Rome, the Romagna, and Lombardy are filled with these two classes of men. For this reason there has never been in those provinces any republic or free State; for such kinds of person are absolutely antagonistic to all civil government. The attempt to introduce a republic into countries so circumstanced would not be possible. In order to reorganise them—supposing any one had authority to do it—there would be no other way than to establish a monarchy; the reason being this: where the body of the people is so corrupt that the laws are unable to curb it, it is necessary to establish together with the laws a superior force, that is to say, the arm of a King (mano regia), which with absolute and overwhelming power may curb the overwhelming ambition and corruption of the nobles." A republic, therefore, cannot initiate a fundamental reform; it is, moreover, too divided in counsel and too dilatory in action; "supposing a republic had the same views and the same wishes as a prince, it will by reason of the slowness of its movements take longer to come to a decision than he." Hence the remedies which republics apply are doubly hazardous, when they have to deal with a crisis which cannot wait.
On these grounds Machiavelli, in pleading for the liberation of Italy from her "barbarian" invaders, addressed a prince; the work of regeneration could logically be entrusted only to an armed despot. It remained to investigate the methods to be employed, and to consider what manner of man the reformer should be. The general principle enforced was that all reform must be retrograde, in the sense that it must bring back the State to its original condition, restoring the old ἦθος and looking for the ideal in the past. "It is a certain truth that all things in the world have a limit to their existence; but those run the full course that Heaven has in a general way assigned them, which do not disorder their constitution, but maintain it so ordered that it either does not alter, or, if it alters, the change is for its advantage, not to its detriment....Those alterations are salutary, which bring States back towards their first beginnings. Those States, consequently, are best-ordered and longest-lived, which by means of their institutions can be often renewed, or else, apart from their institutions, may be renewed by some accident. And it is clearer than the day that, if these bodies are not renewed, they will not last. The way to renew them is, as has been said, to bring them back to their beginnings, because all the beginnings of republics and kingdoms must contain in themselves some excellence, by means of which they obtain their first reputation and make their first growth. And as in the progress of time this excellence becomes corrupted, unless something intervenes which restores it to its primary condition, these bodies are necessarily destroyed."
Such is the general rule for the guidance of a reformer. As isolation would involve failure, he must, in order to realise his object, make it his first business to secure the favour of the people. However difficult this