Chapters 15-17

Why Princes Are Praised Or Blamed Icon

September 23, 2021

How should a prince deal with his subjects and friends?

Many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen. How one actually lives is far distant from how one ought to live. Anyone who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner brings about his ruin rather than his preservation. A man who wishes to act entirely in a virtuous way is soon destroyed among so much that is evil in the world.

Hence a prince who wishes to survive must know how to do wrong, and how to do or not do wrong according to necessity. Therefore, putting on one side imaginary things concerning a prince and discussing those which are real, I say that all men when they are spoken of, and chiefly princes for being more highly placed, are remarkable for some of those qualities which bring them either blame or praise.

Thus one has the reputation of being liberal, another mean. One is said to be generous, one greedy; one cruel, one kind; one disloyal another faithful; one weak and cowardly, another bold and brave; one friendly, another proud; one pleasure loving, another restrained; one sincere, another not truthful; one hard, another easy; one serious, another foolish; one religious, another unbelieving, and the like.

But, because they can neither be entirely possessed nor observed in any one person, for human conditions do not permit it, it is necessary for him to be sufficiently careful so that he may know how to avoid the criticism of those things considered bad which would lose him his state.

Also, he should avoid bad behaviour which would not lose him his state, but, if this is not possible, he may with less hesitation do it.

Moreover, he need not feel uneasy about being criticised for that bad behaviour which is necessary to maintain the state, because if everything is considered carefully, it will be found that something which looks like virtue, if followed would be his ruin; while something else, which looks wrong, may bring him security and wealth.

Chapter 16: Generosity And Meanness

Generosity injures you if done in a way that does not bring you a generous reputation.

If one shows generosity honestly and as it should be shown, it may not become known, and you will not avoid the criticism of its opposite, meanness.

Therefore, anyone wishing to have a reputation of generosity has to keep on being more and more generous.

As a result, such a prince will consume all his property in such acts. In the end, he will have to unnecessarily exploit his people, tax them, and do everything he can to get money. This will soon make him disliked by his subjects. Once poor, he will be little valued by anyone.

Thus, with his generosity, having offended many and rewarded few, he is affected by the very first trouble. Recognizing this himself, and wishing to draw back from it, he runs at once into the criticism of being mean.

Therefore, a prince, not being able to exercise this virtue of generosity in such a way that it is recognized, except to his cost, if he is wise, ought not to fear the reputation of being mean. In time he will come to be highly regarded, seeing that with his economy his revenues are enough, that he can defend himself against all attacks, and is able to carry out projects without placing a heavy load on his people.

Thus he exercises generosity towards all from whom he does not take, who are many, and meanness towards those to whom he does not give, who are few.

We have not seen great things done in our time except by those who have been considered mean; the rest have failed. Pope Julius the Second was assisted in becoming Pope by a reputation for generosity.

However, he did not try to keep it up afterwards, when he made war on the King of France. He made many wars without imposing any extraordinary tax on his subjects, for he supplied his additional expenses out of his continued care with money.

The present King of Spain would not have undertaken or conquered in so many difficult adventures if he had been considered generous.

A prince should not worry about having a reputation for being mean because it is one of those bad characteristics which will enable him to govern, as long as he:

  • can defend himself
  • does not rob his subjects
  • does not become poor and despised
  • does not exploit the people

Some say that Caesar obtained an empire by generosity.

I reply that either you are:

  • a prince in fact or
    • In this case, generosity is dangerous
  • on the way to becoming one.
    • Here, generosity is very necessary

Caesar wanted power in Rome. But if he had survived after becoming so, and had not controlled his expenses, he would have destroyed his government.

Some would say that nany have been princes, and have done great things with armies, who have been considered very generous.

I reply that either a prince spends that which is:

  • his own or his subjects’ or
    • Here, he should be careful
  • those of others.
    • Here, he should always show generosity

Generosity is necessary for a prince who marches with his army, supporting it by taking what he finds around him, handling that which belongs to others. Otherwise, he would not be followed by soldiers.

You can be a ready giver of that which is neither yours nor your subjects’, as were Cyrus, Caesar, and Alexander, because it does not take away your reputation if you waste what belonged to others, but adds to it. It is only wasting your own possessions that injures you.

Nothing disappears so rapidly as generosity. Even while you exercise it, you lose the power to do so, and so become either poor or despised, or else, in avoiding poverty, you exploit the people and become hated.

A prince should guard himself, above all things, against being despised and hated. Generosity leads you to both.

Therefore, it is wiser to have a reputation for meanness which brings criticism without hatred than to be forced through seeking a reputation for generosity to get a reputation for exploiting people which causes criticism with hatred.


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