Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 1


For a Sect or Commonwealth to last long, it must often be brought back to its Beginnings.


Doubtless, all the things of this world have a limit set to their duration; yet those of them the bodies whereof have not been suffered to grow disordered, but have been so cared for that either no change at all has been wrought in them, or, if any, a change for the better and not for the worse, will run that course which Heaven has in a general way appointed them. And since I am now speaking of mixed bodies, for States and Sects are so to be regarded, I say that for them these are wholesome changes which bring them back to their first beginnings.

Those States consequently stand surest and endure longest which, either by the operation of their institutions can renew themselves, or come to be renewed by accident apart from any design. Nothing, however, can be clearer than that unless thus renewed these bodies do not last. Now the way to renew them is, as I have said, to bring them back to their beginnings, since all beginnings of sects, commonwealths, or kingdoms must needs have in them a certain excellence, by virtue of which they gain their first reputation and make their first growth. But because in progress of time this excellence becomes corrupted, unless something be done to restore it to what it was at first, these bodies necessarily decay; for as the physicians tell us in speaking of the human body, "Something or other is daily added which sooner or later will require treatment."[1]

As regards commonwealths, this return to the point of departure is brought about either by extrinsic accident or by intrinsic foresight. As to the first, we have seen how it was necessary that Rome should be taken by the Gauls, that being thus in a manner reborn, she might recover life and vigour, and resume the observances of religion and justice which she had suffered to grow rusted by neglect. This is well seen from those passages of Livius wherein he tells us that when the Roman army was 'sent forth against the Gauls, and again when tribunes were created with consular authority, no religious rites whatever were celebrated, and wherein he further relates how the Romans not only failed to punish the three Fabii, who contrary to the law of nations had fought against the Gauls, but even clothed them with honour. For, from these instances, we may well infer that the rest of the wise ordinances instituted by Romulus, and the other prudent kings, had begun to be held of less account than they deserved, and less than was essential for the maintenance of good government.

And therefore it was that Rome was visited by this calamity from without, to the end that all her ordinances might be reformed, and the people taught that it behoved them not only to maintain religion and justice, but also to esteem their worthy citizens, and to prize their virtues beyond any advantages of which they themselves might seem to have been deprived at their instance. And this, we find, was just the effect produced. For no sooner was the city retaken, than all the ordinances of the old religion were at once restored; the Fabii, who had fought in violation of the law of nations, were punished; and the worth and excellence of Camillus so fully recognized, that the senate and the whole people, laying all jealousies aside, once more committed to him the entire charge of public affairs.

It is necessary then, as I have said already, that where men dwell together in a regulated society, they be often reminded of those ordinances in conformity with which they ought to live, either by something inherent in these, or else by some external accident. A reminder is given in the former of these two ways, either by the passing of some law whereby the members of the society are brought to an account; or else by some man of rare worth arising among them, whose virtuous life and example have the same effect as a law. In a Commonwealth, accordingly, this end is served either by the virtues of some one of its citizens, or by the operation of its institutions.

The institutions whereby the Roman Commonwealth was led back to its starting point, were the tribuneship of the people and the censorship, together with all those laws which were passed to check the insolence and ambition of its citizens. Such institutions, however, require fresh life to be infused into them by the worth of some one man who fearlessly devotes himself to give them effect in opposition to the power of those who set them at defiance.

Of the laws being thus reinforced in Rome, before its capture by the Gauls, we have notable examples in the deaths of the sons of Brutus, of the Decemvirs, and of Manlius Frumentarius; and after its capture, in the deaths of Manlius Capitolinus, and of the son of Manlius Torquatus in the prosecution of his master of the knights by Papirius Cursor, and in the impeachment of the Scipios. Such examples as these, being signal and extraordinary, had the effect, whenever they took place, of bringing men back to the true standard of right; but when they came to be of rarer occurrence, they left men more leisure to grow corrupted, and were attended by greater danger and disturbance. Wherefore, between one and another of these vindications of the laws, no more than ten years, at most, ought to intervene; because after that time men begin to change their manners and to disregard the laws; and if nothing occur to recall the idea of punishment, and unless fear resume its hold on their minds, so many offenders suddenly spring up together that it is impossible to punish them without danger. And to this purport it used to be said by those who ruled Florence from the year 1434 to 1494, that their government could hardly be maintained unless it was renewed every five years; by which they meant that it was necessary for them to arouse the same terror and alarm in men's minds, as they inspired when they first assumed the government, and when all who offended against their authority were signally chastised. For when the recollection of such chastisement has died out, men are emboldened to engage in new designs, and to speak ill of their rulers; for which the only remedy is to restore things to what they were at first.

