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THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 21

With this chapter, Machiavelli returns to the discussion begun in Chapter 18 on how to acquire a reputation, elaborating on why it is essential for a prince to undertake great enterprises and give a noble example in his own person.

Machiavelli cites the example of Ferdinand of Spain, a new prince who conquered the Moors in Granada, attacked Africa, and then invaded Italy and France, At first, Ferdinand carried on these wars in a leisurely fashion, and without fear of opposition. He thereby kept his nobles occupied, and they paid no attention to the innovations introduced by the king. Ferdinand thus acquired a reputation and an influence over the nobles without their being aware of it. The money of the Church and the people allowed him to support his armies, and the long wars enabled him to lay a stable foundation for his military establishment. In addition, Ferdinand always used religion as a pretext for his actions and committed "pious cruelty" in driving the Muslim Moors from his kingdom. Thus, he was always planning great enterprises, which kept the minds of his subjects in a state of suspense and admiration.

A prince, furthermore, is respected most when he shows himself to be either a true friend or a real enemy. To declare himself openly for or against another is always more creditable than to remain neutral.

NOTE: THE MEASURE OF GREAT MEN

Ferdinand is an example suggesting political power has no other function than to create order in a specific place and situation. The use of political power does not seek order and stability for the world at large, but only for one nation at the expense of others. Because success is judged exclusively by how well a ruler achieves a stable, orderly, dynamic, and victorious state, only attempts to lead one's nation to such a position can be used for a serious evaluation of the political leader's greatness.


Glorious men, says Machiavelli in The Discourses, are those who successfully complete their attempts to vitalize their own societies, to strengthen them militarily, and to stabilize them politically. These rulers are those rare individuals who can translate their unique talents into actions that yield favorable results for the state. They make history by shaping the destiny of their nations. "Glory" is the prize of the prince's victory, and though it shines in posterity, its origins must be present during the prince's lifetime. To gain power is one thing; to win glory, another.

Can you make such a clear distinction between power and glory? Does the pursuit of power distinguish great men from ordinary men? What examples can you advance that support Machiavelli's ideal that the "public good" that results from glory is more lasting than the private good that results from power?

A prince should also show himself to be a lover of virtue, and should honor all who excel in any of the arts. He should encourage his citizens quietly to pursue their vocations-whether of commerce, agriculture, or any other productive or useful industry-and should provide rewards for those willing to do these things, and for all who strive to enlarge his city or state. Besides this, he should at suitable periods amuse his people with festivities and spectacles. He should, further, set an example of his humanity and magnificence, always preserving, however, the majesty of his dignity, which should never be absent under any circumstances.

NOTE: CONDUCT OF A PRINCE

Machiavelli may be directly addressing Lorenzo here with his lengthy list of the ways in which a prince should conduct himself to become respected and admired. Lorenzo is reported to have been a strikingly handsome, robust, and well-liked prince who enjoyed athletic contests and civic celebrations. But some of his political decisions had disturbed many Italians and made them question his ability as a leader. For example, he had twice remained neutral in recent Italian civil wars and had refused to join forces with several city-states in their fight for freedom. Could Machiavelli be subtly pointing out to Lorenzo that he should consider a more aggressive role if he's to drive the foreign invaders from Italy?

But in judging the actions of a prince, where does one draw the line between timidity and discretion? Machiavelli warns the prince not to ally himself with stronger rulers. Consider the case of Italy's Benito Mussolini and Spain's Francisco Franco-both Fascist dictators and seemingly natural allies of Hitler's Germany. Yet, while Mussolini joined forces with Hitler during World War II, Franco remained neutral. Mussolini, a student of Machiavelli, acted decisively, but Germany and Italy lost the war and he was destroyed. Franco, it might seem, acted timidly, but he and his regime survived the war. Is Machiavelli overlooking here a quality in the ideal leader that may sometimes be more important than physical courage-namely, discretion?

Machiavelli also seems to be suggesting that the powerful prince should mingle with his people, engage in common activities, play sports, and sponsor festivals and fairs that attract supporters. Does this sound like a familiar device to win friends and influence people? Think of contemporary politicians and leaders of industry who engage in similar activities to sell themselves to the public. While at first glance this practice may appear to be a harmless way of winning favor, is there a more serious or dangerous element involved in a leader freely mingling with the people? Consider, for example, recent attempted assassinations, kidnappings, and other acts of terrorism involving world leaders. What do you think Machiavelli would have to say about this?

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