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Chapter 7

Chapter VII: Of New Dominions Acquired by the Power of Others or by Fortune

Machiavelli here returns to the stated aims of his book: to describe how a prince may best both acquire and maintain power. The "armed prophet," as we remember, will have incredible difficulty acquiring power, but once he has it, will be able to maintain it easily. By contrast, the ruler who comes to power through the efforts of others (i.e. by buying or bribing one's way into office), or the ruler who gets his position through sheer fortune, or luck, has a very easy time acquiring power - but will find it almost impossible to maintain.

This latter way of coming to power results in a state with very shallow roots, and usually means that the new prince has no native ability as a ruler.

Machiavelli introduces two of his most famous examples in order to make this contrast vivid: Francesco Sforza and Cesare Borgia. Francesco came to power in Milan "by appropriate means and through great abilities." He achieved power after many difficulties, but stayed there easily. By contrast, Cesare Borgia became Duke because of the influence of his father, Pope Alexander VI (apparently, vows of celibacy were not really taken very seriously back then!). No political stability could be built on such a flimsy foundation; once his father was out of the picture, Cesare could not stay in power, as much as he tried to do so.

You would think that the introduction of the example of Cesare Borgia would be meant purely negatively; after all, he is supposed to be an example of how not to become prince. And yet, Machiavelli goes into great detail describing both Alexander VI's actions in achieving power for his son and Cesare's own efforts to govern, not in order to condemn these but to suggest that they are often admirable. For instance, Machiavelli describes the incredible political savvy of Alexander as he plotted the future success of his son by creating and manipulating political intrigue and unrest in Italy. One of his most ingenious moves (and one of the most famous passages in The Prince ) concerned the government of the Romagna province. Alexander knew that weak government had allowed all manner of crime and violence to flourish there, and knew that it needed cleaning up so that he could govern it more easily. He appointed a harsh deputy governor, Remirro de Orco, to punish criminals and crack down on law-breakers of all kinds. Remirro did his work well. Alexander, however, knew that his deputy's harsh measures were both necessary and hated by the people (no one likes a cruel enforcer of the laws). So, after Remirro had successfully wiped out most of the crime in the Romagna, Alexander "had him cut in half, and placed one morning in the public square. . . with a piece of wood and a blood-stained knife by his side." In other words, Alexander used Remirro to take care of his dirty work, then earned the "thanks" of the people by executing him. Suddenly, Romagna was both free of crime, and well-disposed toward Alexander's rule.

After Pope Alexander died, Cesare his son took over - and Machiavelli has just told us that such a manner of achieving power is not to be desired. However, Machiavelli asserts that the only thing that prevented Cesare from successfully governing was his poor health and his bad choice of pope, and tells us that he should be in "imitated" in most of his actions. This is not the contradiction it seems, though. Machiavelli is, after all, offering a handbook for all kinds of princes. While he acknowledges that coming to power in the way the Cesare did is not desirable, nevertheless Cesare is an example of the best a prince can do, given such circumstances.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Important Persons
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Summary of the Argument
Prefatory Letter
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapter 3
Chapters 4 and 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapters 9 and 10
Chapters 11 and 12
Chapters 13 and 14
Chapters 15 and 16
Chapters 17 and 18
Chapters 19 and 20
Chapters 21, 22, and 23
Chapters 24, 25, and 26


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