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The Prince | Chapter 19 : The Need to Avoid Contempt and Hatred | Summary



Machiavelli discusses why a prince must avoid being hated and despised. There are two primary dangers to a prince's domain, according to Machiavelli: the threat of invasion, and the threat of conspiracy. An invasion is an attack from a foreign power. The prince can protect himself from this by organizing his army. A conspiracy is an attack from the prince's own subjects. This is where it is important for a prince to avoid being hated. Only when the people hate the prince will they support someone who seeks to overthrow him. Importantly, this hate has to be sufficiently strong to overcome any fear the people have of what the prince does to those who try to harm him.

Machiavelli introduces the idea that a prince can be hated for doing good things. If a prince is generous to one person but not a second, then the second person might hate the prince for his generosity. Here, the importance of the conflicting interests of different social classes comes into play. The nobles and the commoners have interests that cannot both be satisfied at once; supporting the interests of one class will automatically subvert the interests of the other. Thus, gaining the love of one will gain the hate of the other. Again, Machiavelli stresses that the hate of the people is more dangerous than that of the nobles. Hence, if a prince has to choose which group to anger, he should choose to anger the nobles.

One method a prince may use to avoid being hated is to appoint ministers responsible for actions that will be unpopular. This way, the prince can accomplish necessary tasks and then remove or punish the minister he appointed to carry out those tasks if the people become upset. Ideally, this can satisfy both the nobles and the people, an accomplishment Machiavelli notes is achieved by the government of Renaissance France.

Machiavelli provides a number of historical examples to deal with possible objections to his points about conspiracies. He discusses a variety of Roman emperors who either fell victim to conspiracy even though they conducted themselves as Machiavelli suggests or stayed in power despite conducting themselves contrary to Machiavelli's suggestions.

Two examples are Marcus Aurelius and Severus. Marcus was a famously wise and philosophical emperor who ruled easily until his death, despite being what Machiavelli would consider too compassionate. Other emperors who were similar in character to Marcus were quickly overthrown. Severus was a famously deceitful and cruel emperor who ruled until his death, despite being hated; other emperors who were similarly hated were quickly overthrown.

In the case of Marcus, Machiavelli notes that he was a hereditary emperor. Machiavelli argues that hereditary principalities are easier to maintain so long as a prince keeps thing going as they had been in the time of his predecessor. Marcus ruled easily because his situation did not require him to exert himself much.

Severus's case is different. He did not inherit the title of emperor, but won it by force. Severus was unusually clever and powerful, such that the people were terrified of him. The soldiers in the Roman Empire essentially constituted a third class of people alongside the commoners and the nobles, because the Roman army was a standing army, which maintained large numbers at all times. The hatred Severus earned was because he allowed the soldiers to vent their cruelty on the people. But, due to the support of a powerful army, the people could not hope to harm Severus.


Machiavelli notes that the existence of a standing army complicated the tasks of Roman emperors, making it possible to withstand the hate of the people. This might seem to conflict with his claims that a prince should maintain a standing native army but also avoid the hate of the people. The difference between the situation of Rome and Machiavelli's advice is that he also advises that the general population should be armed, whereas the general population of Rome was not armed. In the face of an armed population, Machiavelli would argue that not even a standing army could protect the prince if the people hate him. In the case of Severus, the people could not act on their hatred of the emperor, as they were not armed and Severus had the support of a standing, professional army. Machiavelli's contention is that, had the Roman citizens been armed, their overwhelming numbers would have overcome the protection offered by the regular army.

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