On the Duty of Rulers

1. What precepts make up the duty of rulers, is clearly deduced from the character and end of states, and from a consideration of the functions of the supreme authority.

2. Here it is above all required that rulers themselves diligently learn all that tends to a complete knowledge of that duty; since no one can perform creditably what he has not learned thoroughly. Hence the prince must put aside those pursuits which do not make for this end. He must restrict pleasures, delights and empty employments, in so far as they interfere with that end. Accordingly he must also admit to his intimacy men of sense, skilled in affairs; while flatterers, triflers, and those who have learned only useless accomplishments, must be kept at a distance. But, in order to know how rightly to apply the general precepts of statecraft, he must himself learn as intimately as possible the condition of his state, and the character of the subject people. Furthermore, he must devote himself especially to those virtues whose practice is most conspicuous in so arduous an office, and adapt his habits to the dignity of such eminence.

3. The general law of rulers is this: the welfare of the people is the supreme law.[12] For authority was conferred upon them, with the intention that the end for which states have been established, should thereby be insured. Hence they ought also to believe that nothing is to their private advantage, if it is not also to the advantage of the state.

4. For the internal tranquillity of states it is necessary that the wills of the citizens be controlled and guided, as is expedient for the welfare of the state. Hence it is the duty of rulers not only to prescribe laws suited to that end, but also so to confirm the public education, that the citizens shall accept legal prescription not so much from fear of punishment as by habit. It contributes to this end also, to take care that Christian doctrine, in its pure and unmixed form, shall nourish in the state, and that in the public schools such teachings be imparted, as are in conformity with the purpose of states.

5. It is expedient for the same purpose to have plain and clear laws in writing, concerning matters of the most common occurrence among the citizens. There must not, however, be more provisions of the civil laws than conduce to the good of the state and its citizens. For, in regard to what they ought to do, or leave undone, men more usually deliberate in the light of natural reason than by knowledge of the law. Hence, if there are more laws than can be readily retained in memory, and they forbid things which reason does not in itself prohibit, in ignorance and without any evil intent, people must necessarily stumble upon the laws, as upon a snare. Thus an unnecessary inconvenience is caused the citizens by the rulers, which is contrary to the purpose of states.

6. But since it is in vain that laws are passed, if the rulers allow them to be violated with impunity, it is accordingly their duty to have charge of the execution of the same; to see to it that every man gets his rights without tedious delays, evasions and vexations; to inflict penalties according to the gravity of each offense, and the intention and ill-will of the transgressor; and not to bestow pardon without a sufficient reason; since it is unjust and most productive of irritation among the citizens, other things being equal, to treat differently those who have deserved the same treatment.

7. Again, just as nothing must be forbidden under a penalty, if not to the advantage of the state, penalties too must be regulated, so that they are in proportion to that object, and also that the citizens may not suffer more than the state gains. For the rest, if penalties are to accomplish their aim, it is clear that they must be made just so serious, that their seventy outweighs the gain and pleasure which can be derived from the act forbidden by the law.

8. Moreover, inasmuch as the purpose with which men united to form a community was to insure security from injuries inflicted by others, it is the duty of rulers to prevent citizens from injuring each other, and this with a severity proportioned to the increased opportunities for injury afforded by their living constantly together. And the differences of class and rank must not go so far that the stronger can at their pleasure insult the weaker. Moreover, it conflicts with the aim of the supreme authority, if citizens avenge by private violence the wrongs they fancy have been done them.

9. Furthermore, although a single prince is not equal to the task of carrying on directly all the business of a large state, so that of necessity ministers must be called to share his cares, nevertheless, just as the latter borrow all their authority from the ruler, so the responsibility for their doings, both good and bad, still remains his in the end. For this reason, and because affairs are conducted well or ill, according to the character of the ministers, rulers are bound to employ in the service of the state honest and capable men, and from time to time to inquire into their acts, and finally to reward or punish them, according as they are found to have done their part, in order that the rest may understand that public business is to be conducted with no less fidelity and diligence than private. So also, in view of the fact that wicked men are lured to the commission of crime by hope of impunity, which they find easiest of attainment where judges are open to corruption, it is the duty of rulers severely to punish such judges, as promoters of crimes, by which the security of the citizens is destroyed. Moreover, though the ordinary conduct of affairs is to be intrusted to ministers, the rulers will nevertheless never refuse to lend an ear patiently to the complaints and desires of the citizens.

10. Since citizens are not bound to bear tributes and other burdens, except in so far as these are necessary to meet the expenses of the state in peace and war, it will therefore be the duty of the rulers in this connection not to exact more than the necessities, or conspicuous advantage, of the state require, and, so far as possible, to regulate the burdens so that the citizens shall be injured as little as possible by them. Also the burdens must be distributed in due proportion, and no immunities conceded to some citizens, to the loss and oppression of the rest. And the revenue yielded must be spent for the needs of the state, not dissipated in luxury, largesses, superfluous display, or vanities. Finally, care must be taken that appropriations correspond to income, and in case the latter is insufficient, the remedy must be found in economy, the unnecessary expenses being cut down.

11. Rulers are not indeed bound to support their subjects, except that charity commands a special care of those who, because of some undeserved misfortune, are unable to sustain themselves. However, since the funds necessary to the maintenance of the state are to be gathered from the property of the citizens, and the strength of a state consists also in the courage and the riches of its citizens, rulers must, therefore, see to it, so far as in them lies, that the property of the citizens increases. It makes for this end if the citizens are encouraged to get the largest possible return from the land and its waters; to apply their industry to the materials produced in their country, and not to purchase from others the labor they can conveniently perform themselves. And this is brought about, if the mechanic arts are fostered. It is of the greatest importance also to cultivate trade, and, in maritime countries, navigation. And not only must indolence be proscribed, but the citizens must also be recalled to economy by sumptuary laws, forbidding superfluous expenses, especially those which transfer the wealth of the citizens to foreigners. However, the example of the rulers is more effectual in this matter than any laws.

12. Moreover, the soundness and internal strength of states is brought about by the union of the citizens, and the more carefully the latter is maintained, the greater is the effectiveness with which the power of the authority is distributed through the whole body of the state Therefore, it is incumbent upon rulers to see to it that factions do not arise in the state; that some citizens are not linked together by special compacts; and that they are not all, or a part of them, on whatever pretext, sacred or profane, more dependent on any other man, whether within or without the state, than upon their lawful prince; and that they do not imagine that more protection for themselves is found in any one than in him.

13. Finally, since the international condition of states is a peace that is quite untrustworthy, it is the duty of rulers to take care that the courage of the citizens and their skill in arms are fostered, and all the things needed to repel an attack made ready in time — fortified places, arms, soldiers, and money, the sinews of action. But, even assuming a just cause for war, no one is to be deliberately attacked, unless a very safe opportunity favors, and the circumstances of the state easily permit. To the same end, the plans and undertakings of neighbors must be carefully ascertained and watched; and friendships and alliances must be contracted with prudence.

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