By the year 1512 the downfall of the Florentine Republic was complete. Her failure was due to a variety of causes. A form of government which had worked satisfactorily while remaining outside the general stream of European politics, proved incapable of readjustment to novel conditions, and became an anachronism, more and more discredited as time went on. The character of the Florentine constitution rendered almost impossible any continuity of aim or persistence in policy. The Signoria changed every two months: the Dieci della guerra, who had de facto the largest control over foreign politics, changed every six months. No State could repose confidence in a government, in which political secrets could not be kept and where it appeared impossible to fix responsibility on anyone. From time to time efforts were made at Florence to remove this source of weakness, and the appointment in 1502 of a Gonfaloniere holding office for life seemed to many men, including Machiavelli, to have at last furnished some real guarantee for a stable policy. Not only, however, was the notion of a permanent official at variance with the theories of political liberty accepted at Florence, but the new Gonfaloniere, Piero Soderini, was in reality unequal to his position, and maintained his authority only at the cost of much unnecessary friction. He was firm only in his allegiance to France. Louis XII on his part was indifferent to the real interests of the city, though ready to make what use he could of Florentine assistance in his Italian expeditions. When the French were ultimately forced to withdraw from Italy, Florence was left isolated and impotent.
It was not merely the inherent defects of her constitution that weakened Florence; in the city itself there was never during these years any real union. The death of Savonarola neither removed the causes of internal discontent, nor mitigated the animosity of faction. The quarrels of individuals and of parties rendered it difficult to maintain order in the city or to conduct the daily business of government. The adherents of the Medici family were numerous, rich, and unscrupulous, and in the end proved successful. They were ready at any moment to cooperate with any foreigner or Italian, who might be an enemy of the Republic. The result was to create general distrust, and to render impossible any combined effort on a large scale.
A city so situated could only maintain its independence, if its military strength supplied more than a counterpoise to its constitutional weakness. An adequate army and trustworthy commanders were indispensable, and Florence possessed neither. The practice of hiring professional soldiers was general in Italy, and was adopted at Florence. It became the cause of incalculable evil. Not only was the city liable to be deserted or betrayed, even during a battle, by her mercenary troops, but the system necessarily involved a vast outlay of public money and a heavy taxation. By 1503 the financial crisis had in consequence become so acute that it was necessary to levy a tithe upon all real property. The evil was mitigated, but not removed, by the military reforms of 1506. Machiavelli, who carried into effect the new system, though the idea did not originate with him, was able, by means of his indomitable diligence and enthusiasm, to muster a force of about 5000 citizen soldiers; but in the end they proved to be of little service.
Florence was, moreover, set in the midst of many and great enemies. In the North, Ludovico il Moro at Milan, whether as open enemy or insidious friend, did what he could to damage the State, until he was taken prisoner by the French in 1500 and finally disappeared from Italian history. Venice had long ago abandoned her traditional policy and been seeking to acquire an inland empire, and, until the battle of Agnadello in 1509 crushed her power, harassed and impeded the Florentines at every turn. At Rome both Alexander VI and Julius II were indifferent or hostile to Florentine interests, and Cesare Borgia was believed, probably with reason, to include among his designs the incorporation of Tuscany with his other conquests. And besides the opposition of the larger Italian States, Florence had during this period to struggle against the hostility of nearly all the smaller towns in her neighbourhood. Pisa in particular was a source of endless trouble. From 1494, when Pisa, thanks to Charles VIII, threw off the Florentine dominion and became a free State, until 1509, Florence was at war with her; and any other Power, whose object was to damage Florence, was sure to intervene from time to time in the struggle.
To meet the dangers which threatened them from outside and the embarrassments and perplexities within the city, the Florentines possessed no statesmen of commanding ability or acknowledged pre-eminence, and no generals with real military genius. There were skilful diplomatists and mediocre captains in abundance, and even men who, like Antonio Giacomini and Niccolo Capponi, might under more favourable conditions have proved efficient commanders; but, speaking broadly, at Florence, as in most cities of Central Italy, intellect had outrun character, and the sterner virtues were almost unknown. The "corruption" of which Machiavelli complained so often and so bitterly, was to be found everywhere; and, though its effects were naturally most obvious in the military class, it was equally a source of weakness in the political world. The defensive attitude which was forced upon the city by the movements of the larger European Powers, and the constant vigilance and diplomatic manoeuvring necessary to combat the shifting designs of Italian neighbours, prevented any elevation of view, and rendered inevitable the employment of all the familiar resources of small and weak States in extremis.
In the great events of the years 1499-1512 Florence played but a subordinate part. When Louis XII was preparing his expedition against Milan, Florence held aloof, awaiting the result of the struggle. While Louis XII was at Milan, ambassadors arrived from Florence. The hesitation of the city to declare her intentions before the event had aroused some distrust in the French; but it would have been obviously undesirable, in view of the proposed expedition against Naples, to alienate the Florentines, and hence an arrangement was without difficulty concluded, by which Florence was to receive aid from Louis for the war against Pisa, and in return to supply him with troops and money (October 12, 1499). Thenceforward the fortunes of Florence were intimately linked with the fortunes of France.
In the campaign of Cesare Borgia against Imola and Forli there was nothing which directly menaced Florence; and when the Pope secretly endeavoured to influence Louis XII against the city, he was unsuccessful, and Louis gave definite instructions that Cesare was to do nothing detrimental to Florence. But it was becoming clear that the Borgian policy, in so far as it tended to consolidation, was a menace to the Republic: for even if Tuscany were not directly to suffer, one strong neighbour would take the place of many feeble ones.
While these events were in progress, the Florentines had devoted their best energies to the war against Pisa; but they were unable to make any real progress towards the capture of the town. In the summer of 1498 they had hired Paolo Vitelli as their general, and in 1499 it seemed as though Pisa would be forced to capitulate. But Vitelli failed at the last moment, and paid for his blunder with his life. Things became still worse when, in accordance with the agreement concluded at Milan, October 12, some Swiss and Gascons were sent by Louis XII to the assistance of the Florentines. The Gascons soon deserted, while the Swiss mutinied; and Louis XII blamed the Florentines for the fiasco. It was in connexion with these events that Machiavelli was sent to France. He was unable to obtain any satisfaction, and it was not until three years later (1504), when the French had been defeated at Naples and the danger threatened by Cesare Borgia had passed away, that Florence was able to resume operations with any vigour.
After the settlement of the Milanese question, Louis XII was occupied with the preliminaries of his expedition against Naples. The treaty by which he and Ferdinand of Aragon agreed to conquer the Neapolitan territory and to divide it between them, was concluded on November 11, 1500, and ratified by the Pope on June 25 of the following year. It affected Florence in so far as it implied an assurance that Cesare Borgia would not be molested by France in prosecuting his designs. But Louis XII hardly yet perceived the scope of Borgian ambition, and there was for the moment at least no certainty that a collision with Florence was impending. At the end of September Cesare started for the Romagna, and, after a series of successes which placed him in possession of Pesaro, Rimini, and Faenza, sent to Florence to demand provisions and a free pass through Florentine territory. Without, however, awaiting a reply, he advanced to Barberino and there renewed his demands, at the same time requiring the Florentines to alter the government of their State. His object was to secure Piero de' Medici more closely to his interests. This demand was not, however, insisted upon, as the restoration of the Medici was hardly practicable at this juncture, and, even if practicable, appeared likely to throw more power than was compatible with Cesare's interests into the hands of Vitellozzo Vitelli and the Orsini. But he pressed his demand for a condotta from Florence, and this was conceded, the Florentines also undertaking not to hinder his enterprise against Piombino. Such was the position of affairs when he started for Rome in June, in order to join the French army now advancing towards Naples. His work was successfully continued by his captains, and he returned early in the next year (1502) to take formal possession of Piombino.
