The Prince, Chapter 5

According to Machiavelli a ruling prince who is annexing a city or state which was previously sovereign has three options open in the effort to keep that city or state if that state has previously been self-governing and has had its own laws. The first option is to destroy it; the second option is to occupy it and establish a new government and laws. The third option is to replace the former government with an oligarchy or puppet government that is loyal to the prince because of the need for support.

Machiavelli discusses some historical examples; the Spartans took control of Athens and Thebes, establishing an oligarchy in both and then lost them both. The Romans took control of Capua, Carthage, and Numantia; the Romans “dismantled” them and kept control of them. The Romans then attempted to control Greece like the Spartans did, letting it live under its own laws but this failed so the Romans had to dismantle several Greek cities in order to keep it, which they did.

Machiavelli observed that once a city or state is accustomed to free self-government, and its people are accustomed to the idea of liberty, they never forget it. Such people will tend towards rebellion no matter what a new ruling nation tries to do to provide for the people or to prevent rebellion. Such states must be destroyed or they will destroy the new ruling nation. As an example Machiavelli points to Pisa which rebelled against Florentine rule after being held for a hundred years.

The basic difference is that in a state that has never been free there is no awareness of being a slave. In a state that has known freedom, a new ruler has to survive long enough for everyone else to forget freedom and assume they have always been slaves.

Machiavelli explains that with principalities that were previously ruled by a prince are easier to control because the local inhabitants are already accustomed to obedience and without a leadership, unable to choose a new leader, and not knowing how to self-govern, will be less inclined toward rebellion. A new prince will be able to win over such local inhabitants and be able to secure them against rebellion, at least so long as the previous ruling family is deceased.

However, Machiavelli warns that republics never forget. The inhabitants will be more prone to hatred and a desire for revenge against an invading ruler, and this will keep them from being able to forget their former liberty. The safest way for a new prince to subdue such inhabitants is to destroy and disperse them or take up residence and occupy the new city or state.  Keeping in mind that Machiavelli lived at a time where colonization was still fairly new this makes sense for him to think occupation works.

Machiavelli died in 1527 so he did not live to see several examples of what happens when local inhabitants get tired of occupation via colonial rule. Otherwise he might have warned against occupation as well given that in most cases, colonial rule ended when the descendants of local inhabitants began attacking descendants of invading nations and their governments, following the examples of the United States and France. In particular, the French Revolution is considered the influencing genesis for modern terrorism.

It is difficult to say if there is a modern examples of what Machiavelli was describing; an oligarchy in the modern sense comes from the Greeks and means government by a way of a few individuals, not necessarily wealthy elite individuals. The word for a government that is ruled by the wealthy elite is plutocracy; and when a plutocracy and an oligarchy combine, the result is a plutarchy. Modern examples of oligarchy are: North Korea, China, Venezuela, and the former Soviet Union (at least according to Google).

This is true because Machiavelli didn’t invent any of this stuff, it was well known through historical examples. So much so that most other countries don’t think occupying the U.S. would be a good idea after a cost-benefit analysis.

Given Machiavelli’s description it seems that modern examples of attempted annexation have resulted in failed states rather than oligarchy, plutocracy, or plutarchy.  Perhaps arguments could be made for Syria being a weak government (oligarchy in the context Machiavelli uses it) supported by Russia, but Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and several other countries are considered failed states due to weak or non-existent governments (in a more modern context).

In a business industry context this chapter can be considered relevant to principles of change management specific to organizational change management. Organizations have their own unique business cultures, leaders (both formal and informal), and organizational structure. Employees are accustomed to rules, methods of production, social aspects of the organization, overall sense of camaraderie and even identity. An organization can develop almost a personality based on its collective “face”.

When two organizations merge or a single organization decides to make radical changes to its own corporate culture, organizational structure, even executive leadership, there is often resistance from employees at all levels. In order for such endeavors to succeed, change must be carefully managed; especially when it involves people who may be resistant to the changes. They may need to be dispersed to other areas of the organization or be removed before their resistance can become rebellion.


Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next Monday for Chapter 6!