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differences are the results of the laws, the civil and religious institutions under which they live, it does not follow that if these laws and institutions were abolished their influence would at once cease to be felt. Despotism, for instance, so corrupts the people who submit to it as to make them incapable of living under free institutions; when first set at liberty they will be as helpless as a wild beast brought up in captivity and suddenly released from its cage.1 Even good laws are of little use to such a people, for they will not be observed. The only chance of improvement for a nation which has become corrupt is, that some good and wise man should rise to power and enforce a reformation. Unfortunately in such a State power can only be acquired by means which a good man will rarely consent to employ, even though his object be praiseworthy.2 Evidently Machiavelli's doctrine is more reasonable than that of Rousseau and of his followers, who legislated for abstract men in the Constituent Assembly under the conviction that only tyrannous laws and corrupt customs prevented the rabble of Paris from following their natural impulses, and attaining to a virtue as lofty as that of the noble savages who concluded the social contract. And not only was Machiavelli's mistake less mischievous, because he did not believe that cause and effect would cease together, there was another point on which his divergence from the French philosophers would have guarded him from their practical errors.
They asserted that man was naturally prone to virtue and swayed by lofty impulses. Machiavelli tells the legislator he must take for granted that all men are bad, and that they never do good except under compulsion. He would therefore have been the last to throw the reins on the neck of the most dangerous of brutes, and to have hoped to guide and restrain the dregs of the France of Lewis XV. by the laws of Utopia. Italy was corrupt, and a corrupt people cannot govern itself aright. Nor is a Republican Government possible where there is a feudal aristocracy, as in Naples, the States of the Church, the Romagna, and Lombardy. If Italy therefore is to be united, it must be as a kingdom. The remedy indeed is dangerous, for a despotism in itself is but an additional cause of corruption, and it is easier to find a Cæsar than a Romulus; yet when a patient is sick unto death a good physician will often prescribe poison.3
Submission to a monarch is, then, the condition of Italy's reformation; it is also the condition of her liberation from the yoke of the foreigner. She herself is conscious of it. "She has long," he says in concluding his Prince, "she has long
looked eagerly for
the coming of her liberator. Who can tell with what love he would be received by all those lands which have suffered from the flood of foreigners, with what thirst for vengeance, with what steadfast faith, with what affection, with what tears? What gates would be closed against him? What people would refuse him obedience? What envy could oppose him? What Italian deny him his service? The barbarian domination stinks in the nostrils of all. Let the noble house of the Medici take upon itself this emprise, with such courage and such good hopes as a just undertaking should inspire; so that under its standard our country may regain her honour, and that under its auspices the words of Petrarch may be fulfilled, 'Valour against blind rage shall take up arms and make the struggle short, for in the Italians' breast their ancient might still breathes." "
Machiavelli was doubtless right in holding that a united Italy was only possible under a prince, and that Italy must be united to withstand the newly centralised French and Spanish monarchies. The constitution of the little Italian republics was but ill suited for extended authority, and it is probably true that their power decreased in proportion to the growth of their territory, and to the increase in the number of discontented subjects over whom they tyrannized. Nor could any federal constitution have been devised capable of holding together such jarring elements. Commercial jealousy, traditions of hatred and mutual injury separated the cities; in many districts there was a powerful nobility whose existence Machiavelli rightly pronounced incompatible with popular freedom.
But, was not an Italian monarchy as impossible as an Italian republic, or federation of republics? There was probably no city, certainly no despot, who would not have preferred an alliance with a foreign power, however dangerous, to submission to a native prince; while the Papacy, which had prevented in times past the formation of an Italian nation, which had undermined every power which threatened to rival its own in the peninsula, was still there, ready to employ every weapon of intrigue, diplomacy, and war against the future liberator.
In The Prince the rules are given by observing which the desired monarch of a united Italy may attain power. In the Discourses we find suggestions for the organization and maintenance of the free Government, for which that ruler would, if really great, seek to prepare the way. In the former, the most celebrated of his works, the author simply states in general terms what he has seen to be the rules of conduct observed by the most successful statesmen and princes. He intends to write a manual of statecraft, of such statecraft as men who live in face Romuli, and not in an ideal world, would really practise and must practise if they value
Machiavelli told his friend Vettori that he occupied the evenings of his enforced leisure in reading the ancients, and in noting down what he could learn from them and from his own experience touching the manner in which political power is gained, maintained, and lost; the principles, in short, of a science which should establish the laws which govern the acquisition of political power, as Political Economy treats of the laws which govern the acquisition of wealth. The parallel is perhaps not uninstructive, for as the older Political Economy considers man as actuated by one simple desire, that of acquiring wealth, so also Machiavelli admits only one motive, the desire of power. He would have described The Prince as a treatise on the art rather than on the science of politics. For his aim is not to deduce and ascertain the laws of political phenomena, but to lay down practical precepts. Here again there is some similarity between his method and that of Political Economy, which is generally treated both as a science and as an art. Economists have professed to investigate and establish general laws, and have then laid down rules for legislation on such subjects; and in some degree they share Machiavelli's incapacity to recognise sufficiently that such rough generalisations have for the most part only a presumptive value, owing to the extreme variability of the subject matter and to the manysidedness of human nature, swayed as it is now by one and now by another class of motives. Moreover, though in The Prince and the Discourses Machiavelli has a practical aim in view, yet he at all times takes an abstract interest in political action, in tracing the causes and effects of political phenomena. If there was one thing which he held sacred it was the Roman Republic; if there was one crime which he abhorred, it was that of those who conspired to overthrow it, whether unsuccessfully like Catiline, or successfully like Cæsar. Yet he coldly discusses the policy of Appius Claudius, and points out his mistakes and what he ought to have done to establish his tyranny.
