Discourses on Livy/First Book/Chapters XLI-L

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Discourses on Livy by Niccolò Machiavelli
First Book (Chapters XLI-L)



In addition to other means ill-used by Appius in order to maintain his tyranny, that of jumping from one quality to another was of no little moment. For his astuteness in deceiving the Plebs by simulating to be a man of the People was well used: those means were also well used in which he caused the Ten to be reappointed: that audacity in nominating himself against the expectation of the Nobility was also well used: the naming of colleagues suitable to him was also well used: but in doing this ((according as was said above)) what he did was not well used in changing his nature so quickly, and from being a friend showing himself to be the enemy of the Plebs, from being humane to being haughty, from easy (of access) to difficult; and to do this so very readily, that without any excuse everyone should know the falseness of his spirit. For whoever at one time has appeared to be good and wants for purposes of his own to become bad, ought to do it by proper means (gradually), and in a way that they should be conducive to the opportunities, so that before his changed nature takes away old favors from him, it may give him some new ones that his authority may not be diminished; otherwise, finding himself discovered and without friends, he will be ruined.



It should be noted also in the matter of the Decemvirate how easily men are corrupted and make themselves become of a contrary nature, even though (they are) good and well educated; (and), considering how those youths whom Appius had chosen to surround him begun, for the little advantages that followed from it, to be friendly to that tyranny, and that Quintus Fabius, one of the number of the second Ten, being a very good man, (but) blinded by a little ambition and persuaded by the malignity of Appius, changed his good habits into the worst, and became like, him. Which, if well examined, the Legislators of Republics or Kingdoms will more promptly restrain human appetites and take away from them the hope of being able to err with impunity.



From the above written treatise it also is to be considered what a difference there is between a contented army which combats for its own glory, and that which is ill disposed and which combats for the ambitions of others. For where the Roman armies were usually victorious under the Consuls, they always lost under the Decemvirs. From this example there can be recognized part of the reasons of the uselessness of mercenary soldiers, who have no other reason which keeps them firm but a small stipend which you give to them. Which reason is not, and can never be, enough to make them faithful, nor so much your friends that they be willing to die for you. For in those armies where there is not that affection toward the man for whom they combat which makes them become his partisans, there can never be so much virtu which would be enough to resist even an enemy of little virtu. And because this love cannot arise in any contest except from his own subjects, it is necessary in wanting to keep a State, or to want to maintain a Republic or a Kingdom, that he arm himself with his own subjects, as is seen to have been done by all those others who, with their armies, have made great advances. The Roman armies under the Ten had the same virtu as before: but because there was not in them the same disposition, they did not achieve their usual results. But as soon as the Magistracy of the Ten was extinguished and they begun to fight as free men, that same spirit returned in them, and consequently their enterprises had their happy endings according to their ancient custom.



Because of the incident of Virginia the Roman Pleb was led armed to the sacred mountain (Mons Sacer). The Senate sent its Ambassadors to ask by what authority they had abandoned their Captains and retired to the Mountains. And so much was the authority of the Senate esteemed that, the Plebs not having their chiefs among them, no one dared to reply. And T. Livius says that they did not lack material to reply, but they did lack someone who should make the reply. Which thing demonstrates in point the uselessness of a multitude without a head. This disorder was recognized by Virginius, and by his order twenty military Tribunes were created who would be their chiefs to reply to and convene with the Senate. And having requested that (the Senators) Valerius and Horatius should be sent to them, to whom they would tell their wants, they (the Senators) would not turn to go unless the Ten first had resigned their Magistracy: and having arrived on the mountain where the Pleb was, these things were demanded of them, that they wanted the re-establishment of the Tribunes of the Plebs, (and) that an appeal to the people from every Magistracy should be allowed, and that all of the Ten should be given up to them as they wanted to burn them alive. Valerius and Horatius lauded the first of their demands: they censured the last as impious, saying; You condone cruelty, yet fall yourselves into cruelty, and counselled them to leave off making mention of the Ten, and to attend to taking from them their authority and power, and that afterwards there would not be lacking the means of satisfying them (their vengeance). From which it is recognized openly how foolish and little prudent it is to ask for a thing, and to say at first, I want to do evil with it: for one ought not to show his mind, but to want in every way to seek to obtain that which he desires. For it is enough to ask from one his arms, without saying I want to kill you with them; for when you have the arms in your hands then you will be able to satisfy your appetite.



