Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 483 pages of information about Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius.

And even if there be found a commonwealth or prince who, in order to keep faith, will submit to be ruined, this is seen to result from a like cause.  For, as to the prince, it may easily happen that he is friend to a powerful sovereign, whom, though he be at the time without means to defend him, he may presently hope to see restored to his dominions; or it may be that having linked his fortunes with another’s, he despairs of finding either faith or friendship from the enemies of his ally, as was the case with those Neapolitan princes who espoused the interests of France.  As to commonwealths, an instance similar to that of the princes last named, is that of Saguntum in Spain, which awaited ruin in adhering to the fortunes of Rome.  A like course was also followed by Florence when, in the year 1512, she stood steadfastly by the cause of the French.  And taking everything into account, I believe that in cases of urgency, we shall find a certain degree of stability sooner in commonwealths than in princes.  For though commonwealths be like-minded with princes, and influenced by the same passions, the circumstance that their movements must be slower, makes it harder for them to resolve than it is for a prince, for which reason they will be less ready to break faith.

And since leagues and alliances are broken for the sake of certain advantages, in this respect also, commonwealths observe their engagements far more faithfully than princes; for abundant examples might be cited of a very slight advantage having caused a prince to break faith, and of a very great advantage having failed to induce a commonwealth to do so.  Of this we have an instance in the proposal made to the Athenians by Themistocles, when he told them at a public meeting that he had certain advice to offer which would prove of great advantage to their city, but the nature of which he could not disclose to them, lest it should become generally known, when the opportunity for acting upon it would be lost.  Whereupon the Athenians named Aristides to receive his communication, and to act upon it as he thought fit.  To him, accordingly, Themistocles showed how the navy of united Greece, for the safety of which the Athenians stood pledged, was so situated that they might either gain it over or destroy it, and thus make themselves absolute masters of the whole country.  Aristides reporting to the Athenians that the course proposed by Themistocles was extremely advantageous but extremely dishonourable, the people utterly refused to entertain it.  But Philip of Macedon would not have so acted, nor any of those other princes who have sought and found more profit in breaking faith than in any other way.

As to engagements broken off on the pretext that they have not been observed by the other side, I say nothing, since that is a matter of everyday occurrence, and I am speaking here only of those engagements which are broken off on extraordinary grounds; but in this respect, likewise, I believe that commonwealths offend less than princes, and are therefore more to be trusted.

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