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Now Machiavelli turns his attention to the contrast between two fundamentally different kinds of states. All principalities, says Machiavelli, have been governed in one of two ways: either by one absolute prince, to whom all others are completely subordinate-even the government ministers-or else by a prince and hereditary nobles, who hold their ranks not by the grace of the prince but by the antiquity of their lineage. (For a more detailed account of the role that ministers or advisers play in aiding a prince, see Chapters 22 and 23.) In those principalities that are governed by an absolute prince, the prince has far more power and authority.

The best example of the first type of rule in Machiavelli's day was the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, which was governed by an absolute monarch, who divided the country into districts supervised by appointed governors who could be replaced at their master's pleasure. The best example of the second type of rule was France, whose king was surrounded by large numbers of ancient nobles who were recognized and acknowledged by the people as lords, and who were held in great affection by them. The nobles had their rank and hereditary rights, which the king couldn't take away without danger to himself.

The Ottoman Empire, Machiavelli advises Lorenzo, would be difficult to conquer. A potential conqueror will not be invited into the country by any of the great nobles of the state, nor could he hope for a revolt by the ministers. Since they're all slaves and dependents of their master, it is difficult to corrupt them, and even if they are corrupted, they can't arouse the common people. Whoever attacks the Turks, therefore, must expect to find them united and must depend wholly upon his own forces, and not upon help from within the country.

France, on the other hand, would be easier to conquer, because having won over some of the great nobles, the prince will have no difficulty in entering the country. But for the conqueror to maintain himself there afterward will involve infinite difficulties. Nor will it be enough merely to wipe out the family of the former ruler, because the great nobles will place themselves at the head of new resistance movements; and the conqueror, not being able either to satisfy them or to crush them, will quickly lose the country again.

Machiavelli then shifts his focus to Alexander the Great, who conquered the kingdom of Darius of Persia in southwestern Asia between 331 and 327 B.C. Persia was a kingdom that resembled the Ottoman Empire, the reason why Alexander, a great strategist, decided to attack in full force. After the defeat of their absolute ruler, Darius, the people shifted their loyalties to Alexander, who ruled strongly and wisely, maintaining Darius's empire and expanding it even further into Asia. It was only after Alexander's death, in 323 B.C., that his enormous empire was divided into a number of separate states ruled by independent monarchs. Machiavelli blames Alexander's successors for the demise of the empire. If they had remained united they might also have enjoyed vast power at their ease, since there were no disturbances in the empire except those they created themselves.

To reinforce his point of view, Machiavelli again cites the manner in which the Romans-his favorite example-dealt with similar problems in the territories they conquered. The frequent insurrections of Spain, France, and Greece against the Romans were due to the many petty princes that existed in those states. As long as the memory of those old princes endured, the Romans were never secure in their control over those regions. But once the families of those princes were extinguished, the Romans became secure possessors of the territories. As a result, even afterward, when the Romans fought among themselves, each of the parties was able to keep for itself the province where it had established regional authority.


Here, most readers agree, is one example of Machiavelli's patriotic efforts to persuade Lorenzo to act swiftly and draw up plans to conquer Italy, which, like France, was then divided among many states and was therefore an easy prey. (The unified Italy you know today was established in the nineteenth century.)

When Machiavelli says that the Romans extinguished the families of the sovereigns when they captured new territory, he is carefully laying the foundation for his later discussion of the role that violence might play in power politics. Keep this in mind as you continue to read The Prince.

While contemporary "civilized" politicians would, at least in public, resist much of what Machiavelli suggests in this chapter, it is still apparent that his examples have modern parallels. Consider the role that violence, murder, and terrorism play in many countries. Can you think of any country where civil war, rebellion, or revolution has prevented the achievement of national promise? Is your example similar to the Ottoman Empire, with a powerful ruler and his loyal ministers? Or is it similar to France, with a powerful ruler and his reliable barons, or local chieftains?

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