Education of a Christian Prince. Chapter 3: The Arts of Peace
12 min read
12 min read
Although ancient writers divided the whole theory of statecraft into two sets of skills, those of peace and of war, our first and foremost concern must be for training the prince in the skills relevant to wise administration in time of peace, because with them he must strive to his utmost for this end: that the devices of war may never be needed.
On this point indeed, it seems necessary for the prince to learn above all to get to know his kingdom, and this achievement will be most effectively brought about by three things: the study of geography, the study of history, and frequent tours of towns and territories. So let him take particular care to become familiar with the location of territories and cities, their history, natural character, institutions, customs, laws, records, and rights. No one can cure the body unless he understands it; nobody farms a field properly which he does not know. It is true that the tyrant also studies these things very closely, but it is in the motive rather than the action that the good prince differs: a doctor investigates the workings of the body in order that he may the more readily come to its aid; a poisoner also studies them, but so as to be more certain to kill.
The next lesson is to love the country he rules and to have the same attitude toward it that a good farmer has toward the land he has inherited or that a good man has toward his family, and to be especially concerned that he will hand over to whoever comes next an improvement on what he himself received. If there are children, let the prince as father be guided by his duty toward them; if there are not, let his duty to his country be his guide, and let his patriotism, like a torch, continually inspire him to keep alive his affection for his subjects. Let him think of his kingdom as being like some great body of which he himself is a vital part, and that people who have committed all their fortunes and their security to the good faith of one individual deserve benevolent consideration. Let him frequently call to mind the example of those who have held the well-being of their citizens more precious than their own lives; and lastly let him consider that it is impossible for a prince to harm the state without harming himself.
Next, he will make every kind of effort to gain affection from the people in his turn, but in such a way that his authority among them is in no way diminished. There are indeed those who are foolish enough to try to win good will for themselves with incantations and magic rings, when no spell is more effective than virtue itself and nothing more desirable, and, since it is a true good and has no end, so it wins a man true and endless good will. A second ‘potion’ is for a man to show love to others if he wants to be loved in return, so that he binds his citizens to him in the same way that God draws all the world together to himself, by deserving well of them.
Those who court the affections of the common people with handouts, feasts, and shameful indulgence are also misguided, since these things achieve a certain popularity rather than good will, and indeed a popularity that is insincere and short-lived. Meanwhile the vicious greed of the populace is fostered, and they come to think, after it has grown to enormous proportions (which is what happens), that nothing is enough, and they become unruly if their selfish demands are not met at every point. That is to make your people corrupt, not to make them loyal. And by this means the same things tend to happen to the prince among his people as happens to foolish husbands who wheedle from their wives, with flattery, presents, and subservience the love which they ought to win by their good qualities and upright behaviour. For what happens eventually is that they are not loved and that they have fussy and ungovernable wives instead of thrifty and orderly ones; instead of obedient wives, complaining nuisances. Or, as it usually turns out with those women who try with drugs to force their husbands to love them, they get maniacs instead of rational men. First let the wife learn the ways and qualities by which to tell that a husband is worth loving, then let him be seen to be the sort of person who can rightly be loved. In the same way, let the people get a taste for the best and let the prince show that he is of the best. They love long whose love was well judged to begin with.
So let the prince who wants to be loved by his people first of all show himself to be someone who deserves to be loved; next it will be a considerable advantage to pursue a policy by which he may insinuate himself more securely into the hearts of all. Let the prince do this first, so that the best people regard him most favourably, and so that he is approved of by those whom everybody approves; let him have these people as his closest associates, admit them into his councils, decorate them with honours, allow them to have the greatest influence with him. In this way it will soon come about that everyone will have the highest possible opinion of the prince, who is the source of all the good will. I have known princes who were not particularly bad in themselves but who encountered public hostility for the simple reason that they allowed too much licence to people held in low esteem by the general populace, and the latter judged the character of the princes from these men’s behaviour.