The accord having taken place and Rome restored to its ancient form, Virginius cited Appius before the People to defend his cause. He complied accompanied by many Nobles. Virginius commanded that he be put in prison. Appius begun to shout and appeal to the People. Virginius said that he was not worthy of having that (right of) appeal which he had destroyed, nor to have as defender that People whom he had offended. Appius replied that they (the People) had no (right) to violate that appeal which they had established with so much desire. He was incarcerated, however, and before the day of judgment (came) he killed himself. And although the wicked life of Appius should merit every punishment, none the less it was little consistent to violate the laws, and more so one recently made. For I do not believe there is a worse example in a Republic than to make a law and not to observe it, and much more when it is not observed by those who made it.

Florence, after ninety four (1494), having had its State (Government) reorganized with the aid of Brother Girolamo Savonarola ((whose writings show the doctrine, prudence, and the virtu of his spirit)) and among other provisions for the security of the Citizens having had a law enacted which enabled an appeal to the People from the verdicts which the (Council of) Eight and the Signoria should give in cases affecting the State ((which passage took more time and was attained with the greatest difficulty)); it happened that a little after the confirmation of this (law), five Citizens were condemned to death by the Signoria on account of (acts against) the State, and when they wanted to appeal, they were not permitted to do so and the law was not observed. Which took away from the Brother more reputation than any other incident; for if that (right of) appeal was useful, he should have had it observed: if it was not useful, he ought not to have had it passed. And so much more was this incident noted, inasmuch as the Brother, in so many preachings that he made after that law was broken, never condemned those who broke it, or excused them, as one who did not want to condemn a thing that suited his purpose, yet was not able to excuse it. This, having uncovered his ambitions and partisan spirit, took away his reputation and caused him many troubles.

A State also offends greatly when every day it renews in the minds of its Citizens new moods because of new injuries which it inflicts on this one and that one, as happened in Rome after the Decemvirate. For all of the Ten and other Citizens were accused and condemned at different times, so that a great fright existed in the Nobility, judging that there would never be an end to such condemnations until all the Nobility was destroyed. And great evils would have been generated in that City, if it had not been foreseen by the Tribune Marcus Duellius, who issued an edict that for one year it would not be licit to cite anyone or to accuse any Roman Citizen; this reassured all the Nobility. Here it is seen how harmful it is to a Republic or to a Prince to keep the minds of their subjects in a state of fear by continuing penalties and suspended offenses. And without doubt no more pernicious order can be held; for men who begin to be apprehensive of having done a capital evil, will secure themselves from perils in every way, and become more audacious and have less regard in attempting new things. It is necessary, therefore, either never to offend any one or to make the offense at a stroke, and afterwards to reassure men and give them cause to quiet and firm the spirit.



The Roman People having recovered their liberty, (and) having returned to their original rank, and having obtained even greater reputation from the many new laws made in corroboration of their power, it appeared reasonable that Rome would for some time become quiet. None the less from experience the contrary was seen, for every day new tumults and new disorders sprung up. And as Titus Livius most prudently renders the cause whence this arose, it does not appear to me outside my purpose to refer in point to his words, where he says that the People or the Nobility always increased their haughtiness when the other was humiliated; and the Plebs remaining quiet within bounds, the young Nobles began to offend them; and the Tribunes were able to make few remedies, because they too were violated. The Nobility, on the other hand, although it seemed to them that their young men were too ferocious, none the less took care to see that if (the law) should be transgressed, it should be transgressed by their own and not by the Plebs. And thus the desire of defending liberty caused each to prevail (raise itself) in proportion as they oppressed the other. And the course of such incidents is, that while men sought not to fear, they begun to make others fear, and that injury which they ward off from themselves, they inflict on another, as if it should be necessary either to offend or to be offended. From this may be seen one way among others in which Republics ruin themselves, and in what way men jump from one ambition to another, and how very true is that sentence which Sallust placed in the mouth of Caesar, That all evil examples have their origin in good beginnings. Those ambitious Citizens ((as was said before)) who live in a Republic seek in the first instance not to be able to be harmed, not only by private (citizens), but even by the Magistrates: in order to do this, they seek friendships, and to acquire them either by apparently honest means, or by supplying them money or defending them from the powerful: and as this seems virtuous, everyone is easily deceived and no one takes any remedy against this, until he, persevering without hindrance, becomes of a kind whom the Citizen fear, and the Magistrates treat with consideration. And when he has risen to that rank, and his greatness not having been obviated at the beginning, it finally comes to be most dangerous in attempting to pit oneself against him, for the reasons which I mentioned above concerning the dangers involved in abating an evil which has already grown much in a City; so that the matter in the end is reduced to this, that you need either to seek to extinguish it with the hazard of sudden ruin, or by allowing it to go on, enter into manifest servitude, unless death or some accident frees you from him. For when the Citizens and the Magistrates come to the above mentioned limits and become afraid to offend him and his friends, it will not take much effort afterwards to make them judge and offend according to his will. Whence a Republic, among its institutions, ought to have these, to see that its Citizens under an aura of good are not able to do evil, and that they should acquire that reputation which does good and not harm to liberty, as will be discussed by us in its proper place.



