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The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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Chapter 16

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 16 of Niccolò Machiavelli's philosophical text The Prince.

The Prince | Chapter 16 : Generosity and Parsimony | Summary



In this chapter, Machiavelli discusses the extent to which an effective prince should be generous and parsimonious. Among all virtues, generosity is the one that Machiavelli stresses cannot be truly practiced by the effective prince. Being consistently generous will ruin the prince, claims Machiavelli, because of the drain it will put on the resources of the state. Instead, Machiavelli reasons that the prince should not fear being thought of as stingy (or, as Machiavelli says, as a miser). As long as the people are not impoverished, and as long as the prince does not ask too much of the people, they will not hate the prince much for his apparent miserliness. Further, by being parsimonious (i.e., doing as much as possible with as little as possible), the prince will have the resources to defend himself from attacks and expand his territory without raising taxes.

Machiavelli also deals with some possible objections to his argument about generosity. He discusses examples from history in which princes were known for being generous and prospered. To counter these objections, Machiavelli makes two points. First, he claims that regardless of whether a prince tries to rise to power through generosity or maintain his position as such, this generosity will bring trouble sooner rather than later. Second, he points out that effective princes who have been generous have done so by giving to their own people what has been taken from defeated foreigners. In the second case, Machiavelli condones such behavior. Indeed, he argues that it is necessary to keep the prince's soldiers happy. However, there is a danger in the prince depending on the spoils of conquest to fuel his reputation for generosity: it will give him a reputation for being what Machiavelli calls rapacious (being prone to robbing, killing, and raping foreigners).


All of Machiavelli's discussion about virtue comes down to a prince managing his reputation. Having a reputation for some virtue, or not having a reputation for some vice, is more important than whether a prince actually has any virtues or vices. It is reputation that affects people's attitude toward a prince. If a prince is generous but no one gives him credit for it, his generosity will not gain the love of the people. Likewise, if a prince is cruel but no one chastises him for it, his cruelty will not gain the hatred of the people.

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