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THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES
In Chapter 3, Machiavelli continues some of the arguments of the first two chapters and presents examples of principalities that are "mixed." Mixed principalities, those that include both old possessions of the ruler and newly acquired territories, are difficult to maintain and are subject to rebellion.
Fighting may continue simply because freedom fighters rebel against foreign rule, or because the new prince is disliked by both his original followers and his conquered enemies. Thus, the new prince finds that his enemies include all those whom he has injured by seizing his new principality; at the same time, he may lose the friendship of those who aided him in the conquest, because he can't satisfy their expectations.
To clarify his point of view, Machiavelli describes the historical situation of King Louis XII of France, who occupied Milan but could not win the support of its citizens despite their previous suffering under the harsh and cruel Italian prince Ludovico Sforza.
So that the fickle and unpredictable nature of the people won't undermine a prince's quest for power, Machiavelli suggests possible strategies to ensure that a newly acquired principality can be governed with a minimum of effort. The tough but realistic strategies advanced show clearly Machiavelli's experience-drawn both from his study of history and from his years as a diplomat.
Look at the strategies carefully. Do you think they would work? Do you think the American Revolution would have happened if King George III of England had followed Machiavelli's advice?
In the discussion so far Machiavelli has often referred to rebellion, force, and power. They will be discussed at length in the book, for they are essential ingredients in the Italian Renaissance world of power politics. Notice, also, that the principalities described so far depend on military superiority or the individual strength of forceful men. Is there any support for his views in recent history? Do you think the social and political upheavals of the late twentieth century in the Middle East, Africa, Central America, and other areas support Machiavelli's analysis?
The Romans, Machiavelli observes, followed these strategies carefully in the territory they conquered. They established colonies there and assisted the feebler chiefs-whom the Romans could control-without increasing their power, while they humbled the stronger chiefs-whom they could not control. They also permitted no powerful foreigners to acquire influence there. Thus, says Machiavelli, the Romans did what all the wise princes ought to do: they not only took care of present troubles, but also tried to avoid future ones. Foreseen difficulties can be provided against; but when you wait for problems to become serious, you run the risk of letting them become so big you can no longer control them. And so it is with the affairs of state.
The strategic errors made by Louis XII when he unsuccessfully invaded Italy are a good example. Louis XII accepted the invitation of Venice-a powerful and independent Italian city-state and the two powers combined forces to capture Lombardy. Then Louis XII rejected overtures for a treaty and alliance made by other Italian city-states and embarked on a personal journey of conquest. He made an ill-advised pledge to help Pope Alexander VI occupy Romagna and, by doing so, alienated his friends and supporters. When he later rejected the pope's request to become ruler of Tuscany, he created a strong rival and potential challenger to his rule. Not content with having snubbed the pope and with having alienated his own friends, Louis, in his eagerness to possess the kingdom of Naples, shared it with the king of Spain-who was powerful enough to drive him out later.
Louis XII committed these five errors, says Machiavelli, and they cost him his power: He destroyed the weak; he increased the power of one already powerful in Italy; he established a very powerful stranger there; he did not go to reside in Italy himself; and he did not plant colonies there. These errors, however, would not have injured him during his lifetime had he not committed a sixth one by attempting to deprive the Venetians of their possessions-and thereby turning that powerful city against him.
The decision to divide the kingdom of Naples with the Spaniards for the sake of avoiding a war alienated the Venetians who had helped Louis acquire his new kingdom. No prince, says Machiavelli, should ever submit to such an evil. For a war is never avoided; it is only deferred to one's own disadvantage and, as in the case of Louis XII, inevitable defeat.
NOTE: THE ERRORS OF LOUIS XII
The example of Louis XII was a very significant political fact for Machiavelli. He frequently returns to the example of Louis and his strategic errors as he points out the specific lessons to be learned from the mistakes of the French king. Machiavelli had known Louis XII personally. It might be helpful to your reading of The Prince to know that Cesare Borgia-Machiavelli's model prince-did follow the suggestions made here for the prince who acquires new principalities. Is Machiavelli, perhaps, trying to persuade Lorenzo to follow the blueprint of Cesare Borgia if he wishes to avoid the fate of Louis XII? Keep Cesare Borgia in mind as you begin to frame your own interpretation of the narrative that follows. It could help you to understand later references to him as a prince worthy of imitation.
The chapter concludes with the first of Machiavelli's golden, or general, rules for political power (these maxims, or proverbs, are intended to guide a prince in his quest for power and are excellent summaries of Machiavelli's thoughts on acquiring and maintaining power.):
The prince who causes another to become powerful thereby works his own ruin; for he has contributed to the power of the other either by his ability or force, and both the one and the other will be mistrusted by him whom he has thus made powerful.
There are other golden rules sprinkled throughout the book; they are clear statements of Machiavelli's best advice. Look for them. Underline them in your copy. When you collect all the rules concerning absolute power, rule by force, military strength, and political ethics, you will have in hand a convenient summary of Machiavelli's major themes in The Prince.