• Machiavelli

This page refers to post 14: Machiavelli’s ‘Of the Civic Principality’.

Excerpt from The Prince, Ch9: Of the Civic Principality. See copyright notes

[1] But we now come to the case where a citizen becomes prince not through crime or intolerable violence, but by the favour of his fellow-citizens, which may be called a civic principality. To attain this position depends not entirely on worth nor entirely on fortune, but rather on cunning assisted by fortune. One attains it by help of popular favour or by the favour of the aristocracy. For in every city these two opposite parties are to be found, arising from the desire of the populace to avoid the oppression of the great, and the desire of the great to command and oppress the people. And from these two opposing interests arises in the city one of the three effects: either absolute government, liberty or licence. The former is created either by the populace or the nobility, depending on the relative opportunities of the two parties; for when the nobility see that they are unable to resist the people they unite in exalting one of their number and creating him prince, so as to be able to carry out their own designs under the shadow of his authority. The populace, on the other hand, when unable to resist the nobility, endeavour to exalt and create a prince in order to be protected by his authority. He who becomes prince by help of the nobility has greater difficulty in maintaining his power than he who is raised by the populace, for he is surrounded by those who think themselves his equals, and is thus unable to direct or command as he pleases. But one who is raised to leadership by popular favour finds himself alone, and has no one, or very few, who are not ready to obey him. Besides which, it is impossible to satisfy the nobility by fair dealing and without inflicting injury on others, whereas it is very easy to satisfy the mass of the people in this way. For the aim of the people is more honest than that of the nobility, the latter desiring to oppress, and the former merely to avoid oppression. It must also be added that the prince can never insure himself against a hostile populace on account of their number, but he can against the hostility of the great, as they are but few. The worst that a prince has to expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned, but from hostile nobles he has to fear not only desertion but their active opposition, and as they are more far-seeing and more cunning, they are always in time to save themselves and take sides with the one who they expect will conquer. The prince is, moreover, obliged to live always with the same people, but he can easily do without the same nobility, being able to make and unmake them at any time, and improve their position or deprive them of it as he pleases.

[2] And to throw further light on this part of my argument, I would say, that the nobles are to be considered in two different manners; that is, they are either to be rules so as to make them entirely dependent on your fortunes, or else not. Those that are thus bound to you and are not rapacious must be honoured and loved; those who stand aloof must be considered in two ways, they either do this through pusillanimity and natural want of courage, and in this case you ought to make use of them, and especially such as are good of counsel, so that they may honour you in prosperity and in adversity you have not to fear them. but when they are not bound to you of set purpose and for ambitious ends, it is a sign that they think more of themselves than of you; and from such men the prince must guard himself and look upon them as secret enemies, who will help to ruin him when in adversity.

[3] One, however, who becomes prince by favour of the populace, must maintain its friendship, which he will find easy, the people asking for nothing but not to be oppressed. But one who against the people’s wishes becomes prince by favour of the nobles, should above all endeavour to gain the favour of the people; this will be easy to him if he protects them. And as men, who receive good from whom they expected evil, feel under greater obligation to their benefactor, so the populace will soon become even better disposed towards him than if he had become prince through their favour. The prince can win their favour in many ways, which vary according to circumstances, for which no certain rule can be given, and will therefore be passed over. I will only say, in conclusion, that it is necessary for a prince to possess the friendship of the people; otherwise he has no resource in times of adversity.

[4] Nabis, prince of the Spartans, sustained a siege by the whole of Greece and a victorious Roman army, and defended his country against them and maintained his own position. It sufficed when the danger arose for him to make sure of a few, which would not have sufficed if the populace had been hostile to him. And let no one oppose my opinion in this by quoting the trite proverb ‘He who builds on the people builds on mud’; because that is true when a private citizen relies upon the people and persuades himself that they will liberate him if he is oppressed by enemies or by the magistrates; in this case he might often find himself deceived, as were in Rome the Gracchi and in Florentine Messer Georgio Scali. But when it is a prince who founds himself on this basis, one who can command and is a man of courage, and does not get frightened in adversity, and does not neglect other preparations, and one who by his own valour and measure animates the mass of the people, he will not find himself deceived by them, and he will find that he has laid his foundations well.

[5] Usually these principalities are in danger when the prince from the position of civil ruler changes to an absolute one, for these princes either command themselves or by means of magistrates. In the latter case their position is weaker and more dangerous, for they are at the mercy of those citizens who are appointed magistrates, who can, especially in times of adversity, with great facility deprive them of their position, either by acting against them or by not obeying them. The prince is not in time, in such dangers, to assume absolute authority, for the citizens and subjects who are accustomed to take their orders from the magistrates are not ready in these emergencies to obey his, and he will always in difficult times lack men whom he can rely on. Such a prince cannot base himself on what he sees in quiet times, when the citizens have need of the state; for then every one is full of promises and each one is ready to die for him when death is far off; but in adversity, when the state has need of citizens, then he will find but few. And this experience is the more dangerous, in that it can only be had once. Therefore a wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always and in every possible condition of things have need of his government, and they they will always be faithful to him.

Use words from the choices given to complete the definitions. Look at the text to check that your choice fits the context.

adversity / conquer / disposed / evil / hostile / liberate /
licence / prosperity / pusillanimity / rapacious / suffice / trite

a. having the freedom to do anything without control is the meaning of…
b. to be enough to fulfill a particular purpose is the meaning of…
c. to be overused and consequently meaningless is the meaning of…
d. how one feels or regards the worth of another is the meaning of…
e. being greedy and unscrupulous is the meaning of…
f. cowardliness is the meaning of…
g. to face times of trouble or hardship is the meaning of…
h. to enjoy times of peace or good fortune is the meaning of…

Go to vocab answers

Paragraph Main ideas

Be sure to follow the reading technique outlined earlier. Make a note of each paragraph’s main ideas. When you are ready you can compare your notes with my notes on the paragraph main ideas.

Basic Arguments

a. In paragraph one, lay out the reasons that Machiavelli gives for claiming that the favour of the people is more important to a prince than the favour of the aristocracy.


b. Why does Machiavelli say that the people are the prince’s most important ally?

c. How does Machiavelli answer the riposte that ‘He who builds on the people, builds on mud’?

Go to answers for the Basic Arguments, read my Commentary on Machiavelli or
continue reading

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