Summary by Lewis G. Miller
In this episode, Nicholas and I are joined by Ellen to discuss how one a Prince should spend money. As we discussed previously, advice on this matter is mixed across the Christian literature on governance. Machiavelli, though, discusses the morality in generosity in relation to how effectively it allows the Prince to gain power and govern their lands most effectively.
Machiavelli’s thoughts are summarised early; “it would be advantageous to be accounted liberal; nevertheless, liberality so used as not to render you formidable does but injure you; for if it be used virtuously as it ought to be, it will not be known, nor secure you from the imputation of its contrary.” This has two important elements. Firstly, it’s best to be seen as generous. Secondly, if we are to follow the Christian code of charity for the sake of holiness or a nice place in the afterlife, Machiavelli surmises that in this life you’re not likely to be remembered for it and you may be remembered as a tyrant.
How should we spend to avoid being seen as odious? Well, one plan is to give our personal wealth away, thereby diminishing our status. Another is to tax heavily, yet if we suffer an invasion or some crisis then we will be forced to further tax and then cause ourselves to be hated. He, therefore, advises that if we cannot gain a reputation for being generous without harming ourselves, then it is best to not worry about a reputation for tight-fistedness. For even if we become known as miserly, we ‘shall be seen as liberal when it is discovered that by his parsimony he has increased his revenue to a condition of defending him against any invasion, and to enterprise upon other people without oppressing them.’
Machiavelli then gives a series of examples, which we discuss in this episode. Perhaps the most memorable is that of Caesar, of whom Machiavelli suspects detractors might suggest as a generous and powerful man. Machiavelli counters such claims by arguing that, once in office, Caesar would eventually have become responsible with funds, and was merely spending to gain office.
In our discussions, we bring up classical and modern examples including Emperor Trajan and his successor Caligua, as well as the policy of austerity which has been chosen by governments worldwide over recent years.