The Prince Chapter 2
“CONCERNING HEREDITARY PRINCIPALITIES”
This chapter deals with the hereditary principality in which a ruler’s family has been long established, and the population well acquainted with the ruling family, and suggests that this kind of principality see’s the least amount of problems in terms of a family staying in power, and being harder to remove from it. This is especially true if the nation state is peaceful and prosperous and the population healthy and well-fed.
The premise is simple. A people born and raised to the concept of a ruling hereditary leader will be predisposed to accepting and even being fond of the ruling family. A ruler would have to be extraordinarily brutal or greedy for such a population to truly turn on him or her. This is one reason why Machiavelli cautions against heavy taxation and abusiveness. Otherwise a population is generally resistant to changes in status quo.
In the event a ruler such as this is deposed, the population would be predisposed to anger towards the usurper, and prone to rebellion. If the usurper is then removed, the previous ruler (if he has survived) is much more likely to be returned to power. As an example of such a ruler, Machiavelli uses the Duke of Ferrara (see the link above for Machiavelli’s example description).
Modern day examples of the kind of hereditary principality that Machiavelli would have recognized as such are: Saudi Arabia, Oman, Swaziland, Brunei, The United Arab Emirates (the Emirate states), and Vatican City.
And the same principles apply in organizational workplaces; this text is often studied by business leaders, particularly executive leadership. The idea is that an organizational entity shares similarities with nation states, thus leading and governing employees, stockholders, customers/clients, and suppliers, while at the same time procuring and managing resources and defending market share from competitors is like statecraft.
In the case of this particular chapter, one might draw an analogy between a hereditary principality and an organization that was grown from a private family business which has been inherited for two or three generations. It can also apply to start-up organizations that have been so successful their founders have become fairly legendary, such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs, or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
It could also be applied hundred plus year-old organizations with well established executive level leadership and a corporate culture that has been so long entrenched that it is nearly impossible to effect any change. Most organizations know that to continue to be successful in their markets they must be adaptable, must be innovative, must be able to learn, to change, to evolve with their market, consumers, and product.
In any case, what Machiavelli says about hereditary principalities can be applied to change management and especially succession management. Organizations that plan for succession of executive leadership tend to transition more successfully than organizations that do not, and suffer the loss of a CEO. This is also true of small, private businesses; small businesses often cease to exist with the loss of the business owner.
That said, running an organization is very different than running a nation state. While similar in some ways, they are also wildly divergent in others, and those differences are critical differences. Organizations are collections of people brought together for purposes that have to do with business transactions. Nation-States are collections of people, individuals and groups, brought together for the purposes of creating a society.
Running either one badly, especially if it involves starving, or abusing the population (or the employees and other stakeholders) is eventually going to lead to disaster. Attempting to depose a current, living leader who has the good will of the population (or the employees and other stakeholders) is a poor plan that will likely end in defeat and failure for the would-be usurper; the population will resist, sabotage, and undermine.
Thanks for reading! Check back next Monday for Chapter 3.