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Machiavelli turns the discussion from the strength of states and principalities to the correct behavior of the prince. Machiavelli admits that this subject has been treated by others, but he argues that an original set of practical—rather than theoretical—rules is needed. Other philosophers have conceived republics built upon an idealized notion of how men should live rather than how men actually live. But truth strays far from the expectations of imagined ideals. Specifically, men never live every part of their life virtuously. A prince should not concern himself with living virtuously, but rather with acting so as to achieve the most practical benefit.
In general, some personal characteristics will earn men praise, others condemnation. Courage, compassion, faith, craftiness, and generosity number among the qualities that receive praise. Cowardice, cruelty, stubbornness, and miserliness are usually met with condemnation. Ideally, a prince would possess all the qualities deemed “good” by other men. But this expectation is unrealistic. A prince’s first job is to safeguard the state, and harboring “bad” characteristics is sometimes necessary for this end. Such vices are truly evil if they endanger the state, but when vices are employed in the proper interests of the state, a prince must not be influenced by condemnation from other men.
Of all the things he must guard against, hatred and contempt come first, and liberality leads to both.
Liberality, or generosity, is a quality that many men admire. But if a prince develops a reputation for generosity, he will ruin his state. A reputation for generosity requires outward lavishness, which eventually depletes all of the prince’s resources. In the end, the prince will be forced to burden his people with excessive taxes in order to raise the money to maintain his reputation for generosity. Ultimately, the prince’s liberality will make the people despise and resent him. Moreover, any prince who attempts to change his reputation for generosity will immediately develop a reputation for being a miser.
A parsimonious, or ungenerous, prince may be perceived as miserly in the beginning, but he will eventually earn a reputation for generosity. A prince who is thrifty and frugal will eventually have enough funds to defend against aggression and fund projects without having to tax the people unduly.
In history, the actions of Pope Julius II, the present king of France, and the present king of Spain all support the view that parsimony enables the prince to accomplish great things. Some might argue that successful leaders have come to power and sustained their rule by virtue of their generosity, such as Caesar. But if Caesar had not been killed, he would have found that maintaining his rule required moderating his spending.
In sum, generosity is self-defeating. Generosity uses up resources and prevents further generosity. While parsimony might lead to ignominy, generosity will eventually lead to hatred.
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