Discourses on Livy/First Book/Chapters LI-LX

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Discourses on Livy by Niccolò Machiavelli
First Book (Chapters XI-XX)

Chapter LI: A Republic or a Prince Ought to Feign to Do Through Liberality, That Which Necessity Constrains Them[edit]

Prudent men always make the best of things in their actions, although necessity should constrain them to do them in any case. This prudence was well employed by the Roman Senate when they decided that a public stipend be given to the fighting men, it having been the military custom of they maintaining their own selves. But the Senate seeing that war could not be made for any length of time in this manner, and, because of this, they could neither besiege towns nor lead armies to a distance, and judging it to be necessary to be able to do the one and the other, decided that the said stipends be given: but they did it in such a way that they made the best of that which necessity constrained them to do; and this present was so accepted by the Plebs, that Rome went upside down with joy; for it seemed to them to be a great benefit which they never hoped to have, and which they would never have sought by themselves. And although the Tribunes endeavored to cancel this decree, showing that it was something that aggravated and not lightened the burden ((it being necessary to impose tributes to pay this stipend)), none the less they could not do much to keep the Plebs from accepting it: which was further increased by the Senate by the method by which they assigned the tributes, for those that were imposed on the Nobles were more serious and larger, and the first (required) to be paid.

Chapter LII: To Reprimand the Insolence of a Powerful One Who Springs Up in a Republic, There is No More Secure and Less Troublesome Way Than to Forestall Him Those Ways By Which He Comes to Power[edit]

It will be seen from the above written discourse, how much credit the Nobility had acquired with the Plebs because of the demonstrations made to their benefit, both by the stipends ordered, as well also as the method of imposing the tributes. If the Nobility had maintained themselves in this order they would have removed every cause for tumult in that City, and this would have taken away from the Tribunes that credit which they had with the Plebs, and consequently their authority. And, truly, there cannot exist in a Republic, and especially in those that are corrupt, a better method, less troublesome and more easily opposed to the ambitions of any Citizen, than to forestall him those ways by which he observes to be the paths to attain the rank he designates. Which method, if it had been employed against Cosimo De'Medici, would have been a much better procedure for his adversaries than to have driven him out of Florence: for if those Citizens who were competing against him had taken his style of favoring the People, they would have succeeded without tumult and without violence in drawing from his hands the arms which he availed himself of most.

Piero Soderini had made a reputation for himself in the City of Florence alone by favoring the General Public; this among the People gave him the reputation as a lover of liberty in the City. And certainly it would have been an easier and more honest thing for those Citizens who envied him for his greatness, (and) less dangerous and less harmful to the Republic, for them to have forestalled him in the ways by which he made himself great, than to want to oppose him in such a way that with his ruin, all the rest of the Republic should be ruined; for if they had taken away from his hands those arms which made him strong ((which they could have done easily)) they could have opposed him in all the councils and all the public deliberations boldly and without suspicion. And if anyone should reply that if those Citizens who hated Piero made an error in not forestalling him the ways with which he gained reputation for himself among the People, Piero also made an error in not forestalling him those ways by which his adversaries made him be feared: for which Piero merits to be excused, as much because it was difficult for him to have done so, as also because it was not honest for him: For the means with which he was attacked were to favor the Medici, with which favors they beat him and, in the end, ruined him. Piero, therefore, could not honestly take up this part in order that he could destroy that liberty by his good name, to which he had been put in charge to guard: Moreover, these favors not being able to be done suddenly and secretly, would have been most dangerous for Piero; for whenever he should be discovered to be a friend of the Medici, he would have become suspect and hated by the People: whence there arose more opportunities to his enemies to attack him than they had before.

In every proceeding, therefore, men ought to consider the defects and perils which it (presents), and not to undertake it if it should be more dangerous than useful, notwithstanding the result should conform to their decision: for to do otherwise in this case it would happen to them as it happened to Tullius (Cicero), who, wanting to take away the favors from Marcantonio, increased them for him: for Marcantonio having been judged an enemy of the Senate, and having gathered together that great army in good part from the soldiers who had been followers of Caesar's party, Tullius, in order to deprive him of those soldiers advised the Senate to give authority to Octavian and send him with the army and the Consuls against him (Antony) and join the latter (Octavian), and thus Marcantonio remaining bereft of favor, would easily be destroyed. Which (thing) turned out to the contrary, for Marcantonio won over Octavian to himself, who, leaving Tullius and the Senate, joined him. Which (thing) brought about the complete destruction of the party of the Aristocracy (Patricians). Which was easy to foresee, and that which Tullius advised should not have been believed, but should have kept account always that name which, with so much glory, had destroyed his enemies and acquired for him the Principality of Rome, and they ought never to have believed they could expect anything from his supporters favorable to liberty.

