Appendix F

Of how many kinds are republics and of what sort was the Roman republic1

There is no doubt that a mixed government made up of the three powers, prince, optimates [patricians] and people, is better and more stable than government of one of these types alone. Particularly when it is mixed in such a way that of each kind the good qualities are taken, and the bad omitted. This is the important point to be noted where those setting up a government may go wrong. To discuss this in detail, I will say that the advantage of princely rule is that affairs are governed much better, in a more orderly manner, and with greater speed, secrecy and determination, when they depend on the will of one man alone, than when a number of people are involved. Its disadvantage is that when power falls into the hands of an evil man with the unfettered ability to do harm, all that authority he holds is used for evil. Likewise if he is not wicked, but lacks ability, infinite disasters arise out of his incapacity. And even if the king were chosen by election, not by inheritance, there is no absolute bar to such dangers, for the electors may easily be deceived, supposing a candidate to be good and prudent when he is nothing of the sort. And the extent of his power and freedom often changes the character of a man thus chosen, and especially if he has children it is hard for him not to desire their succession. Once he is king with absolute power, it is nearly impossible to prevent that happening, even though it may be forbidden by the constitution of the kingdom, yet he can only bring it about by arts and means which are far from praiseworthy.

Wishing therefore to set up a government sharing as much as possible the advantages of royal government, and lacking its bad points, it is not possible to enjoy all the benefits and avoid entirely its evils, and one must be satisfied with something less of the good, lest too many of the evils creep in. Hence the king must be elected for life but with limited authority, by arranging that he cannot decide anything on his own, or at any rate only those things of minor importance. In this manner one would have the advantage of one pair of eyes constantly watching public affairs, one head to whom they are referred, one procurator to propose, further and remember them. One would have the benefit of one man's decision and execution, but as this must involve the danger of giving him power to turn the state into a tyranny it is a lesser evil to enjoy fewer advantages with safety, than more involving such grave danger. Therefore let the king, that is, the leader standing in that position, have his authority limited in such a manner that he may not alone decide matters of importance; and let him be by election not by inheritance. Under these circumstances it is better that his term should be for life, rather than a limited one, yet if for a limited term, better long than short. In this the Venetians have done better than the Romans and Spartans, for the Spartan kings were always of the same family, and by succession, and the kings of Rome, though they had the senate and some vestiges of a republic, yet enjoyed such authority that it was easy for them to turn the kingdom into a tyranny, the beginnings of which were seen in Servius Tullius, and then openly in Tarquinius Superbus. And if you like to call the authority of the consuls royal, it was not perpetual but annual, whereas the Venetian prince is perpetual, elected, and enjoys strictly limited powers.

In government by the optimates there is this advantage, that being many they can less easily set up a tyranny than one man could. As they are the best qualified men in the city they rule it with more intelligence and prudence than a multitude might. And being publicly honoured they have less reason to intrigue, which they might easily do if discontented. The trouble is that as their authority is great they favour those measures useful to themselves and oppressive to the rest of the population, and as there are no bounds to men's ambition to increase their estate, they come into conflict with others like themselves, and commit acts of sedition. From this ensues the city's ruin, either through tyranny or by some other means; and if they are optimates by birth and not by election, from prudent and good men at first, affairs soon fall into the hands of imprudent and wicked ones.

In order to extract from this kind of government what is best and avoid what is worst, the optimates must not be drawn always from the same lines and families, but from the whole body of the city, from all who according to the law are qualified to take part in the magistrature, and a senate must be elected to deal with difficult matters, containing the flower of the prudent noble and rich men of the city. It should be perpetual, or have at least a very long term of office. The members should be very numerous so as to be more easily accepted by the others who will be able to hope that they or their house may succeed

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.