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THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 19

This is the longest chapter of The Prince, and you should think of it as an elaboration of the preceding chapter. Machiavelli gives timely examples and references to explain his view that a prince must avoid being hated or despised. This chapter also serves as a major example of Machiavelli's views on leadership, and he lists some of the characteristics a prince should possess if he is to rule with authority.

A prince becomes despised when he acquires the reputation of being inconsistent, frivolous, effeminate, cowardly, or irresolute. One way a prince can guard against this reputation is to display in all his actions grandeur, courage, gravity, and determination. In judging the private causes of his subjects, a prince's decisions should be irrevocable. Thus, he will maintain himself in such esteem that no one will think of deceiving or betraying him.

There are only two things a prince has to fear, says Machiavelli: attempts against him by his own subjects and attacks by powerful foreigners. Against foreigners, he will be able to defend himself with good armies and good allies. And as long as his external affairs are kept quiet, his internal security will not be disturbed except by conspiracy. But even when at peace externally, a prince should be on guard to prevent his subjects from conspiring against him secretly. And not to be hated or scorned by the people is one of the best safeguards.

When conspirators realize that the death of the prince will offend rather than conciliate the people, they will not dare to conspire against him. Experience proves, says Machiavelli, that although there have been many conspiracies, few have come to a good end. Conspirators can't act alone. Nor can they take associates except those who are malcontents-and once a plan of conspiracy is revealed to a malcontent, he may disclose the plan in the hope of gaining an advantage for himself.

A conspirator has nothing on his side but fear, jealousy, and apprehension of punishment. The prince, on the other hand, has the majesty of sovereignty, the laws, and the support of his friends and the government to protect him. And if to this is added the good will of the people, it seems impossible that anyone would be rash enough to attempt a conspiracy against a prince.


France is a good example of what he's talking about here. The founders of the French state recognized the basic need to secure the good will of the people, and they created a government that included a parliament of both nobles and common men. The parliament, however, limited the power and the influence of both the nobles and the people, because each had to agree to the other's demands. The parliament acted as a judge, so that, without reference to the king, it could keep in check the great (nobles) and favor the weak (people).

NOTE: MACHIAVELLI AND GOVERNMENT

In The Prince it may appear that Machiavelli sees no useful role for a system of government in which two legislative chambers share responsibility and authority, since this form of government inhibits decision making and limits the possibility for swift change. It may also be evident that Machiavelli would be suspicious of the checks-and-balances system, which could impede or slow down forceful leadership by a single individual. In The Discourses, however, Machiavelli suggests another point of view. After conducting his investigation of ancient constitutions, he perceived that the three constitutional forms-monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy-were inherently unstable and tended to generate cycles of corruption and decay. His alternative proposal was the establishment of a "mixed constitution," one in which the instabilities of the pure forms were corrected, while their strengths were combined-or, as he put it, one in which each keeps "watch over the other" in order to forestall both "the rich men's arrogance" and "the people's license." Although motivated by their own selfish interests, the factions will thus be induced to promote the public interest in their legislative acts-and the resulting laws will be in favor of liberty.

Machiavelli's mention of the French parliament shows that he is familiar with the French government. He may have observed the parliament he describes while on diplomatic missions to France early in his career. The French parliament was initially composed of nobles, but in 1302 Philip the Fair began to admit middle-class citizens as members. Within several years the middle-class citizens were able to gain enough power in the parliament to reduce the authority of the nobles. Machiavelli, however, is not advocating a parliament for Italy in The Prince; his entire theory here is related to autocratic government-one-man, dictatorial rule by an all-powerful prince.

Machiavelli uses the lives of some of the Roman emperors to support his theory that a prince must avoid being despised and hated. While in most principalities the prince has to contend only with the ambition of the nobles and the insolence of the people, the Roman emperors had to meet a third difficulty: the cruelty and greed of the soldiers. This added problem caused the ruin of many emperors because of the difficulty of trying to satisfy-at the same time-both the soldiers and the people. The people loved peace and for that reason admired princes who were peace-loving, whereas the soldiers loved princes with military spirit who were cruel, haughty and grasping.

These emperors were ruined, says Machiavelli, because they didn't have the qualities necessary to restrain both the soldiers and the people. Most of them sought to satisfy the soldiers and cared little about the people. But this course of action was unavoidable. These princes, who had recently acquired their kingdoms, were in need of extraordinary favors and attached themselves more readily to the soldiers, who could help advance their success.

