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The Prince

The Prince


by Niccolò Machiavelli

The Prince Chapter 19 Summary

Avoiding contempt and hatred

  • Remember how Machiavelli has said several times that it is super duper important not to be hated? Well, he's saying it again. Yeah, we got it, Niccolò.
  • He kind of summarizes in this chapter: don't be hated, leave people's family and property alone, don't appear weak, appear to be awesome in every way.
  • Sounds good so far. If you do all of that, you're probably safe from both internal and external threats.
  • What are internal threats, you say? Well we've been talking about external threats, which are war and invasions and that kind of stuff. Internal threats are things like conspiracies and revolutions.
  • How do you stop internal threats? Oh yeah, don't be hated.
  • You see, conspiracies need a certain amount of people. A one-person conspiracy is called a crazy person. So if most people like you, no one will ever be able to get together enough people that want to kill you and don't mind taking the risk to try to overthrow you.
  • Actually, if people like you enough, they might rat out the conspiracy to get you to like them.
  • Machiavelli gives us an example of Annibale Bentivogli, Duke of Bologna, who was killed by a conspiracy.
  • The thing is, everyone loved the family so much that it didn't even matter that, after the conspiracy, the only person in the family left was a baby. The city waited for the baby to grow up and rule them. That's serious love right there. The conspiracy didn't even make a dent.
  • Or better yet, look at France. There the king set up a parliamentary system to protect the people from the nobles, at least according to Machiavelli. A bonus was that everything could be blamed on the system, so no one would hate the king. Genius!
  • Okay, okay. Some critics in the back of the room are pointing out that the Roman emperors followed this advice and still failed.
  • First of all, that's like comparing apples to oranges. They needed to deal with the greed and cruelty of the army in addition to not being hated. This was a tough task, because the people wanted a peaceful leader, but the soldiers wanted the craziest, most bloodthirsty guy they could find.
  • Since it was kind of impossible to please both sides, it was most important to please the side that had the weapons. You know, the side that could kill you.
  • The emperors who just wanted to chill and sing kumbaya? Off with their heads.
  • But because they made the people hate them, the ones who let the army run amok in violent frenzies didn't keep their heads on much better than the other guys. Only one dude did that, and that was Severus. He somehow managed not to be hated, but admired.
  • We know, you want to figure out what kind of awesome sauce he was using, so we'll tell you.
  • This guy was so big and bad that when he walked into Rome with his posse, the Senate got so scared that they made him emperor without him even asking.
  • Then, Mr. Emperor realized that he had two problems: a guy in the West who wanted to be emperor, and guy in the East. How to fix this? Attack one outright. The other one? Yep, it's the old make-him-think-you're-a friend-and-then-kill-him-instead trick.
  • Honestly, this is starting to get old.
  • After this feat of cunning, everyone was too scared to mess with Severus. He was never hated by the people, even though he liked to pillage their lands.
  • Now for what not to do. Do not be like Severus's son, who was so overwhelmingly violent that he killed a decent number of the people in Rome.
  • So everyone hates him by now, and you know what happens when everyone hates you. Yep, conspiracy. Off with his head.
  • Still, Machiavelli tells us: you know, assassinations just happen sometimes, and not to worry about it.
  • Right.
  • So, where were we? Oh, right. Roman emperors had a lot more to deal with. Today (in Machiavelli's day), he says, rulers don't have to worry about the will of the Military as much, because the people are more powerful than they are. Well, except for Turkish and Egyptian rulers. They are weird. Otherwise, yeah: don't get hated by the people.

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