Chapter 3b

Balancing the Power

by Niccolo Machiavelli Icon

The prince who holds a country of different language, customs and law, should:

  • strengthen his weaker neighbours
  • weaken his more powerful ones

He should be careful that no foreigner as powerful as himself shall get established there.

Some powerful foreigner will always be invited by those who are unhappy with the prince, either through:

  • excess of ambition or
  • fear.

The Romans were brought into Greece by the Aetolians. The Romans established themselves in many countries this way, by the local people. As soon as a powerful foreigner enters a country, all the subject states are drawn to him by their hatred against their prince. So the foreigner does not have any trouble winning them over. He has only to take care that they do not get hold of too much power.

Then with his own forces, and with their cooperation, he can easily keep down the more powerful of them, so as to remain the master in the countryside. If this business is not properly managed, he will soon lose what he has acquired, or he will have endless difficulties holding what he has.

Roman Policy

The Romans closely followed these principles in the countries they conquered:

  • They sent settlements and maintained friendly relations with the minor powers, without increasing the strength of those minor powers
  • They kept down the greater states
  • They did not allow any strong foreign powers to gain authority.

Thus, the Romans regarded not only present troubles, but also future ones. When problems are noted before they occur, it is easy to remedy them. But if you wait until they approach, the medicine is too late because the illness has become incurable.

Thus, doctors say that the beginning of a severe fever is easy to cure but difficult to detect. In time, not having been either detected or treated in the beginning, it becomes easy to detect but difficult to cure.

This also happens in affairs of state, for when the evils that arise have been predicted (which only wise men can do), they can be quickly dealt with. But when, through not having been predicted, they have been permitted to grow in a way that every one can see them, there is no longer a remedy.

Therefore, the Romans predicted troubles well. They dealt with them at once, avoiding war. They knew that war cannot be avoided, but can only be delayed to the advantage of others.

French Policy

France however did the opposite of those things which should be done to retain a diverse state. King Louis 12th was brought into Italy by the ambition of the Venetians who desired to obtain half the state of Lombardy by his intervention.

I will not blame Louis 12th because he was forced to accept those friendships in order to get established in Italy, having no friends there because of the conduct of Charles.

Genoa yielded, the Florentines became his friends. Many other powerful people and groups tried to become his friend.

Only then the Venetians realized their foolishness. In order to secure two towns in Lombardy, they had made Louis 12th the master of 2/3 of Italy.

But he made mistakes. All of his many friends were weak and frightened. Some were afraid of the Church, some of the Venetians.

But instead of securing his weak friends, he did the contrary and assisted Pope Alexander to occupy the Romagna. It never occurred to him that he was weakening himself by this action. He lost friends and those who had rushed to be his friend.

He increased the strength of the Church by adding a lot of earthly power to the spiritual, thus giving it greater authority. Having committed this prime error, Louis was forced to follow it up, so much so that, to put an end to the ambition of Pope Alexander, and to prevent his becoming the master of Tuscany, he was himself forced to come into Italy.

He wished to have the kingdom of Naples and so he divided it with the King of Spain. This let its discontents a place to shelter. He instead could have placed his own appointee and then drive him out.

The wish to acquire is in truth, very natural and common. Men always do so when they can. For this they should be praised not blamed. But it is foolishness when they wish to acquire but have no capacity to acquire.

Therefore, Louis 12th should have either attacked Naples with her own forces or not divide it.

The division he made with the Venetians in Lombardy was justified by giving him a presence in Italy. But this other division was bad because it was unnecessary.

Louis made these five errors:

  1. He destroyed the minor powers
  2. He increased the strength of one of the greater powers in Italy - the church.
  3. He brought in a foreign power
  4. He did not settle in the countryside
  5. He did not create settlements

If he had lived, these errors would not be enough to injure him. However, he made a 6th error:

  1. He took the Venetians’ states

He should never have ruined them. This is because the Venetians were powerful and would always have kept others from invading Lombardy.

Thus, King Louis lost Lombardy because he did not follow any of the principles observed by those who have conquered and retained countries. This is quite natural because the French did not understand the principles of controlling a state. Otherwise, they would not have allowed the Church to reach such greatness.

In fact, France caused the greatness of the Church and of Spain in Italy. France’s ruin may be attributed to them.

This leads to a general rule: He who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined.

This is because that success has been brought about either by cleverness or by force. Both are distrusted by the person who has been raised to power.

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