For example, Pertinax had been made emperor contrary to the will of the army, which, accustomed to a life of unrestrained license, could not bear the orderly life to which Pertinax wished to limit them. Having thus incurred the hatred of the soldiers, whose disrespect was increased by his old age, Pertinax was murdered at the very outset of his reign. Likewise, Alexander Severus, who was so good it was said of him that during his fourteen years of reign no one was put to death without regular judicial proceedings, was also ruined. His problem, however, was being regarded as effeminate, for he allowed himself to be influenced by his mother. He became disrespected, the soldiers conspired against him, and he was killed.

On the other hand, Septimius Severus possessed such valor that, although he imposed heavy burdens upon the people, he was able to reign undisturbed and happy-because he kept his soldiers as friends. His bravery, says Machiavelli, caused him to be so much admired both by his soldiers and by the people, that the latter were stupefied and astounded by him, while the soldiers were respectful and satisfied. Being both a fox and a lion, Severus persuaded the troops he commanded that it would be proper for them to go to Rome to avenge the death of the emperor Pertinax. Under this pretext, Severus moved his army to Rome and entered Italy before it was even known that he had started. On his arrival in Rome, the Senate, fearing his power, elected him emperor.

After this beginning, Severus had only two difficulties to overcome before he could make himself supreme ruler. One was in the East, in Asia, where his rival, Niger, had proclaimed himself emperor. The other was in the western part of the kingdom, where Albinus, another rival, also aspired to be emperor. Realizing it was dangerous to declare himself the enemy of both simultaneously, Severus resolved to attack Niger and deceive Albinus. Therefore, he wrote to Albinus and offered to share power with him. At the same time, Severus attacked Niger in the eastern part of the kingdom. As soon as Niger had been defeated and killed, Severus complained in the Senate that Albinus, ungrateful for the benefits bestowed, had plotted treason and murder against him. Severus then went into France to seek Albinus, and deprived him not only of his state but of his life.

However, although Severus combined the ferocity of the lion with the cunning of the fox, and was feared and respected by everyone, his son, Antoninus Caracalla, didn't learn from him very well.

While possessed of certain qualities that at first made him admired by the people and popular with the soldiers, Antoninus's ferocity and cruelty were so great and unprecedented that he was eventually hated by everyone. On several occasions he caused large numbers of people in Rome to be put to death; at another time he killed nearly the entire population of Alexandria. Soon, he became feared even by his immediate attendants. He was finally killed by a soldier whose brother Antoninus had had executed.

Machiavelli's observation here is that princes should be most careful not to offend seriously any of those who serve them or who surround them in the service of the state. Antoninus's mistake was that he had kept a man in his guard whose brother he had had killed. This was foolish and in the end proved his downfall, when the centurion killed him. The same fate befell Commodus, who had also inherited his princely rule from his father, Marcus Aurelius, a wise philosopher and kind ruler. But being of a cruel and undisciplined nature, Commodus began by allowing his army to commit immoralities upon the people. He also made himself contemptible in the eyes of his soldiers by disregarding his own dignity and fighting with gladiators in the arena. Because he was hated by the people and despised by the soldiers, a conspiracy arose against him and he was killed.

Machiavelli also discusses at length the career of Maximinius, who succeeded Alexander Severus. Although Maximinius was a warlike man, he was of low origin, having once been a shepherd. He was also known for his many acts of ferocity, which were committed through his prefects, or chief magistrates, in Rome and elsewhere. Since he was despised because of his low origin and hated because of his cruelty, a conspiracy was formed against him in Africa, in the Senate, in Rome, and finally in all of Italy. His army joined in the conspiracy when they also tired of his harshness. Seeing that he had so many enemies, the army lost their fear of him and put him to death.

NOTE:

Machiavelli's extensive discussion of being despised and hated is worth your further consideration. Are his excessive elaboration and detailed examples-especially the threats of assassination-a veiled warning for Lorenzo to beware of actions that might undo him? Is Machiavelli afraid that Lorenzo's own life may be in danger? Does he think that Lorenzo may be afraid? Likewise, is Machiavelli's suggestion that Lorenzo maintain a strong and loyal military-an idea first explored in Chapter 8- calling attention to his lingering suspicion that Lorenzo may be despised or hated by the people, and must therefore be protected by powerful forces?

In conclusion, Machiavelli says that whoever considers his discussion carefully will find that the ruin of the Roman emperors discussed was caused by either hatred or contempt. A prince who has only recently acquired his kingdom, therefore, cannot imitate the conduct of the wise Marcus Aurelius, nor is it always necessary for him to imitate that of the cunning Septimius Severus. He should learn, however, from Severus what is necessary to found a state and from Marcus what is proper and glorious for the preservation of a state already firmly established.

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