Excerpts from Machiavelli's Discourse on Livy

Ryan Carboni ryacko at gmail.com
Wed Mar 11 16:35:50 PDT 2020



Tarquinius Superbus having killed Servius Tullus, and the latter not
leaving any heirs, he (Tarquinius) came to possess the kingdom with
security, not having to fear those things which had harmed his
predecessors. And although the manner of his occupying the kingdom was
irregular and odious, none the less had he observed the ancient
institutions of the other Kings, he would have been tolerated, and the
Senate and Plebs would never have arisen against him and taken the
State away from him. This man, therefore, was not driven out because
of his son Sextus having violated Lucretia, but for having broken the
laws and governed it (his Kingdom) tyrannically; having taken away all
authority from the Senate and assumed it himself, and those funds
which were marked for public improvements with which the Roman Senate
was satisfied, he diverted to the building of his own palace, with
disgust and envy for him resulting. So that in a very short time, he
despoiled Rome of all that liberty which she had maintained under the
other previous Kings. And it was not enough for him to make the
Fathers (Senators) his enemies, but he aroused the Plebs against
himself, working them hard in mechanical labor and all unlike those
which his predecessors had employed. So that by having filled Rome
with such cruel and haughty examples of his, he had already disposed
the minds of all the Romans to rebellion whenever they should have the
opportunity. And if the incident of Lucretia had not happened, even so
another would have arisen which would have produced the same result:
For if Tarquin had lived like the other Kings and his son Sextus had
not made that error, Brutus and Collatinus would have had recourse to
Tarquin for vengeance against Sextus, and to the Roman People.

Princes should understand, therefore, that they begin to lose the
State from that hour when they begin to break the laws and ancient
institutions under which men have lived for a long time. And if as
private citizens, having lost the State, they should ever become so
prudent to see with what facility Principalities are kept by those who
are counselled wisely, they would regret their loss much more, and
would condemn themselves to greater punishment than that to which
others have condemned them: For it is much more easy to be loved by
the good than the bad, and to obey the laws then to enforce them. And
in wanting to learn the course that they should have to hold to do
this, they do not have to endure any other hardship than to mirror for
themselves the lives of good Princes, such as Timoleon the Corinthian,
Aratus the Sicyonian, and similar ones, in the lives of whom they
would find as much security and satisfaction to him who ruled as to he
who is ruled; so that they ought to want to imitate him, being able to
do so for the reasons mentioned: For men when they are well governed,
do not seek or desire any other liberty; as happened to the people
governed by the above named (Princes), whom they constrained to be
Princes as long as they lived, even though they often had been tempted
to return to private life.

And as in this and the two preceding chapters, there has been
discussed the dispositions aroused against Princes, and of the
Conspiracy made by the sons of Brutus against their country, and of
those made against Tarquinius Priscus and Servius Tullus, it does not
appear to me to be something outside this subject to speak at length
of them in the following chapter, being a matter worthy of being noted
by Princes and Private Citizens.


And it does not appear proper to me to omit the discussion of
Conspiracies, being a matter of so much danger to Princes and Private
Citizens. For it is seen that many more Princes have lost their lives
and States through them, than by open war. For it is conceded only to
a few to be able to make open war against a Prince, but the ability to
conspire against them is conceded to everyone. On the other hand,
private citizens do not enter in an enterprise more perilous nor more
foolhardy than this, as it is difficult and most dangerous in all of
its parts. Whence it happens that many are attempted, and very few
have the desired ending. So that, therefore, Princes may learn to
guard themselves from these dangers, and that Private Citizens may
less rashly engage in them, and rather may learn to live contentedly
under the Rule that has been assigned to them by chance and by their
state, I shall speak widely, not omitting any notable case, in
documenting the one and the other. And truly that sentence of
Cornelius Tacitus is golden, which says that men have to honor things
past but obey the present, and ought to desire good Princes, but
tolerate the ones they have. And truly, whoever does otherwise, most
of the time will ruin himself and his country.

We ought, therefore, ((in entering on this matter)) to consider first
against whom conspiracies are made, and we will find them to be made
either against a country or against a Prince. It is of these two that
I want us to discuss at present; for those which are made to give a
town over to the enemy who besiege it, or that have some reason
similar to this, have been talked about above sufficiently. And in
this first part we shall treat of that against a Prince, and first we
will examine the reasons for it, which are many, but there is one
which is more important than all the others: and this is his being
hated by the general public; for in the case of that Prince who has
aroused this universal hatred, it is reasonable (to suppose) that
there are some particular individuals who have been injured by him
more (then others) and who desire to avenge themselves. This desire of
theirs is increased by that universal ill disposition that they see is
aroused against him. A Prince ought therefore to avoid these public
charges, but I do not want to talk here ((having treated of this
elsewhere)) of what he should do to avoid them. For by guarding
himself against this (hatred), the simple offenses against particular
individuals will make less war against him: One, because rarely is a
man met who thinks so much of an injury that he will put himself in so
much danger to avenge it: The other, even if they should be of a mind
and power to do so, they are held back by that universal benevolence
that they see the Prince to have. Injuries that happen to an
individual are of Possessions (taking them from him), of Blood
(physical injury), or of Honor. Of those of Blood, threats are most
dangerous, and there is no peril in the execution, because he who is
dead cannot think of vengeance, and those who remain alive most of the
time leave such thoughts to the dead: but he who is threatened, and
sees himself constrained by necessity either to act or to suffer,
becomes a most dangerous man for the Prince, as we shall relate in
detail in its place. Outside of this necessity, those (injuries) of
Possession and Honor, are matters that harm men more than any other
offense, and against which the Prince ought to guard himself, for he
can never despoil one so much that he does not leave a mind obstinate
to vengeance. And of (injuries) of honor, that are inflicted on men,
that against their women is most important, and after that, insult to
their person. This (kind of injury) armed Pausanias against Phillip of
Macedonia: this has armed many others against many other Princes: and
in our times, Julio Belanti would not have set in motion a conspiracy
against Pandolfo, Tyrant of Siena, except that the latter had given
him a daughter for his wife, and then took her away, as we will relate
in its place. The major cause that made the Pazzi conspire against the
Medici, was the inheritance of Giovanni Borromei, which was taken from
the former by the latter.

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