BOOK IV

The Rise and Fall of Commonwealths [CHAPTER I]

COMMONWEALTHS originate either in a family which gradually grows into one; or a specific agreement among some chance assemblage of men; or by colonization from some older commonwealth, as when a new swarm of bees leaves the hive, or a cutting from a tree roots and bears fruit more quickly than a plant raised from seed. In all cases the commonwealth can be founded either in violence or in consent. In the latter case a certain number surrender their full and entire liberty and submit themselves to the sovereign power of the others to be their sovereign rulers without law, or alternatively to be their sovereign rulers subject to certain conditions and fundamental laws.

Once the commonwealth has come into existence, if it is well ordered, it can secure itself against external enemies or internal disorders. Little by little it grows in strength till it reaches the height of its perfection. But the uncertainty and mutability of human affairs make it impossible that this pre-eminence should last long. Great states often fall suddenly from their own weight. Others are destroyed by the violence of their enemies at the very moment when they feel themselves most secure. Others decay slowly and are brought to their ends by internal causes. As a general rule the most famous commonwealths suffer the greatest changes of fortune. This is no occasion of condemnation, especially if the change is due to external forces, as most often happens, for the most successful states are those that most provoke envy ... Wherefore it is of the greatest importance to understand the causes of these revolutions before either condemning or emulating.

I mean by change in the commonwealth, change in the form of government, as when the sovereignty of the people gives way to the authority of a prince, or the government of a ruling class is replaced by that of the proletariat, or the reverse in each case. If the constitution of the sovereign body remains unaltered, change in laws, customs, religion, or even change of situation, is not properly a change in the commonwealth, but merely alteration in an already existing one. On the other hand the form of the government of a commonwealth may change while the laws and customs remain what they were, except as they affect the exercise of sovereign power. This happened when Florence was converted from a popular state into a monarchy. One cannot therefore measure the duration of a commonwealth from the foundation of a city, as does Paolo Manucci,[1] when he says that Venice has endured for twelve hundred years. It has changed three times in that period. It is possible also that neither the city, the people, nor the laws suffer any change or loss, yet the whole commonwealth perishes. This happens when a sovereign prince voluntarily subjects himself to another, or leaves his state by will to a popular democracy. Atalus, King of Asia, Coctius, King of the Alps, and Polemon, King of Damasia made the Roman Republic the heirs of their states. But this was not so much a change in the form of commonwealth as a total abolition of sovereign power. On the other hand if a single city or province constitutes itself one or more popular states or kingdoms, this is not a change of commonwealth but the foundation of one or more new states. This happened when the Swiss Cantons and the Grisons, heretofore vicariates and provinces of the Empire, constituted themselves eighteen distinct commonwealths. ...

All change is voluntary or necessary, or mixedly both. Necessity can also bring about a natural or a violent occurrence. Birth is more excellent than death, but in observing the course of nature we come to understand that they are inseparable; the one cannot be without the other. Death is more tolerable when it is the consequence of old age, or follows in the train of a long and insidious malady. Similarly in the case of commonwealths, with the lapse of centuries their very age necessarily brings about their downfall, and not always by violence, for one cannot describe as violent that change which happens to all things in this world in the ordinary course of nature. Change however need not always be from good to bad, from life to death, but can also be progression, from that which is good to that which is better, whether as the result of a slow process of natural development, or of some sudden and violent alteration. Voluntary change is of course the smoothest and easiest of all. Whoever is invested with sovereign power resigns it into the hands of others, and so brings about a change in the form of the commonwealth. The change from a popular state to a monarchy when Sulla was dictator was extraordinarily bloody and violent, but the reverse change from a monarchy, disguised as a dictatorship, back to a popular state was temperate and easy. He voluntarily resigned his sovereign authority to the people, no force or violence was necessary, and everyone was satisfied. There was a similar occasion in Siena when it changed from an aristocracy to a popular state after the tyranny of Pandolfo. It was accomplished with the full consent of the magnates, who willingly resigned their authority into the hands of the people, and left the town.[2]

A man can pass from sickness to health, or health to sickness as a result of either external causes, such as his diet, or internal causes effecting bodily or mental changes, or of such accidental causes as wounds, or curative medicine. Similarly a commonwealth can suffer change and decay at the hands of friends or enemies internal or external, whether it is a change for the better or for the worse. Such changes are often accomplished against the will of the citizens who, if there is no alternative, must be constrained and compelled, as doctors constrain and compel the insane for their own good. Lycurgus converted Sparta from a monarchy to a popular state against the will of the citizens, or at any rate the greater part of them. They attacked and wounded him, although he was resigning for himself and his successors the claim to the throne which belonged to him as a prince of the blood, and nearest in the line of succession.

I have already said that there are only three forms of commonwealth. It follows that there are properly speaking only six types of revolution that can befall them, that is to say from monarchy into a popular state and from popular state into monarchy, or from monarchy into aristocracy and aristocracy into monarchy, or from aristocracy to popular state and popular state into aristocracy. But each form of commonwealth can undergo six kinds of imperfect revolution, that is to say from kingship to despotism, despotism to tyranny, tyranny to kingship, kingship to tyranny, tyranny to despotism, despotism to kingship. The same changes can occur in the other two forms of the commonwealth, for an aristocracy can be legitimate, despotic, or factious, and a popular state legitimate, despotic, or anarchic. I call the change from a legitimate aristocracy to a factious one, or from a tyranny to a monarchy imperfect, because there is only a change in the quality of persons governing, good or bad. But sovereignty remains in the monarch in one case, and in the aristocracy in the other. ...

Men often enough die untimely, before they reach old age, in the very flower of their youth, or even in childhood. Likewise there have been commonwealths that have perished before they have achieved any distinction in arms or in laws. Some indeed have been abortive, or perished at birth, like the city of Münster in the Empire of Germany, dismembered from the Empire by the sect of the Anabaptists under their king, John of Leyden. He entirely changed its form of government, its laws and its religion. Throughout the three years of his reign the city was continuously beseiged, till at last its defences were forced and its king publicly executed. ...

I hold a commonwealth to be in its prime when it has reached the highest pitch of perfection and of achievement of which it is capable, or perhaps more accurately, when it is at its least imperfect. This can only be judged after its decline and fall. Rome passed through the stages of monarchy, tyranny, aristocracy, and popular government, but it reached its highest perfection as a popular state, and during that phase of its history it was never so illustrious in arms and in laws as in the time of Papirius Cursor ... Never after that time was military and domestic discipline so well maintained, faith better kept, the rites of religion more piously observed, vice more severely punished; never afterwards could it boast such valiant citizens. If it is objected that it was still poor and confined within the frontiers of Italy, I would answer that one cannot measure excellence by riches, nor perfection by the extent of the conquered territories. The Romans were never more powerful, rich, and mighty than under the Emperor Trajan. He crossed the Euphrates and conquered a great part of Arabia Felix, built a bridge over the Danube whose ruins we can still see, and humbled the barbarous and savage peoples of those times. Nevertheless ambition, avarice, and luxury had so corrupted the Romans that they only retained a shadow of their ancient virtue ... Such are the considerations which one must bear in mind if one is going to understand revolutions, though they have never been properly treated before.

There are many causes of revolution in the form of the commonwealth, but they can all be reduced to certain few fundamentals. There are first the struggles for power that develop among the magnates whenever there is a failure of heirs in the royal line, or when the great mass of the people are very poor, and a small handful excessively rich, or where there is great inequality in the distribution of estates and of honours. Or revolutions may be brought about by the ambition which incites some men, or the desire to avenge injuries, or the fear of punishment only too well deserved. Again changes in law or in religion, the cruelty of tyrants, or the indignation with which men see the highest offices in the land defiled by the bestial and voluptuous behaviour of their occupants, all precipitate revolutions.

I have already said that the original rulers and founders of commonwealths were violent tyrants, but their successors were in some cases despots, in others kings ruling by hereditary right. Further changes were due to the causes I have already indicated. Thus it is that all the histories, sacred and profane, agree that the first form of a commonwealth, and the first creation of a sovereign power, was to be found in the Assyrian monarchy. Its first prince, Nimrod, whom many call Ninus, made himself sovereign by force and violence. His successors ruled as despots, assuming an absolute right to dispose of the lives and goods of their subjects as they thought fit until Arbaces, governor of Media, dethroned Sardanapalus, the last Prince of Assyria, and made himself king in his stead, without any form of election. He was able to do this because Sardanapalus was given over to the vice of luxury, spending his time among the women instead of the men of his court, and men of spirit will not endure to find themselves subjects of one who is a man only in appearance. We read also that the Princes of the Medes, descended from Artabazus, the Kings of Persia, Egypt, and the Kings of the Hebrews, the Macedonians, the Corinthians, the Spartans, Athenians, and Celts all ruled by hereditary succession over kingdoms for the most part founded in force and violence, though they subsequently came to be regulated by good laws, and in accordance with the principles of justice.