The next six months witnessed a further development of the Borgian policy, and the Florentines began at length to realise in what peril they stood. It is not possible to determine with precision how far Cesare Borgia's movements during the year were definitely premeditated; considering the complexity of the conditions under which he was working, his actions could not be settled long beforehand, but were necessarily adjusted day by day in the face of momentary opportunities or emergencies. From Piombino he returned to Rome, leaving military operations in the hands of Vitellozzo Vitelli. Acting in conjunction with Piero de' Medici, Vitellozzo was able to effect the revolt of Arezzo, and rapidly made himself master of nearly all the places of any importance northwards as far as Forli and southwards as far as the shores of Lake Trasimeno. At Florence the news of the revolt was received with consternation, and the alarm became general. It was clear that the city itself was being gradually and systematically shut in. Cesare's idea was to bring under his control all the country which lay, roughly speaking, between four points—Piombino, Perugia, Forli, Pisa: the lines of country and towns which connected these four points were now practically secured to him. For on the south, the district between Piombino and Perugia was already won, and Pandolfo Petrucci, Lord of Siena, who, situated about midway between the two points and a little to the north, might have hampered his designs, had been brought over to his interests in 1501. The country along the eastern line from Perugia to Forli was won by the rebellion of Arezzo and the Valdichiana. On the north, from Forli to Pisa, his hold was not quite so secure, but Pistoia, ever rent by faction, could offer no effective resistance, Lucca was avowedly Medicean, and the Pisans definitely offered their city to Cesare Borgia before December 1502. About the coast-line from Piombino to the mouth of the Arno, there was no need to trouble. It seemed, therefore, as though everything were ready for an immediate and crushing attack upon Tuscany.
The situation of Florence was not, however, so desperate as it appeared to be. There were still a few places of importance lying outside the eastern line from Forli to Perugia, which might at any moment prove troublesome to Cesare. Of these the most notable were Urbino, Camerino, and Perugia. The latter he could afford to disregard for the moment, as the Signore, Giovan Paolo Baglioni, was serving in his army and at the time seemed trustworthy. But Urbino, which blocked his way to the eastern coast and might cut off communication with Rimini and Pesaro which he had held since 1500, had to be subdued. The same could also be said of Camerino, as the point of junction between Perugia and Fermo. Cesare was, moreover, already aware that he could not trust to the loyalty of his mercenary captains. Seeing how town after town fell before him, it was inevitable that they should reflect how their own turn might come next. They distrusted their employer, and he distrusted them. Conspiracy and treachery were bound to ensue; the notions of right and authority had ceased to be regarded on either side, and the vital question was, who would have the dexterity and cunning to overreach his antagonist? Lastly, Louis XII was still the most important factor in the impending struggle. There had recently been some grounds of dispute between the Florentines and France, Louis complaining that he had not received proper assistance from the city during his Neapolitan campaign. But the misunderstanding had been removed by a new agreement (April 12, 1502); and the King had undertaken to supply troops for the defence of Florence whenever necessary. The French had no intention of allowing the Borgia to become masters of Florence; in that event, the road to Naples would have been blocked by a new Power commanding Central Italy from sea to sea. The capture of Urbino by Cesare Borgia at the end of June was an unmistakable revelation of his designs. It was at this juncture that France intervened, and obliged him to suspend operations. It became necessary to temporise, and he entered into negotiations with Florence. Arezzo and the other places which he had conquered in Tuscany were reluctantly restored to the Republic. But at the end of July he went in person to Milan to have an interview with Louis XII, and succeeded in effecting a complete reconciliation with him. Florence was, however, relieved from immediate apprehension.
It was at this critical moment that the threatened conspiracy of Cesare Borgia's captains broke out. The exasperation which the Borgian projects had aroused at Florence led the conspirators to hope that the Republic would espouse their cause; and, after making themselves masters of the Duchy of Urbino, they appealed to Florence for assistance. But as soon as the existence of the conspiracy had become known, both the Pope and his son had in their turn applied to the Florentines and asked that ambassadors might be sent to confer with them. Machiavelli was deputed to visit Cesare Borgia, and remained with him till the end of the following January (1503). The arrival of French troops, for which Cesare Borgia applied to Louis XII and which were readily furnished, forced the recalcitrant captains to come to terms, and they were allowed to take service with him as before. But the hollow reconciliation deceived no one, and Machiavelli in particular had opportunities day by day to trace the stages by which Cesare Borgia, who never trusted twice to men who betrayed him once, lulled his opponents into a false sense of security, and finally took them prisoners at Sinigaglia (December 31). The ringleaders, including Vitellozzo Vitelli, were put to death by his orders. Thence he withdrew to Rome, where he arrived early in the following year (1503).
The year's work had not been, on the whole, unfavourable to the Borgias. Florence on the other hand had suffered seriously, and the incompetence of the government was generally obvious. The reform of 1502, which, carried as a compromise and supported by academic reasoning, provided for the election of a Gonfaloniere to hold office for life, did something to revive the spirits of the inhabitants, and met the wishes of Louis XII; but it added nothing to the real strength of the Republic. In the Neapolitan territory disputes had arisen between the French and the Spaniards, and all Northern Italy watched with anxiety the progress of the war. The defeat of the French at the battle of Cerignola (April 28, 1503) had a marked effect upon the policy of the Pope, who began in consequence to incline towards Spain; but on August 18 all the Borgian designs were cut short by the sudden and unexpected death of Alexander VI. His son was ill at the same time, and unable to do anything. The politics of the Italian States were thus completely disorganised, and Florence in common with the others looked anxiously for the election of the new Pope. Pius Ill's short reign of less than a month was without real influence upon the position of affairs. On November 1 he was succeeded by Julius II, whose election Cesare Borgia had not been able to prevent. With Julius II a new period begins not only in the history of Italy but of Europe.
Florence had now nothing to fear from Cesare Borgia. On the death of his father, he lost all his possessions except the Romagna, which remained faithful to him for about a month. He had governed the district with justice and integrity, and won the affections of the inhabitants. But his inopportune illness was fatal to his prospects. The Venetians, always on the watch for opportunities to enlarge their inland empire, obtained possession of Faenza and Rimini; Pesaro returned under the rule of its former Lord; Imola and Forli surrendered themselves to the Pope. By the end of January, 1504, Cesare Borgia was forced to sign an agreement by which he abandoned to Julius II all his claims to the Romagna, in return for permission to withdraw wherever he might wish. In the spring he arrived at Naples and, taken prisoner by Gonzalo, was conveyed to Spain. He was killed in battle in Navarre (1507).
But whatever advantages the Florentines might have derived from the disappearance of Cesare Borgia, they were more than counterbalanced by several other events. The final defeat of the French at the battle of the Garigliano (December 28, 1503) placed the whole of southern Italy in the power of Spain; and the movements of Gonzalo, who was known to be willing to help Pisa, were a source of constant anxiety to the Republic. The presence of the Venetians in the Romagna, the ignorance which yet prevailed as to the intentions of the Pope, and the want of troops and of money, combined to produce a situation of extreme gravity at Florence. Within the city itself there was much discontent with the government of Soderini. He was, it is true, acceptable to the masses, having been able by rigid economy to lighten somewhat the burden of taxation; but the leading families in the State were irritated by neglect and by the filling up of the Signoria and Colleges with persons who were either nominees of the Gonfaloniere, or too insignificant to offer an effective opposition to his designs. His chief supporters were to be found among the younger men recently embarked upon political life and beginning to win a reputation for themselves. Among these Machiavelli in many unpretentious ways was of immense service to Soderini and, though sometimes disagreeing with him, proved ready to subordinate personal opinions to what seemed the general interest of the State. This was clearly seen early in 1504, when an attempt was made to reduce Pisa to extremities by diverting the course of the Arno. The plan had been strongly urged by Soderini and was supported by Machiavelli in his official capacity, though he had little hope that it could prove successful. Ultimately it had, of course, to be abandoned.
The French defeat at Naples naturally aroused hopes that they might be driven from Milan also. The Cardinal Ascanio Sforza, brother of Ludovico il Moro, was now at Rome and bestirring himself vigorously to win assistance in recovering the duchy. The project could not succeed if Florence blocked the way, and Soderini was too devoted to France ever to entertain the idea. Ascanio therefore turned for help to Gonzalo, and an arrangement was made by which Bartolommeo d' Alviano, one of Gonzalo's condottieri, was to invade Tuscany and to restore Giovanni and Giuliano de' Medici to Florence; when this was accomplished, the Medici were to help to reinstate Sforza at Milan. This intrigue had hardly been matured, when Ascanio Sforza died. Bartolommeo d' Alviano, however, continued to advance, but was defeated by the Florentines in the summer of 1505, the Republic thus escaping from a very serious danger. So elated were the Florentines by their victory, that they followed it up by an attempt to storm Pisa; but Gonzalo sent a force of Spanish infantry to defend the town and the attack had to be abandoned.
