Education of a Christian Prince. Chapter 5: Generosity in the Prince
3 min read
3 min read
If kindliness and generosity are the special glory of good princes, how can certain people lay claim to the title of prince when their whole policy is directed towards fostering their own interests at the expense of everyone else? The skilful and vigilant prince will therefore seek ways of helping everyone, and that does not mean simply by handing out gifts. He will assist some by his liberality and raise up others by his support; he will use his authority to restore those who are cast down and his advice to help others. In fact, he will be inclined to regard as wasted any day in which he has not used his power for good to help someone.
The prince’s bounty must not be distributed recklessly, however. Some extort ruthlessly from good citizens what they squander on jesters, informers, and those who minister to their pleasures. The state should be aware that the prince will most often show kindness towards those who work hardest for the common good. Generosity should be the reward of virtue, not the result of a whim.
The prince must try especially to practise the sort of generosity that involves no disadvantage, or at least no harm, to anyone else. Robbing one group to enrich another, ruining some to advance others: far from being services, such actions are disservices twice over, particularly if what has been taken from worthy men is turned over to the unworthy.
Not for nothing do the myths of the poets tell us how the gods never visited a place without conferring some great benefit on those who received them. But if, at the approach of their prince, his citizens hide any elegant furniture, lock up their pretty daughters, send away their young sons, conceal their wealth, and do all they can to make themselves inconspicuous: is it not obvious what they think of him, since they act exactly as they would at the approach of an enemy or a robber? Since on their prince’s arrival they fear for all the things it should be his duty to protect against the threat of treachery or violence? They fear treachery from the others, but they fear violence too from him: one man complains that he has been beaten up, another that his daughter has been abducted, another that his wife has been raped, and yet another that some trifling payment has been withheld. What a difference, indeed, between this prince’s arrival and those descriptions of the gods! The more prosperous a city the more it suspects the prince, and on the prince’s arrival all the more disreputable elements rush out, whereas all the best and wisest citizens are put on their guard and keep themselves to themselves; even if they say nothing, their actions proclaim their opinion of the prince. Someone may reply to this: ‘I cannot keep a check on the activities of all my followers; I am doing my best.’ Make your followers understand that you really have your heart set on this course, and I shall be very surprised if that will not keep them in check. In the end, you will convince the people that such crimes are committed against your will only if you do not allow them to go unpunished.
It was perhaps sufficient for a pagan prince to be generous towards his own citizens, but merely just towards foreigners. But it is the mark of a Christian prince to consider no one a foreigner except those who are strangers to the sacraments of Christ, and to avoid provoking even these by doing them injury. Of course he must fulfil his obligations towards his own citizens first, but for the rest, as far as possible, he should help all men.
Although it should be the prince’s constant concern to protect everyone from harm, yet, as Plato suggests, he should make more diligent efforts to prevent harm befalling visitors than his own citizens, because visitors, bereft of the support of friends and relations, are more exposed to danger; for this reason they were thought to be under Jupiter’s protection, and gave him the name Xenios.