“CONCERNING A CIVIL PRINCIPALITY.”
In this chapter Machiavelli discusses civil principalities where a leading citizen becomes prince by being shrewd (a quiet kind of intelligence, often of a diplomatic kind). In Machiavelli’s day all cities contained two distinct groups with two primary desires. Nobles who desired to rule and oppress the people, and people who did not wish to be ruled or oppressed.
From these two conflicting desires, there were three potential results: principality, self-government, or anarchy. A principality is created either by the people, or by the nobility, depending on which has the opportunity. The nobles, knowing they cannot withstand the people, will select from among themselves a fellow noble and make him prince.
Under the protective shadow of a prince, nobles can orchestrate their own ambitions. The people, unable to resist the nobles, choose one of their own number and make him a prince so that they may be defended by his authority. Of the two the noble prince has the most trouble; other nobles tend to think of him as an equal and so were unmanageable.
The prince selected by popular favor found the people more than willing and happy to obey. Machiavelli noted that nobles can never be satisfied through fairness or without first causing injury. A ruler could easily satisfy the people who only wish to not be oppressed. A ruler could likewise secure himself against the nobility but not the people who were more numerous.
However, the worst that a hostile people could do is abandon the ruler, while a hostile nobility could rise and replace him. A prince is compelled to always live with the same people, but he can do well without the same nobles, being able to make them or unmake them, and to give or take their authority when it pleases him.
The next paragraph focuses on the nobles, and Machiavelli suggests they can be looked at in two ways; they will either take the course that binds them entirely to the fortunes of their prince, or they will not. If they bind themselves and are not greedy or oppressive, they should then be looked on favorably by the people; with love and honored.
Those who do not bind themselves can be dealt with in one of two ways. They may be cowardly, and these you can make use of, especially if they otherwise give good counsel. In prosperous and peaceful times, you can honor them. In times of adversity, they are less likely to strike against their own prince, unless it is perceived to be the safer route.
But with those who refuse to bind themselves out of ambitiousness, it indicates that they are giving more thought to themselves, and a prince needs to be on guard against such nobles. Fear them as though they were open enemies. In adversity they always act against the prince in favor of whomever else they think will raise them to higher position.
On page two Machiavelli makes the following clear: whether a prince is created from the people or the nobility, it is in his best interest to win over the people to him. He states this is most easily done, by taking the people under his own protection.
Machiavelli then states a truism about people in general. People who receive good when they expected evil, have a greater loyalty to their benefactor. Machiavelli again stresses it, by repeating it, is is absolutely necessary to win the loyalty of the people. Without the people, the prince has no security.
A prince cannot count on hostile citizens, nor can he rely on magistrates to protect him from a hostile citizenry. Nor can he count on either to protect him from enemies. However, a prince who has established himself with the people, who is courageous, can command, is energetic, and can motivate and encourage, will never find himself deceived in them or by them.
The last paragraph deals with civil principalities moving to an “absolute order of government”, in Machiavelli’s era, that of a tyrant prince or king, in ours, a dictator or fascist state, because such princes either ruled personally, or through magistrates.
In the case of ruling through magistrates, the government was weaker and more insecure because it depends completely on the good will of the people raised to the magistrate government. These people, in times of trouble can destroy the government with great ease, either through intrigue or open defiance.
The prince cannot seize absolute power in the midst of unrest because the people are not used to taking orders directly; they are used to taking orders from the magistrates. In doubtful times, the prince will find a sudden scarcity of trustworthy men.
Machiavelli notes that a prince should not trust to the words and claims of those around him in peaceful times, because those around him will tell him whatever they think he wants to hear, including that they wish to die for him, (so long as the possibility is a far distant one).
But in times of trouble, when the state has the most need, the majority of these people disappear. So this kind of experiment becomes much more dangerous in that it can only be tried once. But so long as the people are happy with the state, have need of it and of him, they will always be faithful.
In short, take care of your citizenry and they wont be hostile. (Take care of them all, and not just the wealthiest of the bunch.) Doing otherwise grows rebellion, especially from the aristocracy (or very wealthy equivalent). A leader can rule without the favor of the aristocracy but not without the favor of the people.
Favor the aristocracy over the people, and allow them to rape, pillage and plunder without consequences and a ruler will not rule for very long. This is what has fueled previous shifts in governmental rule such as the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and almost every end to colonial rule by way of terrorism.
Thanks for reading and see you next Monday for Chapter 10.