The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli [Book Summary]

Ever thought about how some autocratic world leaders achieved to remain in power in spite of human rights abuses and violations of international law? Machiavelli would reply that the answer depends on their great ability at the political game of power.

These book chapters offer you crucial knowledge from a 500-year-old manual in power politics. You’ll discover what Machiavelli says it requires to become a ruler and how to keep that status.  Also, you’ll know that as a ruler, the ends usually justify the means, and even, warfare treachery and cruelty are okay if they assist you to be in power.

Politicians such as Benjamin Franklin to Napoleon have been famous to be swayed by Machiavelli’s political viewpoint, and after you have read this book, you may start to see modern-day politicians behaving in Machiavellian habits, as well.

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Chapter 1 – To maintain his new principality, a prince needs to ensure that his subjects feel appreciated while protecting against opponents.

Let’s say you’re a renaissance prince who has only occupied a new region. The people of this new principality most likely don’t want you to be a ruler and considers you as an attacker and outsider. Therefore, how would you have them under your power?

The first and foremost rule for a prince is that you need to attempt to move to the principality yourself all the time. The proximity to their new prince will make the locals feel valued, while at the same time discouraging enemies from attempting to repossess the region.

If you cannot do the first rule, the second-best choice is to direct a group of your own subjects to live in the principality. By doing this, your new subjects will become used to how people live and progressively become accustomed to their society accordingly.

A second rule is that you need to regularly take action to guard yourself against likely opponents to your power. To take this action, implement a policy of protecting leaders that are weak around your new principality. If you defend them against very powerful rivals, they will happily become part of your new state as well and an alliance of that kind of state can be really enough to defy the more powerful leaders and states in the region who could otherwise threaten your power too.

The third rule is that you need to be vigilant all the time for future threats: be vigilant and take preventative action. Similar to sicknesses, they are easier to treat from the start, that is how easier it is to stop the advance of an excessively ardent enemy early in their attack, like after the first step.

The ancient Romans made use of this method when they invaded Greece. They would not let any single local leader become more powerful than the others, regardless of how loyal the leader was to the Romans.

The significance of these rules can be noticed in the dilemma of Louis XII of France who attacked Northern Italy. After effectively defeating the land, he then quickly lost charge of it because he broke the entire rules stated above. Don’t repeat his error.

Chapter 2 – Principalities can either be easy to defeat; however, difficult to rule, or difficult to defeat but simple to rule.

In 323 BC, when Alexander the Great died after defeating the Persian Kingdom, everybody believed that without Alexander’s power, the Macedonians would immediately lose control over the Persians. And still, they succeeded to keep their power for several years after. How?

Before we can answer this question, it’s significant to know that there are various types of principalities:

Firstly, we have principalities with a ruler-baron system of governance. This system can be seen, for instance, in France: the French king rules the country; however, he does that through numerous nobles known as barons who each have their own plan. This system is basically unstable and brings about a splintered principality. Sometimes the barons may even defy the authority of the king.

The result is that France is fairly easy to defeat: you only require to have a few barons on your side and the King’s administration will fall rapidly. But, you’ll get the same problem holding onto it as your predecessor.

However, we have principalities that are ruled through a ruler-servant relationship. To attain this system, a prince will begin his reign by making sure that everyone with political determinations or power are destroyed so that every noble can support just the prince and his ideas. This dynamic forms a really unified nation that will create rigid opposition if attacked.

When Alexander defeated Persia, it was that kind of principality. As at them, King Darius had eliminated every institution and made the entire leaders in society to follow him loyally. This signified that Alexander had to fight severely to defeat the area; however, it also signified that after the death of Alexander, there were no independent rulers or areas left to begin an uprising. Hence, the Macedonians could keep on their rule for generations to come after Alexander’s died.

It is left for you to decide the kind of system you would impart in your principality. Both principalities have their benefits; therefore, the decision should be made according to particular situations and your own abilities.

Chapter 3 – Getting new principalities rests on both virtue and fortune.

There are various means a prince can have control of a principality: one popular way is military force and international treaties are another.

Still, whichever the way through which you wish to gain your principality, you’ll have to merge great virtue and good fortune to be successful.

Nevertheless, even the most virtuous ruler needs a little fortune for them to be able to make good use of virtue. Capturing a city or kingdom with your own army displays that you possess great virtue in the form of courage,  leadership, moral strength and character. And still, virtue can come to nothing except you possess fortune on your side too.

