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THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES
In this chapter Machiavelli launches an assault on those "liberal" princes who spend vast sums of money on the arts, on elaborate monuments to themselves, or on foolish projects that don't benefit the state. As a consequence of their liberality, these princes find it necessary to subject the people to extraordinary burdens and heavy taxes, and to resort to all sorts of measures to obtain money. The people, of course, despise a liberal prince because his unwise extravagance offends many and benefits few.
On the other hand, when a prince tries to reduce spending, he may be thought at first to be a miser. But the money saved through his prudence and economy allows his revenues to be sufficient to provide for defense in case of war and to engage in enterprises without burdening his people.
NOTE: THE WISE USE OF FUNDS
Machiavelli's insistence on economy in finances came at a time in
Italian history when princes, popes, and political figures surrounded
themselves with luxury and ostentation. They spent enormous sums of money
on public monuments, artworks, and buildings. The Medici themselves were
famous for this. Why would Machiavelli risk the displeasure of (he hoped)
his patron by even mentioning that princes should reduce spending and
curtail foolish waste? First, Machiavelli believed that politics are governed
by economics. Extravagance consumed resources that a prince could better
spend on building an army, gaining political power, and maintaining absolute
power. Second, Machiavelli believed that the support of the people could
be obtained by governmental economy. In recommending this economic policy,
Machiavelli says that a prince should reject the praises of those few
who would benefit from generosity, rather than hurt the many people who
would have to pay for it. That's why it's beneficial to a prince to appear
miserly: it spares him the hatred of the people.
Machiavelli then points out recent examples of rulers who cultivated the image of being liberal, only to suffer ruin. He also examines those instances of rulers who were thought to be miserly, but who prospered instead. Pope Julius II, for example, who was thought of as liberal when he gained the papacy, did not afterward care to keep up that reputation in his war against the king of France. It was his long-continued economy, says Machiavelli, that enabled him to pay the expenses of his wars. A prince, then, who would avoid robbing his subjects, yet still be able to defend himself, shouldn't mind incurring the reputation of being a miser: In this case it would be one of those vices that enables him to maintain his state.
To those who would assert that there have been many princes who achieved great things and were thought of as free-spenders, Machiavelli responds that a prince spends either his own wealth and that of his subjects, or the wealth of others. Of the first two he should be very sparing, but in dealing with the money of others he should spend liberally. The spending of other people's wealth, says Machiavelli, only increases a prince's reputation. It's only the spending of his own that is injurious to a prince.
NOTE: SUCCESS AS THE FINAL MEASURE
Machiavelli's views on favors, gifts, and spending should sound familiar to you. Think of twentieth-century examples of politicians, public figures, or even business leaders who give and receive the kinds of "kickbacks" and "payoffs" that Machiavelli describes. Consider, also, the role that public benefits, political contributions, and advertising might play in helping to sell-or to buy-a candidate. Machiavelli's views in this regard are as timely as the front page of the daily newspaper.
It should also be pointed out that Machiavelli frequently equates success with results-and victories are recognizable, no matter what the cost may have been in money, lives, or property. No price is too high to pay for success. Once a prince undertakes a task, however, his success or failure cannot be judged by the initial outcome of events. It is only the whole spectrum of events in a prince's reign that must be taken into consideration before a final verdict is rendered.
Machiavelli concludes his attack on spendthrift princes by saying that a prince should carefully guard against incurring the hatred and contempt of his subjects, and that liberality with money only brings one or the other. There is more wisdom in being called a miser, which may bring blame, but not hatred.