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The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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Chapter 21

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 21 of Niccolò Machiavelli's philosophical text The Prince.

The Prince | Chapter 21 : How a Prince Must Act to Win Honor | Summary



A prince should act in order to win honor so that he is respected by his subjects, allies, and enemies. The keys to gaining this reputation are to conquer territory, make effective laws at home, and be decisive as both an ally and an enemy. By conquering territory, a prince demonstrates his military skill and gains new resources. At home, making effective laws keeps the people from hating him and ensures that the prince has a stable base of power.

The matter of avoiding neutrality is more involved. While it might seem prudent to avoid taking sides, Machiavelli explains the various ways in which remaining neutral in conflicts involving neighboring states can harm a prince. Inevitably, some states will attack the prince's domain. As such, remaining neutral will only delay war until such a time when attackers have had time to gain experience and resources for their armies.

If the prince's ally loses, then the prince will have some support should his own territory be conquered; if he did not aid them, he will find no support from other defeated princes. If the prince's ally wins, then he will benefit from his support. Again, the reader sees that effective behavior is guided by minimizing harm and maximizing benefit.


Machiavelli urges against neutrality, but he also advises against entering into alliances with those who are more powerful. The first piece of advice has to do with not gaining a reputation for cowardice and weakness, which will lead to a prince being despised by his subjects and other nations. The second piece of advice connects to what Machiavelli says earlier in the text: a prince should never act in a way that makes someone else more powerful than him.

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