The regular failure of so many repeated attempts to overpower Pisa disheartened the Florentines, but their hatred was insatiable. Everything tended to confirm the opinion, to which many men had been long inclining, that success could only be achieved by a thorough reform of the military system. The year 1506 witnessed the actual carrying out of a scheme which was to supersede the employment of mercenary troops. Machiavelli was the leading spirit in the whole movement; he was supported both by Soderini and by Antonio Giacomini. A national militia was instituted and a body of troops enrolled from the Contado; they numbered about 5000, and were mustered before the close of the year. A new magistracy with the title I Nove della milizia was formed to manage all affairs connected with the militia in time of peace, while the authority in time of war would as usual rest with the Died della guerra. Machiavelli was in January, 1507, appointed chancellor of the Nove della milizia, and the main bulk of the work connected with the levy and organisation of the new troops fell to him.
During the following years Florence enjoyed a period of comparative repose, while Julius II was occupied with designs which did not directly concern Florence. The subjection of Perugia and Bologna, the War of Genoa, and the early operations of the War against Venice, left Florence to pursue her own designs, unattacked and unimpeded. But when in 1510 Julius decided to make peace with Venice, the consequence was a collision with France, and it was also clear that the Florentines would become involved in the struggle. To this they might, however, look forward with some measure of hopefulness; for they had at last (1509) reduced Pisa to submission, and one long-standing cause of weakness and waste was thus removed.
The year 1510 witnessed the first stages of the conflict between the Pope and France. At Florence it was common knowledge that Julius II was hostile both to Soderini and to the Republican government, and that he already entertained the idea of a Medicean restoration. The difficulties of the situation were not lightened by Louis XII's demand that the city should definitely declare her intentions. The danger from the papal troops was at the moment more directly pressing than any other: to declare for France would not only have exposed the Florentine territory to an immediate attack, but would have also alienated the sympathies of all those citizens who dreaded a conflict with the head of the Church, and wished also to stand well with the Medici. The city was full of antagonistic parties and irreconcilable interests, and an abortive conspiracy was formed to murder the Gonfaloniere. In order to gain time Machiavelli was sent upon a mission to France. On his arrival at Blois in July, 1510, he found Louis XII eager for war and inclined towards the idea of a General Council, which should secure the deposition of the Pope. This Council actually met in the following year (September), and although consisting of only a handful of members, held three sessions at Pisa, the Florentines allowing the use of the town for that purpose. It was powerless to harm Julius II, who replied by giving notice of a Council to be held at the Lateran, and thus ipso facto disqualified the Council of Pisa. It served, however, to embitter the Pope against Florence; and both Florence and Pisa were placed under an interdict.
During the winter of 1510-11 Julius II successfully continued his military operations, until his progress was checked by the appointment of Gaston de Foix to the command of the French forces, in conjunction with Gian Giacomo Trivulzio. Throughout the spring reverse followed reverse, and by June the Pope was back in Rome; indeed, if Louis XII had permitted it, Trivulzio might have followed him unhindered to Rome itself. Had he done so, France would have commanded the whole of Northern and Central Italy, and once more cleared the road to Naples. Knowing this, Ferdinand of Aragon had, so early as June, 1511, made proposals to Julius for the formation of a league to check the progress of the French. The idea, momentarily delayed by the illness of the Pope in August, was realised in October; and on the fifth of that month the Holy League was published at Rome. The contracting parties were Julius, Ferdinand and the Venetians: the ostensible object was the defence of Church interests and the recovery of Church property. The command of the allied forces was entrusted to the Viceroy of Naples, Ramon de Cardona.
Whichever side proved victorious in the inevitable struggle, the result would be equally disastrous to the Florentine Republic. Soderini still represented what might be considered the official policy of the State—friendship with France: but his authority was growing steadily weaker, and the collision of parties made any combined action impossible. It was the battle of Ravenna (April 11,1512) that finally cleared the situation. Though the French were victorious, the death of Gaston de Foix deprived them of their most efficient general, and they were henceforward helpless. By the end of June they were driven from Lombardy and ceased for the time to exist at all as factors in the politics of Italy. Florence was at the mercy of the confederates. The supreme moment had come.
By the expulsion of the French the object for which the Holy League had been really formed was accomplished, and it was necessary for the allied powers to readjust their policy and to determine their future movements. For this purpose they held a congress at Mantua in August, at which among other subjects the reconstitution of the Italian States was discussed. It was decided to restore the Medici at Florence. This had been the Pope's avowed object since 1510, and he was not likely at this stage to see that it was, from his point of view, an impolitic blunder. The work was entrusted to Ramon de Cardona, who joined his army at Bologna and began to march southwards. He arrived without resistance at Barberino, about fifteen miles north of Florence. From there he sent to the city to demand the deposition of Soderini and the return of the Medici as private citizens. The Florentines refused to depose Soderini, though willing to receive the Medici on those terms. At the same time they sent a force of troops to garrison Prato. Ramon de Cardona therefore continued his advance; Prato was captured on August 30, and its inhabitants were with ruthless barbarity tortured, debauched and butchered. Further resistance was impossible. On September 1 Soderini was deposed, and on the same evening Giuliano de' Medici entered Florence, to be followed on the 14th by Giovanni and other members of the family. Nothing remained but to fix the form of the new government. The Consiglio Grande and the Died di balia were abolished, as well as the Nove della milizia and the national militia; Accoppiatori were appointed to select the Signoria and Colleges a mano, and it was resolved that the Gonfaloniere should henceforth hold office for two months only. During the close of the year Florence settled down quietly under Medicean rule. The revolution was accomplished with more moderation than might have been expected; and even those who, like Machiavelli, had been zealous servants of Soderini, suffered as a rule no more than loss of official employment or temporary banishment.
These years, in which the fate of Florence was decided, while the Republic was dragged helpless in the chain of events, helpless to determine her own fortunes, were the period in which Machiavelli's term of political activity was comprised.
Niccolò Machiavelli was born at Florence in 1469, and died, comparatively young, in 1527. For about fourteen years he was employed by the Florentine government in a subordinate official capacity, and even his intimate friends hardly recognised that he was a really great man. Although his position as Secretary to the Dieci kept him constantly in touch with political movements in Central Italy, and although he was employed almost without intermission from 1499 till 1512 upon diplomatic missions, he exerted hardly any influence upon the course of events; if he were known only by his official letters and despatches, there would be little in his career to arrest attention. It is only as an author that Machiavelli has any abiding place in the world's history. He has a claim upon the attention of the modern world because, living at a time when the old political order in Europe was collapsing and new problems both in State and in society were arising with dazzling rapidity, he endeavoured to interpret the logical meaning of events, to forecast the inevitable issues, and to elicit and formulate the rules which, destined henceforth to dominate political action, were then taking shape among the fresh-forming conditions of national life.
His natural gifts marked him out as peculiarly fitted to be an intellectual pioneer. He has more in common with the political thinkers of later generations than with the bulk of his contemporaries, on whom still pressed the dead hand of medievalism. It is true, of course, that he did not stand alone; both in Italy and in France there were a few men who worked along the same lines and were approaching the same goal. Commines had nothing to learn from Machiavelli; and Guicciardini, his equal in ability and his superior in moral detachment, was harder and colder, and more logical. And there were men of lesser note, Vettori and Buonaccorsi and the long line of eminent historians from Nardi to Ammirato, who helped, each in one way or another, to break the fetters of tradition and to usher in the modern world. But there is no one among them all, except Machiavelli, who has won ecumenical renown. And the ultimate reason is that, although the area which he was able to observe was small, the horizon which he guessed was vast; he was able to overstep the narrow limits of Central Italy and Lombardy, to think upon a large scale, and to reach some real elevation of view. He made, it is true, many mistakes, and there is much in his writings that is indefensible; but, on the whole, later history has done much to justify him, and the view which is most essentially Machiavellian, that the art of government, like the art of navigation, is out of relation to morals, has hardly ever lacked authoritative support.
