Seditions and civil dissentions are profitable and blameless.
I say against the advice of many that dissentions and civil seditions are good and profitable, and that they were the cause that Rome is mounted into the lofty degree of empire wherein it has been. I know well that some hold that it was rather her valiance in arms and her good fortune which had lifted her up. But they who hold this do not consider that deeds of arms cannot be conducted without good order and good policy, and that it is policy which commonly leads to good fortune. But certain it is that seditions have been the cause of good order and of the good policy which was established at Rome. And in sum, all the good acts and examples of the ancient Romans have proceeded from this fountain of seditions. For good examples proceed from good nurture and education; good nurture proceeds from good laws and policies; and the mother of good laws is sedition and civil dissentions, which most men condemn without consideration.
It were to be desired that Machiavelli and his nation, who esteem seditions and civil dissentions so profitable, had reserved them for themselves, with all the utility and profit that is in them, and not have participated them with their neighbors. As for France, they might well have spared the seditions and partialities which the Italian Machiavellians have sown on this side of the mountains, which cause so much bloodshed, so many houses destroyed, and so many miseries and calamities, as every man feels, sees, and deplores. Would to God then all civil dissentions had remained among the Florentines and other Italians, who love them and find them good, so that the French had been without them; then France would not be so rent and torn in pieces, as it is, and it should not be enfeebled of more than half its forces. The people would not be so poor as we see them, nor so naked of substance and all good means. For civil dissentions have brought to the realm such a ransack and discomfiture of goods, and have so abandoned and overthrown all free commerce and good husbandry (which are the two means to store and fill a country with abundance of goods), that at this day there are seen no good houses, but those which were wont to be are ruined and altogether impoverished and made barren. And truly it is as in a forest, when a man sees all the good oaks hewn down, and there remains nothing but thorns, shrubs, and bushes. For even such a forest which has few or no trees in it merits the name of a bush, rather than a forest; so the kingdom or commonwealth whose good and ancient houses are impoverished deserves rather to be named a desert than a kingdom or commonwealth.
Moreover, the reason which Machiavelli alleges, whereby he would prove seditions to be good, is very gross and foolish. For follow with this: Because seditions are sometimes not the cause but the occasion that some good laws and rules are made, they are therefore good. This reason is like the argument of a certain philosopher, whom Aulus Gellius mocks, who would maintain that the fever quarantine is a good thing because it makes men sober and temperate, and to guard themselves from eating and drinking too much. Philosophers who broach such absurd opinions deserve to be left without answer, with their seditions and fever quarantines, to draw out such profit from them as they say proceeds from them. Does not the common proverb say, that from evil manners proceed good laws? And does it therefore follow that evil manners are good? That is, does it follow that white is black, and black white? The grossest headed fellows know well that lawmakers never set down laws but only to reform vices and abuses which are in a people. So that indeed no laws would have been made if the people walked uprightly and committed no abuses, nor had any vices. For laws are not set down but for transgressors, and to hold intemperate persons within limits and bounds. Hereof it follows that abuses, vices, strayings, and lusts, are occasions of good laws, and prudent princes and lawmakers are the efficient causes of them; but it does not therefore follow that vices, abuses, and straying lusts are good things.
