Should a prince be liberal with money or stingy according to Machiavelli in The Prince?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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If you start to read Chapter XVI of The Prince, you will think that Machiavelli is saying that a ruler should be liberal.  However, you will soon find that he is really saying the opposite. Machiavelli argues that a ruler who is liberal will destroy his country.

Machiavelli starts by saying “I say that it would be well to be reputed liberal.”  However, he soon goes on to say that this is not practical in the real world.  If a ruler tries to be liberal with everyone, he (people in Machiavelli’s time did not think about women rulers much) will have to give away tremendous amounts of money to keep up that reputation.  He will end up having to tax people too much to keep up his generosity.  People will come to hate him because of the high taxes.

Instead, Machiavelli says a prince should be stingy.  People might initially dislike this, but they will eventually come around because the prince will not tax them very highly.  The prince will have enough money to do all the things that are necessary because he will not waste money trying to look liberal.  As Machiavelli says, the prince will be respected because he will be able to defend his country and will be “able to engage in enterprises without burdening his people.”

So, Machiavelli argues that it is better to be stingy because

a prince should guard himself, above all things, against being despised and hated; and liberality leads you to both.

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