It was in 1513 that Machiavelli, then living in retirement near San Casciano, began the composition of those works which were to make his name famous. They are not intelligible except when considered in relation to the historical background of his life, and to the circumstances in which they were written. But for many generations the ideas which they contained were censured or defended by men who were at least partially ignorant of the epoch and of the country in which they arose, and were often mere controversialists or the accredited champions of some branch of the Church. As the doctrines of which Machiavelli was the earliest conscious exponent were so important and so comprehensive, it was inevitable that attempts should be made to appraise their absolute value; they appeared to involve not only an unfamiliar, if not wholly novel, conception of the State, but to imply also the substitution of some new standards of judgment and principles of action which, while overriding the traditional rules and the accepted authorities in the political order, might be understood to apply also to the conduct of society and to the ordinary affairs of men. The consideration of these ideas and the attempt to gauge their effects upon religion or morals or politics, and to elicit the conclusions to which they appeared to lead, engrossed attention so largely, that their historical origin was forgotten, their classical antecedents were ignored, and step by step, for more than a century, criticism drifted away from Machiavelli and concerned itself with an ill-defined and amorphous body of doctrine known loosely under the name of Machiavellism. No fair judgment of Machiavelli's works is possible, unless they are separated from the literature and the controversies which have grown up around them. It is true that the accretions of later thinkers have an importance of their own, but they are of hardly any value in Machiavellian exegesis. All the necessary materials for judgment are to be found in the writings of Machiavelli and of his contemporaries.
The doctrines of Machiavelli are not systematically expounded or adequately justified in any one of his books. It is only by piecing together the scattered notices in different writings and by comparing the forms in which similar ideas are presented at different periods, that there emerges slowly a general conception of the character of the whole. Some of these ideas were not original, but as old as the beginnings of recorded thought. In certain cases they were part of the intellectual heritage transmitted by Greece and Rome, adapted to a new setting and transfused with a new potency and meaning. Sometimes they were common to other contemporary publicists. Often they were provisional solutions of primitive problems, claiming no universal or permanent validity. Often, again, they were the expression of beliefs which among any people and at any period would be regarded as innocuous and inoffensive and perhaps even as obvious. Efforts have often been made to summarise them all in a single phrase, or to compress them within one wide generalisation. Such attempts have been always unsatisfactory, because much that is essential cannot be included. Machiavelli himself is not rightly viewed as, in the strict sense, a doctrinaire; he had no systematic theories to press. There was at no time anything rigid or harshly exclusive in his views: they were formed after slow deliberation, as experience and study widened his range or quickened his insight. They embrace elements which come from many sources, and, though they are on the whole fairly consistent, his writings contain many indications of the diffident and tentative steps by which the conclusions were reached.
Portions of Machiavelli's works were intended to form a contribution to general questions of politics and ethics: there are other portions which were more directly determined by the pressure of an unusual problem and of ephemeral conditions. In nearly all his writings the dispassionate, scientific temper of the historian or thinker who records and explains is combined with the earnestness and the eagerness of the advocate who is pleading a cause. Aspiration and emotion were not foreign to the genius of Machiavelli, and at appropriate moments found impassioned utterance. Discussions of general principles of history and of the art of government are everywhere applied and enforced by examples of contemporary failures or successes, and the reasoning is thus brought home "to men's business and bosoms." In the Discourses on Livy the doctrinal and scientific interest predominated: in The Prince, which became the most influential of all his books, the local and temporary problems lay at the root of the whole discussion. It is therefore necessary to separate, within the limits of a legitimate analysis, the two elements found combined in his writings; and though no firm line can or ought to be drawn between the two parts, which at nearly every point touch and supplement each other, a divided discussion will best conduce to the clearness from which truth most quickly emerges.
The writings of nearly all the Florentine historians and publicists of the sixteenth century involve certain fundamental beliefs or hypotheses, upon which the whole structure of their reasoning rests; these are rarely stated totidem verbis in any passage, although implied in nearly all. The general body of their work forms a perpetual commentary upon a text, which is only incidentally enunciated; the method employed is expository only in appearance, but in reality genetic; the ultimate principles of the argument are the final result at which the reader arrives, and not a guide which he has with him from the beginning. Even with an author like Machiavelli, who was not averse to repeating himself, and less reticent than many others, it is not always easy to be certain that the latent hypotheses and scattered hints have been correctly elicited and grouped. Still, it is in any case clear that what controlled his views of the movement of events, whether in his own day or in earlier times, and of the lessons which they convey, was, in the last analysis, a specific notion of man's nature as a permanent force realising itself and imposing itself upon external things, shaping and subjecting them. The conception of human nature to which he adhered was used as the foundation for a definite theory of history as a whole. Then the process of reasoning was reversed, and from the collective activity of national life a return was made to the isolated unit or individual, and an ethical supplement added, thus completing a general conspectus of man both in the State and in society. For though Machiavelli inferred that ethics and politics are distinct, and that the art of government is out of relation to morals, he founded both upon the same assumptions. The ethical portion of his work is, of course, of little importance in comparison with the political, and is usually wholly ignored.
The conception which had the widest influence upon Machiavelli's teaching is that of the essential depravity of human nature. Men are born bad, and no one does good, unless obliged. This he regarded as a necessary axiom of political science. It was contested by a few of his contemporaries, but on the whole the political speculation of the Renaissance and the theological teaching of the Reformation issued, in this respect, in the assertion of the same truth. The result at which theologians arrived in their efforts to settle the controversies connected with original or "birth" sin, was reached by Machiavelli through the study of the past, and with the object of obtaining a fixed basis for discussion. For the most part he limited himself to an emphatic iteration of his belief, without attempting analysis or defence beyond a general appeal to the common experience of mankind. It is not certain through what channels the view was conveyed to him; he shared the belief with Thucydides. "Men never behave well," he wrote, "unless they are obliged; wherever a choice is open to them and they are free to do as they like, everything is immediately filled with confusion and disorder.—Men are more prone to evil than to good.—As is shown by all who discuss civil government, and by the abundance of examples in every history, whoever organises a State, or lays down laws in it, must necessarily assume that all men are bad, and that they will follow the wickedness of their own hearts, whenever they have free opportunity to do so; and, supposing any wickedness to be temporarily hidden, it is due to a secret cause of which, having seen no experience to the contrary, men are ignorant; but time, which they say is the father of all truth, reveals it at last." This view involved the corollary, that human nature could not be depended upon to reform itself; it is only through repression that evil can be kept below the suicidal point.
Combined with this conviction was another, resting also upon an assumption and likewise applied as a general principle to explain history. The maxim "Imitation is natural to man" would express it in its crudest and most vague form. "Men almost always walk in the paths which others have trodden and in their actions proceed by imitation, and yet cannot keep entirely to other men's paths, nor attain to the excellence which they imitate." The idea is often enforced directly by Machiavelli, sometimes expanded or spoken of in a figure. His meaning was that all men, at any given period, must necessarily be in the debt of the dead; the masses cannot help following the beaten paths; the tendency of history is not to initiate, but to reproduce in a debased form. Men, being lazy, are more willing to conform than to pioneer; it is less inconvenient to tolerate than to persecute. Of course such repetition as history appeared to reveal would still be, in the main, not the result of conscious imitation, but the inevitable product of the permanent passions in man, which he believed to have a larger power in determining events than the rational and progressive elements. "The wise are wont to say, and not at random or without foundation, that he who desires to foresee what is going to take place, should consider what has taken place; because all the things in the world, at all periods, have an essential correspondence with past times. This arises because, as they are the work of men who have and always have had the same passions, they must of necessity produce the same effects.—In all cities and among all peoples there exist the same appetites and the same dispositions that have always existed."