The Roman People ((as was said above)) having become annoyed with the Consular name, and wanting to be able either to choose as Consuls men of the Plebs, or to limit their authority, the Nobility in order not to discredit the Consular authority by either change, took the middle course, and were content that four Tribunes with Consular power be created, who could come from the Plebs as well as from the Nobles. The Plebs were content with this, as it seemed to them to destroy the Consulship and give them a part in the highest ranks. From this a notable case arose, that when it came to the creation of these Tribunes, and they could have selected all Plebs, the Roman people chose all Nobles. Whence Titus Livius says these words: The results of this election show how different minds are when in contention for liberty and for honors, differing according to certain standards when they (have to) make impartial judgments. And in examining whence this can happen, I believe it proceeds from men deceiving themselves in general matters, (and) not so much in particular matters. As a general thing, it appeared to the Roman Pleb that it merited the Consulship because they were the majority in the City, because they bore more of the danger in war, (and) because they were the ones who with their arms maintained Rome free and made it powerful: and this desire seeming to them to be reasonable ((as has been said)), they turned to obtain this authority by whatever means. But when they had to make a judgment of their particular men, recognized their weaknesses, and judged that none of them should merit that which all together it seemed to them they merited. So that ashamed of them (their own), they had recourse to those who merited it. Of which decision Titus Livius, deservingly admiring it, said these words: Where is there now this modesty and equity, and this loftiness of spirit, which once pervaded all the people?

In corroboration of this there can be cited another notable example which ensued in Capua after Hannibal had defeated the Romans at Cannae: while all Italy was aroused by this defeat, Capua was still in a state of tumult because of the hatred that existed between the People and the Senate: and Pacovius Calanus finding himself at that time in the supreme Magistracy, and recognizing the peril to which that City was exposed because of the tumults, endeavored through his rank to reconcile the Plebs with the Nobility: and having come to this decision, he had the Senate assemble, and narrated to them the hatred which the People had against them, and the dangers to which they were exposed of being killed by them, if the City was given up to Hannibal, as the power of the Romans was afflicted: afterwards he added that if they wanted to leave the managing of this matter to him, he would do so in a way that they would be united together; but, as he wanted to do so, he would lock them inside the palace, and by seemingly giving the people the power to castigate them he would save them. The Senate yielded to this thought, and he called the people to talk to them; and having shut up the Senate in the palace, (and) said to them that the time had come to be able to subdue the haughtiness of the Nobility and avenge themselves for the injuries received from them (the Senate), having them all shut up under his custody: but because he believed they would not want their City to remain without a government, it would be necessary ((if they wanted to kill the old Senators)) to create new ones. And, therefore, he had put all the names of the Senators into a bourse and would begin to draw them in their presence, and that one after another of those drawn would die after they should find his successor. And beginning to draw one, at his name, there was raised a very great noise, calling him haughty, cruel and arrogant: but when Pacovius requested that they make the exchange, the haranguing completely stopped: and after some time one of the Plebs was nominated, at whose name some begun to whistle, some to laugh, some to speak ill in one way and some in another: and thus there followed one after the other, that all those who were named were judged by them unworthy of the Senatorial rank: so that Pacovius taking this occasion said: Since you judge that this City would be badly off without a Senate, and you cannot agree to make the exchange of Senators, I think it would be well if you reconciled together, because the fear in which the Senators have been has so humbled them that you will now find in them that humanity which you seek for elsewhere. And they agreeing to this, there ensued the union of these orders, and they discovered, when they were constrained to come to the particulars, the deception.

