Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/244

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it is hardly intelligible by itself. Ideas, long familiar in classical literature, may seem in their new context to bear little relation to what has come to be regarded as Machiavelli's main object; in reality they are not extraneous nor incidental, but the logical prius of the whole construction. Whoever began without securing his foundations, was obliged to secure them afterwards, though, as Machiavelli reflected, with discomfort to the architect and danger to the building. It was his conception of human nature and of history that logically entitled him to use the experience of the past as a guide for the future; to justify his rejection of constitutional reform where the material to be worked upon was thoroughly corrupt, and virtue imputed for a capital crime; to create new standards, to which appeal might be made in judging practical questions; to throw aside the fetters of medievalism and to treat politics inductively. It was thus that he was led to look to the past, and especially to ancient Rome, for examples and models. Often he repeated with enthusiastic emphasis his abiding conviction, that in his own day the teaching of the Romans might still be applied, their actions imitated, their principles adopted. He was criticised on this ground by Guicciardini and others, who, as they admitted only partially the postulates involved in Machiavelli's conception of history, rejected the appeal to ancient Rome as logically invalid.

This specifically historical theory required an ethical complement. Machiavelli had formed definite opinions upon some of the fundamental questions of moral science. He has recorded his views upon what is now called the origin of morality, and also attempted to determine the real nature of good and evil. Believing men naturally bad, and holding therefore that morality is non-natural, in the sense that it is distasteful to the untrained impulses in men and not to be arrived at by evolving anything of which perhaps they are, in some unexplained way, capable, the question confronted him, How is right action to be enforced? Where does the obligation reside? Only one answer could be consistent, In the laws. To explain this a reference was made to the origins of society. "In the beginning of the world, as the inhabitants were few, they lived for a time dispersed after the manner of wild beasts; afterwards, when they increased and multiplied, they united together, and in order the better to defend themselves, they began to look to that man among them who was the strongest and bravest, and made him their head and obeyed him. From this arose the knowledge of things honourable and good, as opposed to things pernicious and evil; because, seeing that, if a man injured his benefactor, hatred and pity were aroused among men, and that the ungrateful were blamed and the grateful honoured,—reflecting, moreover, that the same injury might be done to themselves,—they resorted to making laws and fixing punishments for whoever violated them: hence came the knowledge of justice. Consequently, when they had afterwards to elect a ruler, they did not seek out the