Chapter LIII: The People Many Times Desire Their Ruin, Deceived By a False Species of Good: and How Great Hopes and Strong Promises Easily Move Them[edit]

After conquering the City of the Veienti, there entered into the Roman People the idea that it would be a useful thing for the City of Rome if one half of the Romans should go and live at Veii, arguing that because that City was rich in countryside, full of buildings, and near to Rome, it could enrich the half of the Roman Citizens and not disturb any civil activities because of the nearness of the location. Which thing appeared to the Senate and the wiser Romans so useless and so harmful, that they said freely they would rather suffer death than consent to such a decision. So that this subject coming up for debate, the Plebs were so excited against the Senate that it would have come to arms and bloodshed if the Senate had not made itself a shield of some old and esteemed Citizens, reverence for whom restrained the Plebs so that they did not proceed any further with their insolence. Here, two things are to be noted. The first, that many times, deceived by a false illusion of good, the People desire their own ruin, and unless they are made aware of what is bad and what is good by someone in whom they have faith, the Republic is subjected to infinite dangers and damage. And if chance causes People not to have faith in anyone ((as occurs sometimes, having been deceived before either by events or by men)), their ruin comes of necessity. And Dante says of his proposition in the discussion he makes in De Monarchia (On Monarchy), that the People many times shout, Life to their death and death to their life. From this unbelief it sometimes happens in Republics that good proceedings are not undertaken, as was said above of the Venetians who, when assaulted by so many enemies could not undertake a procedure of gaining some of them over to themselves by giving to them things taken from others; because of this war was moved against them and a conspiracy of (other) Princes made against them, before their ruin had come.

Considering therefore what is easy and what is difficult to persuade a People to, this distinction can be made: either that which you have to persuade them to represents at first sight a gain or a loss, or truly it appears a courageous or cowardly proceeding: and if, in the things that are placed in front of the people, there is seen a gain even though it is concealed under a loss, and if it appears courageous even though it is hidden beneath the ruin of the Republic, it will always be easy to persuade the multitude to it: and thus it will always be difficult to persuade them of those proceedings where either some usefulness or loss is apparent, even though the welfare and benefit (of the Republic) were hidden under it. This that I have said is confirmed by infinite examples, Roman and foreign, modern and ancient.

For, from this, there arose the evil opinion that sprung up in Rome of Fabius Maximus, who could not persuade the Roman people that it was useless to that Republic to proceed slowly in that war, and to sustain the attack of Hannibal without engaging in battle, because that people judged this proceeding cowardly, and did not see what usefulness there should be in that, and Fabius did not have sufficient cause to demonstrate it to them: and the People are so blinded on these ideas of bravery, that although the Roman People had made that error of giving authority to the Master of the horse of Fabius to enable him to engage in battle, even though Fabius did not want to, and that because of this authority the Roman camp would have been broken up except for the prudence of Fabius which remedied it; this experience was not enough for them, for they afterwards made Varro Consul, not for any of his merits but for having promised throughout all the plazas and public places of Rome to rout Hannibal anytime he should be given the authority. From this came the battle and defeat of Cannae, and almost caused the ruin of Rome. I want to cite on this proposition another Roman example. Hannibal had been in Italy eight or ten years, had filled this province with killings of Romans, when M. Centenius Penula came to the Senate, a very base man ((none the less he had some rank in the military)), and offered them that if they gave him authority to be able to raise an army of volunteers in any place in Italy he wished, he would in a very short time give them Hannibal, either taken or dead. The demands of this man appeared foolish to the Senate: none the less thinking that if they should deny him this, his request would be later known by the People, that there might arise some tumult, envy, and ill will against the Senatorial order, they conceded it to him; desiring rather to put in danger all those who followed him than to cause new indignation to spring up among the People, knowing how much a like proceeding would be accepted and how difficult it would be to dissuade them. This man, therefore, with an unorganized and undisciplined multitude went to meet Hannibal, and he no sooner had come to the encounter than he, with all his followers, were routed and killed.

In Greece in the City of Athens, Nicias, a most serious and prudent man, never could persuade that people that it would not be good to go and assault Sicily, so that this decision taken against the will of the wise caused the complete ruin of Athens. When Scipio was made Consul and desired the province of Africa, he promised to everyone the ruin of Carthage; when the Senate did not agree to this because of the verdict of Fabius Maximus, he threatened to bring it before the People, as he very well knew that such decisions were liked by the People.

