leaves out the Turk and the Sultan because they both maintain large standing armies.
In Renaissance Italy the growing masses constituted the most important faction, which Machiavelli encourages rulers to appease. Because the people possess such power in modern societies, rulers must gain their goodwill or risk losing their states to conspiracy or insurrection. By Machiavelli's time few states maintained large standing armies and thus the masses replaced soldiers as the most powerful and influential class.
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Summarizing his analysis of the Roman emperors, Machiavelli attributes the downfall of emperors to "either hatred or scorn." Machiavelli concludes, "A new prince in a new principality cannot imitate the actions of Marcus Aurelius, nor is he bound to follow those of Severus." Instead, Machiavelli recommends that a prince carefully combine varying models of conduct, selecting from Severus "the qualities necessary to establish his state, and from Marcus Aurelius those which are conducive to its maintenance and glory after it has been stabilized and made secure."
In line with much of his advice, Machiavelli encourages a ruler to strike a balance between extremes, tailoring tried-and-true tactics to one's own circumstances. Rulers must draw on a differing set of methods when establishing their power and when subsequently maintaining a secured state. A prince must use prowess to distinguish between virtues and vices, thus protecting himself from hatred and sure defeat.
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