This state of affairs continued until either there was a failure of heirs in the royal line, or till some prince, abusing his power, maltreated his subjects and so was expelled or killed. Thereupon their subjects, fearing perhaps that they would fall again under a similar tyranny if they gave sovereign power to a single person, or perhaps merely reluctant to submit to the commands of someone who had been one of themselves, founded an aristocracy, with scant regard however for the wishes of the mass of the people. If by any chance some among the poor and humble citizens also wanted a share in sovereignty, they beguiled them with the fable of the hares who wished to command lions. Even if monarchy was succeeded by a popular state, it was always arranged that the rich or the nobly born should monopolize all public offices, and occupy laws and estates. Thus Solon, having founded a popular state, would not allow the poor and humble citizen to have any share in the distribution of land. Again when the Romans expelled their kings, though they proceeded to found a popular state, they reserved lands and benefices to the nobility. We also read that after the first tyrants were expelled, warriors and soldiers were always endowed with estates, and the poorer people passed over, until Aristides and Pericles in Athens, and Canuleius and other tribunes in Rome opened all offices, and places and sources of profit, to all subjects alike. Since their time people have discovered by the experience of many centuries that monarchy is a more stable, a more desirable, and a more durable form of commonwealth than either aristocracy or democracy, and that the best monarchies are those in which there is a right of succession in the male line. In consequence hereditary monarchies have been established throughout the world. In some places however fear of what would happen were there a failure of heirs male has led to the prince being given the right to choose his successor, as did many Roman Emperors, and nowadays many African rulers. In other cases the right of the election of the successor of a prince who dies without heirs reverts to the people, or in some cases, in the kingdoms of Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, the people elect even if there is an heir.

When the people have been ruled by a tyrant they always choose a just and merciful prince, when by a coward, a weak king, or a scholar, they look for some valiant captain. After the death of Numa, who only concerned himself with matters of morals and religion, the Romans elected the good captain Tullius Hostilius. It therefore generally happens that the cruellest and most ruthless tyrants are succeeded by just and equitable princes. They have before their eyes the miserable end of the tyrant, and fear a like fate for themselves; or they may have been well-educated in sound principles; or they may have been bound by an oath on their coronation, which curtails their authority. Thus we see that after the miserable death of Mark Antony Augustus governed most wisely and virtuously a state which flourished in arms and in good laws. ...

It is no matter for wonder if there have been few virtuous princes. There are, after all, few virtuous men, and princes are not usually chosen even out of this small handful. It is therefore remarkable if one does, among many, find one excellent ruler. And once such a one is exalted to a position in which he has no superior save God alone, assailed as he then is by all the temptations which are a trap even to the most assured, it is a miracle if he preserves his integrity. But if a prince arrays himself in the full splendour of justice, the flame he kindles shines long after his death, so that his sons, even if they should prove evil in their ways, are loved for the memory of their father. Cambyses, cruel and evil as he was, was always adored by his subjects, and respected by the rest, for love of the great Cyrus, his father. Affection for the great Cyrus was so engraved on the hearts of his subjects, that as Plutarch says, they admired anyone with a long aquiline nose for no other reason than that Cyrus was so featured.

The tyranny of a single prince therefore does not bring a commonwealth to the verge of revolution if he is the son of a good father. His estate is like a great tree which has as many roots as it has branches. But the self-made prince, who has no predecessors, is like a tall tree without roots, liable to be overthrown by the first gust of wind. If the son and successor of a tyrant follows in his father's footsteps, he and his whole government are liable to be overthrown by a revolution. The son has no security and is unpopular on account of his father's as well as his own vices. If he cannot get help from his neighbours, or alternatively is not upheld by strong armed forces, he lives under a perpetual threat of expulsion, unless, of course, he is the successor of a long line of kings. I say this because the virtue of a self-made king is never sufficient to secure possession to his son, should that son play the tyrant. ...

Revolutions come all the quicker if the tyrant is an oppressor, or cruel, or a voluptuary, or something of all these things as were Nero, Tiberius, and Caligula. But princes have been brought to ruin more through the vice of licentiousness than for any other cause. It is much more dangerous a threat to the prince's security than a reputation for cruelty. Cruelty keeps men in fear, and inactive, inspiring the subject with terror of his prince. But viciousness moves the subject to hatred and contempt of his prince, for it is very generally believed that the voluptuary is a coward at heart, and that the man who cannot command himself is unworthy to command a whole people. Sardanapalus, King of Assyria, Canades, King of Persia, Dionysius the Young and Hieronymus, Kings of Sicily ... Galeazzo Sforza, Alessandro de' Medici, the Cardinal Petruccio, tyrant of Siena, all lost their realms as a result of their own viciousness, and the most of them also were killed in the act... But states are not so easily brought to the point of revolution through the cruelty of a prince, unless it be the extreme and bestial cruelty of a Phalaris, a Nero, Vitellius, Domitian, Commodus, Caracalla, Ezzelino of Padua, or Giovanni Maria of Milan who were all killed or driven out, and their tyrannous governments supplanted by popular rule. This fate befell them not so much for their cruelty to their humbler subjects (to whom scant attention is paid in tyrannies) but for acts of individual cruelty committed against the magnates and men of good family. Often the cause of the catastrophe is not so much a cruel act as one that puts shame upon a man, for to be shamed is more intolerable to men of honour than to suffer cruelty. Bodila killed Childeric together with his wife and unborn child for having had him whipped ... The murderers of tyrants have nearly always seized the government, or the highest magistracies as a reward for their action. Both Brutuses seized the highest offices in Rome, the one for having driven out Tarquin, the other for having assassinated Caesar... Luigi Gonzaga having killed Bonaccorsi, tyrant of Mantua, was elected ruler by the subjects, and his posterity has continued in the government for two hundred and fifty years. The Venetians secured the lordship of Padua after they killed the tyrant Ezzelino. ...

All monarchies newly founded on the ruins of an aristocratic or popular state took their beginnings from the moment when one of the magistrates, captains, or subordinate governors, having force at his disposal, raised himself from the position of colleague to that of sovereign; or from conquest by a foreign power; or from voluntary submission to the law and government of another. The first is by far the most usual occurence, and there have been any number of examples ... the Decemvirate in Rome and after them Sulla and Caesar, the Scaligeri in Verona, the Bentivoglio in Bologna, the Malatesta in Rimini, the Baglioni in Perugia, the Sforzas in the duchy of Milan. But many others besides these have by force and violence advanced from the position of a simple captain, or provincial governor, to that of sovereign lord. For in matters of state one can take it as a general rule that he who is in control of the armed forces is master of the state. It is for this reason that in well-ordered aristocracies and popular states the highest honours in the state are not the positions of most effective power, and further, the most responsible magistracies are always shared by a group of colleagues. If this is not possible, and indeed in time of war such an arrangement is positively dangerous, the term of office is always very short. Thus the Romans instituted two consuls who commanded on alternate days. For although the dissensions which so easily arise between two officials equal in authority sometimes hold up the execution of business, the commonwealth is not so exposed to the danger of conversion into a monarchy as when there is a sole magistrate. For the same reason the Roman dictator was only appointed for such a term as the crisis required. It was never longer than six months, and sometimes lasted only a single day. The time expired, his authority to command expired, and if he continued to keep his forces in being, he could be accused of treason against the Republic ... It is therefore of the utmost importance that the laws governing the terms of office should be preserved without modifications, and the legal terms not prolonged except in cases of extreme necessity ... If the law had been thus strictly observed, Caesar would never have seized control of the state. ...