On this proposition an example can be given of our own City, as it was when Messer Ercole Bentivogli, commander of the Florentine forces, together with Antonio Giacomini, after having defeated Bartolomeo D'Alvino at San Vincenti, went to besiege Pisa: which enterprise was decided upon by the People on the brave promises of Messer Ercole, although many of the wise Citizens censured it: none the less there was no remedy, being pushed by that desire of the general public which was based on the brave promises of the commander.

I say, therefore, that there is no easier way to ruin a Republic where the People have authority, than to involve them in a brave enterprise: because where the People are of any importance, they will always accept them, nor will there be anyone of contrary opinion who will know any remedy. But if the ruin of the City results from this, there also and more often results the ruin of the particular Citizens who are in charge of such enterprises: for the People having expected victory, if defeat comes, they do not blame fortune or the impotence of those who commanded, but their wickedness and ignorance, but most of the times they either kill or imprison them, or exile them, as happened to infinite Carthaginian Captains and to many Athenians. Nor do any victories that they might have had in the past benefit them, because they are all cancelled by the present defeat, as happened to our Antonio Giacomini, who, not having conquered Pisa as he promised and the People expected, fell into such popular disgrace that, notwithstanding his past infinite good works, he (was allowed to) live more because of the humanity of those who had authority who defended him from the People than for any other reason.

Chapter LIV: How Much Authority a Great Man Has in Restraining an Excited Multitude (Mob)[edit]

The second notable item mentioned in the text of the above chapter is, that nothing is so apt to restrain an excited multitude (mob) as the reverence (inspired) by some man of gravity and authority who encounters them; and not without reason Virgil says:

    When they saw a man of grave aspect and strong with merit 
    They became silent, and stood with eager ears.

Therefore, he who is in charge of an army, or he who finds himself in a City where a tumult has arisen, ought to present himself there with as much grace and as honorably as he can, attiring himself with the insignia of his rank which he holds in order to make himself more revered. A few years ago Florence was divided into two factions, who called themselves, thusly, the Frateschi (Brotherly) and Arrabiati (Angered); and coming to arms, the Frateschi were defeated, among whom was Pagolantonio Soderini, a Citizen greatly reputed in those times; and during those tumults the People went armed to his house to sack it, Messer Francesco, his brother, then Bishop of Volterra and today Cardinal, by chance found himself in the house; who, as soon as he heard the noise and saw the disturbance, dressed himself in his most dignified clothes and over them put on his Episcopal surplice, and went to meet those armed ones, and with his person and his words stopped them: which (thing) was talked about and celebrated throughout the City for many days.

I conclude, therefore, that there is no sounder or more necessary remedy to restrain an excited multitude than the presence of a man who by his presence appears and is revered. It is seen, therefore, ((to return to the preceding text)) with how much obstinacy the Roman Plebs accepted that proceeding of going to Veii because they judged it useful, but did not recognize the danger that existed underneath this; and that the many tumults which arose there would cause troubles, if the Senate with serious men (and) full of reverence had not restrained their fury.

Chapter LV: How Easily Things Are Managed in That City Where the Multitude is Not Corrupt, and That Where There is Equality a Principality Cannot Be Established, and Where There is None a Republic Cannot Be Established[edit]

Although above there has been much discussed that which is to be feared or to be hoped for in corrupt Cities, none the less it does not seem to me outside this subject to consider a decision of the Senate concerning the vow that Camillus had made to give the tenth part of the plunder of the Veienti to Apollo: which plunder having come into the hands of the Roman Pleb, and being unable otherwise to review the account of it, the Senate made and edict that everyone should present to the Republic the tenth part of that which they had plundered. And although such a decision was not put into effect, the Senate afterwards having taken other ways and means for satisfying Apollo in fulfillment for the Pleb, none the less from such decisions it is seen how much the Senate confided in them (the People), and how they judged that no one would not present exactly all that which was commanded of them by the edict. And on the other hand, it is seen how the Pleb did not think of evading the edict in any part by giving less than they ought, but to relieve themselves of this by showing open indignation. This example, together with many others that have been recited above, show how much goodness and religion there was in that People, and how much good there was to be hoped for from them. And, truly, when this goodness does not exist, no good is to be hoped for, as can be hoped for in those provinces which, in these times, are seen to be corrupt, as is Italy above all others, even though France and Spain have their part of such corruption. And, if in those provinces, there are not seen as many disorders as arise in Italy every day, it derives not so much from the goodness of the people ((which in good part is lacking)) as from having a King who keeps them united, not only by his virtu, but by the institutions of those Kingdoms which are yet unspoiled.