The uniformity of the forces at work in history might be expected to produce a monotonous movement in events, a mere recurring series in the life of nations. This is not the case, because whatever, whether in the intellectual or material order, is the outcome of man's activity is subjected to a law similar to that which controls the progress and decay of the individual life; everything contains within itself the seeds of its own dissolution; "in all things there is latent some peculiar evil which gives rise to fresh vicissitudes." No struggle against the tendency to corruption and extinction can be permanently successful, just as no man can prolong his existence beyond a certain point. But while decadence is in progress in one part of the world, the corresponding principle of growth may predominate elsewhere. In every case, when the highest point has been reached, the descent begins. Machiavelli did not flinch from the consequences of this reasoning, when translated into the moral order: evil is the cause of good, and good is the cause of evil. "It has been, is, and always will be true that evil succeeds good, and good evil, and the one is always the cause of the other." On this assumption, the variety of history became no more than the displacement or dislocation of permanent elements: "I am convinced that the world has always existed after the same manner, and the quantity of good and evil in it has been constant: but this good and this evil keep shifting from country to country, as is seen in the records of those ancient Empires which, as their manners changed, passed from the one to the other, but the world itself remained the same: there was this difference only, that whereas Assyria was at first the seat of the world's virtue [virtu], this was afterwards placed in Media, then in Persia, until at last it came to Italy and Rome: and though since the Roman Empire no other Empire has followed which has proved lasting, nor in which the world has concentrated its virtue, nevertheless it is seen to have been diffused throughout many nations, in which men lived virtuously [virtuosamente]." And what is true of institutions and civilisation in general, is a valid law also in the political world, where forms of government recur in a series which can be calculated upon. Monarchy passes into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, democracy into anarchy: "so, if the founder of a State establishes in a city any one of these three governments, he establishes it for a short time only; for no remedy can be applied to prevent it sliding off into its opposite, owing to the resemblance which exists, in this case, between the virtue and the vice.—This is the circle within which all States have been and are governed." Many revolutions of this nature would exhaust the vitality of a State, and render it the prey of a stronger neighbour; but if any people could possess adequate recuperative power, the circular movement might continue for ever: "a State would be able to revolve for an indefinite period from government to government." Considering the inherent defects of each of these constitutional forms, Machiavelli accorded unreservedly a theoretical preference to a "mixed" government, while rejecting it as practically unsuited to the condition of Italy in his own day.
The next step was to consider, how this tendency to become corrupt and, ultimately, extinct, made itself manifest in a State; what were the symptoms of decay and what the more immediate causes which determined it; and, lastly, what were the methods by which the process of national dissolution might be, at least temporarily, arrested. Machiavelli furnished an answer by a reference to a primitive bias of human nature, a congenital failing in all men. Power breeds appetite; no rulers are ever satisfied; no one has ever reached a position from which he has no desire to advance further. "Ambition is so powerful in the hearts of men that, to whatever height they rise, it never leaves them. The reason is, that nature has created men so that they can desire everything, but they cannot get everything; thus, as the desire is always in excess of the power of gratifying it, the result is that they are discontented and dissatisfied with what they possess. Hence arise the vicissitudes of their fortunes; for as some desire to have more, and some fear to lose what they have already, enmities and wars ensue, which lead to the ruin of one country and the rise of another.—That which more than anything else throws down an empire from its loftiest summit is this: the powerful are never satisfied with their power. Hence it happens that those who have lost are ill-contented and a disposition is aroused to overthrow those who come off victors. Thus it happens that one rises and another dies; and he who has raised himself is for ever pining with new ambition or with fear. This appetite destroys States; and it is the more extraordinary that, while everyone recognises this fault, no one avoids it." The primary impulse towards evil thus comes from within the ruler: the direction in which political changes tend is not determined by the progress of general enlightenment among the citizens, by the growth of new ideas, or by the development of new needs in a country. Machiavelli deemed the individual supreme: a "new prince," like the Greek νομοθέτης, brought into existence an artificial structure, formed on arbitrary lines, and called a State: under this his subjects had to live. He also by his personal and individual failings led the way to ruin. On the other hand, having regard rather to the general body of citizens than to their rulers, Machiavelli believed, like Bacon, that wars were necessary as a national tonic; peace is disruptive and enervating; "war and fear" produce unity. So long as a community continued young, all would be well; but "virtue produces peace, peace idleness, idleness disorder, disorder ruin.—Virtue makes places tranquil; then, from tranquillity results idleness; and idleness wastes country and town. Then, when a district has been involved in disorder for a time, virtue returns to dwell there once again."
The periods within which these inevitable revolutions are accomplished, might, with certain limitations, be regulated by human effort. Man, inasmuch as he is by nature a disorderly being, needed, whatever the form of the government, to be held under control by some despotic power; hence the necessity of law. The rights, the duties, and even the virtues of individuals are the creatures of law. The duration of any constitutional form and the life of any State is in large measure determined by the excellence of its laws. "It is true that a Power generally endures for a larger or a shorter time, according as its laws and institutions are more or less good.—Let Princes know that they begin to lose their State at that hour in which they begin to violate the laws, and those customs and usages which are ancient and under which men have lived for a long time." If the laws are inadequate or unsound, or if they can be ignored with impunity, the obligations hitherto resting upon the citizens are simultaneously removed. Machiavelli, however, believed that there can be extremely few cases in which a man is entitled to judge for himself of the working of law. "Men ought to give honour to the past, and obedience to the present; they ought to wish for good princes, but to put up with them, whatever their character." Innovation is hazardous both for the subject and for the ruler. True political wisdom will be revealed in the organisation of government on a basis so firm that innovation becomes unnecessary. "The safety of a republic or a kingdom consists, not in having a ruler who governs wisely while he lives, but in being subject to one who so organises it that, when he dies, it may continue to maintain itself." Some element of permanence in the source of authority is the more indispensable, because there is a point in the career of every society at which laws would otherwise be too feeble to cope with the general corruption: "there are no laws and no institutions which have power to curb a universal corruption.—Laws, if they are to be observed, presuppose good customs."
Machiavelli by no means overestimated the power of laws; alone, they could never be an adequate instrument of empire. Their severity required to be mitigated, and their restraining force to be supplemented, by some influence potent to control not men's acts only but their minds. There was a sense, therefore, in which the State could not with advantage be separated from the Church; both were to cooperate to create national customs and habits of thought, not less than to enforce order and maintain the stability of society. Without confounding the domains of politics and theology, Machiavelli urged the familiar view that any community, which has lost or misdirected the religious sentiment, has greatly weakened itself and imperilled its own existence. "The observance of the ordinances of religion is the cause of the greatness of commonwealths; so also is their neglect the cause of ruin. For where the fear of God is wanting, a kingdom must either go to ruin, or be supported by the fear of a Prince as compensating for the lost influences of religion.—Rulers of a commonwealth or kingdom ought to preserve the existing foundations of religion; if they do this, it will be easy for them to keep their State religious, and consequently virtuous and united." A politician is not called upon to examine the truth or the absolute value of religion; in some cases it may even be incumbent upon a prince to protect a form of religion which he believes to be false; and thus religious toleration would rest, in the first instance, upon a secular sanction. The ruler must be careful to preserve his intellectual balance, and to allow neither religion nor sentiment to intrude inappropriately. Politics and paternosters are distinct. If the auspices are unfavourable, they must be set aside. On the other hand no ceremonies and no creed can of themselves secure success. "The belief that if you remain idle on your knees, God will fight for you in your own despite, has ruined many kingdoms and many States. Prayers are, indeed, necessary; and he is downright mad who forbids the people their ceremonies and devotions. For from them it seems that men reap union and good order, and upon these depend prosperity and happiness. Yet let no man be so silly as to believe that, if his house falls about his head, God will save it without any other prop; for he will die beneath the ruins." When the supports of law and of religion collapse, a State is approaching its dissolution. It is possible, indeed, that a reformer may be equal to the work of regeneration; but on the other hand it is "very easy for a reformer never to arise." Under such conditions abnormal methods find their justification; recourse must be had to "extraordinary remedies" and "strong medicines"; the diseased members must be cut away, to prolong, though but for a season, the life of a State.