After one thousand four hundred fourteen (1414) when the Princes of the City had been driven from Florence, and no other government having been instituted, but rather a certain ambitious license, and public affairs going from bad to worse, many of the populari seeing the ruin of the City and not understanding the cause, they blamed the ambitions of some powerful one who would feed the disorders in order to be able to make a State to his own liking and take away their liberty: and there were those who went through the loggias and the plazas speaking ill of many Citizens, and threatening them that if they should ever find themselves (members) of the Signoria, they would uncover this deceit of theirs and would castigate them. It often happened that ones like these did ascend to the supreme Magistracy, and when they had risen to that position and saw things more closely, they recognized whence disorders arose, and the dangers that hung over them, and the difficulty of remedying them. And seeing that the times and not the men were causing the disorders, they quickly were of another mind and acted otherwise, because the knowledge of things in particular had taken away that deception which, in the general consideration, they had presupposed. So that those who at first ((when he was a private citizen)) heard him speak, and afterwards saw them remain quiet in the supreme Magistracy, believed that this resulted not by the more real knowledge of things, but from their having been perverted and corrupted by the Nobles. And as this happened to many men and many times, there arose among them a proverb, which said: These men have one mind in the plaza and another in the palace. Considering, therefore, all that has been discussed, it is seen that the quickest possible way to open the eyes of the People, is by finding a way ((seeing that a generality deceives them)) in which they should have to descend to particulars, as did Pacovius in Capua and the Senate in Rome. I believe also that it can be concluded that no prudent man ought ever to disregard popular judgment in particular matters, (such as) the distribution of dignities and honors, for in this only the People do not deceive themselves, and if they do some times, it will be rare when they deceive themselves more often than do the few men who have to make such distributions. Nor does it seem to me to be superfluous to show in the following chapter the order which the Senate held in order to deceive the People in its distributions.



When the (Roman) Senate became apprehensive that the Tribunes with Consular power should be created from plebeian men, they took one of two courses: either they caused the more reputable men of Rome to be designated, or by suitable means they (surely) corrupted some sordid and most ignoble Plebeians, who mixed with the plebeians of better quality who usually asked for these offices, so that even they should ask for them. This latter course caused the Plebs to be ashamed of themselves to give it to the latter, and the first (course) made them ashamed to take it away from the former. All of which confirms the proposition of the preceding discussion, where it is shown that the people deceive themselves in general matters, but they do not deceive themselves in particular matters.



How difficult it is in establishing a Republic to provide all those laws that should maintain her free, is very well shown by the progress of the Roman Republic, which notwithstanding that it was established with many laws, first by Romulus, and afterwards by Numa, by Tullus Hostilius, and by Servius, and lastly by the Ten Citizens created for such a purpose, none the less in managing that City new needs were always discovered and it was necessary to create new ordinances; as happened when they created the Censors, who were one of those provisions that aided in keeping Rome free during the time she existed in liberty. For having become arbiters of the customs of Rome, they were the most potent cause why the Romans had retarded the further corruption of themselves. In the creation of this Magistracy they indeed made one error at the start, creating them for five years: but a short time later it was corrected by the prudence of the Dictator Mamercus, who, through new laws, reduced the said Magistracy to eighteen months: which the Censors who were then (aging) in office took so badly, that they deprived Mamercus from (treating with) the Senate: which thing was greatly censured both by the Plebs and the Fathers: and as history does not show whether Mamercus was able to defend himself against this, it must be assumed either that history is defective, or that the institutions of Rome in this part were good; for it is not well that a Republic should be so constituted that a Citizen in order to promulgate a law conforming to a free society could be oppressed without any remedy.

