Chapter 10: Defending Your Position

Machiavelli called this, Chapter X: Concerning the Way in Which the Strength of All Principalities Ought to be Measured. He writes about being prepared, having resources, and inspiring loyalty, especially in the face of opposition.

Machiavelli identified two ways to inspire loyalty: by good will and by force. Force, as he writes in several chapters, is a short-term expedient. To inspire long-term loyalty, leaders need to use good will, and maybe throw a few favours about to buy it. People’s loyalties are to their leaders, not to anyone’s principles, so allegiances can always be bought.

Machiavelli looked at leaders as either those who had the power and a base of staunch allies to be self-sufficient, or those who needed outside support to advance or hold their positions:

“…whether a prince has such power that, in case of need, he can support himself with his own resources, or whether he is always in need of the protection of others.”

He recognized that sometimes loyalty needs to be bought. That doesn’t need to be purchased by cash, but may be purchased through other means: choice board appointments, support for other councillors’ initiatives, support for budgets, threats, favours, perks, etc. Letting someone stand in for the mayor in a public event or photo op is an inexpensive way to convey honour and prestige to a councillor.

If a mayor has the political capital, he or she can fortify the position against opponents:

“I consider those are able to support themselves by their own resources who can, either by abundance of men or money, raise a sufficient army capable of joining battle against anyone who comes to attack them…”

Every politician faces opposition. That’s the nature of a democracy. A wise politician gathers support for a motion or initiative before bringing it to the table, and makes sure he or she has enough votes to get it passed.

Sometimes before your initiative reaches the voting stage, it gets into the public and the media, where it can be challenged and questioned. The battle shifts from the council chamber to the newspapers and the streets. The coffee crowd weighs in on issues before council does.

Hiding in Your Fortress

In Machiavelli’s terms, joining battle meant sorties outside the city’s walls. That required an active army and the resources to maintain it. It meant taking an active defence, even making a counter-attack against challengers. Your walls are your office, your town hall and council chamber. The streets, the papers and the coffee shops are battlefields outside your city walls.

Without allies and resources to take the fight outside, a leader is forced to cower behind the city walls and hope the attacker doesn’t breach them:

“I consider those always to have need of others who cannot engage the enemy in the field, but are forced to defend themselves by sheltering behind walls.”

Such defence might preserve the city – i.e. your motion, your initiative, your goal – but it leaves the surrounding country vulnerable. In other words, you may be able to cover your own ass, but you leave those of your friends and supporters hanging out. You won’t be able to defend yourself in the media or on the street, and you give your supporters nothing to defend it for you.

It might save you and your initiative if your opposition sees you as unassailable and concentrates on your supporters instead, says Machiavelli:

“Who fortifies his town well…and looks after his subjects, will never be attacked without great hesitation, for men are always adverse to enterprises where difficulties are obvious, and it will be clear it is not to be an easy thing to attack one who has his town well-fortified, and who is not hated by his people.”

Machiavelli also points out that no challenge or attack can be sustained indefinitely. A canny leader may survive simply by stonewalling until the attackers run out of steam, or look elsewhere:

“A prince who has a well-fortified city, and had not made himself hated, will not be attacked. If anyone should attack, he will only be driven off ignominiously. Because affairs of this world change often, it is almost impossible to keep an army idle for a whole year in the field without being interfered with.”

Imagine this ‘attack’ as a challenge from the media: a demand for answers and for accountability on some issue.

This can become a rallying cry among the electorate when the media turns it into a campaign. A mayor who stonewalls, refuses interviews, replies with ‘no comment’ may duck the assault, but the media will look for other targets among that mayor’s supporters and allies.

Left to defend themselves against growing public outrage and demands, theses supporters will lose faith in the mayor, and can turn against their leader. The longer the campaign continues, the further they move away:

“If the people have property outside the city, and seeing it burnt, they will lose heart, and the long siege and self-interest will make them forget their duty to their prince…”

Machiavelli suggests that the ruler console supporters by promising that the campaign will be short and the damage limited; that the leader will reward them when it’s over. But it also helps to threaten them lest they stray too far from the party line. They might have their privileges curtailed, perks reduced, and themselves sidelined. In the federal or provincial government, they might be dropped from caucus, even kicked out of the party. Many a prime minister has dumped a wavering supporter from ministerial height to the backbench.

“The enlightened ruler controls his ministers by means of two handles alone: punishment and favour… Those who act as ministers fear the penalties and hope to profit by the rewards.”
Han Fei Tzu: Sec. 7: The Two Handles

Machiavelli’s advice combines the carrot and stick:

“A powerful and courageous prince will overcome all such difficulties by giving at one time hope to his subjects that the evil will not be for long, at another time fear of the cruelty of the enemy, then preserving himself adroitly from those subjects who seem to him to be too bold.”

In a somewhat cynical comment, Machiavelli suggests that supporters who are hung out to dry in an attack will feel more obligation to the ruler after the damage to their reputations and position have been done, because only the ruler can restore them to favour:

“After a time, when spirits have cooled, the damage is already done, the ills are incurred, and there is no longer any remedy; and therefore they are so much the more ready to unite with their prince, he appearing to be under obligations to them now that their houses have been burnt and their possessions ruined in his defence.”

At this point, after the attack has failed to take the city or bring down the politicians, the mayor can come out from behind the walls and dole out support, hand out some favours, and restore some of his or her supporters’ confidence by being visible again. These followers will be in the mayor’s debt:

“It is the nature of men to be bound by the benefits they confer as much as by those they receive.”

So support can come at the time of, or after an attack, and benefit the leader, as long as it comes from the leader:

“It will not be difficult for a wise prince to keep the minds of his citizens steadfast from first to last, when he does not fail to support and defend them.”

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