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Chapter 46


That Men climb from one step of Ambition to another, seeking at first to escape Injury and then to injure others.


As the commons of Rome on recovering their freedom were restored to their former position--nay, to one still stronger since many new laws had been passed which confirmed and extended their authority,--it might reasonably have been hoped that Rome would for a time remain at rest. The event, however, showed the contrary, for from day to day there arose in that city new tumults and fresh dissensions. And since the causes which brought this about have been most judiciously set forth by Titus Livius, it seems to me much to the purpose to cite his own words when he says, that "whenever either the commons or the nobles were humble, the others grew haughty; so that if the commons kept within due bounds, the young nobles began to inflict injuries upon them, against which the tribunes, who were themselves made the objects of outrage, were little able to give redress; while the nobles on their part, although they could not close their eyes to the ill behaviour of their young men, were yet well pleased that if excesses were to be committed, they should be committed by their own faction, and not by the commons. Thus the desire to secure its own liberty prompted each faction to make itself strong enough to oppress the other. For this is the common course of things, that in seeking to escape cause for fear, men come to give others cause to be afraid by inflicting on them those wrongs from which they strive to relieve themselves; as though the choice lay between injuring and being injured."

Herein, among other things, we perceive in what ways commonwealths are overthrown, and how men climb from one ambition to another; and recognize the truth of those words which Sallust puts in the mouth of Csar, that "all ill actions have their origin in fair beginnings." [1] For, as I have said already, the ambitious citizen in a commonwealth seeks at the outset to secure himself against injury, not only at the hands of private persons, but also of the magistrates; to effect which he endeavours to gain himself friends. These he obtains by means honourable in appearance, either by supplying them with money or protecting them against the powerful. And because such conduct seems praiseworthy, every one is readily deceived by it, and consequently no remedy is applied. Pursuing these methods without hindrance, this man presently comes to be so powerful that private citizens begin to fear him, and the magistrates to treat him with respect. But when he has advanced thus far on the road to power without encountering opposition, he has reached a point at which it is most dangerous to cope with him; it being dangerous, as I have before explained, to contend with a disorder which has already made progress in a city. Nevertheless, when he has brought things to this pass, you must either endeavour to crush him, at the risk of immediate ruin, or else, unless death or some like accident interpose, you incur inevitable slavery by letting him alone. For when, as I have said, it has come to this that the citizens and even the magistrates fear to offend him and his friends, little further effort will afterwards be needed to enable him to proscribe and ruin whom he pleases.

A republic ought, therefore, to provide by its ordinances that none of its citizens shall, under colour of doing good, have it in their power to do evil, but shall be suffered to acquire such influence only as may aid and not injure freedom. How this may be done, shall presently be explained.


[Footnote 1: Quod omnia mala exempla ex bonis initiis orta sunt. (Sall. Cat. 51.)]


Niccolo Machiavelli

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