Chapters 20-21

How A Prince Should Conduct Himself So As To Gain A Reputation Icon

September 21, 2021

Nothing makes a prince so famous as great achievements and setting a fine example.

We have in our time Ferdinand of Aragon, the present King of Spain. He can almost be called a new prince, because he has risen, by success and glory, from being an insignificant king to be the most famous king in our part of the world.

If you examine his deeds, you will find them all great and some of them extraordinary. When he first became king, he attacked Granada, and this was the foundation of his success. He did this quietly at first and without any fear of others standing against him, because he kept the minds of the barons of Castile occupied in thinking of the war and not anticipating any innovations.

Thus, they did not perceive that by these means he was acquiring power and authority over them. He was able with the money of the Church and of the people to sustain his armies, and by that long war to lay the foundation for the military skill which has since distinguished him. In addition, always using religion as a justification, in order to undertake greater schemes, he devoted himself with great cruelty to driving out and clearing his kingdom of the Moors. There could not be a more admirable example, nor one more rare. Using this same reason, he attacked Africa, he began fighting in Italy, and he has finally attacked France.

Thus his achievements and designs have always been so remarkable that they have kept the minds of his people in admiration and kept them occupied with carrying them out. His actions have arisen in such a way, one out of the other, that people have never been given enough time to work steadily against him.

It greatly assists a prince to set unusual examples in internal affairs, similar to those which are told of Bernabo da Milano. When he had the opportunity in civil life to take account of someone who had done 35some extraordinary thing, either good or bad, he would use some method of rewarding or punishing him which would be much spoken about. A prince ought, above all things, to always try in every action to develop the reputation of being a great and remarkable man.

A prince is also respected when he is either a true friend or an absolute enemy, that is to say, when, without any reservation, he declares himself in favour of one party against the other.

This course will always be more advantageous than standing neutral. If two of your powerful neighbours come to blows, you have either to fear the winner or not. In either case it will always be more advantageous for you to support one of them and to actively make war. If you do not declare yourself, you will invariably be attacked by the conqueror, to the pleasure and satisfaction of the loser, and you will have no reasons to offer, nor anything to protect or to shelter you. The conqueror does not want doubtful friends who will not aid him in the time of difficulty, and the loser will not protect you because you did not willingly, sword in hand, follow his fate.

Antiochus went into Greece, being sent for by the Aetolians to drive out the Romans. He sent messengers to the Achaeans, who were friends of the Romans, urging them to remain neutral. On the other hand, the Romans urged them to take up arms. This question came to be discussed in the council of the Achaeans, where the representative of Antiochus urged them to stand neutral.

To this the Roman representative answered= “As for that which has been said, that it is better and more advantageous for your state not to interfere in our war, nothing can be more wrong. By not interfering you will be left without favour or consideration, and will become the prize of the conqueror.” Thus it will always happen that the one who is not your friend will demand your neutrality, while the one who is your friend will beg you to declare yourself with arms. Weak princes, to avoid present dangers, generally follow the neutral path, and are generally ruined. But when a prince declares himself courageously in favour of one side, if the party with whom he joins himself conquers, although the conqueror may be powerful and may have him at his mercy, yet he is indebted to him, and a bond of friendship is established.

Men are never so low as to become a symbol of ungratefulness by oppressing you. Victories after all are never so complete that the winner must not show some regard, especially to justice. But if the one you support loses, you may be sheltered by him, and while he is able he may aid you, and you can become companions on a fortune that may rise again.

In the second case, when those who fight are of such a character that you do not feel threatened by whoever wins, it becomes even more important to support one side. By doing this, you assist at the destruction of one by the aid of another. Because of your much needed assistance, the conqueror remains dependent on you. It must be noted here that a prince should never join with one more powerful than himself for the purposes of attacking others, unless it is absolutely necessary. If he conquers you are at his mercy, and as much as possible princes ought to avoid being in a weaker position to anyone. The Venetians joined with France against the Duke of Milan, which caused their ruin, and could have been avoided.

But when it cannot be avoided, as happened to the Florentines when the Pope and Spain sent armies to attack Lombardy, then in such a case, for the above reasons, the prince ought to support one of the parties.

No Government should imagine that it can choose perfectly safe courses. It should expect to have to take very doubtful ones because in ordinary affairs one never seeks to avoid one trouble without running into another. Wisdom consists of knowing how to distinguish the character of troubles, and how to choose the lesser evil.

A prince ought also be seen to support people of ability, and to honour the skilled in every art.

At the same time he should encourage his citizens to perform their jobs peacefully, both in commerce and agriculture, and in every other field, so that people are not worried about increasing their possessions for fear that they might be taken away from them or about opening up trade for fear of taxes. The prince should offer rewards to whoever wishes to do things like these which may bring honour to his city or state.

In addition, a prince ought to amuse the people with entertainments and ceremonies at appropriate times of the year. and as every city is divided into tradesmen’s organisations or into societies, he ought to respect such groups, and associate with them sometimes. He should show himself to be an example of good behaviour and generosity, but nevertheless, always maintain the awareness of his high rank.


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