For my part, I prefer a prince to be born and brought up among the people he is to rule, for mutual regard develops and consolidates best whenever good will springs from a natural source. The common people recoil from and hate the unknown even when it is good; and, conversely, evils that are familiar are sometimes held dear. This recommendation will bring two advantages: for not only will the prince be better disposed towards his people and altogether regard them more as his own, but also the people will support him more sincerely and more readily acknowledge him as their prince. And for this reason I am opposed to the currently accepted alliance of princes with foreign countries, and especially when they are far away. Ties of race and motherland and a certain instinct, as it were, common to both sides have great power to foster good will. A good part of this necessarily disappears when mixed marriage contaminates this intrinsic, inborn fellow-feeling. But where nature has laid the foundations of a mutual affection, it will be advantageous to increase and strengthen it repeatedly in other ways. Where it is absent, however, a more intense effort must be made to ensure that good will may be reinforced by acts of service to each other and by conduct worthy of approval. But as in marriage, when the wife initially submits to her husband and the man to some extent gives way to and humours his wife until the bonds of affection are gradually strengthened as they get to know one another, so the same thing should happen when a prince is adopted from another country. Mithridates had learned the languages of all the countries he ruled, which are said to have amounted to twenty-two. In his dealings with other peoples, however barbarous, Alexander the Great began by taking over their customs and ways of life and endeared himself to them in this way. Alcibiades had the same praiseworthy characteristic.
Nothing alienates the people’s affection from a prince as much as when he enjoys going abroad, because they seem to be being neglected by the one whom they would wish to be especially concerned for them. Then they regard the tax revenue that is exacted from them as being lost to themselves, because it is then spent elsewhere; and they do not think of it as being given to the prince but as being thrown away as plunder for foreigners. For this reason nothing is more harmful and damaging for the country or more dangerous for a prince than tours far afield, especially prolonged ones. For it was this, in everyone’s view, that deprived us of Philip and afflicted his kingdom just as much as the already protracted war with the Gelderlanders.
Just as the king bee is in the centre surrounded by the ranks and does not fly out anywhere, and as the heart is embedded in the body, so should the prince always be actively involved with his people.
According to Aristotle’s Politics, there are two things which especially undermine government – hatred and contempt: good will is the opposite of hatred; authority, of contempt. It will therefore be the prince’s duty to keep a careful look-out for ways of cultivating the former and avoiding the latter. Hatred is incited by brutality, violence, insults, sullenness, obstinacy, and greed; and it is easier to provoke it than to mollify it once aroused. So the good prince must take every precaution against falling out of favour with his subjects for any reason. Believe me, the man who is deprived of the people’s good will is stripped of much protection. On the other hand, good will is fostered, generally speaking, by those qualities most lacking in the tyrant: mercy, friendliness, fairness, courtesy, compassion. Benevolence encourages people to public service, especially if they have discerned that there is a royal reward for those who deserve well of the state. Mercy invites those who have a bad conscience to turn over a new leaf, while to those who may be trying to atone for the faults of their previous life by reformed behaviour it offers hope of forgiveness, and it provides at the same time an attractive image of human nature even to those of the most impeccable conduct. Everywhere courtesy either engenders affection or at least mollifies hatred, and to the people it is by far the most acceptable quality in a great prince. Contempt is especially engendered by pursuit of pleasure, selfindulgence, drunkenness, feastings, gaming, the company of fools and parasites, and also by stupidity and negligence. And respect is achieved by opposite qualities: good judgment, honesty, restraint, sobriety, and alertness. Therefore let a prince who really wants to grow in authority with his people take these things to heart.
But some have the absurd belief that the way to be valued by their subjects is to display themselves with the greatest possible clamour, pomp, and extravagance; for who has a high regard for a prince laden with gold and jewels when everyone knows that as much as he wants is his? And in any case, what else is he displaying but the misfortune of his own citizens who are supplying his extravagance at their own expense? Lastly, what is he teaching his people in this way except the origins of all evil-doing? Let the good prince be brought up and live in such a way that the rest of the people, both noblemen and commoners, can take his life as a model of economy and moderation.
At home, let him conduct himself in such a way that nobody’s interruption catches him off duty; outside, let nobody see the prince unless he is carrying out some public service the whole time.
The nature of the prince is recognized more surely from what he says than from what he wears: anything caught from the prince’s lips is spread abroad. He must continually take the greatest care that what he says savours of integrity and gives evidence of thinking that is worthy of a good prince. Nor should Aristotle’s advice on this point be overlooked: that a prince who wants to escape his people’s hatred and to develop their good will will delegate to others the tasks which the people resent and will carry out personally those that are well received. By this means a good deal of the resentment will be diverted towards those who are administering that business, especially if the populace resented them on other grounds, and moreover, unreserved gratitude will accrue to the prince alone in his beneficent actions.
I would add this too, that the gratitude for a favour given is doubled by giving it quickly, with enthusiasm and without being asked, and with friendly words of commendation; and that when anything has to be refused, it should be done calmly and gently. If some punishment is to be given, the penalty prescribed by the law should be somewhat reduced and the sentence carried out in such a way that the prince gives the impression of having been driven to it against his will.
