The Prince is a political treatise by the Italian Renaissance author Niccolò Machiavelli; first published in 1532, it has since become widely known as a handbook for tyrants.
As a practical guide to establishing and maintaining power, it has been read as an advice manual for leaders. It has also been read as the evil counterpart to The Republic (c. 380 BCE), another famous work of the same period.
Both books address similar problems with different solutions: Where the Republic balances on the edge between the aristocratic and democratic principles, advising to avoid both extremes and find the golden mean, The Prince stands firmly on one side of this spectrum.
Readers have understood The Prince as an ironic treatise on how to commit evil deeds masked as good intentions.
Summary of The Prince
The Prince is a short and highly readable work, written in a pithy and accessible style, which has made it very popular as a piece of advice for leaders.
In the book, Machiavelli outlines the conditions under which he believes a ruler can maintain control over his territory and people, including the need to be ready to act ruthlessly. Although this book is often associated with the word “Machiavellian”, the term is not mentioned in The Prince.
The word “Machiavellian” is used to describe a person who applies immoral and unethical means to achieve a goal.
The first chapter of the book takes a look at voluntary servitude, a situation in which people willingly submit to a ruler. To keep his people under his control, a ruler must make them believe they are in a state of liberty, not servitude. He must keep them happy and contented by ensuring they have enough wealth and food to survive.
The second chapter of the book explores the idea that people want to be free, but will never fight for it. To keep their content, a ruler must not let them know how much control he has over his people; he must hide his desire for power.
Chapter 1: Discourses on Voluntary Servitude and the Means of Exiting It
The first chapter is an analysis of the idea of voluntary servitude.
Machiavelli theorizes that all people would naturally be free if it were not for being weak or lacking in virtue.
He believes that if someone desires to be free, he must be prepared to fight for that freedom or else be willing to live in servitude. He argues that people are not ready to fight for freedom since they have been brought up living in servitude and have become accustomed to their rulers; they do not even know what it would mean to be free.
In this situation, a new ruler can win the hearts of the people by showing mercy and generosity. He can also trick the people into thinking they are still free by granting them just enough liberty to stay content but not enough to actually be free.
Chapter 2: That Men Should Desire to Be Free and Also Should Run from Liberty
In this chapter, Machiavelli talks about how a ruler can maintain control over his people by making them believe they are free.
He says that people want to be free but they do not want to fight for it; they would rather let others rule over them than take up arms. So a ruler should maintain peace within his land and make the people feel secure enough to maintain that peace; he should also try to take away their desire to be free.
He must keep the people happy so that they do not want to leave his rule. A ruler must also keep his subjects ignorant so that they do not know how much power he has over them and think that they are free.
He says that a ruler must maintain three types of law: civil, criminal and religious.
- The civil law should benefit the ruler and his subjects equally.
- The criminal law should be severe enough to keep the subjects bound but not harsh enough to make them revolt.
- The religious law should please the subjects so they do not question their ruler, but it should also be harsh enough to make them fear it.
The ruler must also be careful not to let his subjects see him in a bad light; if he makes a mistake, he should try to make the people forget about it.
Chapter 3: Of the Nature of the People and the Different Kinds Thereof
In this chapter, Machiavelli discusses the type of people that a ruler should try to control.
He says that people are either civilized or uncivilized.
Civilized people have always lived under laws and have learned to follow them so they do not need to be controlled as much.
Uncivilized people are those who have been conquered by other people and have no laws to follow; they are like wild animals and need to be controlled.
He says that uncivilized people can be made civilized but civilized people cannot be made uncivilized.
He also says that there are three types of people: the well-born, the rich and the common people.
- The well-born are those who have enough wealth and power that they can control their territories;
- The rich are those who have a lot of money
- The common people are those who have neither.
He says that the ruler must control the well-born because they are the ones who most want power; the rich are not a threat since they love their money more than power, and the common people can be controlled easily because they have no power.
Chapter 4: Concerning New Princes
In this chapter, Machiavelli talks about how a ruler can gain power.
He says that a ruler can either be given power or take it. If he is given power, he must not forget the people who gave it to him. If he takes power, he must be ready to fight for it.
He says that it is better to be given power than to take power because it will gain the people’s support. And that a ruler should be ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of the kingdom.
According to Machiavelli, a new prince must have two things: the people’s support and good laws.
He states that a ruler must have a strong army and be prepared to use it. A ruler should try to avoid being hated as much as he would try to avoid being loved. A ruler must be as humane as possible. He also says that a ruler must be ready to change. Change his way of life, change his friends and change his habits. He must be ready to change his beliefs and even change his manner of speaking.
Chapter 5: Concerning Those Who From Being Private Become Public Ministers
In this chapter, Machiavelli talks about how a ruler can get rid of an enemy who has given him power.
He says that a ruler should kill his enemy slowly so that the latter does not realize that he is being killed. A ruler should make his enemy’s friends his friends and his enemies his enemies. He says that a ruler should be as generous as possible when dealing with his enemy because generosity is the best way to get rid of enemies.
A ruler should be ready to forgive his enemies, but he should make sure they know they have been forgiven so they do not try to harm him again. He says that a ruler should use treachery to get rid of his enemies. And that he should not make promises he does not intend to keep. A ruler should get rid of all his enemies but he should do it in such a way that he does not appear as if he is trying to get rid of them.
Chapter 6: Concerning Citizens and Communes
The Dangers That Are Discovered by Continual Observation, as Well-Being is Discovered in a Sick Body, Which Is Why from Its Proportions We Can Know Its Future Condition. Like The Republic, The Prince is a commentary on contemporary politics, in which Machiavelli offers insights into the conditions of his own time, 14th century Italy.
The difference is that the author of The Republic wishes to explore the ideal conditions for a perfect society, whereas Machiavelli is trying to make his readers understand the ways of power.
In the first chapter of The Prince, Machiavelli advises his reader to study the characteristics of political regimes and people in order to learn how to maintain power. He suggests that one should study the most successful and powerful states, taking note of their characteristics, strengths, weaknesses and modes of operation.
He considers it essential to examine deeply the causes of their success, for there is no greater error than to be misled by their apparent success.
Chapter 7: How One Must Change With The Times And Not Reproach Times for Being Unfit for One’s Conduct or Condemn Things That Are Inevitable
Machiavelli often stresses how important it is for leaders to understand the context in which they operate.
He writes that it is necessary to understand that “Times are not stood still,” and that one should always be flexible and adapt to the current situation.
One important aspect of political life is that the future is difficult to predict, and thus it is necessary to be flexible and prepared to face situations that might not have been foreseen. To this end, it is important to study the characteristics of a political situation in order to understand how it might develop. It is not enough to understand the present, it is necessary to foresee the future as well.
A leader who understands his own times and the political situation will be able to adapt his actions to his times.
The Prince is a book about power, written for a ruler who has recently come to power. It is a book about how to exercise that power, and it teaches that the way to do so is to use violence and deceit.
The author, Niccolò Machiavelli, was a philosopher, politician and historian from Florence who wrote the book in 1513 and published it in 1532 after his fall from power in 1519.
The book addresses people who want to be in power and provides them with advice on how to get it and how to exercise it. It also addresses people who are in power and gives them advice on how to keep their power. The book is very short and can be read in a few hours, but it contains a lot of ideas that are very relevant today. It would be a good idea to read The Prince and to reflect on what the book has to say.