Chapter 9

The Constitutional Principality Icon

September 25, 2021

A “constitutional principality” emerges when a leading citizen becomes the prince by the favour of his fellow citizens and not by wickedness or violence.

A fortunate cleverness is needed to attain to it, not genius or fortune. Such a principality is obtained either:

  • by the favour of the people or
  • by the favour of the nobles.

These two distinct parties are found in all cities.

  • The people do not wish to be ruled or oppressed by the nobles
  • The nobles wish to rule and oppress the people.

From these 2 opposite desires there are 3 possible results:

  • a principality
  • self government
  • disorder.


This is created either by the people or by the nobles depending on who has the opportunity.

  1. By the nobles

The nobles see that they cannot overcome the people. They push one of their own people forward and make him a puppet prince.

  1. By the people

The people find that they cannot resist the nobles. They also push of their own and make him a prince to defend them. He can maintain himself easier than the puppet prince. This is because the puppet has many around him who consider themselves his equals. This prevents him from managing them to his liking.

But a popular prince has many people willing to obey him.

The puppet cannot satisfy the nobles by fair dealing and without injuring others. But the popular prince can satisfy the people, for their goals are more proper.

The nobles wish to oppress, while the people only desire not to be oppressed. A prince can never secure himself against a hostile people, because they are too many.

On the other hand, he can secure himself from the nobles, as they are few. The worst that a prince may expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned by them.

However, from hostile nobles, he has not only to fear abandonment, but also that they will rise against him; for they, being in these affairs more far-seeing and clever, always come forward in time to save themselves, and to obtain favours from him whom they expect to win.

Furthermore, the prince must always live with the same people, but he can do well without the same nobles. He can make and unmake them daily, and give or take away their authority whenever it pleases him.

Therefore, the nobles should be looked at in two ways:

  1. They are entirely bound to your fortune, or
  • These should be respected and loved if they are not greedy
  1. They are not bound to your fortune
  • They might not be bound because of cowardice or ambition

If they are cowards, then use them especially those who give good advice. In this way, in good times you honour them and in difficult times you do not have to fear them.

A prince should guard himself against ambitious people and should fear them as if they were open enemies. In difficult times, they always help to ruin him.

Therefore, a popular prince should keep them friendly. He can easily do this because they only ask not to be oppressed by him. But a puppet prince should, above everything, seek to win the people over to himself. He may easily do this if he takes them under his protection. This is because people are bound more closely to their protector when they expect evil but receive good from him instead.

Thus, the people quickly become more devoted to him than if he had been raised to the principality through their support.

The prince can win their support in many various ways. Regardless, it is necessary for a prince to have the people friendly, otherwise he has no security in difficult times.

Nabis, prince of the Spartans, defended his country against the attack of all Greece and of a victorious Roman army.

To overcome this danger, he only needed to secure himself against a few, because his people were not hostile to him.

There is an old saying: “He who builds on the people, builds on the mud.”

This saying is only true when a private citizen runs the country and foolishly believes that the people will free him when he is oppressed by his enemies.

But one will never be abandoned by the people if he is a prince who has established himself through his command, courage, and other qualifications, and by his resolution and energy, keeps all the people encouraged. Such is a good foundation.

Councils are Weak

These principalities are open to danger when they are passing from the constitutional to the absolute order of government, for such princes either rule personally or through councils.

A government run by a council is weaker and more insecure, because it rests entirely on the attitude of those citizens on the council. In troubled times, they can destroy the government easily by trickery or open rebellion.

In a rebellion, the prince is unable to exercise absolute authority because the citizens and subjects are used to receiving orders from the council. They are not willing to obey him during unstable situation. Moreover, in doubtful times, he can trust only a few people unlike during good times.

In good times, they all promise to support him. But in troubled times when the state needs its citizens, he finds only a few.

Moreover, this experiment of moving from a constitutional to an absolute government is dangerous, because it can only be tried once.

Therefore, a wise prince should make sure that his citizens will always be faithful and need him and the state.


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