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The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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The Prince | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


According to Machiavelli in The Prince, what is the primary motivator for human behavior?

Machiavelli claims that each individual is motivated to maximize his or her own benefit and minimize his or her own harm. That is, people are essentially selfish. He states, "Men willingly change their ruler, expecting to fare better ... but they only deceive themselves, and they learn from experience that they have made matters worse." When people bring in a new prince to rule over them, they support him only for as long as they believe they benefit from it. Machiavelli also observes, "The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new ... because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience." In other words, people do not like change unless they see that the change benefits them.

According to Machiavelli in Chapter 10 of The Prince, what are the main characteristics of a strong principality?

Independence and self-sufficiency are the measures of a principality's strength, according to Machiavelli. Being self-sufficient involves not needing to rely on support from a foreign power to remain stable and prosperous. When a domain is self-sufficient, it is able to be independent, which means that its prince can disregard the desires of other princes at will. Machiavelli points to the contemporary cities of Germany as examples of self-sufficient and independent domains. Their extensive preparations and well-managed resources allow them to ignore the demands of the prince of the Holy Roman Empire when it benefits them.

According to Machiavelli in The Prince, how does a good advisor increase the reputation of a prince?

In Chapter 22, Machiavelli explains that when a prince is able to choose wise advisors, he not only benefits from their good advice, but also shows others that he has a number of good qualities. A prince's choice of good advisors demonstrates to others that he is intelligent enough to understand when others are knowledgeable about some topic and sensible enough to ask for their opinions. Further, if these able advisors choose to serve a prince and support his rule, this demonstrates that he has significant leadership abilities. Likewise, if a prince chooses bad ministers, this demonstrates that the prince is not intelligent or sensible himself.

According to Machiavelli in The Prince, to whom should a prince listen and how freely should they be allowed to speak?

To benefit from the wisdom of good advisors, Machiavelli argues in Chapter 23 that a prince has to encourage his advisors to speak the truth to him, rather than telling him only what he wants to hear. However, no one beyond the circle of advisors should be encouraged to speak freely to the prince. If every person in a prince's domain were allowed to speak freely, Machiavelli argues that the prince's authority would be compromised. Not even the prince's advisors should be allowed to speak their minds whenever they please. Instead, the prince should make it clear that advisors are free to speak the truth only when a prince asks for their opinion.

According to Chapter 23 of The Prince, why should a prince who is not intelligent but who has intelligent ministers be in more danger than a prince who is intelligent?

Princes who are not themselves intelligent but choose intelligent ministers are in danger of being manipulated by those ministers. All people, Machiavelli argues, act to benefit themselves. Those who are more intelligent are better able to see and take advantage of opportunities to benefit themselves. A prince's advisors are in a position to steer that prince's actions to benefit their own interests, rather than the prince's. Thus, when an advisor is more intelligent than the prince he advises, he will be willing and able to manipulate the prince. However, a prince who is himself intelligent is able to keep his advisors in line.

In The Prince, why does Machiavelli argue that mercenary troops are ineffective?

The root of the problem with mercenary armies is that they are paid for fighting, and fighting is the only way they can acquire resources. Machiavelli claims in Chapter 12 that this leads mercenary armies to be disloyal, cowardly, small, and undermining. They are disloyal because they fight not for a cause but for the highest pay. The cowardice of mercenaries comes from the fact that payment is not something men are willing to risk their lives for—after all, money cannot be enjoyed by dead people. Mercenary armies will never be able to rival the size of armies supported by the full resources of a principality, as mercenary armies do not own lands that they can harvest or rule over people they can tax. Finally, because their armies are small, mercenaries must use inferior tactics. In order to convince princes to hire them, mercenaries must claim that these tactics are wise, and Machiavelli argues that this undermines proper tactics. The prince who uses mercenary armies is vulnerable.

In The Prince, how does Machiavelli define auxiliary troops, and why should a prince avoid using them?

In Chapter 13, Machiavelli defines auxiliary troops as those trained and armed by a foreign prince. These troops are not ineffective. Indeed, Machiavelli argues that the effectiveness of auxiliary troops is precisely what makes them dangerous. When a prince relies on troops trained and armed by a foreign prince, he brings about a situation that can lead to his own downfall. Auxiliary troops are not dependent upon the prince for resources, and they are not loyal to him. If these troops are allowed within the border of a prince's domain, they can conquer in the name of their own prince.

In The Prince, Machiavelli claims that a prince who conquers a republic may have to destroy the territory and its people. Why should a republic be more difficult to control?

In Chapter 5, Machiavelli argues that people accustomed to living under a republic are difficult for a prince to control and that he may have to destroy the city to gain peace. This is because the freedom of a republic's citizens is dear to them, and they will remember it—there is always a familiar alternative to a new prince's rule the citizens of a former republic can remember. Because of this, only by killing every citizen can a prince erase the memory of an old government. Machiavelli notes that even the Roman Empire tried to avoid destroying the republics they conquered but that they eventually had to destroy them anyway.

According to Machiavelli in The Prince, how can an army of native troops be explained in terms of prowess versus fortune?

In Chapter 13, Machiavelli states that success not due to a prince's own ability is due instead to fortune. Moreover, success due to fortune is harder to sustain than success due to ability. Using an army made of native troops to defend and conquer counts as achieving success through ability; this is not necessarily true of accomplishing the same ends with an army of foreign auxiliaries. This is because native troops are trained by a prince's own skill and design and equipped by his own resources. In contrast, auxiliaries are trained and equipped by another prince. Thus, the use of auxiliary armies is undesirable because of the instability of achievements gained with them.

In The Prince, Machiavelli argues that in ecclesiastical principalities, military force force is not necessary for defense. How does this argument compare with what he says about Pope Alexander IV?

In Chapter 11, Machiavelli notes that it is the power of God that protects an ecclesiastical principality and that the prince of such—which is the pope, in the case of the Catholic Church—does not rule, but rather serves God. However, Machiavelli discusses the deeds of Alexander IV in terms of gaining worldly power. It is stated that the pope's goal was to gain a domain for his son, Cesare Borgia—an action that increased the power of the Catholic Church. Hence, there is some inconsistency in what Machiavelli says, as the pope, like many other rulers, gained his domain through force.

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