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Article :: Supporting Evidence

Machiavailli Reconsidered


The Prince

by Nicolo Machiavelli


CHAPTER IX

Concerning A Civil Principality

BUT coming to the other point — where a leading citizen becomes the prince of his country, not by wickedness or any intolerable violence, but by the favour of his fellow citizens — this may be called a civil principality: nor is genius or fortune altogether necessary to attain to it, but rather a happy shrewdness. I say then that such a principality is obtained either by the favour of the people or by the favour of the nobles. Because in all cities these two distinct parties are found, and from this it arises that the people do not wish to be ruled nor oppressed by the nobles, and the nobles wish to rule and oppress the people; and from these two opposite desires there arises in cities one of three results, either a principality, self-government, or anarchy.[1]

A principality is created either by the people or by the nobles, accordingly as one or other of them has the opportunity; for the nobles, seeing they cannot withstand the people, begin to cry up the reputation of one of themselves, and they make him a prince, so that under his shadow they can give vent to their ambitions. The people, finding they cannot resist the nobles, also cry up the reputation of one of themselves, and make him a prince so as to be defended by his authority. He who obtains sovereignty by the assistance of the nobles maintains himself with more difficulty than he who comes to it by the aid of the people, because the former finds himself with many around him who consider themselves his equals, and because of this he can neither rule nor manage them to his liking. But he who reaches sovereignty by popular favour finds himself alone, and has none around him, or few, who are not prepared to obey him.[2]

Besides this, one cannot by fair dealing, and without injury to others, satisfy the nobles, but you can satisfy the people, for their object is more righteous than that of the nobles, the latter wishing to oppress, whilst the former only desire not to be oppressed. It is to be added also that a prince can never secure himself against a hostile people, because of their being too many, whilst from the nobles he can secure himself, as they are few in number. The worst that a prince may expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned by them; but from hostile nobles he has not only to fear abandonment, but also that they will rise against him; for they, being in these affairs more far-seeing and astute, always come forward in time to save themselves, and to obtain favours from him whom they expect to prevail. Further, the prince is compelled to live always with the same people, but he can do well without the same nobles, being able to make and unmake them daily, and to give or take away authority when it pleases him.

Therefore, to make this point clearer, I say that the nobles ought to be looked at mainly in two ways: that is to say, they either shape their course in such a way as binds them entirely to your fortune, or they do not. Those who so bind themselves, and are not rapacious, ought to be honoured and loved; those who do not bind themselves may be dealt with in two ways; they may fail to do this through pusillanimity and a natural want of courage, in which case you ought to make use of them, especially of those who are of good counsel; and thus, whilst in prosperity you honour yourself, in adversity you have not to fear them. But when for their own ambitious ends they shun binding themselves, it is a token that they are giving more thought to themselves than to you, and a prince ought to guard against such, and to fear them as if they were open enemies, because in adversity they always help to ruin him.[3]

Therefore, one who becomes a prince through the favour of the people ought to keep them friendly, and this he can easily do seeing they only ask not to be oppressed by him. But one who, in opposition to the people, becomes a prince by the favour of the nobles, ought, above everything, to seek to win the people over to himself, and this he may easily do if he takes them under his protection. Because men, when they receive good from him of whom they were expecting evil, are bound more closely to their benefactor; thus the people quickly become more devoted to him than if he had been raised to the principality by their favours; and the prince can win their affections in many ways, but as these vary according to the circumstances one cannot give fixed rules, so I omit them; but, I repeat, it is necessary for a prince to have the people friendly, otherwise he has no security in adversity.

