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Niccolo Machiavelli
The Prince 09
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But coming to the other point--where a leading citizen becomes the
prince of his country, not by wickedness or any intolerable violence,
but by the favour of his fellow citizens--this may be called a civil
principality: nor is genius or fortune altogether necessary to attain
to it, but rather a happy shrewdness. I say then that such a
principality is obtained either by the favour of the people or by the
favour of the nobles. Because in all cities these two distinct parties
are found, and from this it arises that the people do not wish to be
ruled nor oppressed by the nobles, and the nobles wish to rule and
oppress the people; and from these two opposite desires there
arises in cities one of three results, either a principality,
self-government, or anarchy.

A principality is created either by the people or by the nobles,
accordingly as one or other of them has the opportunity; for the
nobles, seeing they cannot withstand the people, begin to cry up the
reputation of one of themselves, and they make him a prince, so that
under his shadow they can give vent to their ambitions. The people,
finding they cannot resist the nobles, also cry up the reputation of
one of themselves, and make him a prince so as to be defended by his
authority. He who obtains sovereignty by the assistance of the nobles
maintains himself with more difficulty than he who comes to it by the
aid of the people, because the former finds himself with many around
him who consider themselves his equals, and because of this he can
neither rule nor manage them to his liking. But he who reaches
sovereignty by popular favour finds himself alone, and has none
around him, or few, who are not prepared to obey him.

Besides this, one cannot by fair dealing, and without injury to
others, satisfy the nobles, but you can satisfy the people, for their
object is more righteous than that of the nobles, the latter wishing
to oppress, while the former only desire not to be oppressed. It is to
be added also that a prince can never secure himself against a hostile
people, because of their being too many, whilst from the nobles he can
secure himself, as they are few in number. The worst that a prince may
expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned by them; but from
hostile nobles he has not only to fear abandonment, but also that they
will rise against him; for they, being in these affairs more far-seeing
and astute, always come forward in time to save themselves, and
to obtain favours from him whom they expect to prevail. Further, the
prince is compelled to live always with the same people, but he can do
well without the same nobles, being able to make and unmake them
daily, and to give or take away authority when it pleases him.

Therefore, to make this point clearer, I say that the nobles ought to
be looked at mainly in two ways: that is to say, they either shape
their course in such a way as binds them entirely to your fortune, or
they do not. Those who so bind themselves, and are not rapacious,
ought to be honoured and loved; those who do not bind themselves
may be dealt with in two ways; they may fail to do this through
pusillanimity and a natural want of courage, in which case you ought
to make use of them, especially of those who are of good counsel; and
thus, whilst in prosperity you honour them, in adversity you do not
have to fear them. But when for their own ambitious ends they shun
binding themselves, it is a token that they are giving more thought to
themselves than to you, and a prince ought to guard against such, and
to fear them as if they were open enemies, because in adversity they
always help to ruin him.

Therefore, one who becomes a prince through the favour of the people
ought to keep them friendly, and this he can easily do seeing they
only ask not to be oppressed by him. But one who, in opposition to the
people, becomes a prince by the favour of the nobles, ought, above
everything, to seek to win the people over to himself, and this he may
easily do if he takes them under his protection. Because men, when
they receive good from him of whom they were expecting evil, are bound
more closely to their benefactor; thus the people quickly become more
devoted to him than if he had been raised to the principality by their
favours; and the prince can win their affections in many ways, but as
these vary according to the circumstances one cannot give fixed rules,
so I omit them; but, I repeat, it is necessary for a prince to have
the people friendly, otherwise he has no security in adversity.

Nabis,[*] Prince of the Spartans, sustained the attack of all Greece,
and of a victorious Roman army, and against them he defended his
country and his government; and for the overcoming of this peril it
was only necessary for him to make himself secure against a few, but
this would not have been sufficient had the people been hostile. And
do not let any one impugn this statement with the trite proverb that
"He who builds on the people, builds on the mud," for this is true
when a private citizen makes a foundation there, and persuades himself
that the people will free him when he is oppressed by his enemies or
by the magistrates; wherein he would find himself very often deceived,
as happened to the Gracchi in Rome and to Messer Giorgio Scali[+] in
Florence. But granted a prince who has established himself as above,
who can command, and is a man of courage, undismayed in adversity, who
does not fail in other qualifications, and who, by his resolution and
energy, keeps the whole people encouraged--such a one will never find
himself deceived in them, and it will be shown that he has laid his
foundations well.

[*] Nabis, tyrant of Sparta, conquered by the Romans under Flamininus
in 195 B.C.; killed 192 B.C.

[+] Messer Giorgio Scali. This event is to be found in Machiavelli's
"Florentine History," Book III.

These principalities are liable to danger when they are passing from
the civil to the absolute order of government, for such princes either
rule personally or through magistrates. In the latter case their
government is weaker and more insecure, because it rests entirely on
the goodwill of those citizens who are raised to the magistracy, and
who, especially in troubled times, can destroy the government with
great ease, either by intrigue or open defiance; and the prince has
not the chance amid tumults to exercise absolute authority, because
the citizens and subjects, accustomed to receive orders from
magistrates, are not of a mind to obey him amid these confusions, and
there will always be in doubtful times a scarcity of men whom he can
trust. For such a prince cannot rely upon what he observes in quiet
times, when citizens have need of the state, because then every one
agrees with him; they all promise, and when death is far distant they
all wish to die for him; but in troubled times, when the state has
need of its citizens, then he finds but few. And so much the more is
this experiment dangerous, inasmuch as it can only be tried once.
Therefore a wise prince ought to adopt such a course that his citizens
will always in every sort and kind of circumstance have need of the
state and of him, and then he will always find them faithful.


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