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The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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The Prince | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


According to Machiavelli in Chapter 21 of The Prince, how can a prince achieve glory?

In Chapter 21, Machiavelli explains that winning glory is a matter of doing things that other people will praise, like the deeds of great rulers in history. Abroad, a prince can demonstrate his military prowess and expand his holdings by conquering new domains. Regarding the wars between his neighboring states, he should clearly declare himself for one side or the other, never remaining neutral. Finally, in his own domain, he should enact and enforce laws that increase the prosperity and stability of his domain. This last sort of deed, accomplishments of governance in a prince's own domain, needs further explanation. In this chapter, Machiavelli says, "In the event that someone accomplishes something exceptional, for good or evil ... he should be rewarded or punished in a way that sets everyone talking." He is not specific, but an example of this can be taken from Chapter 7, where Machiavelli relates how Cesare Borgia used Remirro de Orco's cruelty to stabilize his domain and then disposed of Remirro to both relieve the displeasure of his people and demonstrate to all the resoluteness with which he would rule.

In The Prince, how does Machiavelli explain that some Roman emperors ruled successfully despite being hated?

In Chapter 17, Machiavelli notes that some Roman emperors violated his advice to avoid the hatred of the people but ruled successfully nonetheless. To account for this, Machiavelli explains that the Roman Empire had three social classes. In addition to a noble class and a commoner class, the Roman Empire had a military class—a large standing force that functioned as a third social class. Thus, if an emperor appeased his military, he could feasibly rule successfully despite being hated by both commoners and nobles.

According to Machiavelli in The Prince, how does a prince rise to power in a constitutional principality?

In Chapter 9, Machiavelli explains that a prince's route to power in a constitutional principality goes either through the nobles or through the common people. In either case, one of the social classes selects one of their own to further their interests and protect them from the other class. The nobles select a prince so that they may have him do the unpopular work of furthering their interests by oppressing the people. The commoners select a prince so that he can protect them from the oppression of the nobles. Of these two routes, Machiavelli states that being made prince by the people makes a prince's job easier.

According to Machiavelli in The Prince, what are the advantages for a prince who allows his population to be armed?

In Chapter 20, Machiavelli states that when a prince arms his people, he gains their loyalty and increases his military power. Arming people creates trust in those who doubted the prince and reinforces trust in those who already supported him. The trust arises because, by arming the people, the prince shows that he does not fear their power or consider them a threat. Indeed, it shows that he thinks that they share his interests and are worthy of helping him further those interests. This is what Machiavelli means when he states, "But as soon as you disarm your subjects you start to offend them, showing whether through cowardice or suspicion that you mistrust them; and on either score hatred is aroused against you."

In The Prince, how does Machiavelli explain what separates virtuous character traits from vicious character traits?

In Chapter 18, Machiavelli states that the traits he considers virtues are honesty, compassion, devoutness, and straightforwardness. Traits considered vices are dishonesty, cruelty, irreligiosity, and deceptiveness. What makes a trait a virtue is that people are praised for having it, and what makes a trait a vice is that people are criticized for it. Importantly, traits are not considered virtues or vices because a person benefits or avoids harm by having them. Machiavelli's explanation of what makes particular behaviors virtues and vices is important to understanding his advice about how an effective prince should behave.

In The Prince, Machiavelli notes that it is sometimes necessary to harm people. When a prince harms someone, how should he go about it and why?

In several places, Machiavelli states that when a prince harms someone, it must be done in such a way as to ensure that the person cannot, or will not, retaliate. Further, a prince cannot make a habit of being cruel and must resort to it only when the stability of his domain requires it. In Chapter 3, he says, "[Here] it has to be noted that men must be either pampered or crushed, because they can get revenge for small injuries but not for grievous ones." In Chapter 8, Machiavelli specifies that cruelty can be "used well ... when it is employed once for all, and one's safety depends on it, and then it is not persisted ... [but for] the good of one's subjects."

According to Machiavelli in The Prince, how should a prince treat his soldiers?

Whereas Machiavelli urges a prince to use cruelty sparingly on his subjects, in Chapter 17 he advises that habitual cruelty must be exercised by a prince on his soldiers. To illustrate this point, he gives the contrasting examples of Hannibal of Carthage and Scipio Africanus of the Roman Republic. These two generals had distinct policies concerning the treatment of soldiers: Hannibal was cruel, while Scipio was lenient. The result was that Hannibal led large armies through harsh conditions, but they never disobeyed him. In contrast, Scipio's soldiers committed crimes for which he never punished them, and his men mutinied against him. Machiavelli claims that cruelty is indispensable for maintaining proper military discipline among soldiers.

According to Machiavelli in The Prince, why should a prince avoid having a reputation for all vices?

If a prince can manage to avoid having a reputation for dishonest or stingy behavior, Machiavelli states that he should do so. However, if avoiding such a reputation will compromise the stability and prosperity of his domain, then the prince should not make too much effort. The only vices that a prince should avoid are those that earn him hatred among a large number of his subjects. Otherwise, a prince should do whatever it takes to maintain his state. The respect and praise he earns will outweigh any hate and blame he incurs.

In Chapter 18 of The Prince, which animal symbols does Machiavelli use and what character traits do they represent?

In discussing the traits that make a good prince, Machiavelli relates an ancient Greek myth about young princes who are sent to be trained by a centaur. Because the centaur is part human and part animal, it can be seen as a symbol of the fact that an effective prince must have traits of both a human and a beast. The particular animals Machiavelli chooses to illustrate desirable traits are the lion and the fox. The lion is associated with courage and a warlike nature, while the fox is associated with cleverness and deceit. An effective prince should demonstrate both of these natures when necessity calls for them.

According to Machiavelli in The Prince, why is it difficult for a prince to change the status quo?

In Chapter 6, Machiavelli observes that people are averse to taking risks, especially when they are not certain whether they stand to gain anything from them. Further, people shy away from change if the current state of things benefits them. As such, the prince faces significant resistance to changes of policy from those who benefit significantly from the policies that are to be changed. These people don't wish to lose the things that currently benefit them. Moreover, even those who stand to benefit from the changes will not provide much support to the prince, because the possible benefits of the new ways have not been proven.

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