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Chapter 16

That in Times of Difficulty true Worth is sought after; whereas in quiet Times it is not the most deserving, but those who are recommended by Wealth or Connection who are most in favour.

It always has happened and always will, that the great and admirable men of a republic are neglected in peaceful times; because at such seasons many citizens are found, who, envying the reputation these men have justly earned, seek to be regarded not merely as their equals but as their superiors. Touching this there is a notable passage in Thucydides, the Greek historian, where he tells how the republic of Athens coming victorious out of the Peloponessian war, wherein she had bridled the pride of Sparta, and brought almost the whole of Greece under her authority, was encouraged by the greatness of her renown to propose to herself the conquest of Sicily. In Athens this scheme was much debated, Alcibiades and certain others who had the public welfare very little in their thoughts, but who hoped that the enterprise, were they placed in command, might minister to their fame, recommending that it should be undertaken. Nicias, on the other hand, one of the best esteemed of the Athenian citizens, was against it, and in addressing the people, gave it as the strongest reason for trusting his advice, that in advising them not to engage in this war, he urged what was not for his own advantage; for he knew that while Athens remained at peace numberless citizens were ready to take precedence of him: whereas, were war declared, he was certain that none would rank before him or even be looked upon as his equal.

Here we see that in tranquil times republics are subject to the infirmity of lightly esteeming their worthiest citizens. And this offends these persons for two reasons: first, because they are not given the place they deserve; and second, because they see unworthy men and of abilities inferior to their own, as much or more considered than they. Injustice such as this has caused the ruin of many republics. For citizens who find themselves undeservedly slighted, and perceive the cause to be that the times are tranquil and not troubled, will strive to change the times by stirring up wars hurtful to the public welfare. When I look for remedies for this state of things, I find two: first, to keep the citizens poor, so that wealth without worth shall corrupt neither them nor others; second, to be so prepared for war as always to be ready to make war; for then there will always be a need for worthy citizens, as was the case in Rome in early times. For as Rome constantly kept her armies in the field, there was constant opportunity for men to display their valour, nor was it possible to deprive a deserving man of his post and give it to another who was not deserving. Or if ever this were done by inadvertency, or by way of experiment, there forthwith resulted such disorder and danger, that the city at once retraced its steps and reverted to the true path. But other republics which are not regulated on the same plan, and make war only when driven to it by necessity, cannot help committing this injustice, nay, will constantly run into it, when, if the great citizen who finds himself slighted be vindictive, and have some credit and following in the city, disorder will always ensue. And though Rome escaped this danger for a time, she too, as has elsewhere been said, having no longer, after she had conquered Carthage and Antiochus, any fear of war, came to think she might commit her armies to whom she would, making less account of the valour of her captains than of those other qualities which gain favour with the people. Accordingly we find Paulus Emilius rejected oftener than once when he sought the consulship; nor, in fact, obtaining it until the Macedonian war broke out, which, being judged a formidable business, was by the voice of the whole city committed to his management. After the year 1494 our city of Florence was involved in a series of wars, in conducting which none of our citizens had any success until chance threw the command into the hands of one who showed us how an army should be led. This was Antonio Giacomini, and so long as there were dangerous wars on foot, all rivalry on the part of other citizens was suspended; and whenever a captain or commissary had to be appointed he was unopposed. But when a war came to be undertaken, as to the issue of which no misgivings were felt, and which promised both honour and preferment, so numerous were the competitors for command, that three commissaries having to be chosen to conduct the siege of Pisa, Antonio was left out; and though it cannot with certainty be shown that any harm resulted to our republic from his not having been sent on this enterprise, we may reasonably conjecture that such was indeed the case. For as the people of Pisa were then without means either for subsistence or defence, it may be believed that had Antonio been there he would have reduced them to such extremities as would have forced them to surrender at discretion to the Florentines. But Pisa being besieged by captains who knew neither how to blockade nor how to storm it, held out so long, that the Florentines, who should have reduced it by force, were obliged to buy its submission. Neglect like this might well move Antonio to resentment; and he must needs have been both very patient and very forgiving if he felt no desire to revenge himself when he could, by the ruin of the city or by injuries to individual citizens. But a republic should beware not to rouse such feelings, as I shall show in the following Chapter.

Niccolo Machiavelli

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