Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/242

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


makes places tranquil; then, from tranquillity results idleness; and idleness wastes country and town. Then, when a district has been involved in disorder for a time, virtue returns to dwell there once again."

The periods within which these inevitable revolutions are accomplished, might, with certain limitations, be regulated by human effort. Man, inasmuch as he is by nature a disorderly being, needed, whatever the form of the government, to be held under control by some despotic power; hence the necessity of law. The rights, the duties, and even the virtues of individuals are the creatures of law. The duration of any constitutional form and the life of any State is in large measure determined by the excellence of its laws. "It is true that a Power generally endures for a larger or a shorter time, according as its laws and institutions are more or less good.—Let Princes know that they begin to lose their State at that hour in which they begin to violate the laws, and those customs and usages which are ancient and under which men have lived for a long time." If the laws are inadequate or unsound, or if they can be ignored with impunity, the obligations hitherto resting upon the citizens are simultaneously removed. Machiavelli, however, believed that there can be extremely few cases in which a man is entitled to judge for himself of the working of law. "Men ought to give honour to the past, and obedience to the present; they ought to wish for good princes, but to put up with them, whatever their character." Innovation is hazardous both for the subject and for the ruler. True political wisdom will be revealed in the organisation of government on a basis so firm that innovation becomes unnecessary. "The safety of a republic or a kingdom consists, not in having a ruler who governs wisely while he lives, but in being subject to one who so organises it that, when he dies, it may continue to maintain itself." Some element of permanence in the source of authority is the more indispensable, because there is a point in the career of every society at which laws would otherwise be too feeble to cope with the general corruption: "there are no laws and no institutions which have power to curb a universal corruption.—Laws, if they are to be observed, presuppose good customs."

Machiavelli by no means overestimated the power of laws; alone, they could never be an adequate instrument of empire. Their severity required to be mitigated, and their restraining force to be supplemented, by some influence potent to control not men's acts only but their minds. There was a sense, therefore, in which the State could not with advantage be separated from the Church; both were to cooperate to create national customs and habits of thought, not less than to enforce order and maintain the stability of society. Without confounding the domains of politics and theology, Machiavelli urged the familiar view that any community, which has lost or misdirected the religious sentiment, has greatly weakened itself and imperilled its own existence. "The observance of the ordinances of religion is the cause of the greatness of