The Prince

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The Prince Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Machiavelli introduces a discussion of the various ways in which princes can "keep a secure hold on their states." Some rulers have chosen to disarm their subjects, while some foster divisions amongst their people. Still others "put up fortresses," while others "have razed them to the ground." Machiavelli writes that it is "impossible to give a final verdict on any of these policies," because the "particular circumstances" of the different states have bearing on whether their policies succeed or fail. Nonetheless, Machiavelli attempts to analyze these policies "in generalizations."
Machiavelli outlines the variety of arms and defenses that princes may use to secure their states. As he declares with many other issues, Machiavelli argues that the utility of these methods depends on the circumstances in which they are used. While one prince may succeed with fortresses, another may find them to be a hindrance to his rule. Princes must ground their decisions in knowledge of their "particular circumstances."
Themes
Laws and Arms Theme Icon
Machiavelli advises, "No new prince has ever at any time disarmed his subjects; rather .... he has always given them arms." Machiavelli contends that a prince who arms his subjects thereby arms himself. He argues that this practice causes "those who were suspect [to] become loyal, and those who were loyal not only remain so but are changed from being merely your subjects to being your partisans." However, if a ruler chooses to disarm his people, then he begins "to offend them" by demonstrating his own "cowardice and suspicion," which in turn provokes hatred. If a ruler disarms his people, then he also forces himself to employ mercenary troops, which will likely lead to his ruin. Thus, Machiavelli concludes, "A new prince in a new principality always arms his subjects."
Highlighting the mutual dependence of the masses and their ruler, Machiavelli urges princes to transform their subjects into loyal "partisans" by arming them. By allowing the people to carry arms in one's defense, a prince demonstrates his trust and good faith in his subjects, which fosters goodwill. On the other hand, a prince who disarms his subjects not only offends them, but also leaves himself defenseless. Arming one's subjects offers a twofold defense, providing a ruler with a strong army and goodwill.
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Goodwill and Hatred Theme Icon
The Masses and The Elite Theme Icon
Conversely, when a prince acquires a new state that he annexes to his original principality, he "must disarm his new subjects, except for those who were his partisans." With time, the prince must also weaken the partisans, eventually arming only his own soldiers.
A ruler must disarm the people of a newly annexed state or risk arming his subjects for rebellion against himself. Armed subjects present a threat to a conquering prince.
Themes
Laws and Arms Theme Icon
The Masses and The Elite Theme Icon
Machiavelli considers the policy of using factions to secure control, stating that earlier generations of Italians thought it necessary "to control Pistoia by means of factions and Pisa by means of fortresses." Thus, rulers "fostered strife" between factions within Pistoia in order to maintain their own dominion. Machiavelli writes, "In those days when there was stability of a sort in Italy, this was doubtless sensible; but I do not think it makes a good rule today." Machiavelli expresses his belief that no good "comes of dissension," since cities that are fiercely divided "inevitably succumb [to enemies] at once." As a modern example, Machiavelli references the Venetians, whose misguided fostering of dissension led to disaster. As happened with the Venetians, Machiavelli argues that war reveals the weakness of this practice.
Machiavelli warns rulers to avoid actions that foster divisions between their citizens. A city that divides itself into many warring factions makes itself vulnerable to foreign invasion. In concert with his earlier advice regarding factions, Machiavelli urges rulers to maintain control over the different classes in their states. Rulers should opt for order over chaos and thus should avoid purposefully weakening their own states through misguided divisiveness.
Themes
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The Masses and The Elite Theme Icon
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Machiavelli states that a ruler's greatness rests on his ability to overcome "difficulties and opposition." Machiavelli explains that new princes have a greater need "to acquire standing" than hereditary rulers. Therefore, Machiavelli declares, "Fortune, especially when she wants to build up the greatness of a new prince . . . finds enemies for him and encourages them to take the field against him, so that he may have cause to triumph over them." According to Machiavelli, many suggest that a wise ruler should "cunningly foster some opposition to himself so that by overcoming it" he can increase his own prestige.
Machiavelli encourages rulers to enhance their prowess and prestige through military campaigns. Emerging victorious, rulers will consolidate their power and increase their standing. While rulers should avoid dividing their states into warring factions, they should promote a degree of "opposition," which provides an opportunity for victory. Rulers must balance between rampant factionalism and manageable opposition.
Themes
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Discussing new princes, Machiavelli states that many new rulers "have found men who were suspect at the start of their rule more loyal and useful than those who, at the start, were their trusted friends." Although Machiavelli explains that it is particularly difficult to generalize on this topic, he asserts that a new prince "will never have any difficulty in winning over those who were initially his enemies." Because those who were "suspect" find it necessary "to wipe out with their actions the bad opinion [the ruler] had formed of them," they will serve a new prince faithfully. On the contrary, friends who feel "secure" are likely to neglect a ruler's interests. Machiavelli urges new princes to "carefully reflect on the motives of those who helped them" to ascend, cautioning that those who offered support due to "discontent with the existing government" will prove difficult to retain and subdue.
A new ruler must carefully assess the character and intentions of the men who aided his ascension to the throne. Machiavelli contends that men who were "suspect" at the start of one's rule will serve a prince particularly loyally because they feel the need to prove their goodwill. These statements dovetail interestingly with Machiavelli's own efforts to prove his loyalty to his royal dedicatee following accusations of conspiracy. Machiavelli advises rulers to "reflect on the motives" of their friends, since these perennial malcontents may betray the ruler in favor of another aspiring prince.
Themes
Goodwill and Hatred Theme Icon
Machiavelli turns finally to fortresses, which can "act as a curb on . . . rebellion" or "provide a safe refuge from sudden attack." Machiavelli asserts, "I approve of this policy, because it has been used from the time of the ancient world." Nonetheless, Machiavelli cites several modern examples that contradict this policy, referencing multiple leaders who have chosen to destroy their own fortresses. With this in mind, Machiavelli declares that the utility of fortresses largely depends on the particular circumstances. As a general rule, Machiavelli advises, "The prince who is more afraid of his own people than of foreign interference should build fortresses; but the prince who fears foreign interference more than his own people should forget about them."
In use since antiquity, fortresses have the ability to protect rulers from rebellion and attack. However, Machiavelli emphasizes that the usefulness of fortifications depends on the circumstances of a particular prince. If a prince has the goodwill of his subjects, who will loyally take up arms in his defense, then he has little need for fortresses. However, if a prince is hated, then he should build fortresses. In this instance, a prince does not have recourse to a loyal army and thus must rely on fortresses for his defense.
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According to Machiavelli, "The best fortress that exists is to avoid being hated by the people." Machiavelli argues that fortresses cannot save rulers from the hatred of the people. Machiavelli concludes by restating his belief that fortresses may be beneficial or harmful depending on circumstances. However, he criticizes those who place their trust in fortresses and, thinking themselves secure, do not mind being hated by the people.
The goodwill of the people arms a prince in two ways: it protects him from internal conspiracy and it gives him the means to raise a loyal citizen army. Thus, the best method of defense is to maintain the goodwill of one's subjects. The people form the cornerstone of a state's defense and possess the power to dethrone kings.
Themes
Laws and Arms Theme Icon
Goodwill and Hatred Theme Icon
The Masses and The Elite Theme Icon