Such, in broad outline, were the chief views of Machiavelli concerning the nature of man and the general movement of history, separated from the limitations of any particular time and place. At first sight they might perhaps appear visionary, remote, unreal; vitiated in some degree by ambiguities in the meaning of the terms employed and by hasty generalisation; academic in character, and out of relation to the storm and stress of a reawakening world. This impression would be only partially true. Machiavelli, living at a period of transition, endeavoured, in the presence of an unusual problem, to push beyond its barriers, and to fix the relations of what was local and temporal to the larger and more universal laws of political societies in general. It was only by enlarging the area of analysis, and embracing the wider questions of history and ethics, that it was possible to frame a scientific basis on which to erect the structure of practical politics. The theoretical foundation was essential. Interest was naturally most largely centred in that portion of his works which was the most unusual; but in reality it is hardly intelligible by itself. Ideas, long familiar in classical literature, may seem in their new context to bear little relation to what has come to be regarded as Machiavelli's main object; in reality they are not extraneous nor incidental, but the logical prius of the whole construction. Whoever began without securing his foundations, was obliged to secure them afterwards, though, as Machiavelli reflected, with discomfort to the architect and danger to the building. It was his conception of human nature and of history that logically entitled him to use the experience of the past as a guide for the future; to justify his rejection of constitutional reform where the material to be worked upon was thoroughly corrupt, and virtue imputed for a capital crime; to create new standards, to which appeal might be made in judging practical questions; to throw aside the fetters of medievalism and to treat politics inductively. It was thus that he was led to look to the past, and especially to ancient Rome, for examples and models. Often he repeated with enthusiastic emphasis his abiding conviction, that in his own day the teaching of the Romans might still be applied, their actions imitated, their principles adopted. He was criticised on this ground by Guicciardini and others, who, as they admitted only partially the postulates involved in Machiavelli's conception of history, rejected the appeal to ancient Rome as logically invalid.
This specifically historical theory required an ethical complement. Machiavelli had formed definite opinions upon some of the fundamental questions of moral science. He has recorded his views upon what is now called the origin of morality, and also attempted to determine the real nature of good and evil. Believing men naturally bad, and holding therefore that morality is non-natural, in the sense that it is distasteful to the untrained impulses in men and not to be arrived at by evolving anything of which perhaps they are, in some unexplained way, capable, the question confronted him, How is right action to be enforced? Where does the obligation reside? Only one answer could be consistent, In the laws. To explain this a reference was made to the origins of society. "In the beginning of the world, as the inhabitants were few, they lived for a time dispersed after the manner of wild beasts; afterwards, when they increased and multiplied, they united together, and in order the better to defend themselves, they began to look to that man among them who was the strongest and bravest, and made him their head and obeyed him. From this arose the knowledge of things honourable and good, as opposed to things pernicious and evil; because, seeing that, if a man injured his benefactor, hatred and pity were aroused among men, and that the ungrateful were blamed and the grateful honoured,—reflecting, moreover, that the same injury might be done to themselves,—they resorted to making laws and fixing punishments for whoever violated them: hence came the knowledge of justice. Consequently, when they had afterwards to elect a ruler, they did not seek out the strongest, but the most wise and the most just.—There is a saying that hunger and poverty make men industrious, and the laws make them good."
Thus moral action in a civil society meant for Machiavelli chiefly conformity to a code; the moral sense is the product of law or, in the last analysis, of fear. The sanction of conduct was derived from positive institutions; where no law existed, no action could be unjust. This admitted, the next stage was to interpret the notion of right, and to ask specifically, What is right? Machiavelli replied in words that furnished at once a moral criterion and a positive conception of right: "I believe good to be that which conduces to the interests of the majority, and with which the majority are contented." The scope and consequences of such a statement were not perhaps fully realised by him; yet the conception exercised some measure of control, possibly almost unconscious, upon his other views, and might be considered to furnish a sanction for much that is eccentric or immoral; even as an isolated and incidental utterance, it remains a curious forerunner of more modern theories. It is further possible to construct from Machiavelli's data a list of the particular virtues which, though not free from the vice of cross-division, nor to be regarded as exhaustive or scientific, helps to widen and complete the conception of his teaching. The virtues, the possession of which would in his judgment be most praiseworthy, are these: liberality, mercy, truthfulness, courage, affability, purity, guilelessness, good-nature, earnestness, devoutness. The last was indeed of supreme importance to all members of society, and so essential to a ruler that whosoever was not reputed religious had no chance of success, and was therefore forced to preserve, as the absolutely indispensable minimum, the appearances at least of a religious believer. For the masses do not discriminate between religion and morality; it is from religion that moral truths are believed by the uneducated conscience of mankind to derive their ne varietur character. Speaking more specifically of Christianity, Machiavelli was aware that it had effected a very fundamental change in ethical conceptions. "Our religion has glorified men of humble and contemplative life, rather than men of action. Moreover, it has placed the summum bonum in humility, in lowliness, and in the contempt of earthly things; paganism placed it in highmindedness, in bodily strength, and in all the other things which make men strongest. And if our religion requires us to have any strength in us, it calls upon us to be strong to suffer rather than to do." Christianity, as understood by medieval society, appeared to add to the difficulties of combining the characters of the good man and the good citizen. Machiavelli looked for power: "whereas this mode of living seems to have rendered the world weak, and given it over as a prey to wicked men, who can with impunity deal with it as they please; seeing that the mass of mankind, in order to go to Paradise, think more how to endure wrongs than how to avenge them." Such opinions provoked criticism, and were attacked at an early period; afterwards they were, without offence, excused, defended, or outbidden.
When the original obligation of morality and the standard of action had been fixed, it remained to enquire whether men were able to do what was right, i.e. whether they were free agents. The constant recurrence of the question in Machiavelli's writings is the measure of the importance it possessed for him. He gave much consideration to this primitive problem, which he called il sopraccapo della filosofia; he perceived that it was at least necessary to devise some intellectual compromise which, while in no way claiming to offer a logical solution, should be clear and manageable enough for practical life. His examination was neither thorough nor profound; he did not distinguish the senses which the word freedom may, in this context, assume; and his reasoning was complicated by the intrusion of ideas originating in a mythological and figurative conception of Fortune, and in some measure by the lingering influences of astrology. Through all his writings runs the idea of a personified Fortune,—a capricious deity, who is not merely the expression in a figure of the incalculable element in life, but a being with human passions and attributes. Here the suggestions and examples of classical authors, and especially of Polybius, were decisive for Machiavelli, in whom after the manner of his age ancient and modern modes of thought were fancifully blended. "I am not unaware," he wrote, "that many have held and still hold the opinion that human affairs are so ordered by Fortune and by God, that men cannot by their prudence modify them; rather, they have no remedy at all in the matter; and hence they may come to think they need not trouble much about things, but allow themselves to be governed by chance. This opinion has gained more acceptance in our own times, owing to the great changes which have been seen and are seen every day, beyond all human conjecture. I have sometimes thought about this, and have partly inclined to their opinion. Yet, in order that free-will may not be entirely destroyed, I believe the truth may be this: Fortune is the mistress of half our actions, but entrusts the management of the other half, or a little less, to us." This is the solution which, running all through Machiavelli's works, gave a special propriety to the repeated antithesis of fortuna and virtu. The same meaning would be expressed in modern phraseology by the statement that men determine their own lives, but only under conditions which they neither themselves create nor are able largely to control; or, that the will makes the act, but out of a material not made by it.
Upon the basis of these data Machiavelli attempted to fix some general rule of conduct for the guidance of the individual, applicable amid all the diversified conditions under which action can take place. Considering the relation in which the agent stands to the forces among which he has to assert himself, an ideal of conduct was needed which should enable a man, who could have but a limited power of control over the conditions of his life, to succeed. Failure was the seal of Divine disapproval, and to Machiavelli, as to all Italian politicians at his time, the one unpardonable sin. The essential requisite for success was, in his judgment, a constant adaptation between the individual and the surroundings of his life. Sufficient versatility of character, thus understood, would imply a perpetual adjustment of means to the needs of the moment, the ability to reverse a policy or a principle at the call of expediency, and a readiness to compromise or renounce the ideal. The world is rich in failures, because character is too rigid. The truism "Circumstances alter cases," was interpreted by Machiavelli to mean that the pressure of external forces is usually stronger than the resistance of individual principle. This formed the rational basis of his complaints that no one who attempted to govern in Italy would alter the courses to which his genius inclined him, when facts had altered; yet any one who was sufficiently versatile would always have good fortune, and the wise man would at last command the stars and fate. In political life such reasoning led to the rejection of morality, as the plain man understands it. A ruler was to remember that he lived in a world which he had not made, and for which he could not be held responsible; he was not obliged to act on any one principle; he was not to flinch if cruelty, dishonesty, irreligion were necessary; he was exempt from the common law; right and wrong had really nothing to do with the art of government. In furnishing what appeared a reasoned justification for such tenets, Machiavelli interpreted to itself the world of contemporary statecraft, and fixed upon politics the stamp of irremediable immorality—a result to which the rejection of medieval ideas need not necessarily have led.
