Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/253

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that if asked to choose between the two, he would not praise that which deserved praise and blame that which deserved blame. Machiavelli recognised with regret that "it very seldom happens that a good man is willing to become prince by bad means, though his object be good." The desire for posthumous fame and the knowledge that a retrospective judgment would approve were powerful inducements, but, after all, something weightier was required. Machiavelli was prepared to be logical. An extraordinary problem cannot be solved by a tender conscience; "honest slaves are always slaves, and good men are always paupers." Deceit and cruelty and any other instrument of empire, if they led to success, would be understood and forgiven; "those who conquer, in whatever way they conquer, never reap disgrace." Success became the solvent of moral distinctions, and judgment must follow results. And in the particular case of Italy, a further sanction for the reformer's acts might perhaps be found in the desperate condition of the country, and in the high end in view: "where the bare salvation of the motherland is at stake, there no consideration of justice or injustice can find a place, nor any of mercy and cruelty, or of honour and disgrace; every scruple must be set aside, and that plan followed which saves her life and maintains her liberty."

Supposing any one prepared to accept this solution of the intellectual difficulties, it remained doubtful whether a man could be found with the practical ability and steadiness of nerve necessary to accomplish Machiavelli's design. He was sometimes sanguine, but at other times ready to despair. The condition of success would be thoroughness, and in the history of Rome he found evidences that men may, though rarely, avoid half-measures, and "have recourse to extremities." He knew that to halt between two opinions was always fatal, and that it was moreover not only undesirable, but impossible, to follow a middle course continuously. Unfortunately, human nature is apt to recoil from the extreme of evil and to fall short of the ideal of good; "men know not how to be gloriously wicked or perfectly good; and, when a crime has somewhat of grandeur and nobility in it, they flinch." Yet a great crisis often brings to the front a great man, and in 1513 Machiavelli believed the moment had come: "this opportunity must not be allowed to slip by, in order that Italy may at last see her redeemer appear." The right man was, he believed, a Medici, who, with far greater resources, might succeed where a Borgia had failed. His example was Cesare Borgia, who at the time had alone in any sort attempted the work of consolidation, and while shrinking from no convenient crime had damned himself intelligently.

The Prince was not published in Machiavelli's lifetime, was almost certainly never presented either to Giuliano or to Lorenzo de' Medici, and as a practical manifesto with a special purpose in view had no influence whatever. But the book summed up and interpreted the converging