Nabis, Prince of the Spartans, sustained the attack of all Greece, and of a victorious Roman army, and against them he defended his country and his government; and for the overcoming of this peril it was only necessary for him to make himself secure against a few, but this would not have been sufficient if the people had been hostile. And do not let any one impugn this statement with the trite proverb that 'He who builds on the people, builds on the mud,' for this is true when a private citizen makes a foundation there, and persuades himself that the people will free him when he is oppressed by his enemies or by the magistrates; wherein he would find himself very often deceived, as happened to the Gracchi in Rome and to Messer Giorgio Scali in Florence. But granted a prince who has established himself as above, who can command, and is a man of courage, undismayed in adversity, who does not fail in other qualifications, and who, by his resolution and energy, keeps the whole people encouraged — such a one will never find himself deceived in them, and it will be shown that he has laid his foundations well.[4][5]

These principalities are liable to danger when they are passing from the civil to the absolute order of government, for such princes either rule personally or through magistrates. In the latter case their government is weaker and more insecure, because it rests entirely on the goodwill of those citizens who are raised to the magistracy, and who, especially in troubled times, can destroy the government with great ease, either by intrigue or open defiance; and the prince has not the chance amid tumults to exercise absolute authority, because the citizens and subjects, accustomed to receive orders from magistrates, are not of a mind to obey him amid these confusions, and there will always be in doubtful times a scarcity of men whom he can trust. For such a prince cannot rely upon what he observes in quiet times, when citizens had need of the state, because then every one agrees with him; they all promise, and when death is far distant they all wish to die for him; but in troubled times, when the state has need of its citizens, then he finds but few. And so much the more is this experiment dangerous, inasmuch as it can only be tried once. Therefore a wise prince ought to adopt such a course that his citizens will always in every sort and kind of circumstance have need of the state and of him, and then he will always find them faithful.[6][7]


