Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius eBook

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CHAPTER VI.—­Of Conspiracies.

It were an omission not to say something on the subject of conspiracies, these being a source of much danger both to princes and to private men.  For we see that many more princes have lost their lives and states through these than in open warfare; power to wage open war upon a prince being conceded to few, whereas power to conspire against him is denied to none.  On the other hand, since conspiracies are attended at every stage by difficulties and dangers, no more hazardous or desperate undertakings can be engaged in by any private citizen; whence it comes that while many conspiracies are planned, few effect their object.  Wherefore, to put princes on their guard against these dangers, and to make subjects more cautious how they take part in them, and rather learn to live content under whatever government fortune has assigned them, I shall treat of them at length, without omitting any noteworthy circumstance which may serve for the instruction of either.  Though, indeed, this is a golden sentence Of Cornelius Tacitus, wherein he says that “the past should have our reverence, the present our obedience, and that we should wish for good princes, but put up with any."[1] For assuredly whosoever does otherwise is likely to bring ruin both on himself and on his country.

But, to go deeper into the matter, we have first of all to examine against whom conspiracies are directed; and we shall find that men conspire either against their country or their prince; and it is of these two kinds of conspiracy that at present I desire to speak.  For of conspiracies which have for their object the surrender of cities to enemies who are besieging them, and of all others contrived for like ends, I have already said enough.

First, then, I shall treat of those conspiracies which are directed against a prince, and begin by inquiring into their causes, which are manifold, but of which one is more momentous than all the rest; I mean, the being hated by the whole community.  For it may reasonably be assumed, that when a prince has drawn upon himself this universal hatred, he must also have given special offence to particular men, which they will be eager to avenge.  And this eagerness will be augmented by the feeling of general ill-will which the prince is seen to have incurred.  A prince ought, therefore, to avoid this load of public hatred.  How he is to do so I need not stop here to explain, having discussed the matter already in another place; but if he can guard against this, offence given to particular men will expose him to but few attacks.  One reason being, that there are few men who think so much of an injury done them as to run great risks to revenge it; another, that assuming them to have both the disposition and the courage to avenge themselves, they are restrained by the universal favour which they see entertained towards the prince.

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