The Prince Summary andAnalysis
Machiavelli composed The Prince as a practical guide for ruling (though some scholars argue that the
book was intended as a guide on how to rule). The Prince is not particularly theoretical or abstract;
its prose is simple and its logic straightforward. These traits underscore Machiavellis desire to
provide practical, easily understandable advice.
The first two chapters describe the books scope. The Prince is concerned with autocratic regimes,
not with republican regimes.
The first chapter defines the various types of principalities and princes; in doing so, it constructs an
outline for the rest of the book. Chapter III comprehensively describes how to maintain composite
principalitiesthat is, principalities that are newly created annfrom another power,
so that the prince is not familiar to the people he rules. Chapter III also introduces the books main
concernspower politics, warcraft, and popular goodwillin an encaplaform.
Chapters IV through XIV constitute the heart of the book.
Machiavelli offers practical advice on a variety of matters, including the advantages and
disadvantages that attend various routes to power, how to acquire and hold new states, how to deal
with internal insurrection, how to make alliances, and how to maintain a strong military. Implicit in
these chapters are Machiavellis views regarding free will, human nature, and ethics, but these ideas
do not manifest themselves explicitly as topics of discussion until later.
Chapters XV to XXIII focus on the qualities of the prince himself.
Broadly speaking, this discussion is guided by Machiavellis underlying vithaidealsy
translate into bad government. This priseis especially true with respect to personal virtue.
Certain virtues may be admired for their own sake, but for a prince to act in accordance with virtue is
often detriment to the state. Similarly, certain vices may be frowned upon,ut vicious
actions are sometimes indispensable to the good of the state.
Machiavelli combines this line of reasoning with another: the theme that obtaining the goodwill of
the populace is the best way to maintain power. Thus, the appranof virtue may be more
important than true virtue, which may be seen as a liability.
The final sections of The Prince link the book to a specific historical context: Italys disunity.
Machiavelli sets down his account and explanation of the failure of past Italian rulers and concludes with an impassioned plea to the future rulers of the nation. Machiavelli asserts the belief that only
Lorenzo deMedici, to whom the book is dedicated, can restore Italys honor and pride.
Glossary of Terms
Auxiliary troops: foreign troops a prince uses to fight his own wars; often a ready-made unit
Civil principate : a state in which a private citizen becomes prince by the choice of
Hereditary principate : a state in which the prince is simply desce
from a line of rulers; power is handed from one family member to the next
Mercenary troops: soldiers a prince hires to fight for him, often culled from a variety of places
Principate /principality: any state ruled by a prince
Florence in Machiavelli's Day
Florence in the late 1400s, when Machiavelli first entered the political world, was a beehive of a
place, buzzing with activity. Scheming politicians rubbed shoulders with aspiring artists, while
towers rose and philosophical treatises hit the presses. The city was a booming commercial center
and more or less the capital of Tuscany. Florence, a republic for as long as we have records of the
city (since around 1,000 AD) held sway over the Tuscan cities that surrounded it: Siena, Pisa, San
Gimignano, Pistoia, and others.
The Medici family ruled Florence for much of the 15th century, and theirs was in some ways an
authoritarian rule. That said, the Medicis never entirely abolished the city's representative
government. Pietro Medici was run out of the city in 1494, and shortly thereafter Machiavelli rose to
prominence . The greatest menaces to Florentine republicanism were now in exile, and
Machiavelli was free to exercise his talents.
Piero Soderini, named gonfalnier in 1502, brought a greater degree of stability to Florence than it had
known in quite some time. This may have tempered some of the more turbulent aspects of the city's
politics, but it certainly did not mute them. Florence at the time possessed one of the most vibrant
political scenes in all of Europe. Most officials were limited to short terms, and therefore election
campaigns were nearly constant, and often overlapping. Among the numerous parties and factions
were religious reformers, the Guelfs (anti-German and tolerant of the Pope), and the Ghibellines
(pro-German and anti-Papacy). Guilds were active in politics, and Florentines of every class were politically conscious. Within this melee, Machiavelli found plenty of fodder for his written works.
