Macchiavelli on Revolution
N ic c o l o M a c c h ia v e l l i, shrewdly taking into full account the discrepancy between great men’s precepts and average men’s behaviour, deals in The Prince (Chap. vi) with the means of success, and causes of failure, of innovations in States and political revolutions. The innovators, having come to power, have to reckon, he says, with a mass of determined and calculating enemies who have lost the advantages they had derived from the former conditions-enemies who are always on the look-out for a favourable opportunity to restois the old order and are well prepared to use it with all the vigour they command. On the other hand, the people who had supported the innovators in their fight for victory gradually become lukewarm, and are anything but eager to risk their lives again in defence of new order; for the people, though susceptible at first to new doctrines, are not constant in their faith, and grow doubtful when the benefits they expected are slow in coming. I f then the innovators, when attacked by their armed enemies, have nothing but oratory with which to appeal to the people who had formerly supported them, they are irretrievably lost and must perish. History teaches us that unarmed prophets are doomed to destruction. In our own days, remarks Macchiavelli, we have seen that the Friar Jerome Savonarola was ruined, because the people abandoned him, and he had no armed means to confirm them in their faith. Innovators, then, must prepare for their defence in time, so that they should be able to keep their enemies in check, and to hearten and keep faithful their own supporters. There is much truth in the reasonings of Macchiavelli, but
by no means the whole truth. According to him, it is force which ultimately controls the march of history. I am too much of a Socialist and a Jew to believei n force as the final arbiter
185 of the destiny of man. It was not Alexander the Great who spread Hellenism in the East; it was not fire and sword which blazed out the way for Christianity; it was not the invention of gunpowder that destroyed Feudalism; it was not the ruthlessness of Henry VIII that created the Reformation. I could go on through all the annals of human development and demonstrate that, not arms, but ideas born of the necessities and realities of social life, have in the last analysis ~*iade history. Still, it remains true that, as long as man and oocial classes are actuated by selfish material interests, ideas need material force to make them prevail, and that social innovators, relying only on abstract justice and oratorical appeals, are preparing hard times for themselves and their supporters at the hands of their armed adversaries. Ideas, if well grounded in the economic necessities of social life, may suffer a temporary eclipse; their movement may be retarded, but cannot be made abortive, without checking the whole development of society and causing retrogression and decay. This is one of the teachings of Marx, and it may be worth
pondering over. For it is one of the hardest things for contemporaries rightly to decide whether an innovating movement, which they are witnessing, is patriotic or notwhether, that is, such a movement is destined to further the development of the nation or to hinder it. It is, indeed, not we, but our successors, who can best gauge our present movements in all their bearings, and it happens often enough that the findings of the post-mortem inquest are at variance with the views of contemporaries. The authorities, for instance, who in 1848 suppressed the German revolution surely thought that they acted as patriots against an unpatriotic upheaval. Yet we know now that a successful issue of that upheaval would have given to the German States unity and liberty, and would have rendered the wars of 1866 and 1870-71 un necessary; for in 1848 the French Republican Government were willing to assist the German republicans in their
endeavour. The success of the German revolution in '1848, in obviating the war o f 1870-71, and thus eliminating the French Revanche movement, would have diminished the European tension in the years between 1871 and 1914, and the Great War would have either not happened or would have assumed a limited and local character. Retrospectively, it turns out that the German revolution of 1848 was patriotic, and that its suppression was unpatriotic. Or take another illustration, which concerns England and
France. About the middle of the eighteenth century it was a mere toss up as to which of the two countries, England or France, should expand into the main imperial power. England won the toss, not on the score of her superior wisdom, but oil account of the fact that her middle class had settled its account with personal monarchy in the seventeenth century, and was therefore able to pursue its commercial and imperial career, while the French middle class had still to go through its struggle with monarchy, and had to divide its energies between constitutional and imperial problems. And yet how small was the number of Cromwell’s contemporaries who thought his acts patriotic! There is ample evidence to show that Cromwell and Milton knew how unpopular they were. Such observations may be called retrospective Utopias, but they are not without use for the appreciation of contemporary problems and for the formation of right judgments. And this is indeed the function and value of all Utopia writing.