The Prince


Niccolò Machiavelli

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The Prince: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Machiavelli encourages prudent rulers to "follow in the footsteps of great men" and to strive to emulate their prowess. Like an archer, by aiming high they can hope to "reach the target." In states that are "completely new" and where the prince is also a "newcomer," the difficulties he faces are "more or less serious insofar as he is more or less able." Machiavelli states that the less a prince has relied on fortune to gain his position, the stronger the foundations of his rule. Machiavelli turns his focus to rulers who have "acquired and founded kingdoms," such as Cyrus and Romulus. For these rulers, fortune provided only the opportunity for "these men to succeed;" their prowess allowed them to take advantage of these opportunities and build prosperous states.
Machiavelli highlights the particular importance of a ruler's prowess in deciding the fate of a new principality. Machiavelli urges rulers to build their conquests on their own abilities, which provides a stronger foundation than unpredictable fortune. Nonetheless, Machiavelli concedes that the two forces must work in tandem, with fortune providing the opportunity for skilled men "to succeed." Additionally, Machiavelli draws attention to ancient examples, which illustrates his own learning and skill.
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New princes who win their principalities with prowess acquire their positions with difficulty but maintain them easily. The primary difficulty that they face involves the establishment of a new state, complete with "new institutions and laws." Machiavelli writes, "There is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous .... than initiating changes in a state's constitution." Machiavelli encourages innovators "to stand alone" and "depend on their own resources," although he warns that the "populace is by nature fickle" and difficult to persuade. He urges princes to arm themselves so that they can use force to convince the people if rhetoric fails. Citing Hiero of Syracuse, Cyrus, and Romulus, Machiavelli implores new rulers to secure their institutions using the threat of armed force.
Machiavelli explores the balance between laws and arms, analyzing the intersection of statecraft and armed force. He encourages new princes to support the "dangerous" work of state building with the threat of force, which can be used effectively to control the masses when words fail. Additionally, Machiavelli urges new rulers to draw on their political and military prowess when securing their positions, again cautioning that fortune – like the masses – is "fickle" and unpredictable. Rulers should avoid—as much as possible—leaving matters of politics and warfare to chance.
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