Such are the general principles which lie at the root of all Machiavelli's teaching, and which serve to universalise all the particular rules and maxims with which his books are crowded. They have, with hardly an exception, their roots in the ancient world, and in nearly every case it can be shown how they were transmitted to him, and how by him the old material was forged and moulded into new shapes. It remains to enquire how they were applied to the necessities of his own age and country. In 1513, Machiavelli was ruined and discredited, ready to despair of Fortune's favour, and willing to accept even the humblest position which would enable him to be of use to himself and his city. Employment was slow in coming, and during enforced leisure he devoted himself to literature. The Prince and The Discourses were begun in 1513; The Art of War was published in 1521, and the eight books of The Florentine Histories were ready by 1525. All these works are closely related; in all the same principles are implied; no one of them is any more or less immoral than any of its fellows; they supplement each other, and by precept and example enforce the same conclusions. There is reason to believe that Machiavelli himself considered The Art of War the most important of his books, but his fame in later generations has rested almost wholly upon The Prince.
The contents of The Prince were little, if at all, affected by Machiavelli's altered fortunes, though he hoped that if the book was read by the Medici, they might employ him in some official position, for which his past life qualified him. This did not prevent him from developing, without any reserve, the conclusions which his studies and experience had enabled him to mature. He was primarily concerned neither with his own interests nor with the Medici family, but with the problems presented by the condition of Italy in 1513. Ten years previously he had written the words: "Go forth from Tuscany, and consider all Italy." His early writings, and in particular his diplomatic letters, are crowded with suggestions of the form which the conclusions would ultimately take. Slowly, through at least fourteen years, his mind had moved in one direction, and new ideas of a wide compass and a lofty range had taken shape and asserted their claims to recognition. He had been a Florentine of the Florentines, hating Pisa and exulting over Venice. By 1513 he was almost persuaded to become an Italian, to merge the local in the national. Yet, although enthusiastic and at times even visionary, he was under no permanent delusion; the hope of an ultimate unity for Italy could not under the circumstances assume for him any precise form; only as a far-distant aspiration, a pervasive thought, it formed the large background of his speculation. He knew that union was not possible then; but he held, in opposition to Guicciardini, that it was only through union that national prosperity becomes possible; "truly no country was ever united or prosperous, unless the whole of it passes beneath the sway of one commonwealth or one prince, as has happened in the cases of France and Spain." When, however, the possibility of such a thing in his own day was suggested to him, he was, he said, ready to laugh; no progress could be made in the presence of a disruptive Papacy, worthless soldiers, and divided interests. But if autonomy and independence of foreign control could be secured, the question would at once enter upon a new stage. Machiavelli did not mistake the problem; but he could not forecast the issues of the nineteenth century.
The Prince, though not a complete novelty, became for many reasons a work of primary importance. Machiavelli was the earliest writer who consistently applied the inductive or experimental method to political science. What was new in method produced much that was new in results. The earlier manuals of statecraft rested upon assumptions transmitted through the medieval Church. In Dante's time and long afterwards no man dared to discard the presuppositions of Christianity. Private judgment in politics, scarcely less than in theology, was disqualified, not because it might be incompetent, but as always ex hypothesi wrong, wherever authority is recognised. Abstract principles of justice, duty, morality, formed the foundation upon which the political theories of the Middle Ages had been constructed. The reasoning from final causes was almost universal. So long as these primary postulates were not revised, speculation trod and re-trod the same confined area. What Machiavelli did, was to shift the basis of political science and, consequently, to emancipate the State from ecclesiastical thraldom. Henceforward, the fictions of the Realists, which had controlled the forms of medieval thought in nearly all departments, were set aside; the standard was to be no philosophic summum bonum, nor was the sic volo of authority to silence enquiry or override argument. An appeal was to be made to history and reason; the publicist was to investigate, not to invent,—to record, not to anticipate,—the laws which appear to govern men's actions. Machiavelli's method of reasoning was a challenge to existing authority, and was believed to entail the disqualification, at least in politics, of the old revealed law of God, in favour either of a restored and revised form of natural law, or at any rate of some new law which man might elicit, independently of God, from the accumulated records of human activity. The Prince was the first great work in which the two authorities, the Divine and the human, were clearly seen in collision, and in which the venerable axioms of earlier generations were rejected as practically misleading, and theoretically unsound. The simplicity and directness of its trenchant appeal to common experience and to the average intelligence won for the book a recognition never accorded to Machiavelli's other works.
In The Prince the discussion of the methods, by which a "new prince" might consolidate his power, developed into a contribution towards a new conception of the State. The book not only furnished a summary of the means by which, in the circumstances then existing, the redemption of Italy might be accomplished; but, inasmuch as the conditions of life repeat themselves and the recurrence of similar crises in the future was always possible, recommendations, primarily directed to the solution of an immediately pressing difficulty, were enlarged in scope, and came to have the intention of supplying in some measure and with perhaps some minor reservations a law of political action in all times. Beneath the special rules and maxims new principles were latent, and, though obscured occasionally by the form in which they are expressed, they can be disengaged without serious difficulty.
Machiavelli, though his sympathies were republican, knew that the times required the intervention of a despot. He had no hesitation in deciding the relative merits, in the abstract, of the democratic and the monarchical forms of government: "the rule of a people is better than that of a prince." When the problem was, not how to establish a new government in the face of apparently overwhelming obstacles, but only how to carry on what was already well instituted, a republic would be found far more serviceable than a monarchy; "while a prince is superior to a people in instituting laws, in shaping civil society, in framing new statutes and ordinances, a people has the same superiority in preserving what is established." It is doubtful whether Machiavelli ever contemplated the creation of an enduring monarchy in Italy; the continuance of an absolute power would, he believed, corrupt the State. He was on the whole sanguine as to the possibilities of popular rule; he thought it reasonable to compare the voice of the people to the voice of God, and held with Cicero that the masses, though ignorant, may come to understand the truth. But the drastic reform contemplated by him could not be achieved under republican institutions, which could only work satisfactorily among a people whose character was sound. Corruption had gone too far in Italy; "it is corrupt above all other countries." Moreover "a people, into whom corruption has thoroughly entered, cannot live in freedom, I do not say for a short time, but for any time at all." By "corruption" Machiavelli understood primarily the decay of private and civic morality, the growth of impiety and violence, of idleness and ignorance; the prevalence of spite, license, and ambition; the loss of peace and justice; the general contempt of religion. He meant also dishonesty, weakness, disunion. These things, he knew well, are the really decisive factors in national life. For the restoration of old ideals and the inauguration of a new golden age, he ex hypothesi looked to the State. And the State is plastic; it is as wax in the hands of the legislator; he can "stamp upon it any new form."
