The Prince


Niccolò Machiavelli

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The Prince: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Machiavelli states that he will "leave out any discussion of republics" in The Prince, having already written about republics in other works. Machiavelli introduces his intention to focus solely on principalities and the varying ways in which they "can be governed and maintained." Beginning with hereditary states, he explains that they are much more easily maintained than new principalities, since the prince's family and institutions have already been established. Machiavelli urges established princes to maintain existing institutions and "then to adapt policy to events." This will allow a ruler to secure his position, unless "some extraordinary" force (i.e., fortune) deprives him of his state. Nonetheless, "if so deprived" by fortune, a hereditary ruler may easily reconquer his state "whenever the usurper suffers a setback."
Machiavelli further defines the scope of the book, limiting it to principalities and their absolute rulers. With regard to hereditary states, Machiavelli encourages rulers to approach governance with a combination of tradition and adaptation. While Machiavelli urges hereditary princes to build on the strong institutional foundations that make their states so secure, he also advises them to "adapt policy" to the times. Skilled rulers should seek a middle ground between tradition and change, drawing on each as necessity demands.
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Employing a contemporary Italian example, Machiavelli argues that the "natural" or hereditary prince "has less reason and less need to give offense" to his people because of his family's long-standing rule. Thus, "It follows that he should be more loved" by his subjects. As long as the hereditary prince does not "provoke hatred" through "extraordinary vices," he should maintain his subjects' goodwill. Due to the "persistence" of a hereditary principality's rule, people forget the "memories of innovation" and become accustomed to the status quo, making it easier for a ruler to maintain power.
Machiavelli raises the importance of earning the people's goodwill when securing one's rule. He establishes the distinction between a populace's goodwill or hatred for its ruler, highlighting the people's unique ability to crown or dethrone princes. Machiavelli calls attention to this princely vulnerability, urging rulers to avoid vices that enrage their subjects and thus threaten their position.
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