Indeed, The Prince reflects in more ways than one the city in which many of its ideas were conceived.
Machiavelli, even when in exile, was always a Florentine at heart, and The Prince is not just a
quintessential Renaissance text, but a Florentine work par excellence.
The Prince is one of the quintessential issamanuscripts, and as such it is often
associated with individualism, humanism, and a sense of personal agency. Nonetheless, the extent to
which Machiavelli mediteexplicit on free will is notable.
He writes: rather than give up on our free will altogether, I think it y be true that Fortune
governs half of our actions, but that even so she leaves the other half more or less in our power to
control. To Machiavelli, Fortune is a woman who cabe, but who must be defied
with boldne and brashne .
In many ways, The Prince can be read as an exploration of e between luck and
agency in human affairs. How can a prince use luck to his advantage? How can he, in turn, surmount
the obstacles Fortune places in his way? In this regard, Machiavelli presents a
profoundly secular view, one in which men mayvetheir own destiesthrough
shrewdnes and pruden , in which ecclesial states are of less
analytical interest than non-theocracies, and in which Fortune must eierore exploited
In one of The Princes key chapters, On Cruelty d, Machiavelli argues that it is
safer for a prince to be feared than it is for him to be loved. Men dread punishment, and this fear can
be used to a princes benefit.
Love can lie, but fear knows no such mendacity; is emotion that will not change
at the tip of a hat, that will not give way toreamidsssa flur of
developments. A prudent prince will therefore use cruelty to his advantage though only when
necessary. This last point is not a minor one. Though Machiavellis reputation may suggest otherwise,
he argues explicitly (detailed) in The Prince that cruelty is well-used when it preserves (protect) a
princes safety or secures the state; gratuitous (lacking) cruelto be.condemned
That said, there is a hint of admiration in Machiavellis tone when he writes of criminal princes such
asAgathocles and Oliverotto da Fermo. Arms
Military force is of great importance to Machiavelli. He writes that princes should be both men and
animals, intellectuals and warriors. When it comes to animals, they should be both lions and foxes,
with the lion representing sheer (pure) force and the fox representing wiliness (tricky).
Machiavelli devotes many pages to an argument in favor of using ones own troops and railing
against the reliance on mercenaries and auli which he blames for the weakening of Italy.
The Prince is full of conquests and conquerors; it is a vision of politics as bathed, necessarily, in
As for exercising the mind, Machiavelli writes, a prince should read history and reflect on the
actions of great men. Machiavelli was, above all, a student of the past, and he peppers The Prince
will numerous scholarly examples: from Cyrus to Cesare Borgia, from the ancient Romans to King
Louis of France, from Carthage to German city-states, the art of the telling example is crucial to The
That strategy is, in turn, recommended for princes: Machiavelli argues that in order to be great, one
must study the greats of the past, and in order to avoid pitfalls, one must examine the mistakes of
failed predecessors. This may seem like common sense, but it is also a view grounded in the thinking
of Machiavellis time, when Renaissance scholars were reshaping history, looking to the past for
inspiration, and calling attention to the giants of long ago.
Machiavelli writes war of generosity in a prince. Better for a prince to be thught a miser
if it means he is able to keep his state financially secure, and to reserve money for when it is
most needed. Interestingly, relatively little of The Prince is devoted to economics person; for the
most part, the book is focused on military matters and the kind of crtthrough which
a citizen can rise to princo. When the subject of generosity rears i h, it is in the
context of a distinction between a princes effectiveness and his reputation. Machiavelli argues that
generosity is often showed in the presence of ultor motives; if a prince showers his
subjects with gifts in order to curry favor, he windsp his own resources, so that in the
end he must take back from the people that which is theirs in order to keep the state afloat. This, of
course, is not a good thing. Generosity is, therefore, often but a sham to begin with and not a
particularly useful one at that.