Discourses on Livy Book III, Niccolò Machiavelli
Discourses on Livy Book III
Niccolò Machiavelli
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The Discourses on Livy is a work of political history and philosophy written in the early 16th century (c. 1517) by the Italian writer and political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli, best known as the author of The Prince. The Discourses were published posthumously with papal privilege in 1531. This book is a translated version by Christian E. Detmold, published in 1882. Chapter 1 of Book 3 starts with a heading: "If one wishes a sect or republic to live long, it is necessary to draw it back often towards its beginning." Machiavelli admits that "all worldly things" have a natural ending. If any of these worldly things are altered and changed from its normal course, "it is for its safety and not to its harm." Machiavelli, however, desires to talk about exceptions to this rule, "...mixed bodies, such as republics and sections". For these things, "alterations are for safety that lead them back toward their beginnings." He is referring to the state of a republic when he ends the first paragraph, declaring that, "...it is a thing clearer than light that these bodies do not last if they do not renew themselves." Since a republic must be led towards its beginning, "all the beginnings of sects, republics, and kingdoms must have some goodness in them, by means of which they must regain their reputation and their first increase."

Discourses on Livy

Niccolò Machiavelli

Third Book

Chapter I:
To Want That a Sect or a Republic Exist for Long, It Is Necessary to Return Them Often to Their Principles

It is a most true thing that all the things of the world have to have an ending to their existence. But these only run the entire course that is generally ordained by Heaven, which does not disorganize their body, but keeps it so organized that it is not changed, or if it is changed, it is for its welfare and not its injury. And as I speak here of mixed bodies, as are Republics and (Religious) Sects, I say that those changes are for the better which bring them back to their (original) principles. And, therefore, those are better organized and have a longer existence, which through their own means are able frequently to renew themselves, or which through some accident outside the said organization come to that renewal. And it is something clearer than light, that these bodies which do not renew themselves, do not endure. The means of renewing them ((as has been said)), is to bring them back to their (original) principles. For all the principles of Sects and Republics and of Kingdoms must have within themselves some goodness, by means of which they obtain their first reputation and first expansion. And as in the process of time that goodness becomes corrupted, of necessity it will kill the body, unless something intervenes to bring it back to the sign (normality). And Doctors of medicine say ((speaking of the bodies of men)): Every day something is gathered, and when it is ill, it must be cured.

This turning back to principles ((speaking of Republics)) is caused either by an extrinsic accident or by an intrinsic prudence. As to the first, it is seen how necessary it was that Rome should be taken by the Gauls to want to be reborn, and being reborn should resume a new life and a new virtu, and should resume the observance of Religion and Justice, which were beginning to blemish themselves in her. This is very well known from the history of Livius, where he shows that in calling out the army against the Gauls, and in creating the Tribunes with Consular power, they did not observe any religious ceremony. Thus in the same way they not only did not deprive the Fabii (of their rank), who, contrary to the law of nations, had fought against the Gauls, but created them Tribunes. And it ought easily to be presupposed that they had begun to hold in less account those good institutions established by Romulus and those other prudent Princes, than what was reasonable and necessary to keep their liberty. This blow from the outside had to come, therefore, so that all the institutions of that City should be resumed, and that it should be shown to those people that it was not only necessary to maintain Religion and Justice, but also to esteem their good Citizens, and to take more account of their virtu than of that convenience which, because of their work, seemed to be lacking to them. Which is seen succeeded entirely, for as soon as Rome was retaken they renewed all the institutions of their ancient Religion, punished the Fabii who had fought against the law of nations, and then esteemed highly the virtu and goodness of Camillus that the Senate and the others put aside all envy, placing again on him all the burden of this Republic.

It is necessary, therefore, ((as has been said)) that men who live together in some kind of organization, often know each other either by these external incidents, or by internal ones. And as to these latter, it happens that they arise either from a law which often reviews the conduct of the men who are in that body, or truly by some good man who arises amongst them, who by his example and his deeds of virtu causes the same effect as that institution. This good then springs up in Republics either from the virtu of one man or from the virtu of one institution. As to the latter, the institutions that returned the Roman Republic back to its (original) principles was the Tribunes of the Plebs, and all the other laws that curbed the ambitions and insolence of men. Which institutions have need to be kept alive by the virtu of one Citizen who will courageously take part in their execution against the power of those who transgress them.

The most notable examples of such execution of the laws, before the taking of Rome by the Gauls, were the death of the sons of Brutus, the death of the ten Citizens (Decemvirs), and that of Melius, the grain dealer; and after the taking of Rome were the death of Manlius Capitolinus, the death of the son of Manlius Torquatus, the punishment inflicted by Papirius Cursor on Fabius, his Master of Cavalry, and the accusation of Scipio. As these were the extreme and most notable examples, each time one arose, it caused the people to turn back to their principles; and when they began to be more rare, they begun also to give men more latitude in becoming corrupt, and the carrying out of the laws was done with more danger and more tumults. So that from one such execution to another, no more than ten years should elapse, for beyond this time men begin to change their customs and transgress the laws; and unless something arises which recalls the punishment to their memory, and revives the fear in their minds, so many delinquents will soon come together that they cannot any longer be punished without danger.

