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The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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The Prince | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In The Prince, why does Machiavelli say that principalities gained primarily by prowess are won with difficulty but easy to maintain?

In Chapter 6, Machiavelli states that a prince who wins his domain through the able exercise of his own ability has not relied on fortune. Thus, he has not depended upon any resources but his own or on the actions of anyone else. All the obstacles that stand in the way of a prince gaining power have been overcome by the prince himself. While this is more difficult in the beginning, a prince who achieves in this way will more easily maintain his achievements. This is because his abilities have already earned him great admiration; additionally, he will already be accustomed to the hardships that come with leadership.

In The Prince, how does Machiavelli explain the opposing class interests of the nobles and commoners?

In Chapter 9, Machiavelli states that nobles oppress commoners as a way of maintaining their higher standards of living and resources. Thus, they must restrain what the commoners are allowed to do and tax them. Commoners, however, want to avoid being oppressed by the nobles. Instead, they wish to live freely and benefit fully from the work they do. Because these contrary desires are an outgrowth of people's general desire to maximize benefit and minimize harm to themselves, the conflict between the interests of nobles and commoners will exist wherever the two classes interact.

In The Prince, Machiavelli observes that one type of policy heavily influences people's attitudes. What is this type of policy, and how does it influence people's attitudes?

Taxation is the policy that Machiavelli observes is crucial to affecting the attitudes of the people. In Chapter 23, he observes that " [a prince] must change neither [a conquered people's] laws nor their taxes." Taxation refers generally to taking from people their possessions by government threat, which Machiavelli also warns against in Chapter 17: "The prince can always avoid hatred if he abstains from the property of his subjects and citizens." The intensity of the effect of taxation on people's attitudes is presented as significant, as Machiavelli claims that "men sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony," meaning the property inherited from their father.

According to Machiavelli in Chapter 19 of The Prince, what effect does the people's attitude have on the possibility of conspiracies?

Enacting a conspiracy against the ruler of a domain is dangerous, as a prince is sure to severely punish those who attempt to overthrow and harm him. Because of this, people will start or aid in a conspiracy only if they believe they have a high chance to succeed and feel hatred for the prince. Without both of these factors in place, people's inclination to seek benefit and avoid harm will keep them from participating in a conspiracy. Thus, people who do not hate their prince will not aid in any conspiracy against him. Indeed, they may help end the conspiracy in expectation of being rewarded or out of fear of being punished.

In The Prince, why does Machiavelli state that good laws are dependent on good military and that an organized army is more important?

In Chapter 12, Machiavelli says, "Because you cannot have good laws without good arms, and where there are good arms, good laws will inevitably follow, I shall not discuss laws but give my attention to arms." He takes good arms to be more important than good laws. While both are necessary for a stable and prosperous state, Machiavelli believes the only one that has to be actively pursued is good arms. What he means by "good arms" is a properly composed and organized army.

According to Machiavelli in The Prince, when should a prince practice his skill at war?

In Chapter 14, Machiavelli advises that an effective prince will prepare for war at all times, even when there is peace in his domain. He says, "A wise prince must observe these rules; he must never take things easy in times of peace, but rather use the latter assiduously. " Because Machiavelli believes that war is unavoidable, he advises that peace time should be used to prepare for it. That way, when a prince eventually finds himself at war, he will not have to make flawed and hasty preparations.

In Chapter 3 of The Prince, what is the significance of this statement: "War is not so to be avoided ... only postponed to the advantage of others"?

Machiavelli thinks that war between princes over their domains is unavoidable. Each one will seek to gain a reputation through battle or to expand his wealth and holdings. While waging war is costly and dangerous, Machiavelli argues that it is more dangerous to make a policy of avoiding war. A prince who sees that war is likely with another state should take the opportunity to wage it while conditions are in his favor, rather than waiting until his opposition has time to build strength.

In The Prince, what does Machiavelli mean when he says, "A man who neglects what is actually done for what should be done moves toward self-destruction rather than self-preservation"?

In Chapter 15, when Machiavelli refers to what should be done, he means how a person would act in an ideal world. He is talking about behaving morally. However, the world and the people in it are not ideal, argues Machiavelli. Because of this, anyone who tries to act in the ideal, moral fashion will be out of step with what is actually happening. This is dangerous, especially for a prince, as it is essentially the same as acting on inaccurate information about others' behavior. Machiavelli's advice explicitly counsels princes against striving to act in a moral way.

In The Prince, which does Machiavelli say is most important for an effective prince, a reputation for virtue or actually being virtuous?

In Chapter 15, Machiavelli states that having a reputation for virtue is more important than actually being virtuous. As long as the people believe that a prince is virtuous, they will respect and honor him, rather than despising and plotting against him. Such a reputation, then, will aid a prince in maintaining prosperity and stability. However, Machiavelli stresses that a prince needs to be able to act contrary to these virtues when the situation calls for it. He states, "A prince will find that some of the things that appear to be virtues will, if he practices them, ruin him, and some of the things that appear to be vices will bring him security and prosperity."

In Chapter 25 of The Prince, what is Machiavelli's conclusion about the significance of fortune and how a prince should cope with it?

Many people believe large-scale events are either random or under the control of God, Machiavelli says, leaving them to conclude that those events cannot be resisted. While he acknowledges that such events cannot be controlled, Machiavelli argues that they can be predicted and prepared for. Thus, he writes, "So as not to rule out free will, I believe that it is probably true that fortune is arbiter of half the things we do, leaving the other half or so to be controlled by ourselves." Thus, there is much a prince can do to prepare for unexpected events.

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