He is scientifically studying the effects and causes of a certain class of facts, and moral indignation would be as much out of place as reflections on the sinfulness of drunkenness in a medical treatise on delirium tremens. Any generalisation seems to him worth noticing and of equally universal applicability, since he believes that the same causes will at all times produce the same effect, human nature remaining unchanged; he thus is often led to rest his inductions on a very narrow basis; the facts he cites from ancient history often serve rather as generalisations than as the data for induction from particular instances. His method, professedly experimental, is in danger of becoming à priori. Even granting that human nature does not change, Florence and Arezzo have little analogy with Rome and Veii.
We have already said that Machiavelli, in examining the means to be employed for the attainment of a political end, leaves their morality entirely out of sight, and considers only how far they are conducive to that end. He does, indeed, say that a good man would sooner live in obscurity than become king at the price of much human suffering; but it is only our personal ambition which we should not satisfy at every cost; when the good of our country is at stake we must not regard justice or injustice, mercy or cruelty, honour or dishonour, but, putting aside all other considerations, pursue that policy which may best preserve its existence and maintain its liberty. In short, Machiavelli always argues on the assumption that the end justifies the means. This appears to him a self-evident axiom; indeed, if put in the form of the almost identical statement that the morality of our acts depends rather on the circumstances and motives of the agent than on the nature of the acts themselves, it would still command pretty general assent. Yet even those statesmen whose policy seems only justifiable on the assumption that the welfare of the people overrides all the ordinary rules of morality, would admit that there are exceptions to this principle. They would agree with Aristotle, whose common-sense so often cuts the knot of logical difficulties, that there are some acts which allow of no justification or palliation. This Machiavelli did not see.
I have already admitted that Machiavelli's maxims fairly represent the practice of the most successful princes of his own and other times. "A prudent ruler," he says, "cannot and ought not to keep faith when to do so is against his interests, and when the reasons which led him to engage himself no longer exist. It is right to appear merciful, honourable, humane, pious, and loyal, and to be so, but to be always prepared to lay these virtues aside when they are likely to be hurtful." No doubt Machiavelli is right. Most statesmen, from Themistocles to Prince Bismarck, have acted on these principles. But it may be doubted whether we ought to be grateful, as Bacon would have us be, to Machiavelli for telling us openly and without hypocrisy how men act, and not how they ought to act. Even if we are wholly bad, it is better we should believe that we have a little virtue. Besides, though virtuous practice is a better incentive to morality than virtuous precept, vice formulated in maxims is more offensive to the moral sense, and more corrupting than vicious example; for the latter is often attributed to human weakness, to the strength of temptation, and is lamented and condemned, for the most part, even by the perpetrator, while the former seduces by a show of logic, of self-reliant pride, and of cynicism superior to the shams of conventionality. Hence the almost instinctive and just reprehension of Machiavelli by the morally sensitive; while those who admitted and practised his principles, wishing to secure the reward of apparent virtue, have joined in the chorus of condemna
tion. Unless a man is thought honest, his dishonesty is but unprofitable. This is no doubt one of the reasons of the odium which has attached to Machiavelli, but he was also peculiarly unfortunate in exciting the rancour of opponents who agreed in nothing but in hostility to his name.
Although his works were first published by the Papal press, it was not long before his bitter attacks on the Roman Court, and his almost contemptuous attitude to the Catholic religion, provoked the enmity of its apologists, and especially of the Jesuits. "The vice and infidelity of the Italians," he had said, "are their first obligation to the Papacy, their second the political anarchy and ruin of the peninsula." "When one considers," he adds, "the wickedness and corruption of the priesthood, one cannot but conclude that their scourge and their ruin are at hand." John Paul Baglione, had he dared to destroy Julius II. when in his power at Perugia, would have won everlasting renown by showing these priests how little reverence is due to men who live such lives as theirs. But Machiavelli's dislike of the Catholic hierarchy had even deeper roots than aversion to their corruption, or to the Church as one of those institutions which were obstacles to that equality between all members of the State which he considered the necessary condition of a well-constituted republic or stronglyorganised monarchy. It is clear that his was a thoroughly irreligious nature. Notwithstanding occasional and conventional expressions of respect, he was indifferent or hostile to Christianity. He was deeply imbued with the pagan spirit of the Renaissance; he reserved his admiration for the republics of antiquity and for those civic and intellectual virtues which maintained them, and he naturally disliked a religion which cherished virtues of another type. "Ancient religion," he says, "exalted men full of worldly ambition, such as great captains and founders of States, while ours glorifies men of lowly and contemplative rather than of active life. It seeks for the highest good in humility and contempt of the things of this world; paganism held that it is to be sought in loftiness of soul, in bodily strength, and in all that renders men more bold and arrogant. Our religion wishes men to show courage in endurance, rather than in daring bold deeds. Hence it comes that the world has fallen a prey to scoundrels, who have found men anxious to gain paradise by suffering instead of being desirous to avenge themselves on their oppressors." It is true that he afterwards admits that Christianity, rightly understood, is no enemy to patriotism; and that respect for religion is a necessary element of national greatness. But Republican Rome furnishes him with an instance of a nation which throve by its piety; paganism is clearly to him as good, or rather a better basis of social order than Christianity, and Moses is only classed with Lycurgus, and Romulus, and Numa, and other lawgivers and founders of religions.