Think of Romulus, the creator of the Roman Empire. Fortune enforced him to depart from the city of Alba when he still just a baby, thus pushing him to one day lay the foundations of Rome. Assuming he not been made to leave Alba, he may have probably ended as a farmer at a place without ever getting the opportunity to reveal his virtue.

Definitely, the opposite is true as well: if you are blessed by fortune, you will have to display virtue to make the most of on your fortune. For instance, at times you may become a prince as a result of good fortune instead of your own virtue. It could occur if you enjoy the favor of a powerful patron.

In this your new principality, your rivals will be very powerful than your supporters, since your rivals will be determined to cause your downfall, while your supporters won’t understand what to expect from you.

This circumstance entails that you’ll need to act fast and virtuously to set the basis for a long reign. Control the nobles in your principality and create your own army. Without having these safety measures, your fortune won’t last long and you will be overwhelmed.

It looks then that both virtue and fortune are required to become a prince. No fortune can last long without virtue; also, without fortune, your virtues may be pointless.

Chapter 4 – Both wickedness and general support are means to become a prince.

In 317 BC a man called Agathocles who had grown up as an ordinary potter’s boy gathered an army of mercenaries and took control of the city of Syracuse, Sicily. Regardless of his vow that he would obey the town’s democratic constitution, he murdered 10,000 of his enemies and turned into a tyrant.

This story shows that wickedness is one means to attain power. Trickery and cruelty can assist you to have control of a principality, even if treachery and violence toward your own citizens cannot be seen as virtuous.

However, cruelty just functions if it is used in an appropriate manner. If it is essential for you to acquire power, then your cruelty needs to be swift: give a single cruel strike. Although initially, people will be annoyed, you can progressively reduce the amount of violence and so soothe the citizens. This is exactly what Agathocles did and he succeeded to keep his power.

A far less sensible method is to be really trustworthy at the start of one’s reign and then increase cruelty slowly.

In spite of the success of Agathocles, wickedness isn’t the only means to acquire power. Also, you can gain power by protecting your populations because that will motivate them to support your reign. In this situation, if you are a prince, you need to make sure that your people are very well-off for them to want to support you. Precisely what “well-off enough” signifies depends on what they’re accustomed to. For instance, if they’ve been slaves so far, they may be glad if you only release them.

The key aim is to make your people feel indebted to you. If they are indebted to you, it will make it possible that they will have you in power even if they have to tolerate adversity. However, if you rule through fear, they will not feel indebted.

Cruelty may be an easier means to acquire power than urging the citizen to support you; however, the latter is a more stable type of power.

Chapter 5 – All princes need to learn the art of war.

Even though diplomacy is a significant tool when the situation gets worse; a man that is not unarmed will usually need to comply with the armed man. Therefore, it follows that learning the art of war is significant to becoming and remaining prince.

Definitely, it is important to achieving your power in the first place: the majority of the princes have won their principalities by defeating them through war. However, even in peace, it is significant for you to maintain your skills in the art of war, since warfare is probably a means you may lose your principality to enemies.

Also, your armies play a significant role in the society you’re forming: good laws and institutions cannot occur without powerful armies to support them.

Since warfare plays a huge role in sustaining power, you need to always prepare yourself as well as your army ready for war. Make your army be in a good fighting state; however, also make sure you have your own physical and mental abilities prepared for war.

For instance, anytime you’re out on hunting journeys, observe the landscape of your territory and ponder on means the territory could be used to mount a better shield in war.

Another method to get ready for war is to learn from the great masters of warfare who were before you. Every great commander have learned about their predecessors although history: Alexander the Great studied Achilles while Caesar, copied Alexander.

Although it is significant to be a good civil leader during periods of peace, you need to remember that fortunes change. War may quickly be upon your principality, and the only means to stay in power is if both you and your army are ready.

Chapter 6 – To defend your principality, you require an army of your own citizen and not auxiliary troops or mercenaries.

What is the common thing among Spartans, Swiss, and Romans?

Historically, all three of them well-armed citizens that made them stay free autonomous states for centuries.

In this lies a significant lesson for a prince: just proper local armies can protect principalities well.

Mercenaries who are independent troops who will just fight for you because of your money are pointless. They do not have any stake in the survival of your state; therefore, they are not devoted to it, and in a fight, they may as well flee at the sight of the rival since they feel your money isn’t worth dying for.

