A prince ought always to nourish some enemy against himself, to the end that when he has oppressed him he may be accounted the more mighty and terrible. (The Prince, chapter 19)
Princes make themselves great when they overcome weighty and difficult things which hinder their designs. Therefore a good and wise prince with a certain ingenious care will nourish some enemy against himself, to the end that, happening to oppress him, his riches and greatness may the better increase. For such an enemy shall serve him as a sufficient matter to increase his greatness, and as a ladder to ascend higher.
Behold a maxim of the same note as the former, hereunto tending, that a prince should always seek means to make himself feared, rather than loved. But a prince who observes the doctrine of Machiavelli needs take no great care to seek means to nourish an enemy against himself; for there will be enough, and more than one would wish, both within and without his country, even in his own house. But to say that he can oppress them all, to make himself feared and redoubted, that is no assured thing; rather contrary, he may assure himself that in the end either one or the other will oppress and ruin him. When Milicus disclosed to Nero a great plot practiced against him, he performed what Machiavelli prescribes; for by oppressing and putting to death all the conspirators and enemies, and all their friends and allies, he made himself so feared and redoubted that there was not in Rome great or little but trembled for fear at the name of Nero. Such great men, whose friends and parents were put to death, came and fell down on their knees before him, and thanked him for the good and honor he had done them, to have purged and cleansed their parentage and alliance from so wicked men as those he had slain. Others, in sign of joy for the death of their friends and parents, caused their houses to be hung with laurel, made sacrifices to the gods to give thanks for so great a good, and celebrated feasts as if there had been marriages. The Senate also in a great terror ordained processions and public sacrifices, to give thanks to the gods that this plot was discovered; they even built and consecrated a chapel to the sun in the house where the plot was made, because it shined to the discovery thereof. They also built a temple to the goddess of health. Nero, thinking that all these joys were true and unfeigned, exercised more and more his butchery, and in the end made himself so assured that he was feared by all the world, that he thought he had the upper hand of all his enemies. But it was clean contrary; for by this strange slaughter with so much other wickedness, of which he was full, he brought himself into a deadly hatred of all the world. Insomuch that the provinces of the empire revolted one after another, and in the end he was abandoned by every man, except four or five of his meanest servants, who kept him company in his flight, until he had slain himself. Therefore Nero needed to take no thought how to nourish enemies against himself, as Machiavelli teaches in this maxim; for he never lacked a great number, as all tyrants have ordinarily.
And how should not tyrants have good store of enemies, seeing even good and wise princes do not want them? To this purpose master Philip de Comines makes a very good discourse, saying that it pleased God to give to all princes, kingdoms, and commonwealths, an opposite and contrary unto them, that both the one and the other might be held in their duties; as England has France, Scotland has England, Portugal has Castile, Grenada has Portugal; the princes and commonwealths of Italy are contrary to each other, and so it is of all countries and seignories of the earth. For if there is any prince or commonwealth which lacks its opposite to hold it in fear, it shall fall into a tyranny and luxuriousness. Therefore God by his wise providence has given to every seignory and to every prince his opposite, that one for fear of another might be stirred up to a modest and temperate carriage. And there is indeed nothing that better holds a prince in his duty, nor which causes him to walk more upright, than the fear of his opposite and contrary. For the fear of God, nor the love of his neighbor, nor reason (whereof he commonly has no care), nor justice (for there is none above himself), nor any other thing can hold him in his duty, but only the fear of his contrary.
After Comines had dispatched this question, he entered into another, which depends hereof. What is the cause that commonly princes and great lords have not the fear of God, nor love to their neighbors? He answers, the lack of faith; for if a prince believed verily the pains of hell to be such as indeed they are, he would do no wrong to any man, nor retain others’ goods unjustly. For if they believed assuredly (as it is true and certain) that they are damned in hell, and are never likely to enter paradise, who retain other men’s goods without making satisfaction, or that do any wrong to any without amends unto him. It is not likely there would be found a prince or princess in the world, or any other person, who would withhold another’s goods in good earnest, whether his subjects, vassals, or neighbors; or would put to death any wrongfully; not to hold them in prison, nor take from one to give to another, nor procure any dishonest thing against any person. If then they had a firm faith, and believed the pains of hell to be horrible and great, without end or remission for the damned, knowing again the shortness of this life, they would not do what they do. And for example when a king or a prince is a prisoner, and he fears to die in prison, is there anything so dear in the world he would not give to come out? Certainly he would give both his own and his subjects’ goods altogether. As we have seen King John of France, being taken prisoner by the Prince of Wales at the battle of Poitiers, paid 3,000,000 francs for his ransom and acquitted to the English all Aquitaine, or at least as much as they then held; and many other cities, towns, and places, all of which came to a third part of the kingdom, which was thereby brought into great poverty, such that no coin was current but it was made of leather, with a little nail of silver in the middle of it. And all this gave King John, and his son Charles the Sage, for his deliverance out of prison. And if they would have given nothing, the English yet would not have put him to death, but at the worst kept him in prison; and yet if they had caused him to die, the pain that he had suffered would not be comparable to the thousandth part of the least pain in hell. Why then did King John give all that has been said, and so overthrow his children and the subjects of his kingdom? Because he believed what he saw and knew well, that otherwise he could not be delivered. But you shall not find a prince, or very few, that if he had a town of his neighbors, would yield it for the fear of God or the pains of hell. It is then the want of faith, because princes believe not that God will punish the wrongs they do to another, and that they do not also believe that the pains of hell are horrible and eternal, as they are. Yet this is certain, that God will punish them, as well as other men, though not in this world, yet assuredly in the other. Yea will some say, but who will inform against them, or dare stand before God for that purpose? I answer that the complaints before God against princes, the dolor and sorrowful lamentations of orphans and widows whose fathers and husbands they had killed, shall stand as complainants before God; and generally all those who they have afflicted and persecuted in their persons, or in their goods, shall present themselves before our Lord, the true judge, with piteous tears and dolors, and shall serve for witnesses and accusers. And God, who is a just judge, shall punish such princes as do not fear him, and it may be will not attend to punish them in the other world, but in this world. But let them know that when it pleases God to punish princes, as they are greater than simple people, so he will bring them to a greater fall. And a true token that God begins to ruin a prince is when he so diminishes his senses that he makes him fly the counsel of the wise, and elevates into credit with him new people, violent, unreasonable, and foolish, slothful, and flatterers, who do and speak all things to please them. For when we see this happen to a prince, we may well say that God prepares his ruin.
Behold in sum, in its proper terms, the opinion of that wise knight Comines, of the cause why God raises enemies unto princes; which opinion is truly very Christian, and proceeding from a man of a wise judgment, and well experienced in affairs of state, wherein he was exercised for the space of thirty years, in the time of King Louis XI and Charles VIII, in embassies and other great and honorable charges. He was no such petty burnpaper as Machiavelli, who dealt in nothing but in registering and writing of the small broils and troubles of one house of the town of Florence; and coming out of no better school dares to give lessons and documents to princes and mighty kings, to teach them how they should govern, or rather how they should become tyrants. But contrary, he who will read the history of Comines shall find many good precepts which that good knight has marked by experience in his time, which indeed are good and proper, as well to inform and instruct a good prince as those of Machiavelli are to inform a most wicked tyrant.
Upon this speech above cited of Comines, that God diminishes the senses of such princes as he will ruin, I will add for a confirmation the saying of an ancient wise man, cited by the poet Sophocles:
Agreeing well to verity,
The saying of the wise man is:
That which most evil you do true,
Most good it seems to you twice.
Thus when we stir up God to ire,
He plagues us much for our desire.