The drift of such arguments is obvious. "It may be taken for a general rule that a republic or kingdom is never, or very rarely, well organised at its beginning, or fundamentally renovated by a reform of its old institutions, unless it is organised by one man.... Wherefore the wise founder of a commonwealth, who aims, not at personal profit but at the general good, and desires to benefit not his own descendants but the common motherland, ought to use every effort to obtain the authority for himself alone; and no wise intellect will ever find fault with any extraordinary action employed by him for founding an empire or establishing a republic. For though the act accuses him, the result excuses him." There were, besides, other reasons which led Machiavelli to believe that in 1513 the undivided force of a despot was needed. In every decaying State a class of men is to be found who, whether the degenerate survivors of the old feudal nobility or upstart signori with no authoritative title at all, are the enemies of all reform, and who cannot otherwise be suppressed. These gentiluomini "live in idleness and plenty on the revenues of their estates, without having any concern with their cultivation or undergoing any labour to obtain a livelihood. They are mischievous in every republic and in every country; yet more mischievous still are those who, besides being so situated, command fortified places and have subjects who obey them. The kingdom of Naples, the territory of Rome, the Romagna, and Lombardy are filled with these two classes of men. For this reason there has never been in those provinces any republic or free State; for such kinds of person are absolutely antagonistic to all civil government. The attempt to introduce a republic into countries so circumstanced would not be possible. In order to reorganise them—supposing any one had authority to do it—there would be no other way than to establish a monarchy; the reason being this: where the body of the people is so corrupt that the laws are unable to curb it, it is necessary to establish together with the laws a superior force, that is to say, the arm of a King (mano regia), which with absolute and overwhelming power may curb the overwhelming ambition and corruption of the nobles." A republic, therefore, cannot initiate a fundamental reform; it is, moreover, too divided in counsel and too dilatory in action; "supposing a republic had the same views and the same wishes as a prince, it will by reason of the slowness of its movements take longer to come to a decision than he." Hence the remedies which republics apply are doubly hazardous, when they have to deal with a crisis which cannot wait.
On these grounds Machiavelli, in pleading for the liberation of Italy from her "barbarian" invaders, addressed a prince; the work of regeneration could logically be entrusted only to an armed despot. It remained to investigate the methods to be employed, and to consider what manner of man the reformer should be. The general principle enforced was that all reform must be retrograde, in the sense that it must bring back the State to its original condition, restoring the old ἦθος and looking for the ideal in the past. "It is a certain truth that all things in the world have a limit to their existence; but those run the full course that Heaven has in a general way assigned them, which do not disorder their constitution, but maintain it so ordered that it either does not alter, or, if it alters, the change is for its advantage, not to its detriment....Those alterations are salutary, which bring States back towards their first beginnings. Those States, consequently, are best-ordered and longest-lived, which by means of their institutions can be often renewed, or else, apart from their institutions, may be renewed by some accident. And it is clearer than the day that, if these bodies are not renewed, they will not last. The way to renew them is, as has been said, to bring them back to their beginnings, because all the beginnings of republics and kingdoms must contain in themselves some excellence, by means of which they obtain their first reputation and make their first growth. And as in the progress of time this excellence becomes corrupted, unless something intervenes which restores it to its primary condition, these bodies are necessarily destroyed."
Such is the general rule for the guidance of a reformer. As isolation would involve failure, he must, in order to realise his object, make it his first business to secure the favour of the people. However difficult this might be, without some measure of popularity success would be an impossibility. "I reckon unhappy those princes who, to secure their State, are obliged to employ extraordinary methods, having the many for their enemies; for he who has the few for his enemies, readily and without serious difficulties secures himself; but he who has for enemy the whole people never secures himself, and, the more cruel he is, the weaker his rule becomes. So the best remedy within his reach is to try to make friends with the people." To win popularity and yet to conduct a thorough reform might seem hopeless; but Machiavelli found a solution of the difficulty in the blind ignorance of the people, who may easily be deluded by the appearances of liberty. "He who desires or intends to reform the government of a city must, if this reform is to be accepted and carried on with general approval, retain at least the semblance of the ancient methods, lest it should appear to the people that their constitution has changed, although in reality the new institutions are entirely different from the old; for the mass of mankind is fed with appearances as much as with realities; indeed, men are frequently more stirred by what seems than by what is." Populus vult decipi et decipiatur. There will, of course, be some few men who cannot be cheated; the new prince must not hesitate to kill them. "When men individually, or a whole city together offend against the State, a prince for a warning to others and for his own safety has no other remedy than to exterminate them; for the prince, who fails to chastise an offender so that he cannot offend any more, is reckoned an ignoramus or a coward." Elsewhere the language is even more explicit: "he who is dead cannot think about revenging himself." But such violence would only be necessary in the early stages of a reformer's career, and a wise prince will so manage that the odium shall fall on his subordinates; he may thus secure a reputation for clemency, and in any case all cruelty must be finished at one stroke, and not subsequently repeated at intervals. Such a course would be less obnoxious than to confiscate property, for men would sooner lose their relatives than forfeit their money. Dead friends may sometimes be forgotten; the memory of lost possessions always survives.
It is clear that the task of a reformer, as Machiavelli understood it, would require a very unusual combination of gifts and qualities. It appeared unlikely that any one could be found with the ability and the will to act without reference to traditional standards, and without concession to the ordinary feelings of humanity. Machiavelli was not blind to the difficulties of the case. It had, first, a moral and an emotional side. Whoever was to accomplish the salvation of Italy must be ready to sacrifice his private convictions and to ignore the rights of conscience. The methods which Machiavelli advocated were, he readily admitted, opposed to the life of a Christian, perhaps even to the life of a human being. Were the morally good to be set side by side with the morally evil, no one would ever be so mad or so wicked, that if asked to choose between the two, he would not praise that which deserved praise and blame that which deserved blame. Machiavelli recognised with regret that "it very seldom happens that a good man is willing to become prince by bad means, though his object be good." The desire for posthumous fame and the knowledge that a retrospective judgment would approve were powerful inducements, but, after all, something weightier was required. Machiavelli was prepared to be logical. An extraordinary problem cannot be solved by a tender conscience; "honest slaves are always slaves, and good men are always paupers." Deceit and cruelty and any other instrument of empire, if they led to success, would be understood and forgiven; "those who conquer, in whatever way they conquer, never reap disgrace." Success became the solvent of moral distinctions, and judgment must follow results. And in the particular case of Italy, a further sanction for the reformer's acts might perhaps be found in the desperate condition of the country, and in the high end in view: "where the bare salvation of the motherland is at stake, there no consideration of justice or injustice can find a place, nor any of mercy and cruelty, or of honour and disgrace; every scruple must be set aside, and that plan followed which saves her life and maintains her liberty."
Supposing any one prepared to accept this solution of the intellectual difficulties, it remained doubtful whether a man could be found with the practical ability and steadiness of nerve necessary to accomplish Machiavelli's design. He was sometimes sanguine, but at other times ready to despair. The condition of success would be thoroughness, and in the history of Rome he found evidences that men may, though rarely, avoid half-measures, and "have recourse to extremities." He knew that to halt between two opinions was always fatal, and that it was moreover not only undesirable, but impossible, to follow a middle course continuously. Unfortunately, human nature is apt to recoil from the extreme of evil and to fall short of the ideal of good; "men know not how to be gloriously wicked or perfectly good; and, when a crime has somewhat of grandeur and nobility in it, they flinch." Yet a great crisis often brings to the front a great man, and in 1513 Machiavelli believed the moment had come: "this opportunity must not be allowed to slip by, in order that Italy may at last see her redeemer appear." The right man was, he believed, a Medici, who, with far greater resources, might succeed where a Borgia had failed. His example was Cesare Borgia, who at the time had alone in any sort attempted the work of consolidation, and while shrinking from no convenient crime had damned himself intelligently.
The Prince was not published in Machiavelli's lifetime, was almost certainly never presented either to Giuliano or to Lorenzo de' Medici, and as a practical manifesto with a special purpose in view had no influence whatever. But the book summed up and interpreted the converging temper of political thought, and found an echo in the minds of many generations. When The Discourses were known only to political theorists, when The Florentine Histories were read only by students, and The Art of War had become extinct, The Prince still continued to find a ready welcome from men immersed in the practical business of government. Later thinkers carried on the lines of reasoning suggested by Machiavelli, and reached conclusions from which he refrained. At last it became clear, that the problems associated with Machiavelli's name were in fact primitive problems, arising inexorably from the conditions of all human societies. They form part of larger questions, in which they become insensibly merged. When the exact place of Machiavelli in history has been defined, the issues which he raised will still subsist. The difficulties can only ultimately disappear, when the progress of thought has determined in some final and conclusive form the necessary relations of all men to one another and to God.