The conversion of a popular state into an aristocracy is generally the result of defeat in battle, or some other notable injury at the hands of an enemy. On the other hand a popular state is secured and strengthened by victory. These tendencies are illustrated in the histories of two commonwealths, Athens and Syracuse. The Athenians, who till then had enjoyed a popular form of government, having been defeated by the Syracusans through the fault of their captain, Nicias, fell under the dominion of four hundred citizens, though by a trick of Pisander they were known as the Five Hundred. When the humbler citizens tried to resist, they were overcome because the four hundred could dispose of the armed forces, and used them to kill the leaders and keep the rest in awe. But the Syracusans, puffed up by victory, destroyed their aristocracy and set up a popular state. A little later, the Athenians, on learning of the defeat of the Spartans by Alcibiades, killed or expelled their four hundred rulers and restored the popular state under the leadership of Thrasilus ... We read also that the Florentines, on hearing of the sack of Rome and the captivity of Pope Clement,[3] at once got rid of the oligarchy that he had established in Florence. They persecuted, killed, or banished the partisans of the Medici, threw down their statues, broke open their treasuries, expunged their names from all buildings in the city and re-established the popular state. Again, the moment the Swiss Cantons had defeated the nobles in the battle of Sempach in 1377, there was no more heard of an aristocracy, nor of recognizing the Emperor in any form whatsoever. The reason for a revolution of this sort is the inconstancy and rashness of a populace, without sense or judgement, and variable as the winds. It is stunned by defeat and insupportable in victory. No enemy is more fatal to it than success in its own undertakings, no master so wise as the one that imposes the severest restraints on it, in other words, a victorious enemy. In such a crisis the wiser and richer citizens on whom the greatest burden falls, seeing dangers threaten from all sides, take the conduct of affairs, abandoned by the people, into their own hands. Indeed, the only way to secure the continuance of a popular state is to keep it at war, and create enemies if they do not already exist. This was the chief reason which led Scipio the Younger to try and stop the razing of Carthage. He had the wisdom to foresee that a warlike and aggressive people like the Romans would fall to making war on each other, once all external enemies were disposed of ... But popular states are more likely to change into monarchies as a result either of civil war, or of the folly of the people in giving too much power to an individual. ...

On the other hand when a tyranny is overthrown as a result of a civil war, it is nearly always succeeded by a popular state. This is because the people know no moderation, and once the tyrant is expelled, the hatred of his memory, and the fear of once again falling a victim, excites them to rush to the other extreme ... This happened in Rome after the expulsion of Tarquin the Proud, and in Switzerland, once the Imperial Vicars were killed, the people established a popular state which has lasted till the present day, that is to say for two hundred and sixty years. ...

It also sometimes happens that a people is so unstable that it is impossible to find any form of government with which it does not become discontented after a brief experience of it. The Athenians... the Florentines and the Genoese were like this. The minute they had established one form of government, they began to long for another. This malady particularly affects those popular states whose citizens are of an active and enquiring turn of mind, as were those whom I have mentioned. Each citizen thought himself fitted to command the rest. When the citizens are of a less restlessly intelligent type they submit complacently to being ruled, and are easily brought to a decision in their public assemblies. More subtle spirits argue the point till intention evaporates in words. Personal ambition prevents anyone deferring to his opponent, and the state is thereby brought to ruin ... It is a matter of common knowledge that Florence is the nursery of ingenious spirits. How much the Florentines differ from, say, the Swiss in this respect. Nevertheless though both peoples substituted a popular state for a monarchical form of government about three hundred and sixty years ago, while the Swiss have preserved their popular institutions... the Florentines have never ceased to change and change again, behaving like the sick man who keeps on moving from one place to another, thinking thus to cure the illness which is attacking his very life. In the same way the malady of ambition and sedition never ceased to afflict Florence until a physician was found to cure her of all her ills. A monarch succeeded who built fortresses in the city, garrisoned them strongly, and by such methods maintained a government which has lasted for forty years now.[4] ...

Aristocratic states are more stable and longer lived than popular ones, provided that the ruling class avoid the two dangers of faction within their own ranks, and attack from a rebellious populace outside them. If they once start to dispute amongst themselves, the people will never fail to seize the opportunity to fall upon them, as the history of Florence shows only too well. This danger is intensified when foreigners are freely admitted into the city and settle in large numbers. Not being qualified for office, when they are heavily taxed or oppressed in any way by the governing body, their ready remedy is to rise and expel the native rulers ... This is the danger which most threatens the state of Venice. It is a pure aristocracy. But it has admitted foreigners in such numbers that by now for every Venetian gentleman there are a hundred citizens, both nobles and burgesses, of foreign extraction. ...

The change from aristocracy to popular state has nearly always been bloody and violent. On the other hand the reverse process of change from popular state to aristocracy nearly always comes about gradually and peacefully. This happens when a city admits foreign settlers who in course of time considerably increase in numbers, but who remain ineligible for office or political rights. The strain of government and of war brings about a gradual diminution in the ruling class, whereas the number of aliens steadily increases. A point is reached when it is only a minority of the inhabitants who enjoy rights of sovereignty, and this, we have shown, is the distinguishing mark of an aristocracy. The commonwealths of Venice, Lucca, Ragusa, and Genoa were all once popular states which have gradually and insensibly been converted into aristocracies. The change was further facilitated, of course, by the reluctance of the poorer citizens, who needed all their time and energy to make a living, to accept public duties to which no profit was attached. In course of time, and by prescription, their families have lost the right to such offices altogether.

This type of revolution is the easiest and least insupportable of any. But if one wishes to prevent it happening, the children of immigrants must be admitted to public charges and offices, unless there are very urgent reasons why not, especially if the commonwealth is much involved in wars abroad. Otherwise there is the danger that the ruling class, not daring to arm its subjects, will be destroyed by defeat in battle, whereupon the people will seize power ... The thing that most assisted the victory of the Roman people over the nobles was the defeat of the latter by the men of Viei, for the greater part of the gentry were killed, including three hundred members of the most ancient and noble family of the Fabii. The Venetians solve this problem by employing foreign mercenaries as a general rule, if they have to make war, though they avoid doing so whenever possible.

This danger of a revolution in the form of the state, following the destruction of the nobles, does not afflict monarchies, except in the extreme case of all Princes of the Blood perishing with the nobles. The Turks have seen to it that no single gentleman escaped in any province which they intended to annex. But this sort of change is rather the absorption of one state by another than a revolution in government, and proceeds from external and not internal causes. But practically the entire noblesse of France was killed in the battle of Fontenoy near Auxerre, in the war between Lothar, son of Louis the Pious, and his brothers Louis and Charles the Bald. Nevertheless all three monarchies survived as such. ...

Great and notable revolutions are most likely to befall aristocracies and popular states. There is no more common occasion than the ambition of proud men, who cannot obtain the rewards on which they have fixed their desires, and so constitute themselves the friends of the people and enemies of the noblesse. Thus did Marius in Rome, Thrasibulus in Athens, Francesco Valori[5] in Florence, and many others. This is all the easier to accomplish when unworthy persons are preferred to positions of honour and trust, and those who are worthy of them excluded. This angers men of birth and position more than anything else. What most contributed to the ruin of the Emperors Nero and Heliogabalus was the promotion of despicable persons to the highest honours. But this danger is greatest in an aristocracy governed aristocratically, that is to say where the generality of people have no share in office. It is a two-fold grievance to find not only that one is excluded from all offices and benefices, but that these are monopolized by unworthy persons to whom one must submit and do reverence. In such a case those patricians who can organize a following, can change an aristocracy which has no foundations in popular support, into a popular state. This cannot happen if the ruling class preserves its solidarity. Divisions and antagonisms within the ruling class is the danger most to be feared in the aristocratic state. ...

Revolutions tend to occur more frequently in small commonwealths than in those which are large and populous. A small commonwealth easily falls into two hostile camps. It is not so easy for such a division to appear in a large one, for there are always a number of people who are neither great nor humble, rich nor poor, good nor evil who form links between the extremes, because they have affinities with each. We find that the small republics of Italy and ancient Greece, consisting of one, two or three cities only, suffered many and diverse changes of form. There can be no question but that extremes always lead to conflicts if there is no means of uniting or reconciling them one with another. One can see at a glance the jealousy which divides noble and tradesman, the rich man and the poor man, the virtuous and the vicious. But more than this, one sometimes finds that the conflicting interests of different localities in the same city bring about a revolution... We read in Plutarch that the Republic of Athens was harassed by seditions and disorders because the sailors who inhabited the port were separated from those who lived near the Acropolis, and extremely hostile to them till Pericles included the port within his long walls. Venice was at one time in extreme danger from a similar conflict between the sailors and pilots on the one hand, and inhabitants of the city on the other, and but for the intervention of Pietro Loredano[6] would have suffered a violent revolution.

Internal seditions often bring about external disasters, for a neighbouring prince very frequently falls upon an adjacent state in the hour of its defeat, as did the Normans after the battle of Fontenoy when the noblesse of France was practically exterminated ... External disasters attendant on internal disorders are all the more to be feared if one's nearest neighbours are not friends and allies. Proximity whets the appetite for securing that which belongs to another, before he can prevent it. There is nothing surprising in this. When one considers that neither seas, mountains, nor uninhabitable deserts are sufficient barriers against the ambition and avarice of princes, how can one expect them to be content with what they possess, and refrain from encroaching on their neighbours, when their frontiers coincide, and opportunity offers?