In the province of Germany this goodness and this religion is seen to exist in great (measure) in those People, which makes for the existence of many Republics in freedom, and they so observe the laws that no one from inside or outside dares to attack them. And that this is true that in their kingdom there yet exists a good part of that ancient goodness, I would like to give an example similar to that given above of the Senate and the Roman Pleb. When it occurred in those Republics that they had to spend any quantity of money for public account, those Magistrates or Councils who had the authority imposed on all the inhabitants of the City (a tax) of one or two percent of what each one had of value. And such decision being made in accordance with the laws of the land everyone presented himself before the collectors of this impost, and first taking an oath to pay the right sum, he threw into a box provided for that purpose that which it appeared to him according to his conscience he ought to pay: to which payment there was no witness other than he who paid. From which it can be conjectured how much goodness and how much religion still exists in those people. And it ought to be noted that every one paid the true amount, for if it had not been paid, the impost would not have yielded that amount which they had planned in accordance with previous ones that had been taken, and if they had not yielded (this amount), the fraud would be recognized, and if it had been recognized other means than this would have been taken. Which goodness is much more to be admired in these times as it is very rare; rather, it is seen to be remaining only in that province: which result from two things; the one, that they do not have great commerce with their neighbors, for others have not come to their homes nor have they gone to the homes of others, but have been content with those goods, live on those foods, clothe themselves with the wool which the country provides, which has taken away any reason for intercourse and (consequently) the beginning of any corruption: hence they have not been able to take up the customs of the French, of the Spanish, or of the Italians, which nations all together are the corrupters of the world. The other cause, is that that Republic, whose political existence is maintained uncorrupted, does not permit that any of its Citizens to be or live in the manner of a Gentleman, instead maintain among themselves a perfect equality, and are the greatest enemies of those Lords and Gentlemen who are in that province: and if, by chance, any should come into their hands, they kill them as being Princes of corruption and the cause of every trouble.

And to clarify what is (meant by) this name of Gentleman, I say that those are called Gentlemen who live idly on the provisions of their abundant possessions, without having any care either to cultivate or to do any other work in order to live. Such as these are pernicious to every Republic and to every Province: but more pernicious are those who, in addition to the above mentioned fortune, also command castles, and have subjects who obey them. Of these two sorts of men, the Kingdom of Naples, the Lands of Rome, the Romagna, and Lombardy, are full. From which it happens that there never has been a Republic in those provinces, nor any political existence (system), because such kinds of men are all enemies of every civil society. And in provinces so constituted, to want to introduce a Republic would be impossible. But only an arbiter (monarch) would recognize it, and he would have no other means but to establish a Kingdom: the reason is this, that when the body of people is so corrupted that the laws are not sufficient to restrain it, there needs to be established there that superior force, which is the Royal hand that, with absolute and full power, places a restraint to the excessive ambitions and corruption of the Powerful. This (cause) is verified by the example of Tuscany, where one sees in a small extent of land there have existed for a long time three Republics, Florence, Siena, and Lucca; and although the other Cities of that Province are in a way subject to these, yet, by their spirit and their institutions, it is seen that they maintain, or attempt to maintain, their liberty: all of which arises from there not being any lords of castles in that province, and few or no Gentlemen: but there exists so much equality, that it would be easy for a prudent man who had knowledge of ancient civilizations, to introduce a civil government there. But its misfortunes have been so great, that up to these times not any one has come forth who has been able to or known how to do it.

From this discussion, therefore, this conclusion is drawn, that he who would want to establish a Republic where there are many Gentlemen, cannot do so unless first he extinguishes them all; and that he who would want to establish a Kingdom or a Principality where there is great equality, will never be able to do so unless he withdraws from that equality many of the ambitious and unquiet spirits, and makes them Gentlemen in fact and not in name, giving them castles and possessions, as well as giving them aid of men and money, so that surrounded by these he can through them maintain his power, and they through his support can maintain their ambitions, and the others constrained to endure that yoke which force and nothing else could make them endure. And, because of this, there being a proportion of those who force and those who are forced, each man will remain firm in his rank. And as the establishing of a Republic in a province better adapted to being a Kingdom, or to establishing a Kingdom in one better adapted to being a Republic, is a matter for one who in brains and authority is rare, there have been many who have wanted to do so, but few only who have known how to bring it about. For the greatness of the undertaking in part frightens them and in part stops them, so that they fail in the very beginning. I believe that this opinion of mine, that a Republic cannot be established where there are Gentlemen, appears contrary to the experience of the Venetian Republic, in which none could have any rank except those who were Gentlemen. To which it is answered that this example does not oppose it, for the Gentlemen in that Republic are more so in name than in fact, as they do not have great incomes from possessions, their riches being founded on commerce and movable property: and, in addition, none of them have castles or any jurisdiction over men; but in them that name of Gentleman is a name of dignity and reputation, without being based on those things on which men are called Gentlemen in other Cities. And as other Republics have all their divisions (of classes) under various names, so Venice is divided into Gentlemen and Popolari, and wants that the former can have all the honors, from which all others are entirely excluded. This does not cause disorders in those towns for the reasons mentioned at other times. Republics, therefore, can be established where a great equality exists or can be established, and, on the contrary, a Principality can be established where a great inequality exists; otherwise they will lack proportion and have little durability.

