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The Prince | Study Guide

Niccolò Machiavelli

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The Prince | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In The Prince, why does Machiavelli argue that a country with numerous lords is difficult to hold?

In Chapter 4, Machiavelli explains that a country with numerous independently powerful lords is easier to conquer but more difficult to hold. It is difficult to hold for the same reason it is easy to conquer: the powerful lords can act against a prince when he does not satisfy their interests. In contrast, a country without powerful lords is difficult to conquer but easy to hold. The reason it is difficult to conquer is the same as the reason it is easy to hold: there are powerful forces within the territory who can act against a prince when he does not satisfy their interests.

In Chapter 20 of The Prince, why does Machiavelli approve of a prince relying on fortresses to safeguard territories?

Machiavelli's opinion concerning the use of fortresses by a prince depends on the motivation that the prince has for using fortresses. That is, building and maintaining fortresses is neither good nor bad in itself. Rather, when the use of fortresses promotes the prosperity and stability of a domain, Machiavelli approves of it. Likewise, if a prince refrains from using fortresses—even if he destroys existing fortresses—in order to maintain the stability and prosperity of his domain, Machiavelli approves. The specific cases Machiavelli notes relate to whether a prince has more to fear from military invasion or from his own people. In the first case, Machiavelli argues that fortresses should be avoided because it makes retaking a domain more difficult. In the second case, Machiavelli argues that fortresses should be used.

In Chapter 22 of The Prince, what does Machiavelli say are are the three types of intelligence, and how significant are they to a prince?

Machiavelli identifies the types of intelligences as: Intelligence that is self-sufficient, grasping truths by its own effort. Intelligence that is not self-sufficient but can distinguish between intelligence and the lack of intelligence in others. Intelligence that is not self-sufficient and cannot distinguish between intelligence and the lack of it in others. The first type is the best for a prince to have. If he can understand things on his own, then he is not at the mercy of others' understanding. He will be able to succeed more by way of his own effort than by fortune. With the second type of intelligence, which is good but not ideal for the prince to have, he can tell when others have the first type of intelligence. This allows him to seek advice from people who will be able to give him good information. The third type of intelligence neither understands things on its own nor recognizes when others are intelligent. This is bad for a prince to have, as he will not be able to succeed on his own effort or reliably find people who are capable to aid him.

In The Prince, why does Machiavelli advise that a prince should avoid flatterers?

In Chapter 23, Machiavelli states, "Men are so happily absorbed in their own affairs and indulge in such self-deception that it is difficult for them not to fall victim to [flatterers.]" This means that most people want to think well of themselves and believe they are succeeding in their goals. But because flattery is not the truth, and because flatterers tell lies to advance their own agendas, a prince should take measures to avoid flattery. If a prince is not accurately informed, then he will not be well equipped to advance his goals. Having people around him who are serving their own interests rather than his is dangerous for the stability of a prince's rule.

What is Machiavelli's overall aim in The Prince?

The Prince is addressed to the head of the Medici family, who is the prince of Florence. The goal of the book is to lay out an extensive theory of successful governance for the head of a principality. For Machiavelli, successful governance involves promoting stability and prosperity. To achieve these goals, Machiavelli combed through historical and contemporary examples of successful princes and highlighted what he believed contributed to their success. In his book, he urges the Medici prince (and other Italian princes) to practice his advice and bring stability and prosperity to Italy.

In The Prince, how does Machiavelli explain why Italian princes in his own time have lost their territory?

In Chapter 24, Machiavelli says that Italian princes have done much wrong, both in thought and in action. In action, they relied heavily on mercenary armies; in thought, they failed to anticipate and adapt to change. Machiavelli says, "The Italian princes shared first, a common weakness in regard to their military organizations." Elsewhere, he writes, "Their own indolence was to blame, because, having never imagined when times were quiet that [things] could change ... when adversity came their first thoughts were of flight and not of resistance." Thus, it is bad policy and incorrect thinking—not simply bad fortune—that led to the downfall of the Italian princes.

According to Machiavelli in Chapter 18 of The Prince, under what circumstances should a prince make and keep promises?

As with other virtues, Machiavelli states that it can be valuable to a prince to have a reputation as a man of his word. However, an effective prince cannot be quick with promises, nor can he afford to keep promises he does make at all costs. Thus, the ideal situation is that a prince makes only those promises that benefit his own purposes and then keeps them. This way, he gains a reputation as a man of his word and strengthens his position. However, if keeping a promise would be to the prince's disadvantage, then Machiavelli urges him not to worry about being thought of as dishonest.

According to Machiavelli in Chapter 14 of The Prince, how can a prince become more skilled in waging war?

Military skill is more than practicing the use of weapons. A prince needs to understand fighting and to possess knowledge about leadership, strategy, and logistics. Hunting is one activity that Machiavelli argues promotes a prince's war-related skills. When hunting, a prince will practice the use of weapons, learn the land around his domain, and have the chance to discuss matters of warfare with peers. The applicability of physical exertion and weapons practice is clear. The usefulness of learning the land applies to effective deployment of troops. Finally, discussing warfare with peers will give the prince a chance to imagine effective responses to wartime scenarios.

Some critics have called The Prince an immoral work. What does the term Machiavellian mean?

Machiavelli is not concerned with giving advice on how to be an ideal human being; rather, he is giving advice on how to be an effective leader in a principality. However, he does not claim that there is no such thing as morally appropriate behavior or that a prince should not think at all of what is moral. Perhaps the most that can be said is that The Prince is amoral instead of immoral—that is, it is not actively opposed to what is moral so much as it is unconcerned with that topic. In the end, the moral status of The Prince is a matter of interpretation. The term Machiavellian has been used to denote a ruler who follows the rule of necessary evil—that is, a ruler who is not hampered by acceptable modes of morality and carries out actions that many people might condemn as immoral.

In The Prince, Machiavelli outlines how an effective prince should act. What are some basic actions of a prince and what are the reasons for acting in these ways?

An effective prince must observe a variety of rules. Machiavelli argues that an effective prince should, among other things: Foresee and prepare for future trouble. Make sure to weaken strong rivals and lead weak rivals. Develop a reputation for virtue while maintaining the ability to be vicious. Continually develop his military skills. In every case, the reason given in support of a particular behavior is for the prince to make his territory independent, prosperous, and secure. To do this, a prince must be adaptable and deal with things as they actually are, rather than how he would like them to be.

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