Sunday, March 5

XXIV. Why the Italian princes have lost their states

. . . The actions of a new prince attract much more attention that those of a hereditary ruler; and when these actions are marked by prowess they, far more than royal blood, win men over and capture their allegiance. This is because men are won over by the present far more than by the past; and when they decide that what is being done here and now is good, they content themselves with that and do not go looking for anything else. Indeed in that case they would do anything to defend their prince, provided he himself is not deficient in other things. Thus the new prince will have a twofold glory, in having founded a new state and in having adorned and strengthened it with good laws, sound defences, reliable allies, and inspiring leadership, just as the one who is born a prince and loses his state through incompetence is shamed twice over.

Let us consider those Italian rulers, such as the king of Naples, the duke of Milan, and so forth who have lost their states in our own times. If we do so, we shall find that they shared, first, a common weakness in regard to their military organization. . . . Then, it will be found that some of them incurred the hostility of the people or, if they had the people on their side, they did not know how to keep the allegiance of the nobles. If they are not undermined in one of these ways, states which are robust enough to keep an army in the field cannot be lost. Philip of Macedon (not the father of Alexander but the one who was conquered by Titus Quintius) ruled a minor dominion in comparison with the greatness of the Romans who attacked him with Greek auxiliaries. None the less, as he was a military man, who knew how to content the people and keep the allegiance of the nobles, he sustained the war against them for many years; and although at the end he lost control of some cities, he still kept his kingdom.

So these princes of ours, whose power had been established many years, may not blame fortune for their losses. Their own indolence was to blame, because, having never imagined when times were quiet that they could change (and this is a common failing of mankind, never to anticipate a storm when the sea is calm), when adversity came their first thoughts were of flight and not of resistance. They hoped that the people, revolted by the outrages of the conquerer would recall them. Now this policy, when all else fails, is all to the good. But it is wrong to have neglected other precautions in that hope: we do not find men falling down just because they expect to find someone helping them up. It may not happen; and, if it does happen, it leaves you unsafe because your expedient was cowardly and not based on your own actions. The only sound, sure, and enduring methods of defence are those based on your own actions and prowess.

--Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (1514)
tr. George Bull

[London: Penguin Books, 1961]

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