Education of a Christian Prince. Chapter 7: Magistrates and Their Duties
4 min read
4 min read
The prince must demand from his officials the same standards of integrity, or very nearly, as he himself exhibits. He should not think it enough simply to have appointed magistrates; the manner of their appointment is of the greatest importance, and he must then see to it that they carry out scrupulously their appointed tasks.
Aristotle made the important and judicious observation that it is useless to establish good laws if there is no one who will labour to uphold what has been so well established; indeed, it sometimes happens that the best established laws are turned to the total ruin of the state through the fault of the magistrates.
Although magistrates must not be chosen for their wealth, their pedigree, or their age, but rather for their wisdom and integrity, yet it is better to appoint older men to this kind of post, on which the well-being of the state depends, not only because old men have acquired prudence with experience and are more temperate in their appetites, but also because their advancing years confer on them a kind of authority in the minds of the people. For this reason Plato forbids the appointment of men younger than fifty or older than seventy as guardians of the laws. He would not have a priest younger than sixty because, just as there is a certain point in life when a man reaches maturity, so there is a certain decline in life which requires retirement and a rest from all duties.
A choral dance makes an elegant spectacle so long as it is performed with order and harmony, but it becomes farcical if the gestures and voices get confused; similarly, a kingdom or city is an excellent institution if everyone is assigned a place and performs his proper function, that is, if the prince acts like a prince, the magistrates play their parts, and the people submit to good laws and upright magistrates. But where the prince acts in his own interest and the magistrates simply plunder the people, where the people do not submit to honourable laws but flatter prince and magistrates, whatever they do – there, the most appalling confusion must reign.
The first and chief concern of the prince must be to serve the state to the best of his ability: he can do it no greater service than to ensure that the magistrature and its duties are entrusted to the most upright men, those most devoted to the common good.
What is the prince but a physician to the state? But it is not enough for a physician to have skilful assistants; he must himself be the most skilful and careful of all. Similarly, it is not enough for the prince to have virtuous magistrates; he must himself be the most virtuous of all, since it is he who chooses and corrects them.
The parts of the mind are not all equals: some give instructions, others carry them out, while the body does no more than carry out instructions. In the same way the prince, the highest part of the state, must be the most discerning, and entirely free from all gross passions. Next to him stand the magistrates, partly carrying out and partly giving instructions; they obey the prince but command the people.
Thus the happiness of the state depends particularly on its magistrates being impartially appointed and impartially performing their duties. There should therefore be provisions against maladministration, just as the Ancients had them against extortion. Finally, if they are convicted, the most severe punishment should be decreed against them.
They will be appointed impartially if the prince nominates, not the highest bidder, the most brazen lobbyist, his closest relatives, or those most adept at pandering to his character, passions, and desires, but rather those most upright in character and best suited to perform the appointed tasks.
Otherwise, when a prince merely sells appointments for the best price he can get, what else can he expect but that his appointees will resell them, making good their own outlay as best they can, and trading on their office, since they acquired it by a business deal? This practice should not be thought any the less dangerous to the state just because, by long and wretched usage, it has won acceptance with a number of nations, since it was frowned on even by the pagans, and the laws of the Caesars lay down that those who preside over the courts must be given the inducement of a princely salary so that they have no excuse for graft.
In days gone by, the charge of giving a corrupt verdict was treated very seriously; but on what grounds can a prince punish a judge for taking bribes to give or withhold a verdict, if the prince himself has sold off the job of making judgments and was in fact the first to instruct the judge in the ways of corruption? Let the prince treat the magistrates as he would have them treat the people.
In the Politics, Aristotle wisely remarks that, above all, care must be taken that magistrates do not make money out of their duties; otherwise, two disadvantages occur: first, it will mean that the magistracy will be sought after, or should I say be attacked and overwhelmed, by the most grasping and corrupt of men, and, second, the people will suffer the double blow of being excluded from office and robbed of their money.