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THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES

PART IV

The last three chapters of The Prince consist of Machiavelli's call to arms as he tries to persuade Lorenzo to seize the moment and move forward with ambitious plans. The patriotic strain is quite obvious here. Machiavelli cites past events to remind Lorenzo that Italy is doomed to failure and obscurity unless he acts swiftly. There is an almost religious fervor to the tone of Machiavelli's pleas, as he prays that Lorenzo will be able to profit from the lessons of past events, previous leaders, and his own skills to restore Italy to her former glory and rightful place in history.

CHAPTER 24

Up to this point in The Prince, Machiavelli has discussed generally the types of governments, princes, military strategies, and advisers that might serve any prince in a quest for power. In Chapter 24, he addresses the specific reasons why the different princes of Italy have lost their states.

Machiavelli's careful and critical observation of Italian history repeats some of what he's said before. He tells Lorenzo that the actions of a new prince, like himself, will be regarded as if he were a hereditary one as long as he observes the rules spelled out in The Prince. Once his actions are known to be virtuous, he'll win the confidence and affection of more people than if he were of ancient heritage-since new rulers are watched much more closely than established rulers. When the people find that the ruler is good, they will be satisfied and will seek no other.


In examining the conduct of those princes who lost their states-the king of Naples and the duke of Milan, among others-Machiavelli finds a common thread regarding their inability to keep an army in the field. He also finds that in some instances the people were hostile to the prince. In other instances a prince may have had the good will of the people but didn't know how to get along with the nobles.

Therefore, says Machiavelli, those established princes who lost their kingdoms should not blame fortune for the loss, but should fault their own laziness and lack of energy. In peaceful times they never thought of the possibility of a change (it's a common defect of people in fair weather to take no thought of storms); afterward, when adversity overtook them, their first impulse was to flee rather than to defend themselves, in the hope that the people, disgusted with the insolence of the victors, would recall them.

NOTE: FAILURE OF ITALY'S PAST LEADERS

Machiavelli's final verdict on the leadership of Italy is a harsh judgment based upon personal observation and historical fact. History has taught, he says, that it's not "bad luck" that has kept Italy a prisoner under foreign rule. It's the blunders, misjudgments, and strategic errors that have resulted in military weakness and political chaos. This admission represents the point at which he regarded his contemporaries as most open to criticism. It's also the most important lesson that he drew for contemporary rulers from his study of ancient history: What they had failed to recognize was that they would have been far more successful if they had sought to adapt their personalities to the needs of the moment, instead of trying to reshape their times in the mold of their personalities.

As in The Discourses, Machiavelli argues here that as long as men are more committed to their own ambitions than to the public interest, there will always be tendencies to favor selfish and petty ends, to sow the seeds of corruption in government, and to endanger individual liberty. Only a new prince, interested solely in restoring political stability and cultivating civic good, can deliver Italy from impending doom.

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