Power Issues in Machiavelli’s The Prince

March 18, 2021 by Essay Writer

In Chapter Twenty of Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, several important tactics for maintaining power are discussed. Some of the methods that Machiavelli discusses for maintaining power include the armament or disarmament of citizens, the elimination of divisons within the principality, the achievement of greatness through opportunities, and the concept of fortresses. According to Machiavelli, there are virtuous and non-virtuous approaches to each of these four topics that aid a prince in the maintaining of power.

Machiavelli lays out several different scenarios for treating newly acquired subjects. This includes the armament of subjects. According to Machiavelli, a prince can choose not to arm his subjects, but this will cause the citizens to feel as though the prince does not trust them and, as Machiavelli puts it, “generate hatred against you.” A prince can also choose to arm his citizens. In doing this, the citizens become his arms. Machiavelli says that this option is the virtuous one. Not only does it provide you with arms and prevent you from having to use mercenaries, which are not at all virtuous, but it also provides you with subjects rallying behind you in your endeavors.

Another important topic that Machiavelli discusses is his belief that divisions are harmful to a prince. Machiavelli says that he, unlike those scholars who came before him, believes that divisions within a principality do more harm to it than good. When an enemy is preparing to strike against a prince, the enemy aligns with the foreign and domestic enemies of a prince. These foreign enemies can be states that a prince has wronged or offended at some point. A prince’s domestic enemies are the subjects who reside in towns that are not treated equally by him. Divisions may be helpful in times of peace in order to prevent subjects from rising up against a prince, but they are not at all helpful in times of war when they serve no purpose other than to weaken the prince.

“Without doubt, princes become great when they overcome difficulties made for them and opposition made to them.” In saying this, Machiavelli means that a prince is able to rise up and become even more powerful and successful through the defeat of his enemies and by overcoming obstacles put in his path. Machiavelli also discusses this idea of rising to greatness through opportunity in Chapter Six in regards to Moses, Theseus, Romulus, and Cyrus. He again discusses another series of men who rose to greatness by seizing opportunities presented to them by fortune in Chapter Thirteen, this time naming David, Hero of Syracuse, and Cesare Borgia. All of these men, Machiavelli believes, have rose to greatness by making the most of unfortunate circumstances that have been presented to them. Therefore, according to Machiavelli, a prince’s enemies are not really there to destroy him and to claim his principality as their own, but they are actually an opportunity for the prince to “climb higher on the ladder that his enemies have brought to him” and enable him to aspire to an even more elevated level of greatness.

Yet another method presented by Niccolo Machiavelli for maintaining a principality is the idea of fortresses. In this regard, Machiavelli is referring to not only brick walls surrounded by moats with crocodiles and ramparts and drawbridges, but also to armed citizens. Physical fortresses, Machiavelli explains, do nothing to maintain power in times of peace. Instead, the only act to guard you from your own people. Fortresses are only necessary if a prince’s enemies are his own people. Instead, it is better for a prince’s own people to be his fortress. As previously mentioned, it is better for a prince to arm his people. Again, Machiavelli here argues that the arming of a prince’s own people will benefit the prince and act as a defense to foreign enemies and better protect the principality than any crocodile-invested, moat-surrounded fortress ever could. Machiavelli again sheds more light onto the story of Francesco Sforza- who is arguably the main character of the narrative Machiavelli relays throughout the course of his book- saying that the Sforza castle in Milan caused nothing but trouble to the Sforza family. Fortresses, Machiavelli says, serve no purpose other than to foster feelings of hatred among the people. Hatred, Machiavelli says, is a feeling that you do not want the citizens to feel toward a prince. “The best fortress there is, is not being hated by the people,” Machiavelli tells the reader, because if the people hate their prince, they will be more likely to take up arms against him rather than for him.

Machiavelli’s The Prince is riddled with different modes and advice for the acquisition and maintaining of principalities. Chapter Twenty of the book details different approaches for the question of whether or not to arm citizens, how to eliminate divisions within the principality, rising to greatness through opportunity, and different types of fortresses and the problems that can stem from them. Some of the methods that Machiavelli describes throughout the chapter are virtuous approaches while others are not.

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