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Chapter 57

That the People are strong collectively, but individually weak.

After the ruin brought on their country by the invasion of the Gauls, many of the Romans went to dwell in Veii, in opposition to the edicts and commands of the senate, who, to correct this mischief, publicly ordained that within a time fixed, and under penalties stated, all should return to live in Rome. The persons against whom these proclamations were directed at first derided them; but, when the time came for them to be obeyed, all obeyed them. And Titus Livius observes that, "although bold enough collectively, each separately, fearing to be punished, made his submission." And indeed the temper of the multitude in such cases, cannot be better described than in this passage. For often a people will be open-mouthed in condemning the decrees of their prince, but afterwards, when they have to look punishment in the face, putting no trust in one another, they hasten to comply. Wherefore, if you be in a position to keep the people well-disposed towards you when they already are so, or to prevent them injuring you in case they be ill-disposed, it is clearly of little moment whether the feelings with which they profess to regard you, be favourable or no. This applies to all unfriendliness on the part of a people, whencesoever it proceed, excepting only the resentment felt by them on being deprived either of liberty, or of a prince whom they love and who still survives. For the hostile temper produced by these two causes is more to be feared than any beside, and demands measures of extreme severity to correct it. The other untoward humours of the multitude, should there be no powerful chief to foster them, are easily dealt with; because, while on the one hand there is nothing more terrible than an uncontrolled and headless mob, on the other, there is nothing feebler. For though it be furnished with arms it is easily subdued, if you have some place of strength wherein to shelter from its first onset. For when its first fury has somewhat abated, and each man sees that he has to return to his own house, all begin to lose heart and to take thought how to insure their personal safety, whether by flight or by submission. For which reason a multitude stirred in this way, if it would avoid dangers such as I speak of, must at once appoint a head from among its own numbers, who may control it, keep it united, and provide for its defence; as did the commons of Rome when, after the death of Virginia, they quitted the city, and for their protection created twenty tribunes from among themselves.

Unless this be done, what Titus Livius has observed in the passage cited, will always prove true, namely, that a multitude is strong while it holds together, but so soon as each of those who compose it begins to think of his own private danger, it becomes weak and contemptible.

Niccolo Machiavelli

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