A republic may, likewise, be brought back to its original form, without recourse to ordinances for enforcing justice, by the mere virtues of a single citizen, by reason that these virtues are of such influence and authority that good men love to imitate them, and bad men are ashamed to depart from them. Those to whom Rome owed most for services of this sort, were Horatius Cocles, Mutius Scævola, the two Decii, Atilius Regulus, and divers others, whose rare excellence and generous example wrought for their city almost the same results as might have been effected by ordinances and laws. And if to these instances of individual worth had been added, every ten years, some signal enforcement of justice, it would have been impossible for Rome ever to have grown corrupted. But when both of these incitements to virtuous behavior began to recur less frequently, corruption spread, and after the time of Atilius Regulus, no like example was again witnessed. For though the two Catos came later, so great an interval had elapsed before the elder Cato appeared, and again, so long a period intervened between him and the younger, and these two, moreover, stood so much alone, that it was impossible for them, by their influence, to work any important change; more especially for the younger, who found Rome so much corrupted that he could do nothing to improve his fellow-citizens.

This is enough to say concerning commonwealths, but as regards sects, we see from the instance of our own religion that here too a like renewal is needed. For had not this religion of ours been brought back to its original condition by Saint Francis and Saint Dominick, it must soon have been utterly extinguished. They, however, by their voluntary poverty, and by their imitation of the life of Christ, rekindled in the minds of men the dying flame of faith; and by the efficacious rules which they established averted from our Church that ruin which the ill lives of its prelates and heads must otherwise have brought upon it. For living in poverty, and gaining great authority with the people by confessing them and preaching to them, they got them to believe that it is evil to speak ill even of what is evil; and that it is good to be obedient to rulers, who, if they do amiss, may be left to the judgment of God. By which teaching these rulers are encouraged to behave as badly as they can, having no fear of punishments which they neither see nor credit. Nevertheless, it is this renewal which has maintained, and still maintains, our religion.

Kingdoms also stand in need of a like renewal, and to have their laws restored to their former force; and we see how, by attending to this, the kingdom of France has profited. For that kingdom, more than any other, lies under the control of its laws and ordinances, which are maintained by its parliaments, and more especially by the parliament of Paris, from which last they derive fresh vigour whenever they have to be enforced against any prince of the realm; for this assembly pronounces sentence even against the king himself. Heretofore this parliament has maintained its name as the fearless champion of the laws against the nobles of the land; but should it ever at any future time suffer wrongs to pass unpunished, and should offences multiply, either these will have to be corrected with great disturbance to the State, or the kingdom itself must fall to pieces.

This, then, is our conclusion--that nothing is so necessary in any society, be it a religious sect, a kingdom, or a commonwealth, as to restore to it that reputation which it had at first, and to see that it is provided either with wholesome laws, or with good men whose actions may effect the same ends, without need to resort to external force. For although this last may sometimes, as in the case of Rome, afford an efficacious remedy, it is too hazardous a remedy to make us ever wish to employ it.

And that all may understand how much the actions of particular citizens helped to make Rome great, and how many admirable results they wrought in that city, I shall now proceed to set them forth and examine them; with which survey this Third Book of mine, and last division of the First Decade of Titus Livius, shall be brought to a close. But, although great and notable actions were done by the Roman kings, nevertheless, since history has treated of these at much length, here I shall pass them over, and say no more about these princes, save as regards certain things done by them with an eye to their private interest. I shall begin, therefore, with Brutus, the father of Roman freedom.

[Footnote 1: "Quod quotidie aggregatur aliquid quod quandoque indiget curatione."]


Niccolo Machiavelli

Sorry, no summary available yet.