Moreover, it is not always true, what Machiavelli says, that seditions are causes or occasions of having good laws and rules. The seditions which were raised up at Rome by Tiberius Gracchus and his brother Caius, tribunes of the people, which were so great and sanguinary, were not the cause of any good laws. They were the cause that they both were massacred, as they merited, but they were neither cause nor occasion of any good law or rule. And how should they be the cause thereof, seeing they tended to authorize and pass wicked laws, and despoil true masters and proprietors of their goods? For Tiberius Gracchus pursued by his seditious faction that a law called Agraria might be received and authorized, whereby it was not lawful for a Roman citizen to possess above ten acres of land; which was as much to say, to take away the more from them who had more. And because Marcus Octavius, his companion in the tribunate, opposed the law as both wicked and unjust, Gracchus would needs have him dispatched of his estate; and sought to make a Triumvirate of himself, his brother, and his father-in-law, to divide among the people rich men’s goods. This was the cause that the great lords of the city, by the advice and counsel of Scipio Nasica (who was accounted the best man thereof), slew him in the Capitol and cast his body into the Tiber. His brother Caius Gracchus being tribune of the people, later sought again to bring up that law Agraria, and would needs devise one out of his own brain; whereby it was ordained that in all judgments and conclusions of affairs there should be 600 knights and 300 senators, all having voices. This he did to have the plurality of voices at his command, knowing that the knights would always easily incline to his pursuits; and so he could not fail to obtain what he wanted, if at all deliberations there were twice as many knights as senators. But this was a wicked law, tending to overthrow and weaken the authority of senators, and therefore they hindered it. Lucius Opimius, consul, by decree of the Senate, caused the people to arm themselves and assail Caius Gracchus and the seditious of his troupe. And in the conflict Gracchus was slain, with Flacchus his fellow in the Triumvirate. Finally, the seditions of these two brethren Gracchus tended to bring forward wicked laws, and hereof came to no good; but they were the cause of infinite murders, and of great effusion of blood.
The seditions which were raised up at Rome by the triumvirate of Octavius, Antoninus, and Lepidus, what good did they bring to the commonwealth? They were the cause of infinite mischiefs; of great and long civil wars; of the death of infinite persons; of the ruin, impoverishment, and pillage of the provinces of the empire, and finally of the change of state from a commonwealth into a monarchy. And although that the subjects of the Roman Empire did not then feel any harm by that change, lighting on a good prince, Augustus, yet afterwards they felt it under five or six emperors, all which successively followed: Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Otho, and Vitellius, all which were bad emperors and governed very tyrannically.
Herodian writes that the Greeks were first subjugated and brought under subjection by the Macedonians, and after by the Romans, because of their accustomed seditions, whereby they banished or put to death the most valiant and generous persons they had in their commonwealth. And yet after they were brought under the Romans’ yoke they could not hold themselves from being seditious, even when there were many competitors to the empire. For they banded with those who often caused the ruin and destruction of their best towns, as happened in the time of Severus to those who partialized for Niger.
Before the Romans had subjugated the Gauls, it was divided into petty commonwealths (as Julius Caesar says in his commentaries), which notwithstanding were leagued together, and held a diet once a year at Dreux to parley and confer of the whole country’s affairs. But at last there fell a partiality among them, and a great war arose between the Sequanois and the Autunoys. The Sequanois drew to their succors the Alemains, under the leadership of Ariofistus; and the Autunois the Romans, under the conduction of Caesar. Caesar arriving in Gaul to succor the Aurunois, did so well that he planted greater division and sedition through all Gaul, and by that means subjected it to the Roman Empire. And it was a province which the Romans esteemed most opulent and rich of all them under the empire, so they made their account to draw ordinarily out of it great store of silver. And indeed, after Gaul was made subject to the Romans, it was always much vexed with taxes and tributes, and with the extortions and pillages of governors; who, to cover their robberies with some color, said that it was needful to hold the Gaulois poor, lest they rebelled against the Romans, against whom they had anciently made war and obtained so many victories.
The ten potentates who were created at Rome in the place of consul would usurp a tyranny and continue in their estate beyond the time established by laws. But what means did they use? Even sedition; for so long as they could maintain sedition between the people and the patricians, their tyranny was in some assurance; but as soon as the great and the small of the city were in accord, the ten potentates were ruined and overthrown. But this example is very fit to confirm the maxim of Machiavelli, according to the end whereunto it tends, which is to establish a tyranny. For seditions and civil dissentions may serve a tyrant’s turn to maintain him in his tyranny; but because we have sufficiently parleyed of tyrannical actions and cited many examples, which in their places may be found, we pass on.