Chapter LVI: Before Great Events Occur in a City or a Province, Signs Come Which Foretell Them, or Men Who Predict Them[edit]

Whence it arises I do not know, but from ancient and modern examples it is seen that no great event ever takes place in a City or a Province that has not been predicted either by fortune tellers, by revelations, by prodigies, or by other celestial signs. And in order for me not to go distant from home in proving this, everyone knows how the coming of King Charles VIII of France into Italy was predicted by Brother Girolamo Savonarola, and how in addition to this it was said throughout Italy that at Arezzo there had been seen in the air men-at-arms battling together. In addition to this, everyone knows how, before the death of Lorenzo De'Medici the elder, the Duomo was hit in its highest part by a bolt from the skies which very greatly damaged that edifice. Also everyone knows how, a little while before Piero Soderini, who had been made Gonfalonier for life by the Florentine people, had been driven out and deprived of his rank, the palace was struck in the same manner by a (lightning) stroke. I could cite other examples in addition to these, which I will omit to avoid tedium. I shall narrate only that which T. Livius tells of before the coming of the French (Gauls) to Rome, that is, how one Marcus Creditus, a Pleb, reported to the Senate that, passing at midnight through the Via Nova (New Road), he had heard a voice louder than human which admonished him that he should report to the Magistrates that the Gauls were coming to Rome. The cause of this I believe should be discussed and interpreted by a man who has knowledge of natural and supernatural things, which I have not. But it could be, as some Philosophers hold, that this air being so full of spirits, having an intelligence which by natural virtu foresee future events, and having compassion for men, so that they can warn them by such signs to prepare for defense. But, however it may be, such is the truth, (and) that always after such incidents there follows things extraordinary and new in the provinces.

Chapter LVII: Together the Plebs Are Strong, Dispersed They Are Weak[edit]

There were many Romans ((after the ruin of their country had ensued because of the passage of the Gauls)) who had gone to live at Veii contrary to the constitution and orders of the Senate, which, in order to remedy this disorder, commanded through its public edicts that everyone within a certain time and under certain penalties should return to inhabit Rome. Which edict at first was made light of by those against whom it was made, but afterwards when the time came for obeying it, they all obeyed. And Titus Livius said these words, From being ferocious when together, fear made them individually obedient. And truly this part of the nature of the multitude cannot be better shown than by this sentence. For the multitude many times is audacious in speaking against the decision of their Prince: but afterwards, when they see the penalty in sight, not trusting one another, they run to obey. So that it is certainly to be seen that whatever may be said of a People about their good or bad disposition, ought not to be held of great account, if you are well prepared to be able to maintain your authority if they are well disposed, and if they are ill-disposed, to be able to provide that they do not attack you. This refers to those evil dispositions which the People have from causes other than their having lost either their liberty or their Prince much loved by them, but who is still living: for the evil dispositions that arise from these causes are formidable above every thing, and have need of great remedies to restrain them: their indispositions from other (causes) are easily managed if they do not have Chiefs to whom they have recourse, for, on the one hand, there is nothing more formidable than a multitude loose and without a Head, and on the other hand, there is nothing weaker, because whenever they have arms in their hands it is easy to subdue them, if you have a shelter which enables you to avoid their first attack: for when their spirits are cooled down a little, and each one sees that he has to return to his house, they begin to be distrustful of themselves, and to think of their individual safety either by fleeing or surrendering themselves. A multitude so excited, therefore, in wanting to escape these perils, has promptly to make a Head among themselves, who would control it, keep it united, and think of its defense, as the Roman plebs did when, after the death of Virginius, they departed from Rome, and to save themselves created twenty Tribunes from among themselves: and if they do not do this, it will always happen as T. Livius said in the above written words, that all together they are strong, but when each one then begins to think of his own peril, they become vile and weak.

