The Prince: Novel Summary: Chapters 15-16
Chapter 15: Finally, in chapter 15, Machiavelli turns his attention to the rules by which a prince should govern. This is by far the most controversial issue in The Prince, and is what Machiavelli is known for.
Some of the first few lines in this chapter underline the entire theme behind Machiavelli's work: "for many have pictured republics and principalities which in fact have never been known or seen, because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil."
According to Machiavelli, an effective prince must leave his morals at the door, so to speak, because sometimes it's better to do evil than good. To understand Machiavelli's reasoning here, it's important to realize the purpose of The Prince. This book is written as a guide for princes who want to retain their power and keep their kingdoms unified. A prince's most important aim in life is not to model a kind of moral virtue or code of behavior, but simply rule effectively. Machiavelli is a realist-someone who writes from experience for an imperfect world. He recognizes this imperfect state of humanity and chooses to make the most of it. These sentiments likewise underscore the feelings many people had in Italy during the Renaissance.
Chapter 16: Next, Machiavelli confronts the issue of whether a prince should be liberal (meaning he leaves his people alone and tax-free for the most part) or mean (meaning he taxes his people heavily). Machiavelli comes to the conclusion that the best kind of prince is mostly liberal, but mean in some instances. Though he should develop a reputation for meanness, he should behave, on the contrary, quite liberally. When this is done correctly, he is "reproached" by his people but not "hated."
Yet a prince who doesn't exhibit some meanness will come to ruin. Machiavelli asserts, "a prince should guard himself, above all things, against being despised and hated, and liberality leads you to both." Caesar, he asserts, acted mean in some capacities in order to raise money to protect his government, yet he was by and large liberal. The best liberality, Machiavelli maintains, is the pillaging and taking of others' property. When a prince destroys a foreign state, he has an obligation to take the spoils of that state if he is to raise money without overly taxing his own subjects.