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Chapter 14

That Men often err in thinking they can subdue Pride by Humility.

You shall often find that humility is not merely of no service to you, but is even hurtful, especially when used in dealing with insolent men, who, through envy or other like cause, have conceived hatred against you. Proof whereof is supplied by our historian where he explains the causes of this war between the Romans and the Latins. For on the Samnites complaining to the Romans that the Latins had attacked them, the Romans, desiring not to give the Latins ground of offence, would not forbid them proceeding with the war. But the endeavour to avoid giving offence to the Latins only served to increase their confidence, and led them the sooner to declare their hostility. Of which we have evidence in the language used by the same Latin Prętor, Annius Setinus, at the aforesaid council, when he said:--"You have tried their patience by refusing them, soldiers. Who doubts but that they are offended? Still they have put up with the affront. They have heard that we are assembling an army against their allies the Samnites; and yet they have not stirred from their city. Whence this astonishing forbearance, but from their knowing our strength and their own weakness?" Which words give us clearly to understand how much the patience of the Romans increased the arrogance of the Latins.

A prince, therefore, should never stoop from his dignity, nor should he if he would have credit for any concession make it voluntarily, unless he be able or believe himself able to withhold it. For almost always when matters have come to such a pass that you cannot give way with credit it is better that a thing be taken from you by force than yielded through fear of force. For if you yield through fear and to escape war, the chances are that you do not escape it; since he to whom, out of manifest cowardice you make this concession, will not rest content, but will endeavour to wring further concessions from you, and making less account of you, will only be the more kindled against you. At the same time you will find your friends less zealous on your behalf, since to them you will appear either weak or cowardly. But if, so soon as the designs of your enemy are disclosed, you at once prepare to resist though your strength be inferior to his, he will begin to think more of you, other neighbouring princes will think more; and many will be willing to assist you, on seeing you take up arms, who, had you relinquished hope and abandoned yourself to despair, would never have stirred a finger to save you.

The above is to be understood as applying where you have a single adversary only; but should you have several, it will always be a prudent course, even after war has been declared, to restore to some one of their number something you have of his, so as to regain his friendship and detach him from the others who have leagued themselves against you.

Niccolo Machiavelli

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