But returning to the beginning of this discussion I say, that for creating such a new Magistracy it ought to be considered that, if those Cities which had their beginnings in liberty but become corrupt by themselves, like Rome, have great difficulty in finding good laws for maintaining themselves free, it is not to be wondered at if those which had their beginnings in servitude find it, not difficult, but impossible ever to organize themselves so that they are able to live securely and quietly; this, as is seen, happened to the City of Florence which, for having had its beginnings subject to the Roman Empire, and having always existed under the government of others, remained subject for a long time and without any thought to (freeing) itself: afterward when the opportunity arrived for her to breathe free, she began to make her institutions, which being mixed with ancient ones that were bad, could not be good: and thus she had gone on managing herself for two hundred years of which there exists a true record, without ever having a State (Government) by which she could truly be called a Republic. And these difficulties which existed in her, have always existed in those Cities that have had beginnings similar to hers. And although many times ample authority was given by public and free suffrage to a few Citizens to be able to reform her, yet they have never organized her for the common good, but always in favor of their own party: which made not for order, but for major disorders in that City. And to come to some particular example I say, that among other things that have to be considered by an establisher of a Republic is to examine into whose hands he places the authority of blood (death) over its own Citizens. This was well constituted in Rome, for there one could ordinarily appeal to the People; and even if an important event should occur where the deferring of an execution through the medium of an appeal should be dangerous, they had recourse to the Dictator, who executed it immediately: to which refuge they never had recourse except in necessity. But Florence and other Cities born as she was ((in servitude)) had this authority placed in a foreigner, who, sent by a Prince performed such an office. When they afterwards came into liberty, they kept this authority in a foreigner, whom they called Captain. Which ((because he was able easily to be corrupted by powerful Citizens)) was a pernicious thing. But afterwards changing itself through the changes of governments which they organized, they created the Eight Citizens who should perform the office of that Captain. Which arrangement from bad became worse, for the reasons mentioned at other times, that the few were always ministers of the few and more powerful (citizens).

The City of Venice is guarded from that (abuse), which has (a Council) of Ten Citizens who are able to punish any Citizen without appeal. And as this was not enough to punish the powerful even though they had the authority, they established (the Council) of Forty: And in addition the Council of the Pregadi ((which is the highest council)) had the power to castigate them. So that lacking an accuser, there was not lacking a judge to keep powerful men in check. It is no wonder, therefore, seeing that in Rome (laws) were made by herself with many prudent men, new causes sprung up every day for which she had to make new laws to maintain her free existence, which, if, in other Cities which had disordered beginnings, such difficulties sprung up, they could never reorganize themselves.



When T. Quintus Cincinnatus and Gnaius Julius Mentus were Consuls in Rome, being disunited, they stopped all the activities of that Republic. When the Senate saw this, they advised the creation of a Dictator, in order that he do that which, because of their (Consuls) discords, they could not do. But the Consuls disagreeing on every other thing, were in accord only on this: not to want to create a Dictator. So that the Senate not having any other remedy had recourse to the aid of the Tribunes, who, with the authority of the Senate, forced the Consuls to obey. Here first is to be noted the usefulness of the Tribunes, who were not only useful in restraining the ambitions which the powerful had against the Plebs, but also that which they employed among themselves. The other, that there ought never to be established in a City the ability of a few to interrupt any of its decisions which are ordinarily necessary in maintaining the Republic. For instance, if you give authority to a Council to make a distribution of honors and offices, or to a Magistracy the administration of a business, it is proper either to impose on them the necessity that they must do it in any case, or to arrange that if they did not want to do it themselves, that another can and ought to do it: otherwise this constitution would be defective and dangerous, as was seen it was in Rome, if the authority of the Tribunes could not have been opposed to the obstinacy of those Consuls.

In the Venetian Republic, the grand Council distributes the honors and offices. It sometimes happened that the general public, either from contempt or from some false suggestions, did not create the successors to the Magistrates of the City and to those who administered their outside Empire. This resulted in a very great disorder, because suddenly both the subject lands and the City itself lacked their legitimate judges, nor could they obtain anything if the majority of that council were not satisfied or deceived. And this inconvenience would have brought that City to a bad end if it had not been foreseen by the prudent Citizens, who taking a convenient opportunity made a law that all the Magistrates who are or should be inside or outside the City should never vacate their offices until exchanges with their successors were made. And thus was removed from that council the evil of being able with peril to the Republic to stop public activities.