The Prince, Chapter 6

In this chapter, Machiavelli discusses the founding of entirely new countries or nations. In the first paragraph, Machiavelli acknowledges that men almost always take a well-traveled path, and their deeds are imitative of the Greats that came before them. But no one can follow an exact course. Machiavelli suggests however, that one should certainly strive to be of an equal ability, and paraphrasing here, know the limits of each strength,  making compensations if necessary, that will achieve your ultimate goal.

Next, Machiavelli states that with entirely new principalities, where there is a newly established prince, the level of difficulty in keeping them rests in the level of ability of that prince. If the prince has risen from a lesser station in life, one can suppose the rise was due to either ability or luck. Some of each will factor in, and may lessen the degree of difficulties. However, he who has relied on luck the least will be able to establish himself the strongest. It also aids a new prince to live in the new principality.

Successful example in the bottom right corner; that is Joseph Stalin. Brutal and evil but ultimately successful.

Machiavelli cites as examples of princes who rose by their own ability and not through fortune, the following: Moses, Cyrus, Romulus, and Theseus. He then acknowledges that Moses might be said to not stand so much in the same light as the rest, being he was considered as “the mere executor of the Will of God”, he however cannot be discounted, for he did find enough “favour which made him worthy to speak with God.”

In considering the others, Machiavelli says of them, all will be found admirable, and would not be considered inferior to Moses despite him having “had so great a preceptor.” He goes on to say that in examining the lives and actions of Moses, Cyrus, Romulus and Theseus, one could see they owed nothing to fortune or luck beyond opportunity. Without opportunity, their powers of mind would have irrelevant, and without the powers of their minds, the opportunity would not have been taken.

The circumstances in which each leader found the people they would lead played a role in the outcome. Moses found the people of Israel enslaved to the Egyptians, Romulus had to be abandoned at birth, and leave Alba before he could become the Founder and King of Rome. Cyrus had to find the Persians unhappy with the government of the Medes, and the Medes in a weakened state from too long a period of peace. Theseus could not have revealed his ability to lead if he had not found the Athenians dispersed.

Unsuccessful dictator. He needs no introduction.

Therefore it was opportunity that made these men fortunate, and their ability to recognize and seize upon the opportunities presented them, that led them to being in the right circumstance in which to found their countries and make their countries (and themselves) famous.

Page two begins with those who become princes “through valorous ways”, like the above examples. They acquire a principality with difficulty but they usually keep it with ease. The difficulties they have tend to come about due to the new rules and methods they are forced to introduce in order to establish their government and security. Machiavelli notes that it is extremely difficult, dangerous, and nothing is more uncertain to success than taking the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

An innovator collects enemies of those who were successful under the old conditions and cautious defenders in those who may do well (or may not) under the new order of things. He goes on to say that this caution is due partly from fear of the opponents who have laws on their side, and partly from the dubiousness of men who are not convinced in the viability of a new order until they have had a longer experience of it. Those who are hostile to the new will attack it “like partisans”; defenders give it lukewarm defense.

Former Libyan (unsuccessful) dictator Muammar Gaddafi; killed Oct. 20, 2011.  He made a lot of enemies.

This leaves an innovator and his defenders in danger. What must be measured carefully is whether or not the innovators can rely on themselves or if they have to depend on others in order to be successful in their endeavors. As Machiavelli says, “have they to use prayers, or can they use force?” “Prayers” don’t work but if the defenders can rely on themselves and use force, then they rarely fail to succeed. “Hence it is that all armed prophets have conquered and the unarmed ones have been destroyed.”

The other part of the equation that is important is the nature of the people. It is often easy to talk people into trying something new, but it is difficult to keep them committed to it. It often becomes necessary to take steps so that when they begin to go back on their commitment, it is possible to make them believe in their commitment by force. Machiavelli points out that if Moses, Cyrus, Theseus or Romulus had been been unarmed they could not have enforced their laws for long.

As an example, he describes Girolamo Savonarola whose new order ended as soon as his followers lost their belief in him. He had no means of keeping them through either persuasion or force. Thus, the difficulties come in the beginning, the danger in the upward climb, but with the ability to enforce, followers will can be made to overcome opposition and succeed. When the opposition is overcome and those who were envious of the new power’s success are gone, there will be respect, power, security and honor.

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Orwell makes a very fine point here. A revolution is very often the “opportunity” that Machiavelli refers to.

Machiavelli ends the chapter with one more example, that of Hiero the Syracusan who rose from a commoner position to become the Prince of Syracuse. He recognized an opportunity when the Syracusans were being oppressed, and they chose him as their captain, rewarded him by making him their Prince. He did it through great ability and might have become king if Syracuse had been a kingdom.

In Machiavelli’s day, monarchies and principalities didn’t come with parliamentary factions that existed to curb the absolute power of kings and princes. So we have to look at countries in which absolute power is invested in a single individual with a hereditary successor, such as Vatican City, Oman, Swaziland, Brunei and Saudi Arabia. More closely resembling what Machiavelli was talking about in this chapter is Fidel Castro, a guerilla leader; he overthrew the Cuban Government and created a Communist dictatorship.

He successfully stayed in power despite attempts by the U.S. Government to have him removed, including use of embargo and other sanctions against Cuba that impoverished the Cuban people. Castro survived, held Cuba by considerable force and passed leadership to his brother at his retirement in 2008. His brother Raul retired this year, and the Cuban Parliament has passed to Miguel Diaz-Canel. Fidel’s methods of holding power were not kind, he imprisoned, exiled or killed dissidents.

An example of a currently living and so far successful dictator, Vladimir Putin.

Despite the ruthlessness of his hold on power he still managed to make noteworthy improvements in Cuba. He is credited with diminishing racism, establishing universal healthcare and providing free education including college. He succeeded because he relied on himself; he had his own soldiers, he had allies and alliances that benefited him but did not compromise his independence, and he destroyed or dispersed his opposition. If Castro’s regime continues to survive he could become as legendary as Romulus.

Given enough successive generations, government stability, national security, and respect of counterparts from neighboring nations, Fidel Castro’s legacy could be closer to that of any of the above mentioned examples given by Machiavelli. Another interesting example is that of the Kim family in North Korea which is a hereditary dictatorship; for all intents and purposes it too is an absolute monarchy, established by Kim II-sung and the Korean Worker’s Party.


Current Dictators (and Absolute Monarchies)

Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next Monday for Chapter 7.