Machiavelli opens by stating that a new prince who "carefully observes" the rules that Machiavelli has outlined will "quickly become more safe and secure in his government than if he had been ruling his state for a long time." Machiavelli writes that new rulers' actions garner more attention than those of their hereditary counterparts. If a new prince's actions "are marked by prowess," then they will "win men over and capture their allegiance" far more than "royal blood," owing to the fact that people are "won over by the present" more than the past. Wise new princes can achieve a "twofold glory" in both founding a new principality and fortifying it with "good laws, sound defenses, reliable allies, and inspiring leadership." Conversely, a hereditary prince who "loses his state through incompetence is shamed twice over."
Prowess forms the cornerstone of a prince's rule, providing him with stability and security and guarding against the unpredictability of fortune. This indispensable tool allows a prince to win over the people, who, because they have a short collective memory, care more about the present than the past. Armed with prowess, a new prince can win great prestige through the dangerous but honorable work of state-building. A new prince must diligently work to "capture" the people's allegiance, since the masses hold the key to a new ruler's success or failure.
Machiavelli turns to a consideration of modern Italian rulers, such as the king of Naples and Ludovico, the duke of Milan, who recently lost their states. Machiavelli declares that all of these deposed rulers shared "a common weakness in regard to their military organizations." Secondly, many of them "incurred the hostility of the people" or, if they allied themselves with their subjects, failed to retain the loyalty of the nobles. Machiavelli again reiterates the importance of maintaining an able army, citing the militaristic Philip of Macedon's resistance against the Roman empire.
Machiavelli reiterates that ignorance in the art of war inevitably results in the loss of one's state. A ruler who lacks military prowess leaves his state in the hands of fate. Some recent Italian rulers have made the critical error of earning the people's hatred, while others have failed to adequately balance the interests of the masses and the nobles. Above all else, Machiavelli again emphasizes the importance of able (i.e., native) arms.
Machiavelli concludes that these deposed Italian princes, whose "power had been established many years," cannot "blame fortune for their losses." Rather, their own inaction "was to blame." Because these rulers never anticipated difficulties, when adversity arrived "their first thoughts were of flight and not of resistance." These unwise princes neglected precautions in the hope that their people, dissatisfied with the conquerors, would reinstate them. Machiavelli asserts that this strategy was misguided and "cowardly." He declares, "The only sound, sure, and enduring methods of defense are those based on your own actions and prowess."
A lack of prowess, not fortune, caused the downfall of these Italian rulers. Failing to guard against the unpredictability of fortune, these princes were left defenseless when conflict inevitably arrived. These rulers misguidedly placed their hopes solely in their people, failing to take the necessary steps to ensure their people's dependence or to enhance their own prowess. While popular support is critical, a prince must also secure his rule with his own prowess and actions.