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The Prince

The Prince


by Niccolò Machiavelli

The Prince Chapter 8 Summary

States won by crime

  • Now let's talk about the two other ways for regular old Joes to become rulers: through crime and by being made king by everyone else.
  • Machiavelli gives us two examples of the first kinds.
  • Here's the ancient example: Agathocles was a bad man. Like, really bad. He somehow became the head of the army even though he was just the son of a potter. Then he decided that he was going to be king.
  • Can you guess what comes next? Yep, more killing. Agathocles invited the senators and richest guys around to a huge bash at his place and, before they knew it, they were dead, Agathocles was king, and everyone was too scared of this crazy guy to even try messing with him.
  • This guy didn't leave much up to luck, and it's easy to see that he worked hard at his kingdom.
  • But no one remembers him as an awesome leader. Why? Because he was insanely horrible and violent, that's why. He might have ruled securely, but you don't get written into the history books as a great ruler by massacring people left and right.
  • Okay, let's move into modern times with Oliverotto. He was raised by his uncle and went into the army, where he rose to the top of the pack.
  • Once he got there, he wanted to be his own boss, which meant ruling Fermo. So the plan was to go back to Fermo and tell his uncle to throw a big shindig for him. Fancy food, fancy clothes, all the highest-ranking people in town, the works.
  • Guess what happened when he got to the party? That's right, it wasn't a party after all—it was a massacre. Oliverotto killed all of the people there, including his uncle and scared everyone else so much that they set him up as the new ruler of Fermo.
  • Does this technique sound familiar?
  • So after this bloody coup, Oliverotto did all the good things a new ruler should do, like make a new army and government. He was doing all right for himself.
  • At least until he went to a party thrown by none other than Cesare Borgia. Man, if we were those guys, we would never go to a party again. It seems to be code word for "kill everyone en masse."
  • Okay, but how does a crazy guy like Agathocles keep ruling even though he's horribly violent?
  • Elementary, dear Shmoopton. He used cruelty well.
  • You can use cruelty badly, getting crueler and crueler over time, or you can use it well, getting less cruel pretty quickly.
  • If you use cruelty badly, everyone will hate you. It's better to get that part over with and give people favors over time instead.

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