Notes on The Prince Themes

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The Prince Topic Tracking: Power Politics

Chapter 2

Power Politics 1: Machiavelli states the main focus of the book-to discuss how principalities can be acquired, governed, and preserved. He begins with the difference between hereditary and new principalities. Hereditary principalities are easier to control and regain control because the hereditary prince has the advantage of the people's natural affection for him. By identifying the dynamics of power (in this case, the people), Machiavelli attempts to show how a prince can rule most effectively.

Chapter 3

Power Politics 2: In advising the prince residing in a new territory with languages and customs different from his original territory, Machiavelli makes several recommendations. First, the prince must protect weaker neighbors and weaken powerful ones. Second, he must not let a powerful force enter his territories, including allies. Last, the wise prince must be willing to use force to remedy a situation before it becomes unfixable. It is almost always more effective to confront problems early. A wise prince must not put off confrontations for another day.

Chapter 5

Power Politics 3: For a conquered territory that was used to living under freedom, i.e. republics, the prince can destroy it, reside in it, or take tribute from a set-up government friendly to the prince. Machiavelli recommends that the surest way to establish power is through destruction because people who have been accustomed to living under freedom are likely to rebel for that right. Machiavelli often suggests the swiftest and most effective methods of establishing power.

Chapter 6

Power Politics 4: Machiavelli gives a list of great princes of the past who rose to power and maintained it by their abilities. In contrast, he mentions Savaronola, the Dominican friar who lost his power when the people no longer heeded his preaching. Machiavelli concludes that all successful rulers must have arms. Power and arms go hand in hand.

Chapter 8

Power Politics 5: Machiavelli, in describing princes who come to power through evil means, comes closest to making a moral judgment. A prince who comes to power through evil may gain dominion but not glory. However, Machiavelli's definition of evil is not clear. By the examples he gives, evil is excessive cruelty done to your own citizens for the expressed purpose of gaining power. Machiavelli offers no praise for such princes, but he does acknowledge that some rulers must resort to evil means. He then distinguishes between proper and improper cruelty. Proper cruelty is done at one time and serves a specific purpose. Improper cruelty is repetitive and threatening to the citizens. A wise prince must be willing to practice proper cruelty in order to maintain power, but avoid improper cruelty so that his subjects do not feel hatred for him.

Chapter 9

Power Politics 6: In dealing with nobles, a prince has to exercise discernment in determining who is dangerous or not. The people, on the other hand, are content as long as their property and women are not harmed. Whether or not a prince comes to power through the nobles or the people, Machiavelli emphasizes the need for the prince to win the support of the people. The prince should even be aware of how much control his advisors have over them. The people should be used to obeying the prince above anyone else.

Chapter 11

Power Politics 7: Only the ecclesiastical prince is able to rule without having to defend his power because it is rooted in the ancient traditions of religion. Machiavelli explains historically how the position of pope came to hold so much power. By showing the development of the pope's power, Machiavelli gives concrete evidence of his previous arguments-a prince who uses arms, innovative methods, and wise political decisions will increase his power.

Chapter 15

Power Politics 8: Machiavelli makes it clear that it is not important for a prince to have all the good qualities. The game of power politics is clearly more favorable to princes who are willing to do anything for the good of the state. For Machiavelli, what is good for the state has no ethical or moral implications. Anything that benefits the state is considered good.

Chapter 16

Power Politics 9: For Machiavelli, it is better to be parsimonious than generous. A prince can only be generous through heavy taxation or constant plundering from conquests. Both are finite sources. Former rulers with reputations of generosity were only so on their way to power. It is impossible to maintain power by being generous without arousing the people's hatred.

Chapter 17

Power Politics 10: Machiavelli makes a powerful argument that it is better for a leader to be feared than loved. He arrives at this position because of the countless examples from history. Men respond more strongly to fear than to love. The love of the people can easily change, but fear is constant. The prince has control over his people's fear of him, but he cannot make the people love him. Therefore, a prince should pursue the course of action that he can best control.

Chapter 18

Power Politics 11: Hypocrisy and deceit are legitimate methods in politics. It is not important for a prince to have good qualities; it is sufficient that he only appears to have them. Because men are given to appearances, they will not scrutinize a prince's hypocrisy. They will only judge by the results and not the methods. Machiavelli considers the appearance of being religious as the most powerful quality. King Ferdinand is known to have preached faith and peace, but his actions were always to the contrary. Nevertheless, he was able to gain power and esteem for his nation and himself.

Chapter 19

Power Politics 12: The feudal prince has the responsibility to satisfy his people while containing the nobles. Machiavelli praises the structure of the French government in allowing the king to delegate potentially unpopular duties to other governing bodies such as the parliament while keeping the power to dispense favors for the king. This way, the king is able to use the parliament to fend off the nobles, while using favors to please the people.

Chapter 20

Power Politics 13: When there is a conflict between two powers, it is almost always better to take sides than be neutral. Being neutral draws contempt from both sides. In dealing with political alliances, the wise prince must discern what is the least risky option and then carry it out resolutely. This brings honor whether your side wins or not.

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