The Prince

English 124

1.      Clarify the advice Machiavelli gives concerning liberality and stinginess. Is this still good advice?

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In Chapter XVI, “On Liberality and Stinginess,” Machiavelli complicates what initially seems like a relatively unfettered apologia for unscrupulous politics. His underlying point seems to be that virtue in office is often just a sham; true virtue is not seen and has no ulterior motive, whereas visible virtue is often exhibited only so that the prince may be loved and maintain a virtuous reputation. For example, the ostentatiously generous prince, in order to keep his “generosity” up, will have to burden the people with “exorbitant taxes and squeeze money out of them in every way he can” once he has used up his own revenue. This will in turn make him hated, so that his generosity will have backfired. What Machiavelli seems to object to is careless spending; better for a prince to be thought a “miser,” for his parsimony will enable him to live on his income, not raise taxes, and defend against enemies, all of which will in turn earn him greater respect in the long run. “Hence a prince who prefers not to rob his subjects,” Machiavelli writes, “who wants to be able to defend himself, who wants to avoid poverty and contempt, and who doesn’t want to become a plunderer, should not mind in the least if people consider him a miser; this is simply one of the vices that enable him to reign.” Machiavelli concludes that when a citizen is trying to rise to princedom, generosity is important; thereafter, it is harmful.