Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/239

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born bad, and no one does good, unless obliged. This he regarded as a necessary axiom of political science. It was contested by a few of his contemporaries, but on the whole the political speculation of the Renaissance and the theological teaching of the Reformation issued, in this respect, in the assertion of the same truth. The result at which theologians arrived in their efforts to settle the controversies connected with original or "birth" sin, was reached by Machiavelli through the study of the past, and with the object of obtaining a fixed basis for discussion. For the most part he limited himself to an emphatic iteration of his belief, without attempting analysis or defence beyond a general appeal to the common experience of mankind. It is not certain through what channels the view was conveyed to him; he shared the belief with Thucydides. "Men never behave well," he wrote, "unless they are obliged; wherever a choice is open to them and they are free to do as they like, everything is immediately filled with confusion and disorder.—Men are more prone to evil than to good.—As is shown by all who discuss civil government, and by the abundance of examples in every history, whoever organises a State, or lays down laws in it, must necessarily assume that all men are bad, and that they will follow the wickedness of their own hearts, whenever they have free opportunity to do so; and, supposing any wickedness to be temporarily hidden, it is due to a secret cause of which, having seen no experience to the contrary, men are ignorant; but time, which they say is the father of all truth, reveals it at last." This view involved the corollary, that human nature could not be depended upon to reform itself; it is only through repression that evil can be kept below the suicidal point.

Combined with this conviction was another, resting also upon an assumption and likewise applied as a general principle to explain history. The maxim "Imitation is natural to man" would express it in its crudest and most vague form. "Men almost always walk in the paths which others have trodden and in their actions proceed by imitation, and yet cannot keep entirely to other men's paths, nor attain to the excellence which they imitate." The idea is often enforced directly by Machiavelli, sometimes expanded or spoken of in a figure. His meaning was that all men, at any given period, must necessarily be in the debt of the dead; the masses cannot help following the beaten paths; the tendency of history is not to initiate, but to reproduce in a debased form. Men, being lazy, are more willing to conform than to pioneer; it is less inconvenient to tolerate than to persecute. Of course such repetition as history appeared to reveal would still be, in the main, not the result of conscious imitation, but the inevitable product of the permanent passions in man, which he believed to have a larger power in determining events than the rational and progressive elements. "The wise are wont to say, and not at random or without foundation, that he who desires to foresee what is going to take place, should consider what has taken