Chapter LVIII: The Multitude is Wiser and More Constant Than a Prince[edit]

Nothing is more vain and more inconstant than the multitude, so our T. Livius and all other Historians affirm. For it often occurs in narrating the actions of men to observe the multitude to have condemned some one to death, and that same (multitude) afterwards weeping and very much wishing him back; as is seen the Roman people did in the case of Manlius Capitolinus, who, having condemned him to death, afterwards most earnestly desired him back. And the words of the author are these: As soon as they knew there was no peril from, they desired to have him back. And elsewhere, where he tells of the incidents which arose in Syracuse after the death of Hieronymus, nephew of Hiero, says: It is the nature of multitude, either to serve humbly, or to dominate haughtily. I do not know, in wanting to defend a thing which ((as I have said)) is accused by all writers, if I were to undertake a cause so hard and full of difficulty, that I would have either to abandon it in shame, or to go on with it burdensomely. But however it may be, I do not judge, or will ever judge, it to be a defect to defend any opinion with arguments, without wanting to employ either authority or force.

I say, therefore, the individual men, and especially Princes, can be accused of that defect which the writers accuse the multitudes; for anyone who is not controlled by the laws, will make the same errors as a loose multitude. And this can be easily observed, for there are and there have been many Princes, but of the good and wise ones there have been only a few, I say, of those Princes who have been able to break that restraint which could control them; among whom are not those Kings who arose in Egypt in that ancient period when that province was governed by laws, nor those who arose in Sparta, nor those who have risen in France in our times, which Kingdom is more regulated by laws than any other Kingdom of our times of which there is knowledge. And these Kingdoms which arise under such constitutions are not to be placed in that number whence the nature of each man individually has to be considered, and to see if he is like the multitude; for alongside them there ought to be placed a multitude controlled by laws in the same way as they (the Kings) were, and the same goodness will be found in them as we see in (the Kings), and we will see that they serve neither haughtily nor humbly; as was the Roman People, who while the Republic remained incorrupt, never served humbly or ruled insolently, but rather with its institutions and Magistracies held its rank honorably. And when it was necessary to spring up against a powerful one who was harming them, they did so, as was seen with Manlius and the Ten, and others who sought to oppress them; and so also when it was necessary for the public safety to obey the Dictators and Consuls. And if the Roman People desired Manlius Capitolinus after his death, it is not to be wondered at, for they desired his virtu, which had been such that the memory of them brought compassion to everyone, and would have had the power to cause that same result in any Prince, for it is the verdict of all writers that virtu is lauded and admired even in ones enemies: and if so much desire could have restored him, the Roman people would have given him the same judgment as they did when they took him from prison, a little before they condemned him to death: and as was also seen of Princes held to be wise, who have had some persons put to death and then greatly regretted it, as Alexander with Clitus and his other friends, and Herod with Mariamne: But that which our Historian says of the nature of the multitude, he does not say of those who were regulated by laws, such as were the Romans, but of an unbridled multitude, as was that of Syracuse, which made those errors which infuriated and unbridled men make, and as Alexander and Herod did in the abovementioned cases.

