Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/245

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strongest, but the most wise and the most just.—There is a saying that hunger and poverty make men industrious, and the laws make them good."

Thus moral action in a civil society meant for Machiavelli chiefly conformity to a code; the moral sense is the product of law or, in the last analysis, of fear. The sanction of conduct was derived from positive institutions; where no law existed, no action could be unjust. This admitted, the next stage was to interpret the notion of right, and to ask specifically, What is right? Machiavelli replied in words that furnished at once a moral criterion and a positive conception of right: "I believe good to be that which conduces to the interests of the majority, and with which the majority are contented." The scope and consequences of such a statement were not perhaps fully realised by him; yet the conception exercised some measure of control, possibly almost unconscious, upon his other views, and might be considered to furnish a sanction for much that is eccentric or immoral; even as an isolated and incidental utterance, it remains a curious forerunner of more modern theories. It is further possible to construct from Machiavelli's data a list of the particular virtues which, though not free from the vice of cross-division, nor to be regarded as exhaustive or scientific, helps to widen and complete the conception of his teaching. The virtues, the possession of which would in his judgment be most praiseworthy, are these: liberality, mercy, truthfulness, courage, affability, purity, guilelessness, good-nature, earnestness, devoutness. The last was indeed of supreme importance to all members of society, and so essential to a ruler that whosoever was not reputed religious had no chance of success, and was therefore forced to preserve, as the absolutely indispensable minimum, the appearances at least of a religious believer. For the masses do not discriminate between religion and morality; it is from religion that moral truths are believed by the uneducated conscience of mankind to derive their ne varietur character. Speaking more specifically of Christianity, Machiavelli was aware that it had effected a very fundamental change in ethical conceptions. "Our religion has glorified men of humble and contemplative life, rather than men of action. Moreover, it has placed the summum bonum in humility, in lowliness, and in the contempt of earthly things; paganism placed it in highmindedness, in bodily strength, and in all the other things which make men strongest. And if our religion requires us to have any strength in us, it calls upon us to be strong to suffer rather than to do." Christianity, as understood by medieval society, appeared to add to the difficulties of combining the characters of the good man and the good citizen. Machiavelli looked for power: "whereas this mode of living seems to have rendered the world weak, and given it over as a prey to wicked men, who can with impunity deal with it as they please; seeing that the mass of mankind, in order to go to Paradise, think more how to endure wrongs than how to avenge them." Such opinions