|Unit 11: Changing World Views / European Society|
|From Frederick II, King of Prussia. The Refutation of Machiavelli's Prince or Anti-Machiavel. trans. Paul Sonnino (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1981), 31-33.|
|Machiavelli's Prince is to morality what the work of Spinoza is to faith: Spinoza sapped the foundations of faith and aimed at no less than to overthrow the edifice of religion; Machiavelli corrupted politics and undertook to destroy the precepts of sound morality. The errors of one were only errors of speculation; those of the other regarded practice. However, while the theologians have sounded the tocsin and raised the alarm against Spinoza, while his work has been formally refuted, and while the Divinity has been defended against the attacks of this impious man, Machiavelli has been harried only by some moralists and has maintained himself, in spite of them and in spite of his pernicious morality, as an authority on politics to our day.
I dare to come to the defense of humanity against this monster who would destroy it, I dare to oppose reason and justice to iniquity and crime, and I have ventured my reflections on Machiavelli's Prince following each chapter, so that the antidote may be found right next to the poison.
I have always considered Machiavelli's Prince as one of the most dangerous works ever to be disseminated in the world. It is a book which falls naturally into the hands of princes and of those with a taste for politics. Since it is very easy for an ambitious young man, whose heart and judgment are not sufficiently developed to distinguish clearly between good and evil, to be corrupted by maxims which flatter the impetuosity of his passions, any book which can contribute to this must be regarded as absolutely pernicious and contrary to the good of mankind.
But if it is bad to seduce the innocence of a private individual who has only limited influence over the affairs of the world, it is all the worse to corrupt princes who must govern people, administer justice, set an example for their subjects, be the living images of the Divinity by their goodness, magnanimity, and mercy; and who must be kings less by greatness and power than by personal qualities and virtues.
The floods that ravage the countryside, the lightning that reduces towns to ashes, the deadly and contagious plague that desolates provinces are not as ghastly for the world as the dangerous morality and the unbridled passions of kings. The chastisements of Heaven last only for a time, they ravage only certain countrysides, and these losses, though painful, are repaired; but the crimes of kings make whole peoples suffer, the misfortune of the state weighs upon their heavy arms, and the oppressed people do not even have the feeble consolation, without committing a crime, of wishing for the end of their miseries.
Just as kings can do good when they want to do it, they can do evil whenever they please. And how deplorable is the condition of the people when they have everything to fear from the abuse of sovereign power, when their goods are prey to the avarice of the prince, their liberty to his caprice, their tranquility to his ambition, their security to his perfidy, and their life to his cruelties! This is the tragic picture of a state ruled by Machiavelli's monster.
Let me say more. Even if the venom of the author did not reach as far as the throne, even if it is spread only to those political organs which sustain it, I maintain that a single disciple of Machiavelli and of Cesare Borgia in the world would suffice to make the execrable principles of his awful political theory abhorrent.
I must not finish this foreword without saying a word to those persons who believe that Machiavelli wrote about what princes do rather than what they must do. This thought has been popular because it is wry and has some appearance of truth. This brilliant falsehood has merely to be said before it was repeated.
May I come to the defense of princes against those who would slander them and save from this awful accusation those whose only function must be to work for the happiness of mankind.
Those who have pronounced this final decree against princes have been seduced no doubt by the examples of some bad princes, contemporaries of Machiavelli cited by the author, by the life of some tyrants who have earned the opprobrium of humanity, and by a perverse spirit of contradiction. I answer to these misanthropic censors that in every country there are honest and dishonest people just as in every family there are handsome persons along with one-eyed, hunchbacks, blind, and cripples; that there are and always will be monsters among princes, unworthy of the character with which they are invested. I ask them to consider that since the seduction of the throne is very powerful, it takes an uncommon virtue to resist it; and thus it is hardly astonishing that in an order as numerous as that of princes, there are some bad ones among the good, and that among the same Roman emperors where one finds the Neros, Caligulas, and Tiberiuses, the world recalls with joy the virtuous names of the Tituses, Trajans, and Antoninuses.
It is thus rank injustice to attribute to an entire body what is applicable only to some of its members.
History should only preserve the names of good princes and let die forever those of the others with their indolence, their injustice, and their crimes. There would be many less history books, it is true, but humanity would profit and the honor of living in history and of seeing one's name pass into eternity would only be the reward of virtue. Machiavelli's book would no longer infest the schools of politics, his pitiful self-contradictions would be scorned, and the world would see that the true policy of kings, founded solely on justice, prudence, and goodness is preferable in every way to the disjointed, horrible, and cruel system that Machiavelli has had the impudence to present to the public.
Reprinted by permission of Paul Sonnino.
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