The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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The Prince | Chapter 20 : Whether Fortresses, and Many Other Present-Day Expedients to Which Princes Have Recourse, Are Useful or Not | Summary

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Summary

The topic of this chapter is the effectiveness of two strategies for maintaining order in a principality: maintaining fortresses, and disarming the population. Machiavelli states that there is not a definitive answer as to whether a prince should always adopt or reject these two strategies. Regarding new princes, Machiavelli says that they should arm the population. However, established princes conquering new domains should always disarm their citizens. Regarding fortresses, he states that whether or not they are useful depends on the particular situation a prince faces.

Analysis

Machiavelli believes that giving weapons to someone demonstrates a lack of fear and a presence of trust. From the perspective of the people, a prince who arms them must believe that their interests do not conflict, or else he would disarm them for fear that they would try to overthrow the state. Thus, those who did not know how their interests aligned with the prince's will be put at ease when the prince arms them. Those who already thought that their interests aligned with the prince's goals will see themselves as being given power to defend and advance those interests. In short, the prince will gain the love of, or at least avoid the hate of, the subjects of his domain.

A similar explanation applies to Machiavelli's apparently ambiguous advice concerning fortresses. This ambiguity is an illustration of his belief that a prince must adjust his behavior to the circumstances. He approves of those who build fortresses and of those who do not, provided that the reason for their specific choice is motivated by the needs of safeguarding their state. Of course, the primary way to safeguard the state is to gain the love of, and avoid the hate of, the people.

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