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THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES
The main topic of this chapter is the importance of arms and fortresses, or defenses, in helping a prince maintain power. Machiavelli also continues his argument of Chapter 19 that the best defense for a prince is the love of the people.
Some princes, trying to secure their states, have disarmed their subjects; a few have kept their countries divided into different parties; others have purposely encouraged hatred against themselves; while others have endeavored to win the good will of those suspected of hostile feelings. Some princes have built fortresses, while others have demolished and razed those that already existed.
It has never happened, however, that a new prince has disarmed his subjects. On the contrary, if a new prince finds his subjects unarmed he has armed them and in that way has made them his own. Arming those who were once suspect makes them faithful and also converts his subjects into partisans and supporters. And although a new prince cannot arm all his subjects, by giving certain advantages to those he does arm he secures himself against those who remain unarmed.
But a prince who disarms his subjects will offend some by showing that he has no confidence in them, thus revealing that he suspects them either of cowardice or of lack of loyalty. This will cause them to hate the prince. And as the prince cannot remain in power without an armed force, he will have to resort to mercenaries to protect himself and his dominions. The dangers of using hired troops, Machiavelli reminds the reader, have already been spelled out in some detail. (See Chapter 12.)
It used to be said that the way to hold the city-state of Pistoria was through
party division, and that of Pisa, through fortresses. Although this may
have been true in the times when the different powers of Italy were evenly
balanced, Machiavelli says that such an approach wouldn't be productive
at the present time. To the contrary, he asserts, cities divided against
themselves are easily lost.
Strong governments should never allow such division. They can be of advantage only in time of peace, when the subjects are more easily managed. But in time of war this approach only brings ruin. Princes only become great by overcoming the difficulties and opposition that spring up against them. For that reason, fortune causes enemies to arise and make attempts against a prince-to afford him the opportunity to overcome them and to allow him to rise higher on the very ladder his enemies have brought against him.
Then Machiavelli addresses the belief that princes often experience more fidelity and devotion in the very men whom at the beginning of their reign they mistrusted. His observation is that those men who at the beginning of a prince's reign are hostile to him, but still need his support for their maintenance, will always be won over. They will be obliged to continue to serve him faithfully to help erase the bad opinion the prince had formed of them at the beginning of his reign. Thus, the prince will derive more useful service from these than from others who are overconfident of their security and who may serve the prince's interests negligently. Does this have any bearing on the situation Machiavelli was in, when he wrote The Prince?
Machiavelli also advises a prince to carefully consider the reasons why those who favored his success did so. If it wasn't from a natural affection for him, but merely from their dissatisfaction with the previous government, then he'll have much trouble and difficulty in preserving their attachment or satisfying their expectations. It's much easier for a prince to win the friendship of those who were content with the former government-and therefore hostile to him-before his acquisition of power than to win favor with those malcontents who became his friends and supported his takeover.
The general practice of princes had also been to build fortresses to serve as a curb and a check upon those who might make an attempt against the government. Fortresses could further serve as a secure place of refuge for the prince against attack. Although Machiavelli approves of this strategy because it was practiced by the ancients, he points out that fortresses may prove injurious to a prince. Speaking philosophically, Machiavelli says that a prince who fears his own people more than foreigners should build fortresses, but that a prince who fears strangers more than his own people should do without fortresses. To make his point clear, Machiavelli asserts that the best fortress a prince can possess is the affection of his people. Even if a prince has fortresses but is hated by the people, fortresses will not save him. Once a people has risen in arms against their prince, there will be no lack of strangers to aid them and bring the prince to ruin.
A more complete discussion of Machiavelli's views on fortresses and the military is found in his Art of War. In this book he concentrates on those strategies and tactics that are mistakes and bring "death and ruin" instead of victory. The result of his study is a list of advice and warnings related to the art of warfare. He says, for example, that it's imprudent and injurious to make either "hesitating decisions" or "slow and late ones"; that it's useless in time of war, and in peacetime actively harmful, to rely on fortresses as a principal system of defense; that it's the worst mistake of all "to refuse every agreement" when attacked by superior forces, and to try instead to win against the odds; and that "war is made with steel and not with gold." These are the practical lessons of warfare as taught by the Romans, and Machiavelli sketches them briefly in The Prince, as well. Can you think of modern parallels that suggest that Machiavelli's views on warfare and fortresses are still valid? What historical examples can you think of that support or further explain Machiavelli's point of view on warfare or fortresses?
In his own time, says Machiavelli, he has seen only one example where a fortress had been of advantage to a ruler: Following the death of her husband, the countess of Forli used her fortress to escape the fury of the people while she waited for help from Milan to recover her state. Later, however, she was attacked by Cesare Borgia, who, with the aid of the people's hatred, was able to conquer her territory. She would have been better off, Machiavelli asserts, if she had not been hated by the people, than she was in possessing the castle.
Machiavelli's treatment of fortresses is as much a metaphor for the political climate of Italy in his time as it is a practical, strategic concern. Metaphorically speaking, could Machiavelli be encouraging the prince to rely more on public opinion and on the patriotism of his people than on expensive technology? This appears to be echoed in his admonition: "It is much better to have the love of the people, who will themselves become the protective fortress of the prince."
Can you think of other metaphors related to fortresses that have modern significance? Consider, for example, the Communist nations that form the Eastern European bloc. What conclusions can you draw about a society that must build walls-real (the Berlin Wall) and metaphorical (the Iron Curtain)- to keep its people in? Think of the popular uprisings in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and in Poland in 1980. To what extent can a ruler rely on military strength to awe his people into submission? The Shah of Iran assembled the strongest military force in the Middle East; yet, as events proved, he lacked the popular support of his people. Despite his military might, he was easily overthrown in 1978- 1979. The Shah's example seems to support Machiavelli's assertion that the best fortress of a prince is the love of his subjects.