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THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES
Machiavelli now addresses those instances when a prominent citizen becomes prince of his country by the favor of his fellow citizens, not by treason or violence. This rise to power requires neither courage nor ability, but a keen shrewdness and the favor of either the people or the nobles.
In every state, says Machiavelli, there will be found two different dispositions. This results from the fact that the people dislike being ruled and oppressed by the nobles, whereas the nobles seek to rule and oppress the people. And it is this diversity of feeling and interest that brings about one of three things: either a principality, or a government of liberty, or anarchy. A principality results either from the will of the people or from the will of the nobles; it depends on which prevails or has the opportunity to assume power.
The nobles, seeing that they cannot oppose the people, turn to the influence and reputation of one of their own class; they make him a prince because they know he will be partial to their desires. The people, also, seeing that they cannot resist the nobles, turn to the influence and reputation of one man and make him a prince, so as to be protected by his authority. The prince who is brought to power by the aid of the nobles will have more difficulty in maintaining himself than the prince who arrives at that high station with the aid of the people. For the former finds himself surrounded by many who, in their opinion, are equal to him and for that reason he can neither command nor manage them in his own way. But a person who attains a principality by the favor of the people stands alone and has around him none, or very few, who will not lend him a ready obedience.
In choosing to court the favor of the nobles or the people, a wise prince should consider which of the two groups better serves his objectives. For example, he cannot satisfy the nobles with honesty or without wrong to others-since the goal of the nobles is to oppress-but it is easy to satisfy the people, whose aims are more honest than those of the nobles, because the people only wish to be free from oppression. A prince can never assure himself of a people who are hostile to him, however, for they are too numerous, while the nobles, on the other hand, are few and it would be easy for a prince to make himself sure of them. In considering his political options, a prince should also realize that the worst that will happen when the people are unfriendly to him is that they will desert him, but when the nobles are hostile, he must fear not only desertion but also that they will actively turn against him.
Either nobles shape their conduct to ally themselves entirely with a prince's fortunes, or else they do not. Those that attach themselves securely to a prince, if they are not greedy, should be honored and loved. Those who do not attach themselves to a prince may be regarded in two ways. First, if they are influenced by a natural lack of courage but have intelligence, a prince may use them in times of prosperity and not fear them in times of adversity. Second, if they are influenced by ambition, a prince should look upon them as open enemies; for when adversity comes, they will always turn against him and contribute to his ruin.
Although there are risks involved in wooing both the nobles and the people, Machiavelli says that it's essential for a prince to possess the good will and affection of his people; otherwise, he'll be utterly without support in bad times. Nabis, prince of Sparta, learned this lesson well. He withstood the attacks of Greece and of a victorious Roman army, successfully defending his country with the loyal support of a few supporters.
Therefore, says Machiavelli, no one should contradict his opinion on the subject of the prince's need to win the support of his people by quoting the trite saying that "he who relies upon the people builds upon quicksand." While this may be true when a private citizen places his faith and reliance upon the people, it's not true when a prince is in need of the people's assistance.
Machiavelli's views on dealing with the nobles and the people are probably the result of his own political experience. Remember that neither the Florentine nobles nor the government officials rallied to his cause when he was accused of treason and stripped of public office. Remember, also, that Machiavelli's views on the importance of popular support shift as his political argument shifts. Keep this in mind when you later read his opinions that the people are fickle, can't be trusted, and should never be relied upon to sustain a prince once he has achieved power. Machiavelli's suggestion here that the people should be wooed may be a subtle hint to Lorenzo that he'll need the popular support of the masses to retain power.
A wise prince, Machiavelli concludes, will steadily pursue such a course that the citizens of his state will always feel the need of his authority and will therefore always prove faithful to him.