Notes on The Prince Themes

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The Prince Topic Tracking: Virtue


Virtue 1: Machiavelli, in dedicating the work to Lorenzo de' Medici, reminds the young prince that greatness awaits him because he is endowed with both fortune and admirable qualities. Machiavelli uses the term "virtue" to describe the positive qualities of a prince. In Daniel Donno's notes, he writes that virtue is a word which "implies physical and mental capacity-intelligence, skill, courage, vigor-in short, all those personal qualities that are needed for attainment of one's own ends." (p. 125) The last part is an important qualifier because virtue is very much related to getting end results. Virtue, in the Machiavellian sense, does not carry a moral tone.

Chapter 1

Virtue 2: In speaking about principalities, Machiavelli introduces two main factors that determine the fate of a ruler-fortune and abilities. Machiavelli states that it does not take virtue to attain a hereditary principality, but it is required in order to acquire a new principality.

Chapter 3

Virtue 3: When a new territory does not share the same language and culture as the prince's original territory, the prince must have the wisdom and ability to assimilate the new territory. The prince must settle the new territory. He can do this most effectively by residing in it. The prince must be competent in maintaining the balance of different powers. He must protect his weaker neighbors while preventing powerful ones from gaining more power. Moreover, the prince must have the courage to confront problems before it becomes too late. A prince should not hesitate in using force or going to war.

Chapter 6

Virtue 4: Machiavelli writes that for a private citizen to become a prince, he needs to have fortune or ability. Among those who became princes through ability, Machiavelli cites Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus. Using them as examples, Machiavelli states that an important component of ability is recognizing an opportunity and acting on it. A new prince who comes to rule over a new principality faces the pressure to implement new ways of doing things. However, people who oppose change are always more vocal than those who benefit from change. Therefore, Machiavelli advocates the use of force. All of the princes mentioned above maintained power through the use of arms.

Chapter 7

Virtue 5: Machiavelli examines the two ways a prince can attain power. Franceso Sforza is an example of a prince who rose to power by his abilities. Cesare Borgia is an example of a prince who inherited power from his father. Even though Borgia had great abilities and did everything right, he nevertheless lost power because of a bad turn of fortune. However, Machiavelli urges any prince of ambition to imitate the actions of Borgia because his life shows how to utilize one's abilities to attain success.

Chapter 8

Virtue 6: Here, Machiavelli makes it clear that virtue or ability is related more to statecraft than morality. A prince who comes to power by evil means is said to have neither fortune nor ability. Such a prince may gain power, but not glory. By "evil means," Machiavelli is referring to proper and improper uses of cruelty. Cruelty is considered proper if utilized at one time in order to achieve some necessary goal. Improper cruelty is repetitive and achieves no purpose than to instill constant fear into the citizens. Therefore, the proper use of force can be a virtue.

Chapter 10

Virtue 7: An important virtue for a prince is his ability to relate to his citizens. Machiavelli stresses the importance of gaining the support of the people because that is essential in times of trouble. A prince does not have to be loved by the people, but he must not be hated. A prince with virtue may not be loved but he is always respected. In times of trouble, such as a siege, a prince must know how to keep up the morale of his people. This takes both wisdom and courage.

Chapter 11

Virtue 8: Machiavelli further demonstrates that virtue does not fall under a moral imperative. Even in the institution of the Church where morality supposedly plays a major role, Machiavelli makes no moral judgments about the pope's use of political power. There is no distinction made between the pope and a territorial prince. Machiavelli praises the actions of previous popes that gave the Church its current power and urges the newly elected pope, Leo X, to continue strengthening the church through his goodness and virtues. Although Machiavelli does not specify how Pope Leo X should exercise his goodness and virtues, it is evident that he supports any actions that bring glory to the Church.

Chapter 14

Virtue 9: One of the major characteristic virtues of a prince should be his passion for the art of warfare. Machiavelli believes that a prince must be engaged in military study and training at all times, especially during times of peace. A prince must study the exploits of great military men and hone his skills through hunting. Machiavelli uses Philopoemen, the ancient leader of the Acheans, as an example of a ruler who was constantly engaged in military thought. Thus, in battle he never encountered a situation that he did not know how to handle. A prince who is prepared in the art of warfare both in mind and body can overcome times of unfavorable fortune.

Chapter 15

Virtue 10: A prince must not be overly concerned with having all the good qualities. Good qualities are not good if they result in the ruin of the state. In fact, a prince that strives to be good all the time will surely lose power because there are many men who are not good. Therefore, a virtuous prince is not related to whether one is good or not in personal terms. The only virtues that are good are those that are beneficial in maintaining the state.

Chapter 16

Virtue 11: Machiavelli uses the quality of generosity to illustrate the point that a prince need not be concerned about being good. It is common sense that generosity is a good quality, but for a prince, it can lead to his downfall. In a practical sense, a prince cannot be generous all the time. Therefore, it is better for a prince to be parsimonious from the beginning than earn the contempt of the people.

Chapter 17

Virtue 12: Machiavelli considers whether it is better to be loved than feared. Although being loved is good, history has shown that leaders who were feared ruled more effectively. A ruler who brings disorder to his state because of his misguided kindness should not be considered kind. For Machiavelli, it is virtuous for a prince to be feared and not hated.

Chapter 18

Virtue 13: Machiavelli argues that in an ideal world where all men are honest, it would be virtuous for a prince to keep to his pledges. But since men are dishonest, it is necessary for a prince to use deception when it is to his benefit. The prince must have the characteristics of both the fox and the lion. The fox can recognize snares but cannot drive away wolves. The lion can drive away wolves but cannot recognize snares. The prince must be cunning and courageous. Machiavelli states that it is not important for a prince to actually have good qualities, but just the appearance of having them. People look at outward appearances, and as long as the ends turn out favorable, the means are justified.

Chapter 21

Virtue 14: A prince must know how to handle foreign relations. Situations will surely arise where a prince must choose sides in a war. It is not wise to remain neutral because both parties will despise the prince who does not take sides. The prince must have the wisdom to choose the least risky option and then pursue it courageously. Win or lose, the prince will gain respect and honor for being decisive.

Chapter 22

Virtue 15: People will assess how wise a prince is by his choice of ministers and close advisors. There are three types of minds: capable of thinking for itself, capable of understanding the thinking of others, and capable of neither. A prince must have at least the capability to understand the thinking of others. The main criterion of a good minister is whether he puts the prince's concerns over his own. If the minister looks more to his own interests, the prince must not rely on him. The prince must practice discernment in dealing with his advisors.

Chapter 23

Virtue 16: The prince must know how to avoid flatterers. He should have a few close and trusted advisors who are free to speak their minds about the things the prince asks about. All other advice, he should ignore. But the prince must ultimately decide all things for himself and not be indecisive. Whatever he does, he must carry out resolutely so that he will be respected.

Chapter 26

Virtue 17: Machiavelli challenges the prince, Lorenzo de' Medici, to save Italy from the barbarians. Cesare Borgia was thought to have all the qualities necessary to accomplish this task, but failed due to an unexpected turn of fortune. Italy is waiting for another prince who has the abilities and fortune to succeed. Machiavelli believes that Italy is lacking a qualified leader to unite and lead them against the barbarians. For Machiavelli, virtue is directly related to leadership.

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