The nature of the multitude, therefore, is not to be blamed any more than that of Princes, for they all err equally when they all are able to err without control. Of which, in addition to what I have said, there are many examples, both from among the Roman Emperors and from among other Tyrants and Princes, where so much inconstancy and recklessness of life is observed, as is ever found in any multitude. I conclude therefore, contrary to the common opinion which says that the People, when they are Princes, are changeable and ungrateful, affirming that there are no more of these defects in them than there are in particular Princes: And to accuse the People and the Princes together can be the truth; but to except the Princes would be a deception: For a People that commands and is well organized will be stable, prudent, grateful, and not otherwise than a Prince, or even better than a Prince, although he be esteemed wise. And on the other hand, a Prince loosened from the (control) of the laws, will be ungrateful, inconstant, and more imprudent than a people. And that difference in their proceedings arises, not from the different nature, ((for it is the same in everyone, and if there is an advantage for good, it is in the People)) but from the more or less respect they have for the laws under which one and the other live. And whoever considers the Roman people will see that for four hundred years they have been enemies of the name of Royalty and lovers of glory and of the common good of their country: He will see so many examples employed by them which testify to the one thing and the other. And if anyone should allege to me the ingratitude that they (the Roman people) showed against Scipio, I will reply that which was discussed above at length on this subject, where it has been shown that people are less ungrateful than Princes. But as to prudence and stability, I say, that a people is more prudent, more stable, and of better judgment than a Prince: And not without reason is the voice of the people like that of God, for a universal opinion is seen causes marvelous effects in its prognostication, so that it would seem that by some hidden virtu, evil or good is foreseen. As to the judging of things, it is rarely seen that when they hear two speakers who hold opposite views, if they are of equal virtu, they do not take up the the better opinion, and they are capable of seeing the truth in what they hear. And if ((as has been said above)) they err in things concerning bravery, or which appear useful, a Prince also errs many times in his own passions, which are much greater than those of the people. It will also be seen that in the election of their magistrates, they make by far a better selection than a Prince, but a people will never be persuaded that it is better to bring to that dignity a man of infamous and corrupt habits: to which a Prince may be persuaded easily and in a thousand ways. It will be seen that when a people begin to hold a thing in horror, they remain in that opinion for many centuries, which is not seen in a Prince. And on both of these two things, the testimony of the Roman people will suffice for me, who, in so many hundreds of years, in so many elections of Consuls and Tribunes, they did not make four elections of which they had to repent. And ((as I have said)) they held the name of Royalty in so much hatred, that no obligation to any of its Citizens who should seize that title would enable him to escape the merited penalty. In addition to this, it will be seen that the Cities where the people are Princes, make the greatest progress in the shortest time and much greater than those who have always been under a Prince, as Rome did after the driving out of the Kings, and Athens did after they were free of Pisistratus. Which cannot arise except that those governments of the people are better than those of the Princes.

Nor do I want that there should be opposed to my opinion all that which our Historian has said in the aforementioned text and in any other; for if there should be discussed all the disorders of the People, all the disorders of the Princes, all the glories of the People, all those of the Princes, it will be seen that the People are far superior in goodness and in glory. And if Princes are superior to the people in instituting laws, forming civil governments, make new statutes and ordinances, the People are so much superior in maintaining the institutions which will add to the glory of those who established them.

And in sum to epilogue this material, I say that the States of the Princes have lasted a long time, the States of the Republics have lasted a long time, and both have had need to be regulated by laws; for a Prince who can do what he wants is a madman, and a People which can do as it wants to is not wise. If, therefore, discussion is to be had of a Prince obligated by laws, and of a People unobligated by them, more virtu will be observed in the People than in Princes: if the discussion is to be had of both loosened (from such control), fewer errors will be observed in the People than in the Princes, and those that are fewer have the greater remedies: For a licentious and tumultuous People can be talked to by a good man, and can easily be returned to the good path: (but) there is no one who can talk to a Prince, nor is there any other remedy but steel (sword). From which the conjecture can be made of the maladies of the one and the other: that if words are enough to cure the malady of the People, and that of the Prince needs the sword, there will never be anyone who will not judge that where the greater cure is required, they are where the greater errors exist. When a People is indeed unbridled, the foolishness that they do is not to be feared, nor is fear to be had of the present malady, but of that which can arise, a Tyrant being able to rise up amidst so much confusion. But the contrary happens in the case of bad Princes, where the present evil is feared, and there is hope for the future, men persuading themselves that the (termination) of their lives can make liberty spring up. Thus the difference between the one and the other is seen, that one concerns things that are, the other of things that will be. The cruelties of the multitude are (directed) against those whom they fear will oppose the common good, those of a Prince are (directed) against those whom he fears will oppose his own good. But the opinion against the People arises because everyone speaks evil of the people freely and without fear even while they reign; of the Princes they talk with a thousand fears and a thousand apprehensions. And it does not appear to me to be outside this subject ((for this matter draws me there)) to discuss in the following chapter whether alliances made with a Republic, or those made with a Prince, can be trusted.

Chapter LIX: Which Alliances or Leagues Can Be Trusted, Whether Those Made With a Republic or Those Made With a Prince[edit]