Such a fate is much more likely to befall small republics such as Ragusa, Geneva, or Lucca, which consist of a single city and a very small dependent territory. Who conquers the city conquers the state. This cannot happen to great or powerful commonwealths which have many provinces, and many local centres of government. If one is occupied, the others can come to its assistance, as several members of a powerful body who can aid one another at need. Moreover monarchies have this advantage over aristocracies and popular states, that there is no one centre of sovereignty which is the stronghold of the ruling class, so that if it is destroyed the state perishes. A king can remove his capital from place to place. Even if he is himself captured, the ruin of the state does not necessarily follow. When the city of Capua was taken by the Romans the whole state perished, and no other city or fortress offered the least resistance, for the sovereign, senate, and people had all been made captive. Again when the Duke of Florence took the city of Siena all its subjects, cities, and fortresses surrendered forthwith. But should a king be made captive, he is often released again for the price of his ransom. Even if the enemy will not be content with that, the estates can always proceed to another election, or enthrone the next in blood if there are other princes. A captive king will sometimes rather lose his throne or die a prisoner than afflict his subjects. The Emperor Charles V was extremely embarrassed by the resolution of Francis I in letting it be known that he would resign the crown to his eldest son were his terms not accepted. For the kingdom and the government had survived intact without suffering revolution or alteration whatsoever as a result of the crisis. Although Spain, Italy, England, the Low Countries, the Pope, the Venetians, and all the Italian estates, were allied against the French house, none dared enter France to conquer her, knowing the strength other institutions and the nature of the monarchy.[7] As a strong building raised on sure foundations, constructed of durable materials and knit together in all its parts need not fear storms and tempests, nor violent assaults, so the commonwealth based on good laws and united together in all its parts does not easily fall a prey to revolution. There are however some so ill-founded and ill-united that the slightest wind destroys them. There is nevertheless no commonwealth which does not suffer transformation with the passage of time, and come to ruin eventually. But the transformation that is accomplished slowly is the most tolerable. ...

That Changes of Government and Changes in Law should not be Sudden [CHAPTER III][8]

... THE first condition that must be observed for the preservation of any commonwealth is that its specific type and the weaknesses to which it is prone, should be thoroughly understood. For this reason I pause here to consider such matters. It is not sufficient to have ideas as to which is the best type of commonwealth. One must also understand the means whereby each is preserved in its proper form, supposing it is not possible to modify it, or supposing any attempt to do so would threaten it with ruin. It is better to keep a sick man going by suitable diet than attempt to cure him of a malignant disease at the risk of his life. Violent remedies should never be employed unless the illness is critical, and no other expedients offer any hope. The same principles hold good in the commonwealth, not only regarding changes in the constitution, but also regarding changes in laws, manners, and customs. Lack of understanding of this principle has brought great and flourishing commonwealths to ruin, when the adoption of some admirable custom, borrowed from another state quite different in character, has been attempted. We have already shown that certain good laws which tend to the preservation of a monarchy would be the ruin of a popular state, while certain other laws which preserve the liberty of the people would bring about the downfall of a monarchy.

It is true that there are a number of rules which apply indifferently to all types of commonwealth. But the old problem, so often debated by political philosophers, still remains unresolved. Is the introduction of some new custom, which is an improvement on the old, to be encouraged, in view of the fact that no law, however good, has any force if it is not respected? But novelty always brings the law into disrepute. The binding force of habit is so strong that it secures obedience to the laws without the intervention of any magistrate, whereas new laws, even when backed up by the authority of the magistrate, and reinforced with pains and penalties, are established only with difficulty. It could therefore be argued that the benefit of a new law, however good, is outweighed by the fact that the whole general force of law is weakened once one begins to make changes. In short, there is nothing more difficult to undertake, more doubtful of success, or more dangerous in the attempt, than the introduction of new laws.

This argument seems to me to have considerable force. I would add another consideration which also seems to me of great weight. I think it extremely dangerous to make any change in the law touching the constitution. The amendment of laws and customs touching inheritances, contracts, or servitudes is on the whole permissible. But to touch the laws of the constitution is as dangerous as to undermine the foundations, or remove the comer-stone on which the whole weight of the building rests. Disturbed in this way, apart from the risk of collapse, a building often receives more damage than the advantage of new material is worth, especially if it is old and decaying. The same is true of an old-established commonwealth. The slightest disturbance of its foundations spells ruin. Therefore the ancient maxim of wise statesmen, that one should not tamper with the constitution of any commonwealth which has long maintained itself in good order for any advantage that can be imagined, should be weighed carefully. ...

If anyone objects that changes in the law are often necessary, especially in matters concerning the policing of a country, I agree that such necessity is prior to all rules about wisdom in legislation. But it is always dangerous to introduce laws and edicts which are a matter of choice, however good and profitable they may be, especially if they relate to the constitution. Not that I wish a commonwealth to cling to laws which no longer conduce to its preservation. One must always bear in mind the principle to which there is no exception, salus populi suprema lex esto. Thus Themistocles persuaded the Athenians to fortify the city with walls and fortresses, the better to defend it and secure their own safety. But Theremanes, for exactly the same reason, persuaded them to dismantle them, for otherwise the total rum of the people and of the commonwealth would have been certain. There are no laws, however excellent, which do not sooner or later change their value, and when necessity requires, they should be altered, but not before. Therefore when Solon published his laws, he made the people swear to keep them for the next hundred years, so Plutarch says. In doing this he showed that he did not wish that the laws should be regarded as unalterable, but that they should not be abandoned in any haste. ...

Even when the law is patently unjust, it is better to let it lapse gradually than to make any sudden change... Again, the nature of men is extraordinarily corruptible, and they continually descend from good to bad, and from bad to worse. Their vices slowly establish a hold on them, like the ill humours which gradually invade the body till they entirely possess it. It is therefore necessary at times to make new laws to deal with the situation, but it should always be done very gradually... The ordering of the commonwealth should be modelled on the ordering of the universe. God, the first cause, accomplishes all things gradually and almost insensibly. During the lifetime of the Doge Agostino Barbarino,[9] the Venetians did nothing to curtail his authority because of the disturbance it might cause. But after his death, and before proceeding to the election of Loredano, the Signory published new laws which drastically limited the powers of the Doge. We have shown how a similar policy was adopted at the election of the Emperors of Germany. From sovereign kings they were reduced step by step to the position of mere captains in chief. To make the change more palatable, they were left in possession of all the marks of imperial splendour in the vestments they wore, the style in which they were addressed, and in the ceremonies which surrounded them, but of very little else. Just as it is perilous to deprive a sovereign ruler suddenly of his authority, or a prince who has an armed force at his disposal, so it is no less dangerous for a prince to dismiss or rebuff abruptly the former officers of his predecessor, or suddenly to deprive a whole body of officials while retaining others. Those who are retained are suspected of jealous intrigues and those who are dismissed, of incompetence or dishonesty, besides being deprived of the charges which they have often enough bought dear. Perhaps one of the surest foundations of the French monarchy is that the officers of the crown retain their posts on the death of the king, and so are able to preserve the commonwealth intact. ...

This is not a danger which threatens popular or aristocratic states, since with them the sovereign never dies. But the risk is just as great when they have to appoint new high officers of state, or captains in chief; or when they have to initiate some law which is disagreeable to the people, because it favours the nobles and burdens the humbler citizens, or because there is a shortage of provisions, or because prices are too high. Such occasions always breed popular agitations and seditions.

Generally, when it is necessary to deprive magistrates, suppress guilds and colleges, cancel privileges, cut down salaries and benefices, increase penalties; or to restore the ancient usages in either politics or religion when they have deteriorated through the natural human propensity to corruption, there is no better way of achieving success than by gradual means. The use of force, such as is necessary if institutions are to be suppressed, is to be avoided wherever possible. We have a notable warning in the case of Charles V of France. When regent, he was misled by evil counsel into suspending or dismissing suddenly the majority of the officers of the realm, and replacing them by commissioners. France was immediately shaken by disorders from end to end, from the number of the malcontents[10] ... But when the Signory of Basel established the Reformed Church, it did not wish to expel immediately and forcibly all the inmates of abbeys and monasteries. It merely ordained that as they died no successors should take their place, whereby it happened that a single Carthusian continued to inhabit his convent for a great time all alone, all his fellow monks having voluntarily left. He was nevertheless never compelled to leave the place, nor abandon his habit or his profession. ...

I hold that the great increase in officials, in guilds, in privileged persons, or of evil-doers which has come about through the negligence of princes and magistrates ought to be checked in this way. The same principle holds good for all matters touching subjects as a whole, for it is rooted in the very nature of law, for law only really begins to take effect after some considerable passage of time.