Therefore, they will effectively loot you during peace for their salaries; however, at war, they will let your opponent do the exact thing.

And even though you are fortunate enough to get a skilled mercenary commander who fights for you during times of war, he will, ultimately, understand that he can effortlessly defeat you with his troops.

Italy made the error of constantly depending on mercenaries during the 15th and 16th centuries, and due to that was defeated by the French kings Charles and later Louis, along with attacked by Ferdinand of Aragon when the mercenaries ran wild.

Another dangerous mistake a prince may make is depending on auxiliary troops from allied princes to defend his territory. As soon as another prince’s forces have gotten to your state, you may never get rid of them.

An illustration of this could be observed when the Greeks permitted 10,000 Turkish soldiers on their territory to defend them from their neighbors. When the war ended, the Turks didn’t want to leave and eventually living in Greece for centuries.

Therefore, as you can see, you will usually lose if you depend on auxiliary troops: if they are defeated in a fight, your principality will be defeated, on the other hand, if they win, they will remain and enslave you.

The only means to really defend your principality is to form an army of your own citizens loyal to you and to your principality as well.

Chapter 7 – A prince needs to balance miserliness with generosity.

As soon as you turn into a prince, the world will not look at you the same way anymore. Your subjects will anticipate various things from their ruler than they would from an ordinary citizen.

Due to that, personal personalities such as generosity or politeness go from being just private questions to issues of deep significance for the stability of your principality. As such, their desirability changes as well, for personalities that were plainly positive for a private citizen may not be any more for a prince.

Think of generosity. A generous private person is admired; however, if you, as a ruler, wish to build a status for generosity, it is not sufficient to spend what you can afford, for people will rapidly get accustomed to it. Rather, you need to always overwhelm your people with generosity, except that doing that will rapidly destroy your finances. The only answer will be to tax your populations severely, which will contradict any aids your generosity may have brought.

Therefore, for you to be a successful prince, you need to balance miserliness and generosity.

Use generosity to attain power, particularly in a territory where populations have a say in who will be the prince. This is how Caesar ruled Rome: he spent a fortune on bread and circuses to improve his fame.

However, this generosity would remain for long as soon as you’ve become a prince. As soon as you become a prince, you would be clever to be viewed as miserly, so that you can gradually increase your spending eventually to boost your fame, without having financial difficulties.

This is the same thing that Caesar did: immediately he got to the position he sought, he toned-down his spending in order not to bankrupt his empire.

Also, eventually, your citizens will be most contented if you only allow them labor in peace with fairly light taxation. Therefore, being miserly with the state’s money for you to reduce taxes might be better than generosity.

Chapter 8 – A successful prince can make the most of cruelty; however, he should avoid being detested.

One of the greatest threats the Roman Empire ever encountered was the war initiated by Hannibal and his Carthaginian army. Hannibal’s success in this situation is related to his cruel cruelty: for instance, he killed his scouts for telling him the wrong paths. He imparted a fear in his army that made it unified in difficult periods, just like when he and his army notably crossed the Alps.

For a prince, the key lesson here is that cruelty, if used appropriately, can serve you well.

Definitely, each prince wants to be seen as merciful and fair; however, in order to maintain his dominion and make his citizenry stay united, he needs to also be eager to use fear.

Being feared is a much better choice for a prince than being loved. As every adult understands, vows based on love are not fulfilled regularly; therefore, being viewed as really merciful and loving can be made use of by those who would violate the law for their own self-interest. But, the fear of severe punishment, will constantly work as a warning.

As a matter of fact, aren’t you being a merciful ruler by generosity making your streets safe with the threat of harsh punishment for law-breakers?

Making use of cruelty is particularly effective to sustain control of your army: soldiers like an amount of wickedness and cruelty and agree that you need to use it to make them disciplined too. Hannibal’s success is evidence of his usage of cruelty.

Although you can maximize cruelty, you need to evade going extreme so that you’re not totally detested. Attempt to look for the appropriate balance. Don’t, for instance, punish innocent people or arbitrarily capture their property and women, or they’ll turn against you. Doing that would make them plan against you, and you would be causing instability instead of stability as you had intended.

The best means to keep your people from uniting against you is to make them satisfied; however, to a degree fearful.

Chapter 9 – A successful prince understands when to make use of treachery and how to hide it.

