The Prince is an extended analysis of how to acquire and maintain political power. It includes 26 chapters and an opening dedication to Lorenzo de Medici. The dedication declares Machiavelli's intention to discuss in plain language the conduct of great men and the principles of princely government. He does so in hope of pleasing and enlightening the Medici family.
The book's 26 chapters can be divided into four sections: Chapters 1-11 discuss the different types of principalities or states, Chapters 12-14 discuss the different types of armies and the proper conduct of a prince as military leader, Chapters 15-23 discuss the character and behavior of the prince, and Chapters 24-26 discuss Italy's desperate political situation. The final chapter is a plea for the Medici family to supply the prince who will lead Italy out of humiliation.
The types of principalities
Machiavelli lists four types of principalities:
- Hereditary principalities, which are inherited by the ruler
- Mixed principalities, territories that are annexed to the ruler's existing territories
- New principalities, which may be acquired by several methods: by one's own power, by the power of others, by criminal acts or extreme cruelty, or by the will of the people (civic principalities)
- Ecclesiastical principalities, namely the Papal States belonging to the Catholic church
The types of armies
A prince must always pay close attention to military affairs if he wants to remain in power. Machiavelli lists four types of armies:
- Mercenaries or hired soldiers, which are dangerous and unreliable
- Auxiliaries, troops that are loaned to you by other rulers—also dangerous and unreliable
- Native troops, composed of one's own citizens or subjects—by far the most desirable kind
- Mixed troops, a combination of native troops and mercenaries or auxiliaries—still less desirable than a completely native army
The character and behavior of the prince
Machiavelli recommends the following character and behavior for princes:
- It is better to be stingy than generous.
- It is better to be cruel than merciful.
- It is better to break promises if keeping them would be against one's interests.
- Princes must avoid making themselves hated and despised; the goodwill of the people is a better defense than any fortress.
- Princes should undertake great projects to enhance their reputation.
- Princes should choose wise advisors and avoid flatterers.
Italy's political situation
Machiavelli outlines and recommends the following:
- The rulers of Italy have lost their states by ignoring the political and military principles Machiavelli enumerates.
- Fortune controls half of human affairs, but free will controls the rest, leaving the prince free to act. However, few princes can adapt their actions to the times.
- The final chapter is an exhortation to the Medici family to follow Machiavelli's principles and thereby free Italy from foreign domination.