As there occurs every day that Princes or Republics make leagues and friendships between themselves, and also similarly alliances and accords are drawn between a Republic and a Prince, it appears to me proper to examine whose faith is more stable, and which ought to be held more in account, that of a Republic or that of a Prince. In examining everything, I believe that in many cases they are the same, and in some there is a difference. I believe, therefore, that accords made by force will not be observed either by a Prince or by a Republic: I believe that when fear of (losing) the State comes to pass, both will break the faith in order not to lose it, and will serve you ingratitude. Demetrius, who was called Conqueror of Cities, had given infinite benefits to the Athenians: it happened that later, having been routed by his enemies and taking refuge in Athens as a City friendly and obligated to him, was not received by her: which saddened him much more than had the loss of his forces and his army; Pompey, having been routed by Caesar in Thessaly, took refuge in Egypt with Ptolemy, who, in the past he had reinstated in his Kingdom, but was put to death by him. Which instances, it is seen, have the same reasons; none the less it was more humanely employed by a Republic and with less injury, than by the Prince. Where there is fear, therefore, there will be found in each the same (loss of) faith. And if in either a Republic or a Prince it is found that they observe the faith even if ruin may be expected, this also may arise from similar reasons. For it can very well occur that a Prince, who is a friend of a powerful Prince (and) who may not then have the opportunity to defend him, can hope that with time he (the latter) will restore his Principality to him; or believe he will find either faith or accords with his enemies. Of this kind have been the Princes of the Kingdom of Naples who have followed the French side. And as for Republics, Saguntum in Spain was of this kind, which hazarded her own ruin in order to follow the Roman side, and with Florence in MDXII (1512) in order to follow the French side. And I believe, taking everything into account, that in such cases where danger is imminent, there will be found greater stability in the Republics than in Princes: For even if the Republics had the same spirit and the same wants as Princes, their movements being slower will always make them take longer to form resolutions than Princes, and because of this they will be less prompt in breaking their faith.

Alliances are broken for usefulness. In this, Republics are more careful in the observance of accords than Princes. And it is possible to cite examples where a minimum of usefulness has caused a Prince to break his faith, and where a great usefulness has not caused faith to be broken by a Republic; as was that proceeding which Themosticles proposed to the Athenians, to whom in his speech he said he had a counsel that would be of great usefulness to their country, but could not tell it so as not to disclose it for discovering it would take away the opportunity of doing it. Whence the people of Athens elected Aristedes to whom he should confide the matter, and according to which they would later decide as it might appear to them: whereupon Themosticles showed that the fleet of all Greece, although they were under their faith, was in such a position that they could easily win it for themselves or destroy it, which would make the Athenians the arbiters of that Province. Whence Aristedes reported back to the people that the proposal of Themosticles was most useful, but most dishonest: for which reason the people rejected it entirely, which would not have been done by Philip the Macedonian and the other Princes who had looked for more usefulness, and who had gained more by breaking the faith than by any other means.

Of the breaking of pacts because of some cause for non-observance, I will not speak, as it is an ordinary thing: but I will talk of those that are broken for extraordinary reasons, where I believe, from the things said, that the people make fewer errors than Princes, and because of this, they can be trusted more than Princes.

Chapter LX: How the Consulship and Every Other Magistracy in Rome Ought to Be (Bestowed) Without Any Regard to Age[edit]

And it is to be seen from the course of History that the Roman Republic, after the Consulship came to the Pleb, admitted all its Citizens (to this dignity) without regard to age or blood (birth), even though the regard to age never existed in Rome as they always went to find virtu, whether it was in young men or old. This is seen from the testimony of Valerius Corvinus who was made Consul at twenty three years (of age); and Valerius said, talking to his soldiers, that the Consulship was the reward of virtu, not of blood. Which thing can be much discussed, whether or not it is well considered. As to blood (birth), this was conceded because of necessity, and this same necessity which existed in Rome would also be found in every City that wanted to have the same success as Rome had, as has been said at another time; for hardships cannot be given to men without reward, nor can the hope of obtaining the reward be taken away without peril. And it was proper, therefore, that the plebs should have the hope of obtaining the Consulship, and that they should nourish this hope for a time, without attaining it: When afterward the hope was not enough, they had to arrive at that result (the Consulship). The City that does not admit its Plebs to any of its glory, can treat them in their own way, as has been discussed elsewhere; but that City which wants to accomplish that which Rome did, cannot make this distinction.

And given that it is so (as regards birth), the question of age needs no reply, rather it is necessarily disposed of; for in electing a young man to a rank which has need of the prudence of an old man, it happens ((the multitude having to elect him)) that he should come to that rank through some noble action that he should make. And when a young man is of such great virtu as to have made himself known by some notable thing, it would be a very harmful thing if that City should not then be able to avail itself of him, and that it should have to wait until he should have aged (and) that age deprive him of that vigor of spirit and activity of which (at that age) his country should avail itself, as Rome availed itself of Valerius Corvinus, of Scipio, of Pompey, and of many other who triumphed when very young.


1. That is, an Executive, a House of Lords or Senate (originally sitting as a Judiciary), and a Commons or House of Representatives or Legislature each acting to check and balance the other.

2. A judiciary.

3. Establish a National Army or Militia, rather than rely on Mercenaries.