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Article :: Supporting Evidence

Machiavailli Reconsidered

The Prince

by Nicolo Machiavelli


Concerning The Way To Govern Cities Or Principalities Which Lived Under Their Own Laws Before They Were Annexed

WHENEVER those states which have been acquired as stated have been accustomed to live under their own laws and in freedom, there are three courses for those who wish to hold them: the first is to ruin them, the next is to reside there in person, the third is to permit them to live under their own laws, drawing a tribute, and establishing within it an oligarchy [1] which will keep it friendly to you. Because such a government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot stand without his friendship and interest, and does its utmost to support him; and therefore he who would keep a city accustomed to freedom will hold it more easily by the means of its own citizens than in any other way.[2]

There are, for example, the Spartans and the Romans. The Spartans held Athens and Thebes, establishing there an oligarchy, nevertheless they lost them. The Romans, in order to hold Capua, Carthage, and Numantia, dismantled them, and did not lose them. They wished to hold Greece as the Spartans held it, making it free and permitting its laws, and did not succeed. So to hold it they were compelled to dismantle many cities in the country, for in truth there is no safe way to retain them otherwise than by ruining them. And he who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it, for in rebellion it has always the watch-word of liberty and its ancient privileges as a rallying point, which neither time nor benefits will ever cause it to forget. And what ever you may do or provide against, they never forget that name or their privileges unless they are disunited or dispersed but at every chance they immediately rally to them, as Pisa after the hundred years she had been held in bondage by the Florentines.[3]

But when cities or countries are accustomed to live under a prince, and his family is exterminated, they, being on the one hand accustomed to obey and on the other hand not having the old prince, cannot agree in making one from amongst themselves, and they do not know how to govern themselves. For this reason they are very slow to take up arms, and a prince can gain them to himself and secure them much more easily. But in republics there is more vitality, greater hatred, and more desire for vengeance, which will never permit them to allow the memory of their former liberty to rest; so that the safest way is to destroy them or to reside there.[4]

  • Only three possible methods to hold states that are acquired and are accustomed to living by their own laws and in liberty:
    • Ruin them
    • Live there. Assert personal control.
    • Let them live by their laws, taking tribute from them, charging taxes, and creating within them an oligarchical ruling class which is friendly and subservient to you.
  • The best way to attempt to rule a region accustomed to freedom is to allow them to live according to their own laws, managed by an oligarchy created by you and therefore, loyal to you, collecting tribute for you.
  • A region is best ruled, if done so with administration performed by locals, sharing a portion of tribute (proceeds of crime) with them. Not stated: For rulers, it is always best to rule indirectly, through pawns, to "take the heat".
  • Regions accustomed to freedom cannot be held and are best destroyed, before you are destroyed by the costs of attempting to subdue them.
  • For revolution, liberty and its ancient privileges is a rallying point, which neither time nor benefits will ever cause people to forget. Not stated: and, the cost of every transgression will cause those whom have forgotten or never known liberty to demand, dissent and fight for it.
  • When the absolute rulers of a principality are exterminated, the people are disunited and confused, adapted to servitude having forgotten the practical skills of being free. They will be slow to take up arms, proving an opportunity for a ruler to take forceful control.
  • Republics have greater vitality and fresh memories of liberty. There is much hatred towards the usurper and a quest for vengence, never allowing the memory of the sweet taste of liberty to rest. Best to crush these people. Not stated: they will never be slaves unless it is the only way to survive and, surly, insolent slaves at best.

[1]ol-i-gar-chy [ol-i-gahr-kee] noun, plural ol-i-gar-chies.

  • a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.
  • a state or organization so ruled.
  • the persons or class so ruling.

[2] From a 21st century perspective, with historical hindsight, several options suggested by Machiavailli are incorrect. A once free people cannot be long subjugated and his suggested options appear incorrect:

  • A foreign ruler residing there in person has been discussed in Chapter 3[4] and may well have been mis-advice, a trap set by Machiavailli for rulers.
  • Establishing an oligarchy extracting tribute. Clearly, to go from a state of freedom, where taxes, if any collected were used for local needs, under local control to a state of paying tribute to an external ruler and local oligarchy, with no control (taxes withot representation) is a loss of freedom and self-derermination, loss of control and having to work harder to pay tribute, or loss of social services. Under these conditions, discontent of once free populations must, by definition, increase.

The option of completely ruining them and starting over is still valid.

These recommendations only make sense when one considers that freedom, as used by Machiavailli refers to freedom of the power holders allied to form the state with the serfs having no freedom. So, in this paragraph Machiavailli may actually be discussing the options regarding how to deal with once free power holders in a conquored state. So, destroy them, or find some way to live with them and hope the tribute you extract is not considered odious, causing rebellion.

Clearly, Machiavalli was no idiot. What he was missing is the later historically confirmed fact that without "consent of the governed", including everybody (states stick to "common interest", equality under law) that stable governance of any region is impossible.

[3] Machiavailli proceeds to completly negate his previous recommendations regarding subjugating once free peoples and correctly states what is considered historical fact: Once a people get a taste of the sweet nectar of freedom (which really equals survival), there can be no ruling them. A free society can never be subjugated, just destroyed. To attempt to subjugate will inevitably destroy the subjugator by the costs of enforcing this folly. Consider these points carefully as you ponder the social / economic destruction of western civilization.

[4] An oft restated point. People's accustomed to servitude under monopoly power are prone to accept another monopoly power after their current ruler class is exterminated, precluding a return to their habitual "comfort zone", as kept slaves. As to subjugating republics of free peoples, the only option is to destroy them. Having a new ruler reside locally only has a chance of success if freedom is not widely dispersed and resides in an oligarchy, leaving less dispersed interests to appease and a remote chance of success which has not yet been observed to be a stable state of affairs in history.

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