Even in the case of tyranny, which is a thing cruel and detestable in itself, it is better if the tyrant has neither children nor near relatives, to defer bringing an end to the tyranny till after his death, rather than to use violent measures against the tyrant himself, and so expose the state to the risk of the ruin which so often befalls on such occasions. Only if the tyrant has heirs, and is employing himself, as is almost universal custom, in killing off all the people of any importance one by one, and in getting rid of any magistrates who might check him in his courses, in order to establish his own sole and unchallengeable authority, is it permissible to have recourse to violent measures, in accordance with the principles we laid down at the start; otherwise not. In governing a well-ordered state therefore one should follow the example of the workings of nature, by which all things are accomplished slowly, one step at a time. God causes a tall and spreading tree to spring from one small seed, but always by imperceptible degrees. He unites extremes by their mean, putting spring between winter and summer, and autumn between summer and winter, ordering all things according to His perfect wisdom And if it is dangerous to change laws easily, let us consider whether it is dangerous to change the officers of state at intervals, or whether they ought to be appointed permanently.

Whether the Tenure of Office in the Commonwealth should he Permanent [CHAPTER IV]

THEM is perhaps nothing that is more immediately a cause of revolutions in commonwealths than troubles arising out of the terms of office of the magistrates, either because they are too frequently changed, or because too indefinitely prolonged. The matter ought not therefore to be passed over without discussion, since it is a question of great political importance and worthy of careful investigation. I shall not attempt however to determine what should be done. I only intend to suggest those considerations that can persuade one way or the other, and leave the decision to those who have gone more deeply into the question. I do not do this however to encourage those who wish to introduce changes into those already established practices which all subjects ought to treat with great respect. Nor have I any desire to alter the forms of government which have developed in the course of many years. ...

It is to be noticed that even the wisest of those who have gone about to establish or perpetuate commonwealths, families, or other kinds of associations of men, have been liable to fall into two sorts of excess. The one is to be able to see the disadvantages only of any particular institution, without being able to weigh them against any corresponding advantages. The other is the tendency to rush from one disastrous extreme to the other, without being able to adopt any middle position, as it were to escape drowning only to perish by fire. Plato desired magistrates to be irremovable, that was one extreme. Aristotle, his pupil, avoided that error, saying it would light the fires of sedition in any commonwealth, but only to fall into the other extreme. Neither of them made any distinction between one commonwealth and another, yet this is fundamental to any resolution of the problem. ...

It is however obvious that commonwealths of a contrary tendency must be regulated in contrary ways. The institutions proper to the maintenance of popular states are the death of monarchies. Popular states are maintained by a continual replacement of officers, in order that each and all shall have that share in office proper to his station, since some share in sovereign power is due to all. Equality, the nurse of popular states, is best secured by annual succession in all magistracies, for the practice of long terms of authority is an encouragement to the ambitious to attempt to seize sovereign power for themselves. But in monarchies, when the subjects have no part in sovereignty, they should not be encouraged to entertain political ambitions; their whole duty consists in learning to obey their prince. This is especially the case in despotic and tyrannical monarchies. There the subjects are either the natural slaves of the despot, or the enforced slaves of the tyrant, and therefore neither the despot nor the tyrant can hope to hold his own if he gives authority to all his subjects successively.

For this reason tyrants, who no less fear and hate their subjects than they are feared and hated by them, and so can place no reliance on them, entrust the care of their persons, their position, their forces, and their goods to foreigners and those very few among their subjects whom they know to be true and faithful to them. These they keep in the same positions indefinitely, not only because they mistrust all others, but also because they do not wish to give any other persons such a taste of the sweets of power as to move them to consider ridding themselves of the tyrant, either from a desire to occupy his place, or to gain popularity.

The despot is obeyed rather more willingly by his subjects in that they are his natural, not his enforced slaves. He has therefore a freer hand in the choice of his officers than the tyrant, who is only obeyed through force and fear. He does not tend therefore to give offices in perpetuity, but at his own discretion, and for as long as he pleases, to such number of people as he thinks fit, without being subject to any rules or customs in the matter.

The king, who is to his subjects what a good father is to his children, though he is no more bound by positive laws than are the other two kinds of monarch, nevertheless does in fact lay down general rules governing the appointment and dismissal of officials with the intention of keeping them. Honours and offices will be distributed not to all indifferently, but to those who merit them. Experience and virtue will be more regarded than the influence of those who are most recommended. He will observe the golden mean in all things, some offices being perpetual, some terminable at the end of three years, others at the end of one, especially the chief members of the parlements, those responsible for finance, and governors of provinces. Otherwise these exalted persons could never be punished for misdemeanours or abuse of power. Offices and honours will be given to the rich and those of noble birth, even though they may not be as well-informed as less wealthy citizens, because it is a necessary precaution against sedition. But it will always be arranged that those exalted persons who are not really capable of discharging their functions properly shall have men well-versed in the business as their associates, to cover and remedy their defects. But should necessity arise the king is not bound to observe his own laws in the matter. He can deprive men of offices which by law are perpetual, should he judge that those who have been appointed are incapable in either mind or body of the office they hold; or to save the face of those who have proved incapable, he can give them some favourable opportunity of resigning their position, as Augustus did in the case of a number of senators who were induced to resign in this way without public action being taken; or he can at least appoint commissioners to execute the functions of any office, while leaving the holder with the title and the privileges.

In the interests of justice however always the principal foundation of any commonwealth, the king will provide that both criminal and civil jurisdiction shall be committed to colleges of judges in perpetuity, even for cases where there is no appeal. In this way he will secure judges skilled in their profession, partly from long experience in hearing cases, partly from constantly having to listen to the opinions of their colleagues. At the same time their numbers make them individually not very powerful, and therefore less able to abuse their trust, and more difficult to corrupt. It is not easy to contaminate a great volume of water. It often happens that a good and upright judge can carry a whole Bench with him, either by detecting the partiality and secret manoeuvres of dishonest judges, or, where they are honest but led astray by false witnesses and legal chicanery, by putting them wise to such practices. I have seen a single judge cause a whole Bench to change its mind and set free an innocent woman, cleared of all suspicion, whom the rest had decided to condemn to death as guilty. His name deserves to be recorded. It was the councillor Potier, lord of Blanc-Mesnil. ...

I have said that a king will neither make all office perpetual, nor all office temporary. There is no need to make such subordinates as clerks of the court, constables, ushers, notaries, and such like officers temporary. They have no independent authority and so can do no harm to the state, while the efficiency necessary to the proper discharge of their functions is the result of long practice in them. This is only possible if their appointments are permanent. The same may be said of subordinate magistrates whose sentences are subject to revision by their superiors. But if, in the case of sovereign magistrates, whether concerned with war, justice, or finance, the king only appoints them for the term of one, two, or three years, he has opportunities of examining their actions, and doing justice upon them. Incidentally, the dread of an enquiry keeps dishonest magistrates in check. But sudden and complete change is dangerous, and in order to avoid replacing all the officers of the realm at the same time, to the interrupting of public business, it is best that colleges of magistrates should be renewed by succession of persons, one at a time. This is done in the Republic of Ragusa, where the Senate is perpetual, but the senators, who form the sovereign judicial body, only hold office for one year at a time, but do not all go out of office together, but successively, so that the change is hardly noticeable. After a certain period they may serve again. ...

Such measures obviate the difficulties which arise with the interruption of public business caused by a simultaneous change of all the chief officers of state, and avoid the danger of the commonwealth being left without magistrates, like a ship without a pilot. This sort of thing frequently occurred in Rome, through the intrigues of magistrates who thwarted one another, and all came into office and went out at the same time. These arrangements also remove all fear that those who attain to the highest positions of trust in the state by bribery and by favour will remain inaccessible to punishment, or that ignorant men will continuously monopolize power, for after a short interval those who have already held office, and acquired experience, can be reappointed. ...

Yet ill-advised princes repeatedly abandon a good custom because of some defect they find in it. I need only give the one example of Louis XI. When he came to the throne, he immediately dismissed all the former servants of his father. They managed things in such a fashion thereafter as to bring him almost to the point of resigning or losing his crown, as he afterwards confessed. Fearing that his son would fall into the same error, he charged him never to deprive those whom he himself had advanced. Not content with this, he promulgated an ordinance making all office perpetual; once appointed, the holders could not be deprived except as a result of resignation, death, or forfeiture. ...