    Synopsis:
  • A prince may obtain power, without the use of evil or unacceptable violence by the consent and acclimation of competing power holders. [C9, P1]
  • Claims that neither genious nor fortune is required to attain this position, rather a "happy shrewdness". [C9, P1]
  • Every administrative region is populated by two groups of citizens: the common people and the nobility:
    • The nobles desire to prey upon the people. [C9, P1]
    • The people desire to be left alone, free from predators. [C9, P1]
  • The power conflict between the goal seeking of these competing powers can result in one of three possible outcomes: [C9, P1]
    • Principality, when the nobles have dominent power and select a ruler from among themselves, with limited powers, controlled by the nobles. [C9, P1]
    • Liberty, civil government, controlled by the people when the people are the dominent power and select a leader from among themselves, with limited power, granted and controlled by the people and civil institutions. [C9, P1]
    • Balance of powers, a draw, the nobles and people are equally matched in power. Anarchy (license), absence of a monopoly power. Nobles win monopoly in some areas, the people in others. Balance of power, in all areas is continuously shifting due to continuous competetion. [C9, P1]
  • The ruler will find it easier to achieve "consent of the people" than "consent of the nobles": [C9, P2]
    • "Consent of the nobles" is difficult because:
      • The ruler was once a peer of the nobles, whom consider themselves equals, making subservience problematic. [C9, P2]
      • The nobles cannot, by ruler fair dealing and refraining from causing harm be satisified. Nobles survive by oppressing and preying on the people. [C9, P3]
    • "Consent of the people" is easy because:
      • He who rules by popular acclaim knows that the full weight of pupular support is behind him, ready to assist in smiting all who dispute, so long as ruler behavior is perceived to be within the parameters by which rule was granted. [C9, P2]
      • The people can, by ruler fair dealing and refraining from causing harm be satisified. That is all they want, "to be left alone", unoppressed. [C9, P3]
  • The ruler will find it easier to deal with hostility of the nobles than hostility of the people: [C9, P3]
    • Dealing with hostility of the nobles is easy because:
      • A ruler can secure himself from hostile nobles, there are few. Unstated, but should have. The nobles are undoubedly hostile because of favoring the people's interests, thus, the people will assist the ruler. [C9, P3]
      • Hostility from the nobles has the consequences, not only of being abandoned by them, but nobles can also command military resources that can be called to bear. Nobles will also form alliances with other factions, supporting the one they believe will prevail seeking favor and gain. [C9, P3]
      • Nobles are also dangerous due to being more astute and intelligent, capable of plotting and long range planning. [C9, P3]
      • A ruler can always replace nobles, depriving them of title, property and power as he sees fit. [C9, P3]
    • Dealing with hostility of the people is difficult because:
      • A ruler can never secure himself against a hostile people, there are too many. [C9, P3]
      • The worse that a ruler can expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned by them. Unstated, but should have. Rulers, being unproductive, depend on tribute and resources from the people. [C9, P3]
      • A ruler is always compelled to live with the same people, they cannot be replaced and, if they are destroyed, who to rule? [C9, P3]
  • Differentiating friend from foe among nobles is easy: [C9, P4]
    • Friendly nobles entirely, without reservation bind their fate to yours.
    • Those whom bind their fate to yours and are not rapacious (interfering with tolerance of the people) should be honored and loved
    • Unfriendly nobles are those with reservations, whom do not entirely bind their fate to yours.
    • Unfriendly nobles may lack courage. In prosperity, you make use of them, in adversity you need not fear them
    • Unfriendly nobles, with courage and ambition indicate that they are thinking more of themselves than you. A ruler should be on guard from such nobles and fear them as if they were open enemies, since in adversity, they will always seek your downfall.
  • A ruler, whether selected by the nobles or, the people, must, at all costs achieve friendliness and dependency of the people on his rule, otherwise, he will have no support in adversity. [C9, P5.7]
  • Friendliness of the people can be achieved by not allowing their oppression and protecting them. [C9, P5]
  • People, when faced with a ruler they expected evil from receive benevolence instead become quickly loyal, more so than if they had been long term adapted to rule. [C9, P5]
  • There is a key distinction between people's loyality and support for each other and loyalty and support for a ruler: [C9, P6]
    • A ruler whom has laid foundations well and secured the loyalty of the people will not be abandoned in adversity, since the people and their "comfort zones" is dependent on the ruler. A competent ruler insures that his fate is also the people's fate. [C9, P6]
    • Private citizens readily abandon each other in adversity because, by doing so, private citizens do not risk each others fate. Those whom choose loyalty and to share adversity with friends or to fight for values such as freedom, also share their fate, a risk. [C9, P6]
  • Principalities in which the ruler is selected by consent of power holders face extreme dangers in passing from the civil to absolute form of rule, since there are only two ruling options, directly or, through magistrates: [C9, P7]
    • When ruling through magistrates:
      • Government is weaker and more insecure, because it rests entirely on the goodwill of those citizens who are adapted to obeying the magistracy. [C9, P7]
      • The magistracy, especially in troubled times, can depose or destroy the government with great ease, either by intrigue or open defiance. [C9, P7]
      • Not stated, but implied: The magistracy, as all delegated power risks developing self-interest and abusing the power to aggrandize more power, creating an independent monopoly, pursuing selfish goals, increasing power for the legal profession, which, by definition, being selfish, is in opposition to all other powers, rulers, nobles and the people. [C9, P7]
      • The ruler has not the chance amid tumults to exercise absolute authority, because the citizens and subjects, accustomed to receive orders from magistrates, are not of a mind nor adapted to obey him amid these confusions. [C9, P7]
    • There will always be in doubtful times a scarcity of men whom the ruler can trust. [C9, P7]
    • A ruler cannot rely upon what he observes in quiet times, when citizens had need of the state, because then every one agrees with him; they all promise, and when death is far distant they all wish to die for him. [C9, P7]
    • When the state has need of its citizens, then he finds but few. [C9, P7]


[1] The conflict between nobles and the people is actually predator versus prey. This is a power conflict with three possible outcomes. A "king of the hill" is raised from either the nobles or the people, dependent on whom fears whom the most, resulting in a principality with one ruler with a monopoly on force / coercion on all issues, limited by the tolerance of those who conceded the power. Alternatively, if the powers of the nobles and peoples's are evenly matched, anarchy (absence of a single ruler) prevails and whose opinion rules is decided on an issue by issue basis, with the most powerful within a partular turf such as control of trade routes prevailing. An alternate definition of anarchy is an uneasy balance of powers of monopolies in various areas, some controlled by the people, some by nobles.

Note that Machiavaill's statement that "happy shrewdness" in a ruler is required, rather than skill or fortune is a matter of symmantics. To be accepted as a ruler from among all competetors requires a great degree of skill, perhaps as a cunning liar and manipulatior. To be in the time and place, with conditions favoring your rule is a matter of great fortune. Disagree with Machiavailli that this is a special case. It is still skill / fortune that makes a ruler.