If you ask a prince what animal he is similar to the most, the reply will usually be the lion. Certainly, the lion’s raw strength is a significant feature; however, no prince should underrate how valuable the cleverness of the sly fox can be.

One method you can imitate the fox is in the vows you make: a prince doesn’t have to fulfill his promises regularly.

Definitely, integrity is a significant feature for every leader since laws and contracts are the foundation for state institutions; however, just like the sly fox, you need to understand when to sometimes forget rule in favor of your own self-interest.

For instance, if a rebel leader is giving you issues, why not summon him for peace discussions and then kill him quickly? This would fix the issue really neatly.

Also, if your conscience disturbs you, keep in mind that realistically, others will certainly not fulfill their promises to you either if it helps their interests not to.

But ensure that the outside world never perceives this deceitful aspect of you. You can be deceitful and conniving; however, you need to usually provide the impression of acting in good faith and in accordance with religious and humanitarian values.

But, there is one aspect, where you do completely have to be real to your word: associations in foreign relations. If there are tensions between two other principalities, you need to choose a side very fast and abide by it.

Delaying or looking to be indecisive is the likely worst choice, for the winner of the fight will turn against you next since you did not clearly back them up.

Having clear partners and enemies also provides clarity into your own circumstances, and forces you to behave decisively. A good prince is usually a real friend or a real adversary to the other princes, nothing in between.

Chapter 10 – A prince needs to gather good advisors and understand how to ask for their advice.

Although history has identified a lot of great leaders, all of them have at a point in time or another required advisors, for no single man can be a master of every trades. Hence, how a prince gathers his advisors and related with them says so many things about his leadership abilities.

The value of your advisors rests on just you, the prince. You understand best what aspects you don’t have expertise in; therefore, you will need to make use of your own sense to select the most proper advisors and ministers.

As soon as you have decided, you require to keep a good relationship with your ministers to make sure they help your interests. To keep a good relationship, you need to observe them. If you notice that one of them is working for his own benefit instead of your benefit, you need to expel him. Whereas, those that serve you well should be respected and compensated with a salary which is really generous to not provoke them into conspiring behind your back.

Also, it is significant that a prince understands how to ask for advice. Your advisors must understand that you value their candid views and you will not punish them for saying the truth. If they reason otherwise, the only thing you will hear is false flattery and a rosy form of the truth intended for enhancing the standing of the advisor in question. If it looks like a person is reluctant to voice out, you need to be really concerned, as he is definitely attempting to hide something.

However, openness to advice can go really far: if you let everyone to basically walk up to you and speak freely, people will quickly begin questioning your choices. Hence, you need to make it clear that you are the one who chooses when to ask for advice, and advisors should not provide it not asked for.

Chapter 11 – Take action –do not leave your fate in the hands of just fortune.

At this point, you’ve read numerous pieces of advice on how to prosper as a prince, and you may probably be contemplating that it is all useless since the destiny of any prince rests in the hands of fortune and God.

However, that assumption is not completely true. You can impact how the future develops to be.

Know that God wants every one of us to have freedom. He would not have given it to us except there was room for our own choices to impact our fate. We need to believe that 50% of the future is dependent on fate; however, the other half can be formed by our own behaviors.

Also, even though fortune does play a huge role in the success of a prince, you can defend yourself against its unstable nature. If you’ve been really fruitful, all thanks to good fortune, you need to get yourself ready for when the tide turns.

Visualize that your fortune is a river that, for several years, has flowed steadily, making your fields productive and fertile. As a clever leader, you need to form dikes against future floods. This manner if your fortune should change into a terrible flood, you will only suffer, and not perish.

However, definitely, it is not possible to get ready for every twist of fortune; some are basically unpredictable.

Therefore, instead of attempting to frequently predict the future for you to plan for it, you need to boldly shape it. Time has revealed that the best method to do that is by being impetuous, instead of cautious. For instance, think of Pope Julius II, who desired to go to war against Bologna. Rather than waiting for his supporters to approve of his idea, he proceeded to the city instantly. Venetia and France were shocked and couldn’t object anymore, and the campaign was a huge success.

Machiavelli mentions that you need to view fortune as a woman that needs to be forced into obedience and likes her master to be a young tempestuous man, instead of a vigilant over-thinker.

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli Book Review

As a prince, you can be honest or deceitful, merciful or cruel; however, you need to do anything that fortifies your principality and rule. There are no taboos when we talk about acquiring and maintaining power.

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Savaş Ateş

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