What we have said about the moderation which ought to be observed in the rules governing the appointment of magistrates, and the prolongation of their charges, applies not only to monarchies, but to aristocracies and popular states. In such states practically all offices are held for the term of one, two, or three years, as one may see in the Swiss and other republics. Nevertheless it is necessary for their conservation that there should be some permanent bodies, especially for the discharge of those matters which require wisdom and experience, for instance, giving counsel. We find therefore that in Rome, Athens, and Sparta the senate was perpetual, and senators continued in office as long as they wished to serve. Thus the senate of Athens and the other republics resembled the hinges and pivots on which great weights revolve. It was fixed and stable, and all the movable offices, and the whole state of republic rested on it. The opposite is the case with monarchies. There practically all offices are perpetual, save a few of the principal and most responsible ones. The Spanish monarchy has best understood how to keep the middle way proper to monarchical states. For the same reason the Venetians whose republic is an aristocracy, make all their appointments for one year only, and some for only two months. But the Doge, the Procurators of St. Mark, the Chancellor, and the Secretaries of State are permanent officials. The Florentines adopted the same expedient. After Louis XII had freed them from the tyrannical designs of the Count Valentino they too set up a permanent chief magistrate, so that the Republic, perpetually subject to rapid changes in all offices and magistracies, should have some stable foundation on which to rely.[11] But the ordinances being shortly after annulled, they fell into civil strife more immediately than they had ever done before. If they had had at least a perpetual senate, and the senators had remained in office instead of being replaced every six months, and if they could have found some mean between the extremes of universal change and universal permanence in all offices, their government would have been secure instead of being disturbed by continual conspiracies and civil commotions.

Whether the Prince should render justice to his Subjects in Person[12] [CHAPTER VI][13]

SOME readers may think that this is a question about which no discussion is necessary, seeing that all the ancients, and all discriminating students of politics are agreed that kings were first established for no other reason that to do justice, as Herodotus shows of the Medes and Cicero of the Romans ... The chief consideration that should move princes to do justice is the mutual bond between them and their subjects, whereby the subject owes obedience and assistance to his lord, and the prince owes justice, care, and protection to his subject. He does not discharge this obligation by appointing a representative to act in his name. For just as the subject is bound to swear allegiance in person, and to render homage and service himself, so there is a reciprocal obligation on the prince. Indeed, it is not so serious if the vassal swears allegiance and homage by proxy as if the prince does justice only through his officers. The obedience due from the subject is not thereby called in question. But the subject on his side has no guarantee that the prince's officers will not be corrupt. The prince is responsible before God, and the obligation on his conscience to see that justice is done is not discharged by his mere instruction to judges to see to it.

Moreover it is of the greatest importance for the preservation of the commonwealth that whoever exercises sovereign power should himself dispense justice. Union and mutual amity between a prince and his subjects is best fostered by mutual intercourse. This advantage is lost if the prince acts only through his officers. Subjects always imagine themselves despised and neglected by officials, a suspicion more serious in its results than if they experience actual injustice at the prince's hands, for contempt is harder to endure than a straightforward injury. But when subjects see their prince giving judgement in person, they are by this mere fact already half satisfied, even though he does not thereupon grant their requests. They reflect that at any rate the king has attended to their petition, heard their complaints, and taken pains to judge the matter. It is extraordinary how uplifted and delighted subjects are to be seen, heard, and attended to by a prince even of very modest virtues, or of some mild degree of amiability. Moreover nothing gives greater authority to magistrates and subordinate officials, or excites more fear, and reverence for justice, than the sight of the king enthroned for judgement... In fine, it cannot be doubted that the prince in doing justice constantly upon his subjects accustoms himself to be in his own person just, upright, and true. Seeing that this is the greatest boon that can fall to the lot of any commonwealth, should not one desire constantly and ardently that the prince should be ceaselessly employed in giving judgement? The true function of the prince is to judge his people. He must of course also be armed against the enemy, but justice is his necessary attribute in all places, and at all times.

But the example of wise princes is of more weight than reasons and arguments. Was there ever a prince the equal of Solomon for wisdom? We read that his sole prayer to God was for wisdom so that he might judge his people aright, and his judgements were reported throughout the world, to the wonder and edification of all peoples. Who was ever the equal of the great Augustus for political prudence? We read of him that he was incessantly employed in giving judgement? He would not let even illness prevent him from being carried into the court. Such was the ordinary and daily function of the Roman Emperors and they won thereby a reputation for justice above all other princes of the world. ...

Nevertheless I do not think these arguments are of sufficient weight to settle the question and prove conclusively that the prince should dispense justice in person. It is true this would be expedient and even necessary if princes were, as Scylax said of those in the Indies, as superior to their subjects as God is high above mankind. There is nothing finer or more royal than the spectacle of a prince performing exploits of virtue in the presence of his people, and out of his own mouth rebuking and condemning wicked men, praising and rewarding the good, publicly taking counsel of the wise, and engaging in weighty debate. Only a man who is himself upright esteems virtuous company and hates evil men, and only a prince who is himself just and true can dispense impartial justice.

But should we agree that vicious princes ought also to live in the public eye, and thereby communicate their vices to their subjects?

The least vice in a prince defaces his fair image, and cannot but have the effect of attracting, persuading, or even compelling his subjects to evil. It is the most natural thing in the world for subjects to model themselves on the manners, the behaviour, and the conversation of their prince. No gesture, action, or expression of his escapes the notice of those who observe him with the closest attention with a view to imitation ... We have seen how, when Francis I, King of France, and Mansur called the Great, Emperor of Africa and Spain, each in their several times and places began to patronize learning, immediately the princes, the nobles, the clergy, and common people devoted themselves with such ardour to the sciences, that never was such a concourse of men learned in all languages and sciences seen as in their time. Since princes then are a model to their subjects, let them be as perfect as in them lies, and if they fall short in this respect, let them not make public appearances.

It may be objected that this is not a good enough reason why a prince should live retired, and not appear to judge and communicate directly with his people, since they have the wits, which they should employ, to judge of his actions, and follow the good and eschew the evil. But I would answer that it is much easier to imitate vice than virtue, for men are naturally inclined more to evil than good, and whereas there is only one straight and narrow way that leads to virtue, there are a hundred thousand side paths that lead to vice ... Such power has a faulty prince of transforming and turning the hearts of his subjects according to his own good pleasure. He has even greater power of turning them to folly. I can give another example from the conduct of King Francis. He once shaved his scalp in order to assist his recovery from a wound in the head. Immediately first his court, and then everyone else shaved too, so that from that time long hair which was once a mark of beauty and privilege of nobility became an object of ridicule. ...

Suppose however we grant that the prince is neither inept, ridiculous or vicious, but virtuous and well-conducted, the fact remains that daily communication and a too great familiarity with his subjects engenders a certain contempt for the sovereign. Contempt of him leads to disobedience to his commands and his laws, and disobedience spells the ruin of the state. On the other hand, if the prince makes a habit of appearing in public, but always in great state and in the guise of a severe and terrible judge, it is true that he may inspire his subjects with respect, but he will also run the risk of losing their love. Love of the subject for his sovereign is much more conducive to the preservation of the state than fear, for love always has an element of fear in it, the fear of offending the object of one's love. But fear by itself can be, and mostly is, devoid of any admixture of love. Almighty God, the ruler of the whole world, made manifest what relations earthly princes, who are his true images, ought to have with their subjects. For God only communicated with men in dreams and visions, or through the very small body of the elect, and the greatest saints. When He declared the decalogue in His own voice, divine fire filled the heavens, and thunder like the terrible sound of trumpets shook the mountains, so that the people threw themselves upon their faces, praying Him to cease speaking lest they should die. It is written that He caused them to hear His voice that they might for ever after tremble to offend Him. Nevertheless He moved them to love Him by blessing them with manifold and great favours and bounties. The wise prince who imitates in the management of his subjects the wisdom of God in governing the world will show himself little to his subjects, and then in solemn state as befits his high authority. He should moreover choose men of great worth, such as are not easily found, to make known his will. For the rest, he should constantly bestow his graces and favours on all his subjects. ...

But granted that the prince has wisdom, understanding, prudence, discretion, experience, patience, and all the virtues, it is still of doubtful advantage for him to judge his subjects in person. The best means of preserving the authority of the monarchy is that the prince should be loved by all, without any alloy of contempt, and as far as possible hated by none. To achieve this two things are necessary. First, just punishments must be meted out to malefactors, and rewards to the worthy. But seeing that whereas the latter is a pleasing task, and the former is invidious, the prince who wishes to command the affection of his subjects should reserve to himself the distribution of rewards, whether estates, honours, offices, benefices, pensions, privileges and concessions, grants of immunity, exemptions, and restitutions, and all such graces and favours. Any prudent prince should bestow such himself. But for condemnations, fines, confiscations, and all like penalties, let him delegate their infliction to his officers, for them to administer good and expeditious justice. If he manages his affairs in this way, those who have received benefits at his hands are constrained to love, respect, and honour their benefactor; those who have been punished will have no occasion to hate him, but will vent their anger on their judges. The prince, showering benefits on all, but injuries on none will be welcome to all and hated of none. Nature has provided us with a model in the king of the bees, who has no sting ... I myself think that one of the admirable secrets of the long success of this monarchy is the wise practice of our kings, since earliest times, of themselves distributing graces and favours, while delegating the duty of punishment, without respect of persons, to their officers. ...

