MR. MORLEY ON MACHIAVELLI.
IN the brilliant lecture which Mr. John Morley delivered on Wednesday in the Sheldonian Theatre upon Machiavelli he seems to us—we write with full recognition of his better claim to an opinion—to fall into one error which has been that of all who have discussed the teaching of the great cynic. He unconsciously exag- gerates Machiavelli's mental force. The work of the evil Florentine has lived through centuries because he appealed unflinchingly to the latent dislike of scruples as impedi- ments which exists hidden away in all but the most chastened minds ; but he seems to us essentially a man with but limited insight into the true nature of mankind, and therefore into the springs of enduring power. He, for instance, thought all men bad, and therefore held it to be a maxim of statecraft that the ruler was justified in being bad too, thus forgetting that while each man is apt to be bad himself, he always wants those around him to be good, and therefore seeks in the "Prince " conduct which, as he believes, will compel them to become so. The rogue does not want even his confederate to thieve from him. No man, perhaps, seeks full justice for himself, desiring rather special advantage, but he always wants it for the community, and in a bad age or a country in anarchy gives his loyalty to Frederic Barbaressa rather than to Louis XI. There are two illustrations of this axiom with which we are all familiar, and which seem to us conclusive. One is the respect felt by all mankind, however bad, for law, which can never be unscrupulous in the Oppor- tunist way. It may be oppressive, or unjust, or even, like the Slavery-laws, of deliberately evil intent, but in the nature of things it cannot be treacherous, and cannot, if actually administered, swerve in order to gain in a particular instance an advantage for the State. Opportunist unscrupulousnessi which is the very essence, as Mr. Morley admits, of Machiavelli's counsel to the " Prince " who would be strong, cannot exist in law, yet law is the foundation of the strength of States. The badness or goodness of mankind has vary little to do with the matter. Nothing, to give our second illustration, can, as far as morality is concerned, so closely resemble society as Machiavelli conceived or found it in Italy as an Indian State fallen into anarchy. The nobles are as bad as Renaissance nobles, the fighting classes as condottiere, the peoples as the citizens of the worst of Italian towns ; murder is sown broadcast, every one betrays, the strong are capable of, and actually oommit, all crimes. A quiet English gentleman steps in as ruler, and instantly, without a day's delay, there is acquiescence, order, content, and a Government is formed as strong as even Machiavelli could have conceived, a Government which can do practically what it will. That is the result of the certainty among these bad, unscrupulous, Weak people that the new ruler will fulfil the ideal which, isn spite of their badness, is in all of them, will tax fairly, judge rightly, be absolutely clear of self-seeking, will, in fact, avoid everything which Machiavelli counsels the Prince in those very circumstances of anarchy to do. We all know the man who thinks he can govern by the chicane which he calls "management of men," and we do not think him strong. Machiavelli did think him strong, provided he was only unscrupulous enough, and in so thinking seems to us to show want of grasp and insight into human nature,—want, in fact, of social imagination. The greatest example the world ever saw of Machiavelli's ideal, the man he would have worshipped, was the daimonic condottiere who governed France as the Emperor Napoleon, a man with all the strength for governing of Caesar Borgia and ten times his mental grasp ; and had he but adhered in his treatment of Europe to any good principle whatever, would not his dynasty be still reigning ? It was because he was too completely a pupil of Machiavelli that all his statecraft failed. He on adequate occasion was always ready, as Machiavelli advised, " to go to work against faith, against charity, against humanity, against religion," and therefore European mankind sent him to die in confinement on a hot rock in mid-ocean.
What, after all, was the policy that Machiavelli thought so wise, and which ever since his time has excited such intellectual admiration even in those who utterly condemn ? It is only the policy nowadays defined as Opportunism carried straight out to its logical conclusion, indifferent alike to morality and humanity and religion if only it may attain success. But is that Opportunism, though it may for a moment make an individual prosper, ever the road to success for a State which has, even in Machiavelli's design, to outlast the individual ? He wished for the State, above all things, strength ; but can a State be strong if its promises are never trusted ? It certainly cannot be rich, for nobody will lend it money cheaply ; it certainly cannot have a strong army, for the first condition of discipline is that every promise and menace to a. soldier shall be unswervingly observed ; and it cannot have strong alliances, for alliances depend upon the confidence of neighbours in the State's good faith. Even internally there is no prosperity without law, and in law, as we have said, there is no Opportunism. Grant Machiavelli's con- dition, that in public affairs there can be no wrong or right, or at least that they must not be permitted to over- ride the expediency of the hour, and still wherein consists the revealing wisdom of his counsel ? If it is followed it will make of a ruler a supremely crafty man ; but then in great affairs is it the supremely crafty man who succeeds ? We doubt it, holding that Catherine de Medici, who was Machiavelli in petticoats, had in her the root of failure, and not of success. Of all the wonderful princely families of the Italian Renaissance,men who worked on Machiavelli's lines, and who were many of them of the highest capacity ever seen on thrones, not one succeeded in his main object,. which was to found an enduring dynasty, while the rather stupid, but fairly straightforward, house of Guelf, which was no stronger in territory or subjects than they, reigned in Hanover for seven hundred years, and fell at last only by irresistible external violence. It will seem, of course, to most of our readers quite absurd for a mere- journalist, and in our day, to question Machiavelli's in- tellectual power, but it appears to us that when counsel is intended solely to make conduct pay and it does not pay, the counsel is not wise or the counsellor a. man of wisdom. Mr. Morley eloquently says as his peroration- " It is true to say that Machiavelli represents certain living forces in our actual world ; that Science, with its survival of the- fittest, unconsciously lends him illegitimate aid ; that he is not a vanishing type, but a constant and contemporary influence' (Acton). This is because energy, force, will, violence, still keep alive in the world their resistance to the control of justice and conscience, humanity and right."
Most true ; but is not something else true also, that to develop energy, to strengthen will, to make violence effective it is essential for men of sense—we are not talking of believers—to rely on axioms of honour, which Machiavelli would have accounted childishly weak ? We' wholly agree with him that " the Prince," the ideal State; must be strong, must not hesitate, for example, to punish' when punishment is necessary ; but " the strength of Kingd is in the men who gather round the throne," and they do- not gather round the Prince who believes in Machiavelli. Napoleon was a stronger man than William I. of Germany, but who of Napoleon's entourage can be compared with• Bismarck or Von Moltke, or Von Roon ? Machiavelli's Prince, when all is said, is nothing but a supremely shifty man, and we feel unable to recognise in the creation of a. supremely shifty man a grand intellectual feat.