Machiavelli on War Forces: Personal Armies Are the Way to Go

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When it comes to building an army for war, what does Machiavelli advise? What’s the secret to finding loyal soldiers?

In The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli distinguishes three types of armies: hired forces, borrowed forces, and personal forces. He cautions princes to avoid hired forces, to be wary of borrowed forces, and to opt for personal forces when possible.

Continue reading for a brief discussion of Machiavelli on war forces.

Hired and Borrowed Forces

Hired forces are a preexisting mercenary group that a prince pays for their services, while borrowed forces are soldiers loaned to a prince by another prince or government, either because they’re working towards a common goal or as a show of goodwill between nations. There are two issues with hired or borrowed forces: They’re not loyal to the prince, and using them puts the prince in debt, either literally or in terms of relying on another ruler for monetary and military support.

Personal Forces

When it comes to advice from Machiavelli on war, he argues that all princes should have personal forces. Developing a personal army has several advantages: The prince relies solely on their own resources, they have full control over how their army is organized and run, and they can enforce loyalty within the ranks through a combination of legal structures (such as making desertion a crime) and social shaming (encouraging the populace to see military service as part of their patriotic duty). 

Princes should not just be the heads of their states on the civilian side of things; they should be seen as military leaders. Machiavelli writes that, for a prince, strong ‘arms’ are just as important as strong laws, and even a prince who has no direct interaction with soldiers should make an effort to be knowledgeable about military tactics and warfare. If a prince does have personal involvement with commanding the military, they’re more able to use their personal forces as a resource and are thus more secure in their position. 

Machiavelli’s Militia

Under the Florentine Republic, Machiavelli proposed and then organized the city’s personal militia. This militia saw a number of military successes before it was eventually defeated and dissolved when the Medicis took over. In making this point, Machiavelli may have been defending his past actions and encouraging the Medici to follow his example—rather than relying on papal forces and therefore a continuing relationship with Rome, the rulers of Florence could train and organize their own troops, always have them on hand to defend the city, and encourage patriotism among the general population and the soldiers alike. Having a personal army would also stabilize their government against rebellion, which was a threat they had faced before
Machiavelli on War Forces: Personal Armies Are the Way to Go

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  • Niccolò Machiavelli's description of how authoritarian leaders should rule
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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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