The Prince, Chapter 4

In chapter 4 Machiavelli discusses two methods and their pros and cons, for a prince to rule a collection of principalities (empire). The first method involves delegating to subordinates who act as ministers and govern with the permission and approval of the prince. The second method involves a system of hereditary leadership in which an aristocratic class governs within their own territories and loyalty is to their territory and people who are loyal to them moreso than the ruling prince (feudalism).

Machiavelli notes that with the first method, the people are loyal to the prince first and foremost, and not the ministers, who are considered to be merely representatives of the ruling prince. With the second method, the people are loyal first and foremost to their feudal lord, and the prince has to rely on the loyalty of that lord to secure the loyalty of that lord’s people. To illustrate his point, Machiavelli points to the governments of Darius (Persia, or Turkey), and France.

Factions form easily and divide loyalty of the citizenry, making a monarchy particularly susceptible to insurrection from within.

In the case of Persia, the kingdom was ruled by the Turkish prince (Darius) and a network of subordinate ministers and officials which he moves between the smaller territories of his kingdom as he sees fit. Machiavelli notes that this form of government is very difficult for an outside prince to seize control of; but if an outside prince were to be successful in taking over such a kingdom, it would be easy for him to keep control. This is because ministers tend to be loyal and not malcontents.

Ministers and officials are difficult to corrupt and even if they can be corrupted, they have no influence with the people, therefore they are fairly useless for turning the people against the ruling prince in favor of the invading prince. Ministers and officials have no standing armies of  their own, therefore cannot invite an invading prince to take over against the ruling prince, nor can they assist an invading prince against their ruling prince in an invasion.

This kind of kingdom would be easily united against an outside threat; an invading prince would have to defeat the armies of the defending prince and destroy the ruling prince and his family. If successful in this endeavor however, the kingdom would only require the installment of new ministers and officials loyal to the new prince. Easy to maintain and easy to keep from that point on. This was why when Alexander the Great conquered the kingdom of Persia, then died, his heirs were still able to hold Persia.

Absolute monarchy has a way of breeding entitled warmongers that think they can wield power better.

In the case of France, the kingdom was ruled by a French prince and an entire class of hereditary aristocrats. Machiavelli notes that in this kind of kingdom, it is easy to find malcontented lords willing to invite an outside prince in, and who is able to bring the loyalty of his own subjects against the ruling prince on behalf of the outside prince. But it is almost impossible to keep such kingdoms because every lord can rebel and draw from the loyalty of their own subjects, causing perpetual chaos for an invading prince.

In cases such as that of France, an invading prince must either be able to defeat every individual lord, subjects and territory, or make use of those willing to assist, then deal with them once they turn on the invading prince (because eventually they will), while simultaneously defeating loyalist lords, subjects and territories, or those who attempt to unite the others against the invading prince in an effort to replace the current ruler and defend against the invading ruler. This results in perpetual war, unless…

The situation is like that of Rome. When the Roman Empire came into existence there were frequent rebellions in its provinces, in particular, France, Greece and Spain. Rome was able to quell the rebellions and hold those provinces. Eventually, those who remembered their provinces free of Rome were gone, and their descendants became Romanized; their loyalty then shifted to the rulers of Rome. Machiavelli ends the chapter with acknowledgement that conquering and governing are very different.

Bankrupting your own nation creates a national complaint for the warmongers to use to stir up dissension against a ruler (or government in general).

Machiavelli states”…this is not occasioned by the little or abundance of ability in the conqueror, but by the want of uniformity in the subject state.” People want what they know, what is familiar, and to follow where their natural loyalties are. Therefore they will follow a ruling prince but not his ministers; they will follow a ruling lord they know against anyone else. It comes down to the presence or absence of ministers; rule an empire using them or spend at least three generations culling collective memory.

In a modern context one example of the use of ministers to govern a nation state rather than a single, hereditary ruler would be the United States. The position of President is an elected position as are most policy-maker positions. This kind of governmental structure tends to be stable at least until factions form and grow in power by cultivating a loyal following of citizens. Then it starts to look more like France with its aristocrats depending on the loyalty of the subordinates in their territory.

A modern example of an absolute monarchy today would be Saudi Arabia which has elements of both of Machiavelli’s examples, Persia and France. Like Persia, day to day governing is done by a King, a Crown Prince, and a network acting as ministers for administrative purposes. But like France, these ministers are actually royal family members making them similar in many ways to an aristocracy. Like an aristocracy they are factional and political.

Yet its the people who agree to be ruled. Or not.

In a non-governmental context this chapter provides an illustration of an often ignored principle about power. Our society and culture focuses a lot of attention on the leadership role and various styles of leadership. What is often ignored or de-valued is the role of the subordinate or follower. Without followers there simply is no leader. Depending on the context of the leader-follower relationship are other factors such as how leaders treat followers and how well followers will perform for a leader.

Leader-follower dynamics generally tend to follow Machiavelli’s observations with regard to Persia, France, and Rome. When followers are treated well and view their leaders with some affection,  they will be more loyal and more productive. If treated with general disinterest and neglect, followers will tend to have very little loyalty and may look elsewhere for better treatment. Treated badly, followers will become resentful, resist the leader, and ultimately rise up and replace the leader.


Thanks for reading! Check back next Monday for Chapter 5.