In connection with this subject, those who governed the State of Florence, from the year one thousand four hundred thirty-four (1434) until the year one thousand four hundred ninety-four (1494) said that it was necessary to resume the government every five years, otherwise it would be difficult to maintain it: and they called “the resuming of the government” to put the same fear and terror in men as they had done in the assuming of it, having in that time punished those who ((according to that mode of living)) had conducted themselves badly. But as the memory of that punishment fades, men become bold to try new things and speak ill of it (the government), and therefore it is necessary to provide against this, by bringing (the government) back to its original principles. This return of Republics back to their principles also results from the simple virtu of one man, without depending on any law that excites him to any execution: none the less, they are of such influence and example that good men desire to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life contrary to those examples. Those particularly, who in Rome produced these good results, were Horatius Codes, Scaevola, Fabricus, the two Decii, Regulus Attilius, and some others, who by their rare examples of virtu produced almost the same effect in Rome that laws and institutions would have done. And if the above executions, together with these particular examples had been followed at least every ten years in that City, it would have followed of necessity that it would never have been corrupt: but as they caused both these things to become rare, corruption began to multiply, for, after Marcus Regulus, no similar example is seen: and although the two Cato’s had sprung up in Rome, so great was the interval between him (Regulus) and them, and between the one and the other (Cato), and they were so isolated instances, that they could not effect any good work by their good examples. And especially the later Cato, who, finding the City in good part corrupt, was not able by his example to make the Citizens become better. And this is enough as regards Republics.

But as to the Sects, such renewal is also seen to be necessary by the examples of our religion, which, if it had not been brought back to its principles by Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, would have been entirely extinguished: for by their poverty and by their example of the life of Christ, brought it back to the minds of men where it had already been extinguished; and their new orders were so powerful, that they were the reason why the dishonesty of Prelates and the Heads of the Religion did not ruin her; they yet continue to live in poverty and have so much credit with the people through confessions and preachings, that they were able to make them understand that it was evil to speak evil of the bad, and that it was good to live rendering them obedience, and if they had made errors to leave their punishment to God. And thus these bad (rulers) do as much evil as they can, because they do not fear that punishment they do not see or believe. This renewal (of Saint Francis and Saint Dominic) therefore has maintained and still maintains this Religion. Kingdoms also have need to renew themselves and bring their laws back to first principles. And it is seen how much good resulted from such a renewal in the Kingdom of France, which Kingdom exists under laws and ordinances more than any other Kingdom. The Parliaments are the maintainers of these laws and ordinances, and especially that of Paris; (and) these are renewed by them at any time by an execution against a Prince of that Kingdom, and at times even by condemning the King in some of his decisions. And up to now it has maintained itself because it has been an obstinate executor against that nobility: but if at any time they should allow some (disorder) to go on with impunity, and which would then come to be multiplied, and without doubt there would result either that the (evildoers) would be corrected with (accompanying) great disorders, or that the Kingdom itself would be dissolved.

I conclude, therefore, that there is nothing more necessary in a community of men, either as a Sect, or Kingdom, or Republic, than to restore it to that reputation that it had at its beginning, and to endeavor to obtain either good ordinances or good men to bring about such a result, and not to have an extrinsic force do it. For although some time this may be the best remedy, as it was at Rome, it is so dangerous that it is in no way desirable. But to show to anyone how much the actions of some men in particular had made Rome great and caused many good results in that City, I shall come to the narration and discussion of them, among the objects of which this third book and last part of the first Ten (Books) will be concluded. And although the actions of the Kings were great and notable, none the less, as history treats of them fully, we will leave them aside, nor otherwise speak of them, except where some of the things worked openly for their private advantage, and we shall begin with Brutus, the father of Roman liberty.

Chapter II:
How at Times It Is a Very Wise Thing to Simulate Madness

No one was ever so prudent, or was esteemed so wise for any singular deed of his, as Junius Brutus merited to be esteemed for his simulation of foolishness. And although Titus Livius did not mention but one reason that had induced him to such simulation, which was that he might be able to live in greater security and maintain his patrimony, none the less, considering his method of proceeding, it can be believed that he had simulated this also in order to be less observed and to have greater opportunity to attack the Kings, and liberate his country whenever he should be given the occasion. And that he should think of this, is seen, first, in his interpretation of the oracle of Apollo, when he simulated falling down to kiss the earth, judging by that to propitiate the Gods to his thoughts; and afterwards, when on the occasion of the death of Lucretia, in the midst of the father and husband and other relatives of hers, he was the first to draw the knife from the wound, and make all those around there swear that they should henceforth suffer no one to reign (as King) in Rome.

From this example, all who are discontent with a Prince have to learn that they first ought to weigh and measure their strength, and if they are so powerful that they can declare themselves his enemies and openly make war against him, they ought to employ this method that is less dangerous and more honorable. But if they are of a kind that their strength is not sufficient to make open war on him, they ought with all industry to seek to make him a friend, and to this purpose employ all the means they deem necessary, adopting his pleasures and taking delight in all those things that come to delight him. This intimacy will first enable you to live securely and without bringing on any danger, it makes you enjoy the good fortune of that Prince with him, and will afford you every convenience to satisfy your spirit (of resentment). It is true that some say that one should not keep so close to Princes that their ruin should encompass you, or so distant that if they are ruined, you should not be long in rising on their ruin; which middle course would be the truest if it could be preserved: but as I believe that is impossible, it must come to the two methods mentioned above, that is, to get away from or come closer to them: who does otherwise, and is a man notable for his quality, lives in continuous danger. Nor is it enough for him to say, I do not care for anything, I do not desire honors or profit, I want to live quietly and without trouble, for these excuses are heard and not accepted: nor can men of such quality elect their own way of living, (and) if they could elect it truly and without ambition, they would not be believed: so that if they wanted to live in that manner, they would not be allowed to do so by others.

It is advantageous, therefore, to play the fool as Brutus did, and one is made to be very foolish by praising, talking, seeing and doing things contrary to your thinking, to please the Prince. And as I have not spoken of the prudence of this man in recovering the liberty of Rome, we will now speak of his severity in maintaining it.

Chapter III:
How It Was Necessary, in Wanting to Maintain the Newly Acquired Liberty, to Kill the Sons of Brutus

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