Chapter 6 Notes from The Prince

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The Prince Chapter 6

Concerning new principalities acquired by one's own arms and ability

Machiavelli notes that ambitious men often imitate other great men so that even if they fall short, they can come close, just like an archer who, judging his target to be too far, aims for a target farther off. In addressing new princes, Machiavelli assumes that for a private citizen to become a prince, either ability or fortune must play a major part. As examples of those who became princes through their ability rather than fortune, Machiavelli lists Moses, the biblical leader of the Exodus, Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, Romulus, the legendary founder of Rome, and Theseus, the legendary hero of Athens. What these men have in common is more than their abilities. They all capitalized on the opportunities that lay before them.

For men who become princes by their abilities, the greatest difficulty is in winning their dominions. After the hard part is done, their abilities allow them to rule effortlessly. According to Machiavelli, it is often necessary for a new prince to set up new, innovative methods of government. But Machiavelli warns that in such a case, the prince will find many enemies among those who oppose change. On the other hand, the prince will find the supporters of change to be passive because people generally do not want to trust something until it is firmly established.

The only effective way to establish a new system is to use force. Machiavelli gives as an example Savaronola, the Dominican friar who held power over Florence with his fiery sermons, but lost control because he was unarmed when his message was no longer welcomed. Machiavelli observes, "From this it follows that all armed prophets have succeeded and all unarmed ones have failed; for in addition to what has already been said, people are by nature changeable." Chapter 6, pg. 27 He notes that princes such as Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus could not have succeeded without taking up arms. Hiero of Syracuse is a modern example of a private citizen who used his abilities to rise to power. Although he had to work hard to establish power, once in control, his abilities allowed him to easily maintain it.

Topic Tracking: Virtue 4
Topic Tracking: Power Politics 4

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