01 March 2010

The Prince, part 5 (chapter 5)

The Prince chapter 5: "The Way to Govern Cities or Dominions that, Previous to Being Occupied, Lived Under Their Own Laws."

Back in chapter 1, Machiavelli divided states into two types, republics and monarchies, then subdivided monarchies into two types, ancient and new, further subdivided those new monarchies into their own two sub-subtypes, entirely new ones or ones grafted onto existing possessions, and then, finally, made one more subdivision of those grafted-on territories into a final two sub-sub-subtypes, those previously ruled by another prince and those that were self-governing republics. This is, I think, truly a case of a picture being worth a thousand words, so a diagram is helpful.

The Republic cell is left undivided, not because they are all identical, but because, as Machiavelli noted in chapter 2, he is not discussing Republics in this work. The subdividing of principalities here is not mere idle pondering of logical distinctions, but was an outline for the reader. In chapter 2, he discussed the hereditary principalities. In 3 he discussed both new principalities and those that are annexed into an existing one. In this chapter, Machiavelli takes up the governance of those acquired territories that were previously accustomed to freedom, or self-governing republics.

Governing Previously Free Republics
When the Prince acquires a previously free (self-governing) republic, there are three ways to hold onto it.
  1. Despoil it;

  2. Go and live there in person;

  3. Allow them to live under their own laws, with a government friendly to you, and taking tribute from it.

Of the third way, Machiavelli says,
“a city used to liberty can be more easily held by means of its own citizens than in any other way, if you wish to preserve it” (emphasis added).
Note the qualifier, which references the first way of holding the formerly free republic. We’ll come back to that in a moment.

Despite explicitly suggesting that a city used to liberty can be held by means of a puppet government, Machiavelli gives no successful examples, but several failed examples, of that. He notes that Sparta tried to hold Athens and Thebes this way, but lost them, and that the Romans held Capua, Carthage and Numantia by laying waste to them, and resorted to doing the same to Greece after they were unable to hold onto it through a puppet government. He concludes his examples by returning to his qualifier, making the blunt claim that
… in truth there is no sure method of holding them except by despoiling them. And whoever becomes the ruler of a free city and does not destroy it can expect to be destroyed by it, for it can always find a motive for rebellion in the name of liberty and of its ancient usages, which are forgotten neither by the lapse of time nor by benefits received.

It’s important to note that “liberty” here does not mean what we libertarians understand it to mean in the 21st century. A Republic then was not necessarily amenable to great individual liberty, but simply defined liberty as freedom from rule or domination by outsiders. And however contemptible we libertarians find it—and I, at least, find it very much so*—national liberty is a much stronger motivating force in human affairs than individual liberty.

That problem, he says, does not exist in an acquired territory that was previously a principality, because the people are more used to simple obedience, and the elimination of the former prince’s family is enough to prevent them from having someone to rally around.

Oddly, though, Machiavelli does not expand significantly upon option two—going and living in that territory in person. He references it again only in the conclusion to the chapter, when he states that
republics…cannot case aside the memory of their ancient liberty, so that the surest way [to hold onto them] is either to lay them waste or reside in them.

This, however, directly contradicts his statement that a puppet government is the most effective means, other than laying them waste, of holding them. Were I grading Machiavelli, I would have to mark him down for not being clear, for contradicting himself, and for not giving adequate attention to all the possibilities he’s mentioned. This all makes this chapter very unsatisfying, and Machiavelli has been too sketchy to be fully persuasive here.

The chapter does, however, tantalize the reader with potential implications. Machiavelli is writing to Lorenzo, of the Medici, who is the prince of Florence, a previously free, self-governing, republic. Is this meant as a warning to him, a suggestion that if he doesn’t lay waste to his own city, that it will ultimately lay waste to him? As tantalizing as that is, it’s not persuasive, because the Medici did not “acquire” or “occupy” Florence from the outside, which is the kind of case Machiavelli is discussing. So far, at least, he has steered clear—perhaps out of caution—from talking specifically about a former republic that has been taken over from inside. And Lorenzo, of course, resided within Florence, fulfilling the unelucidated option two. Still, the caution that republics “cannot cast aside the memory of their ancient liberty” should presumably be heard by the Prince who comes from within as well as the Prince who comes from without.

As well, Machiavelli seems to indicate his preference for republics over principalities here. He describes the subjects of principalities as being used to obedience and unable to act or organize effectively on their own, whereas the citizens of a republic are active and eager to restore themselves. In a republic, he says, “there is greater life [another translation says "vitality"], greater hatred, and more desire for vengeance,” and one gets the sense that he finds these qualities admirable, at least when directed toward the goal of regaining their liberty.

*There are, of course, libertarians, at least in the U.S., particularly those who are virulently anti-immigrant, who seem interested only in individual liberty for Americans. While I think there can be a pragmatic libertarian stance in support of controlled borders, based on the current great economic disparity between, say, the U.S. and Latin American countries, as a consequence of which uncontrolled borders could lead to immigration at a rate that would inevitably lead to violent nationalistic reaction, I don’t think it can be legitimately justified on grounds of “hooray for us, and boo to them."

Next Week: Chapter 6, "Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired By One’s Own Arms and Ability."

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