And it is not enough for the prince to show the state that his own personal character is sound and blameless: he must strive just as much to have, as far as possible, his whole entourage (nobles, friends, advisers, magistrates) like himself. They are the prince’s agents, and hatred provoked by their faults rebounds against the prince himself. But it will be said that this is very difficult. It will prove quite simple, if he is careful to select the best people for his court, and if he has made sure that they understand that the prince is most pleased by those things that are most in the interest of the people. Otherwise, it often happens that if the prince does not know about their actions, or even connives at them, the most wicked can impose a tyranny on the people under cover of the prince, and while they seem to be carrying out his business, they can do the greatest disservice to his name. In some ways it is a more acceptable situation for the state when the prince himself is bad than when his friends are: somehow or other we put up with a single tyrant. For the people can easily satisfy the greed of one man: one man’s desires are gratified at no very great expense, and it is possible to quench one man’s ferocity. But to satisfy a whole entourage of tyrants is a very heavy burden.
The prince should avoid all innovation as far as proves possible: for even if something is changed for the better, a novel situation is still disturbing in itself. Neither the structure of the state, the customary public business of the city, nor long established laws may be changed without upheaval. Consequently, if something is of a kind that can be tolerated, there is no need for change; the right thing will be either to put up with it or to steer the practice smoothly towards improvement. On the other hand, if something is such that it cannot be tolerated, it will have to be put right – but subtly and gradually.
What general aim the person in power sets himself is of great importance, for if his choice of objective is misguided, then he will necessarily go wrong all the way along. The ultimate intention of the good prince must therefore be not only to guard the present well-being of the state, but also to hand it over in a more flourishing condition than that in which he received it.
However, since good things are of three kinds (to speak in Peripatetic terms), namely spiritual, bodily, and external, he will have to be careful not to take account of them in reverse order and judge the state’s welfare mainly by these last ‘external’ things. For external things must be judged by no other criterion than how relevant they are to spiritual and bodily well-being. That is to say, let this be the only way he assesses his people’s happiness: not by whether he keeps them in great wealth or in optimal health, but by their honesty and moderation; by the absence of greed, aggressiveness, contention; and by the presence of the fullest possible harmony.
He must take care also on this point, not to be taken in by the false application of fine words. In fact, this is the source from which practically all the world’s evils arise and make their advance. For it is not true happiness when a people is given over to idle luxury, nor is it true freedom when people can do what they like. Nor is it servitude to live according to what is prescribed by just laws; nor is it a peaceful state where the people defer to every whim of the prince, but rather when obedience is given to good laws and to a prince whose wise deliberations are consistent with the requirements of the law. And it is not equality for everyone to have the same rewards, the same rights, and the same status; indeed, this often results in extreme inequality.
The prince who is about to take up office must bear this fact especially in mind, that the chief hope for the state is founded in the proper training of its children – something which Xenophon wisely taught in his Cyropaedia. For at a tender age they are responsive to any training you like. Consequently the utmost care must be taken over public and private schools and over the education of girls, so that they are straight away in the care of the best and most reliable teachers, where they absorb both Christian principles and also literature that is of sound quality and conducive to the welfare of the state. In this way it will come about that there is truly no need for many laws or penalties, because the citizens follow the right course of their own accord. Such is the power of education, as Plato has written, that a man who has been correctly brought up emerges as a kind of divine creature, while faulty upbringing, on the other hand, reduces him to a horrible monster. And nothing is of greater importance for the prince than that he should have the best possible citizens.
Pains will therefore have to be taken to accustom them from the outset to what is best, for any music sounds sweet to those who have become used to it. And nothing is harder than to withdraw someone from behaviour which has already taken root in his character from habitual usage. But none of these things will prove exceptionally difficult if the prince himself pursues excellence.
It is the mark of the tyrant, indeed an underhand deception, to treat the people at large in the way that animal trainers customarily treat a wild beast; for their prime concern is to observe what pacifies it or what arouses it, and then they provoke or soothe it to suit their own convenience, as Plato has forcibly remarked. For that is not to take popular feeling into consideration, but to abuse it.
But if the people are obstinate and resist what is to their own advantage, then either you will have to go along with them for the time being and gradually win them over to your plans, or do this by some skilful strategy or some benign deception. In the same way, when wine is drunk, it yields to the drinker at first until it permeates his veins by degrees and takes the whole person into its power.
And if on occasion the turmoil of affairs and the mood of the people obstruct the prince’s plans somewhat and compel him to serve the times, he should still not give in as long as he can keep up the pressure, and what he has not achieved in one way he should try to do in another.