[2] If the nobles manage to create a ruler from among their own, this is an uneasy balance of power. The ruler faces envy, resentment and intrigues from among his former peers whom have self-interest and the power to pursue it. What results is anarchy among nobles, each with a monopoly on their own turf, which the ruler must respect and somehow play noble interests against each other to remain "king of the hill", at least by appearances, so the people, if not nobles obey.
A ruler whom is raised from among the people has "consent of the governed" and, woe to dissenters, nobles included. So long as the ruler behaves in a manner tolerable to the people, his rule is secure and stable. This is a civil government, "by and for the people". In general, whichever constituency prevails in the power contest, it is "rule by and for the power holders".

[3] There is a vast difference between nobles and the people due to the different environments they occupy which has a profound effect on their behavior. Both nobles and the people seek goals. The only goal-seeking methods available according to natural law are: force, fraud, honest, mutually agreed trade.

  • Nobles (Modern day: limited liability - unaccountable corporations, monopoly power holders granted by state power, any power controlling turf without competetion, such as unions over specialized labor, legal "profession", hidden conspiracies among energy and financial interests, tax empt foundations, etc) are in possession of resources and organization. They seek goals and have power to corece any whom may challenge usage of force / fraud which is the most economically efficient way of achieving goals, at least until the host economy collapses. Machiavailli differentiates between predatory nobles and those whom add value (honest trade -fair dealing). A ruler has more to fear from nobles because they can raise organized force and combine to depose him, in addition to withdrawing support. Rulers should avoid dishonest nobles like the plague and take every opportunity to bring them low, both to eliminate inevitable enemies and relieve the people of their predations, to increase "tolerance of the governed".
  • The people, as individuals, are not in possession of significant resources, nor organized force. This environment precludes them from using force / fraud, since their victims can easily combine and retaliate. A ruler does not normally (unless inflamed to mobs) need to fear organized force from the people, only withdrawl of support, which in the long run is just as deadly since rulers are unproductive and exist solely by tribute of the people, who can and will go "on strike" if being productive is insufficient to meet their needs.

[4] Given the honest nature of people with only personal power, people want fair trade, fair laws, stability from their rulers. This is what they trade "Consent of the governed for". Without this, eventually rulers will lose support and rebellion will build.

[5] There is a key distinction between people's loyality and support for each other and loyalty and support for a ruler:

  • A ruler whom has laid foundations well and secured the loyalty of the people will not be abandoned in adversity, since the people and their "comfort zones" is dependent on the ruler. A competent ruler insures that his fate is also the people's fate.
  • Private citizens readily abandon each other in adversity because, by doing so, private citizens do not risk each others fate. Those whom choose loyalty and to share adversity with friends or to fight for values such as freedom, also share their fate, a risk.
  • Implied: This is a major strategy of rulers, in controlling those lacking civilized moral values such as loyalty and courage. It is also a major clue to "social engineers" that discouraging these values in society will prevent people from cooperating for the demise of those whom enslave them.
  • Implied: The strong, near certain possibility exists that Machiavailli's observation regarding unwillingness of people to cooperate towards common interest is an adaptation to forceful ruler response (sticks), smiting all who do. Conversely, support for rulers is an adaptation to forceful ruler defined environment where the fate of the people is tied to ruler fate by organized dependency, making the rulers demise a survival risk to all dependents. In others words, environmental control 101, the imposing of an environment, or system enforcing these disincentives / incentives in his day, as recommended by Machiavailli, as it also is today.

[6] Providing the people with fair governence is not sufficient to secure their loyality to you in times of internal or external threats to your rule. You have provided the ability of the people to be self-sufficient, by "getting out of their way" and controlling predators. Another ruler can promise the same, or something better. The people will not be loyal, nor grateful. Something extra is required: they must be made dependent (read: welfare state) on your rule, such that they suffer if anything happens to you. Only then will the people support you through thick and thin.

[7] If you rule through intermediaries, such as the magistracy, a strong and fatal to rule risk exists that they will abuse this power to become independent, defining themselves a monopoly of power, an enemy with goals at odds to all others, including your rule, nobles and people. The people will become adapted to obeying this power and, not you. They will not stand with you in times of adversity.



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