What I have said about the inadvisability of the prince assuming the role of judge has even more force in popular states, because of the great difficulty of assembling the people, of making them listen to reason when they are assembled, and having listened, to pass sound judgement. Such difficulties were the greatest single cause of civil wars among the Romans until the dictator Sulla vested the cognizance of all causes, save treason in the first degree, in the magistrates. Moreover the denial of the exercise of their ordinary and legitimate powers to the senate and the magistrates, in order to attribute them to those in whom sovereign power is vested, has been a most frequent cause of the ruin of commonwealths. The true attributes of sovereignty apart, the more powers a sovereign has, the less secure he is... Perhaps the thing that has most conduced to the preservation of the Venetian state is that there has never been a republic in which those in whom sovereign power was vested interfered less with the business of the council and the magistrates. The Great Council hardly concerned itself with anything save the appointment of magistrates, the issue of general ordinances, and the granting of graces, which are, of course, the principal attributes of sovereignty. All other affairs of state were attended to by the Senate, or the Council of Ten, and the administration of justice by the magistrates.

If this is well-ordered and praiseworthy in an aristocracy, it is even more desirable in a popular state, for the more heads, the less counsel, and the less resolution ... We read that the Roman Republic was never more flourishing than at the time when the people did not concern themselves with any exercise of power save their rights of sovereignty. This was the period from the first Punic war till the conquest of the kingdom of Macedon. But once the Tribune Caius Gracchus curtailed the powers of the Senate and the magistrates in order to make the people cognizant of matters of all sorts, nothing but seditions, assassinations and civil wars followed, till this outrageous licence of the people was exchanged for an extreme servitude. ...

A state cannot fail to prosper where the sovereign retains those rights proper to his majesty, the senate preserves its authority, the magistrates exercise their legitimate powers, and justice runs its ordinary course. Otherwise, if those who have sovereign power attempt to invade the sphere of the senate or the magistrate, they only risk the loss of their own authority. They are much mistaken who think to exalt the sovereign by making him aware of his claws, and impress on him that his will, his very glance, has the force of an edict or a judgement, so that none of his subjects can take cognizance of any matter which may not be revised or reversed by him. This engenders an insupportable arrogance and tyranny in the prince. ...

How Seditions may be Avoided [CHAPTER VII]

...WE put first as a general maxim that factions and parties are dangerous, and threaten the well-being, of all kinds of commonwealths. They must therefore be prevented wherever possible by wise counsel, and if only discovered after they have been set on foot, every means should be taken to cure them, or at the worst, nothing should be omitted which is likely to mitigate the evil. I would not deny that factions and seditions bring in their train great benefits, such as some wise law, or beneficial reform, which would hardly have come about without agitation. But this does not disprove the fact that sedition is in itself dangerous, for its good results are purely fortuitous and accidental... Seditions often lead to the death or banishment of evil men, which allows the rest to live thereafter in peace. Or unjust laws and ordinances may be abolished, and replaced by just ones which otherwise would not have been accepted ... But just as diseases are pernicious to the body, so conspiracy and conjuration is pernicious to the commonwealth.

Someone may say that factions are necessary to the preservation of tyrants, since they are inevitably the enemies of their subjects, and could not long maintain themselves in the face of a united people. We have already shown that tyranny is the weakest of all forms of the commonwealth, since it is upheld by cruel and wicked deeds. Nevertheless tyrannies are generally brought to an end by sedition or civil war. Even the most ingenious of tyrants, who have committed their murders one at a time, growing fat on the life-blood of their subjects, and preserved their own miserable lives, though dragged out in terror and despair, have not escaped the knife of the conspirator. The more subjects they put to death, the more are conspiracies against them nourished by the avengers of murdered kindred. Even should whole families be exterminated, in the end all good men and true rise against them ... Therefore the Florentines were mistaken in thinking that their authority in Pistoia was the better secured by nourishing factions among its inhabitants. They only lost influence by the death of good citizens destroyed in civil strife.[14]

But if factions and seditions are dangerous to monarchies, they are even more so to popular states and to aristocracies. Monarchs can preserve their authority, either by impartially composing quarrels, or in alliance with one of the parties by bringing the other to reason, or by destroying it altogether. But if the people in a popular state are divided, there is no sovereign to appeal to, any more than there is when the governing class in an aristocracy splits up into cliques. ...

If it is obvious that the opposing factions cannot be dealt with by process of law, the sovereign ought to resort to force to extinguish them altogether, by the punishment of the manifest leaders before they have become so strong that there is no prevailing against them ... The punishment of a few may then induce the rest to remember their allegiance, and discourage those who have not yet openly joined in. The prince should avoid however mass executions, or the torturing of suspects. ...

In the case of factions and conjurations which are not directed against the prince personally, nor against his government, but divide the nobles, or the towns, or the provinces subject to him from each other, he ought by all means in his power to stop them developing. He should not omit the smallest precaution. Great storms and tempests are bred from almost imperceptible mists and vapours, and civil wars can originate in the most trivial circumstances. ...

Just as it is easier to prevent an invasion than to expel the enemy once he has effected an entry, so it is better to prevent sedition than to try and cure it. This is even more difficult in a popular state than in any other. The prince in a monarchy, and the governing class in an aristocracy are, and ought to be, the sovereign judges and arbiters of the quarrels of their subjects. Often enough their absolute authority is sufficient to put an end to conflicts. But in a popular state sovereignty is vested in the very people who are divided, and the magistrates are nothing more than their subjects.

There is need then for wise statesmen to come to terms with the people in such a case, and to humour them in order to bring them to reason. The lunatic who cannot stop dancing and singing incessantly cannot be calmed unless the musician first attunes his violin to the patient's mood, and then gradually modifies the rhythm till he has cured him. So the prudent magistrate, faced with an excited people, at first gives way to their temper in order to be able to bring them to reason by gradual means. To resist an exasperated multitude is no more possible than to oppose oneself to a torrent dashing down from some great height. It is even more dangerous to resort to force against one's subjects, unless one is absolutely certain of victory. If the subject is victor, he will most certainly displace the vanquished. Even if the prince is not vanquished, but merely fails of his objective, he renders himself contemptible, and encourages other of his subjects to revolt, foreigners to attack him, and all to despise him. The danger is greatest in popular states. It is evident in all the seditions that vexed Rome, that those who wished to proceed by force, and openly resist the wishes of an angry people ruined all, but those who proceeded mildly and cautiously brought the people to reason. One must humour the people, and make some concession to them, even an illicit one. But let it be understood that this is only when they are in a rebellious mood. It is not meant that one should always pander to the passions, but hold them in check rather. ...

But should the sovereign prince take sides, he abdicates his role of sovereign judge and becomes merely party leader. He thereby puts his life in hazard, even if the revolt is not specifically directed against his authority. We have seen this in the wars of religion which have ravaged Europe for the past fifty years. We have seen the kingdoms of Sweden, Scotland, Denmark, and England, the Swiss Confederates and the Empire of Germany all change their religion, though the commonwealth preserved its republican or monarchical form unaltered in each case. In many places this has not been accomplished without much violence and shedding of blood. But once a form of religion is accepted by common consent, further disputation should on no account be admitted. All questions which are made matters of debate become thereby matters of doubt. But it is a great impiety to make a matter of doubt of the thing which each man should be certain about and hold to resolutely. But there is no matter, however simple and true, which is not made confused and obscure by dispute, especially any matter which does not depend on reason and demonstration, but on belief simply. If philosophers and mathematicians do not question the principles of their sciences, why should one be permitted to question a religion which has once been accepted and approved ... It is well known that the kings of the East and of Africa strictly forbid any discussion of religion. The same prohibition is contained in the Ordinances of Spain, and of those of the King of Muscovy. The latter, seeing his people divided into sects and factions in consequence of the disputatious sermons of ministers of religion, forbad preaching, or even discussion of religion on pain of death. Priests were provided with a written creed and exhortations to be read to the faithful without comment or addition, on the festivals of the Church. By the law of God it is expressly commanded that the Scriptures should be read constantly to people of all ages and both sexes. It is not said that they should be discussed. On the contrary, the Hebrews, taught by the Prophets from father to son, expounded the law of God in the seven colleges on Mt. Sion, but they never disputed, as we read in Optatus Milevitanus. The disputation was devised to investigate matters of probability, and not matters necessary and divine, since the latter are always rendered doubtful, being the subject of disputation. Therefore all discussion of religion was strictly forbidden on pain of death, and the prohibition rigorously enforced in certain German towns, after the Imperial Diet of 1555.[15]

Even atheists agree that nothing so tends to the preservation of commonwealths as religion, since it is the force that at once secures the authority of kings and governors, the execution of the laws, the obedience of subjects, reverence for the magistrates, fear of ill-doing, and knits each and all in the bonds of friendship. Great care must be taken that so sacred a thing should not be brought into doubt or contempt by dispute, for such entails the ruin of the commonwealth.

