The Prince By Machiavelli Summary and Analysis Chapter 20

Summary

Princes have tried various tactics to maintain power: disarming their subjects, dividing their subjects into factions, encouraging their enemies, winning over the suspicious, building new fortresses, and tearing down fortresses.

New princes must never disarm their subjects, for if a prince arms his people, their arms become his. If a prince disarms them, the people will hate him, and he will be forced to employ mercenaries.

Conventional wisdom says that creating factions is a good way to control a state. This may have been true when Italy was more stable, but not in Machiavelli's time. When factious cities are threatened by invaders, they quickly fall.

Because rulers become great by overcoming difficulties, some believe that a prince should secretly encourage his enemies, so that when he overcomes them, his reputation will be greater.

Some new princes find that those who were at first suspect prove more useful than others in governing the state. They are anxious to prove themselves to the prince. Those who helped the prince gain power may have done so out of dissatisfaction with the prior state, and the new state may also fail to please them.

Princes often build fortresses to protect themselves from plotters and sudden attacks. If a prince fears his subjects more than foreign invaders, he should build fortresses. The best fortress, however, is not to be hated by the people.

Analysis

In this chapter, Machiavelli briefly discusses a number of potential strategies for maintaining power. Predictably, he opposes disarming one's subjects, having already expressed his support for citizen armies over mercenaries or outside troops. Disarming citizens also sends a message that the prince does not trust them, and Machiavelli highly values a good relationship between the prince and his subjects. Like disarming one's subjects, building fortresses within the city also expresses distrust and shows insecurity. No fortress can substitute for the trust and support of the people.

Encouraging rival factions to fight in order to keep them occupied also is the mark of a weak and insecure ruler. Machiavelli alludes to the Florentine policy in Pistoia, which he already condemned as cruel in Chapter 17. He blamed factionalism for some of Italy's problems, pointing out that divided cities fall easily when foreign invaders come, because one side or the other sells out to the invaders in hopes of gaining power. Oddly, Machiavelli expresses no opinion about the practice of secretly encouraging one's enemies in order to gain glory by overcoming them later, merely mentioning it without discussing it.

Machiavelli devotes the largest portion of this chapter to making the point that those people who are under suspicion turn out to be the most trustworthy servants of the new prince. This should be no surprise, considering that Machiavelli was distrusted by the new Medici leadership, to whom he dedicated The Prince in the hope of regaining his old position as a diplomat. It is easy to imagine Machiavelli speaking about himself when he points out that those who are insecure in their positions work harder and are more motivated to prove themselves to the prince than those whom the prince trusts. He observes that those who were unhappy under the previous regime (unlike Machiavelli) may be just as likely to become unhappy with the new prince, while those who most love the stability of the state (like Machiavelli) will necessarily prove more loyal.

Glossary

Guelphs supporters of Papal interests. Their opponents, the Ghibellines, were supporters of the Holy Roman Empire.

Pandolfo Petrucci (1450-1512) ruler of Siena. It is not clear to what "suspected men" Machiavelli is referring.

Niccolò Vitelli (1414-1486) mercenary leader, father of Paolo and Vitellozo Vitelli. He became leader of Città de Castello and destroyed several fortresses built there by his opponent, Pope Sixtus IV.

Countess of Forli Caterina Sforza Riario (1463-1509). Her husband was Girolamo Riario (1443-1488). Negotiations with Caterina were the subject of Machiavelli's very first diplomatic assignment in July 1499. When her husband was assassinated, she held out against the revolt in one of her fortresses until help arrived from her uncle, Ludovico Sforza of Milan. When Cesare Borgia invaded in late 1499, her subjects welcomed him and again revolted against her, and she was forced to surrender despite the protection of her fortress.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

A prince risks being despised if he does all but which of the following?




Quiz