I am not concerned here with what form of religion is the best. (There is in fact only one religion, one truth, one divine law proceeding from the mouth of God himself.) But if the prince who has assurance of the true religion wishes to convert his subjects, split by sects and factions, he should not, in my opinion, attempt to coerce them. The more one tries to constrain men's wills, the more obstinate they become. But if the prince in his own person follows the true religion without hypocrisy or deceit, without any use of force, or any infliction of punishments, he may turn his subjects' hearts. In doing this, not only does he escape unrest, trouble, and civil strife, but he guides his errant subjects to the gates of salvation. ...

The King of the Turks, who rules over a great part of Europe, safeguards the rites of religion as well as any prince in this world. Yet he constrains no one, but on the contrary permits everyone to live according as his conscience dictates. What is more, even in his seraglio at Pera he permits the practice of four diverse religions, that of the Jews, the Christian according to the Roman rite, and according to the Greek rite, and that of Islam. He also sends alms to the good fathers or Christian monks of Mount Athos, in order that they shall pray for him. Augustus did likewise with the Jews, sending the usual alms and oblations to Jerusalem. Although Theodoric, King of the Goths, favoured the Arian sect, he did not force the consciences of his subjects, giving as his reason, according to Cassiodorus, that he could not command in matters of religion, since no one can be forced to believe against his will.

If a prince does otherwise, those who are prevented from the exercise of their own religion, and not in sympathy with any other, end by becoming atheists, as we know. Once they have lost the fear of God, they trample under foot the law and the magistrate, and give themselves over to every sort of impiety and wickedness, beyond the power of any human laws to remedy. And just as the cruellest tyranny does not make for so much wretchedness as anarchy, when neither prince nor magistrate is recognized, so the most fantastic superstition in the world is not nearly so detestable as atheism. One must therefore avoid the greater evil if one cannot establish the true religion. ...

We have spoken of the causes leading to changes in the form of governments and of commonwealths. The same causes give rise to unrest and civil war; that is to say failure to do justice, oppression of the poor and humble, the unfair distribution of punishments and honours, excessive riches in a few and excessive poverty in the rest, idleness in the subject, and impunity in ill doing. This last is of the greatest importance, though it is mostly considered the least. I have already said this, but it bears frequent repetition. In proportion as princes and magistrates try to win a reputation for mercy, so they call down on their own heads the penalties that evil-doers have merited. ...

But besides these causes of unrest there is another which proceeds from the freedom which is allowed to orators, who play upon the emotions and fan the desires of the people as they choose. There is nothing which has greater influence over men's souls than the art of eloquent speech. Our forefathers portrayed the Celtic Hercules as an old man, trailing after him a crowd of people fastened by the ears with chains issuing from his mouth. They thus intimated that the powers and armed forces of kings and princes are not so potent as the vehemence of an ardent and eloquent man. He can excite the most cowardly to overcome the bravest, he makes the proudest cast aside their arms, turns cruelty into gentleness, barbarity into humanity, revolutionizes a commonwealth, and plays upon the people at will. I don't say all this in praise of eloquence, but to show what force it has, for it is a force more often used for ill than good ends. It is nothing more than the art of disguising the truth, an artifice to make that which is evil seem good, that which is right, wrong, make a mountain out of a molehill and an elephant out of a mouse. In other words it is the art of successful lying. There is no doubt that for one who makes a good use of this art, fifty abuse it ... There is no need to prove this by examples from Greece and Rome, one can see it in our own age ... John of Leyden, who was a cobbler turned preacher, seized Münster, the capital city of Westphalia, caused himself to be crowned its sovereign king, and sustained a seige by the imperial army for three years. The preacher Geronimo Savonarola, supported by Pagolantonio Soderini, moved the people to choose a popular form of state when it was in doubt whether Florence should become an aristocracy or a popular state. In the same way Pericles employed the orator Ephialtes to persuade the Athenians to a popular state of an extreme type. In brief, we have seen all Germany in arms, and a hundred thousand people killed in less than a year because unruly preachers incited the people against the nobles. ...[16]

Nevertheless, for those who wish to make good use of this weapon, it is a means of converting a people from barbarism to humanity, it is a means of reforming manners, improving the laws, expelling tyrants, banishing vice, and strengthening virtue. There is no better means of appeasing discontent, and persuading subjects to obedience than to employ a good preacher, for he will find a way to soften and turn the hearts of the most obstinate rebels. This is especially true in a popular state where an ignorant people is master, and cannot be restrained except by orators. For that reason they have always enjoyed the highest degree of honour and power in popular states, controlling the distributions of offices and charges, gifts and honours according to their good pleasure. In brief, the issues of peace and war, arms and laws hang upon the words of orators. On the other hand there is nothing that the tyrant has to fear more than a popular orator, if his tyranny is hated.

But since these rules which we have formulated should be adapted to the nature of the commonwealth and the type of government, laws, and customs to the nature of each particular people, let us consider the nature of the various peoples as a matter most necessary to be understood for the good government of commonwealths.


1. Paolo Manuzio was the son of Aldo Manuzio and carried on the work of the Aldine Press after him. I cannot find that he composed any work on Venice. But his son, Aldo Manuzio il Giovane, who was associated with him in the work of editing and publishing, wrote a book Discorso intorno all' excellenza delle repubbliche, published in 1575. I have not been able to consult it, but possibly the two men were confused by Bodin.

2. In 1524, 12 years after the death of Pandolfo Petrucci, virtual despot of Siena, there was a rising against his son, and a government of all sections established. In 1525, after Pavia, there were further disturbances when the city put itself under the protection of the Emperor Charles V on payment of a tribute. The extreme republican party restored order, and confirmed the agreement with the Emperor, whereupon a number of their aristocratic opponents withdrew from the city.

3. A Medici who governed Florence through the Cardinal Passerini. Hence the outbreak against the regime when the Pope became a prisoner in Castel Sant' Angelo in 1527 when Rome was sacked by the Imperial army under the Constable de Bourbon.

4. Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, 1537-74.

5. He supported Savonarola and the popular party against the aristocrats, and was set upon and killed by his enemies when Savonarola fell.

6. Venetian admiral commanding in the wars of the early fourteenth century, victor over the Turks at Gallipoli in 1416, over the Genoese at Rapallo in 1431, and defender of Constantinople 1421-24.

7. Bodin is referring to the situation of France after Pavia, when the King was captive and the alliance between Pope and Emperor brought a general alignment against her.

8. Chapter II is devoted to a discussion of the predictability of political changes. It is almost entirely astrological. The conclusion is very fairly summed up at the beginning of chapter III. 'Though the principles of astrology are generally accepted, and proved by experience, the influence of the stars does not imply an order of necessity. God has given men wisdom and understanding, whereby they may preserve the good order of commonwealths, and forestall the ruin they foresee.'

9. Agostino Barberigo was Doge from 1486 to 1501. He was suspected of corrupt practices, but an enquiry was deferred till after his death.

10. In 1357 while King John was a prisoner in England, the Estates-General, angry at heavy taxation and the disastrous course of the war, and suspicious of misgovernment, forced upon the Dauphin Charles, as regent, a council of 36 reformer-generals with wide powers of correction. One of its first acts was to suspend all officers of Justice and finance, pending an enquiry into their conduct. The consequent anarchy brought its own reaction, and assisted Charles in getting rid of the Estates and re-establishing the authority of the Crown.

11. The Count Valentino was Cesare Borgia. Louis XII intervened on behalf of the Republic to check his conquests in Tuscany. The office referred to, that of Gonfaloniere a vita was instituted in 1502, but its holder, Piero Soderini, was forced to resign when the Medici, with the support of Spanish arms, re-entered the city in 1512.

12. This question was not entirely academic in Bodin's day. Louis XII still attended and heard cases in the Parlement of Paris. The practice however was discontinued after his death. However Henry III could still promise in the Ordinance of Blois, 1579, to render justice personally to such of his subjects as sought it, but by then such action no longer corresponded with the facts.

13. Chapter V is devoted to considering whether magistrates ought to be unanimous or divided in their opinions and policies. The general conclusion is that division is mischievous in popular and aristocratic states, but not very dangerous in a monarchy where the king can hold the balance.

14. Pistoia was a subject city to Florence. Its inhabitants were divided into the factions of the Panciatichi and the Cancellieri. Their rivalries prevented any united resistance to Florentine domination, but assumed such proportions that from 1500 to 1502 it was not possible to exercise any control in the city, till some sort of a compromise was negotiated by the Florentine government.

15. The Diet of Augsburg, which finally permitted Princes of the Empire to establish Lutheran forms of worship in their principalities, if they thought fit.

16. A reference to the Peasants' Revolt of 1524-25.


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