History repeats itself, and those who make it their business to study it have learned the lessons of power.
One key figure is Niccolo Machiavelli, noted for his famous Renaissance-era volume on power, The Prince (written 1505) as well as his eponymous Machiavellian tenet that the end justifies the means.
While his tactics can be darkly shrewd, he is however a more complex figure than the famous maxim tied to his name suggests. He is also the author of the less infamous Discourses on Livy (written in 1517), which is also subdivided into succinct lessons on power, but which outlines the advantages and structures of a republic, noting the historical successes, failures and developments of Ancient Rome.
This video presents one such short lesson from The Prince, advising rulers that to truly control a city which formerly lived under liberty, it must be destroyed. The spirit of liberty, he explains, remains with those people whatever is done to alter its laws, and those people will be forever wistful for that freedom and vengeful in trying to restore it.
While on its face, this passage is a cruel realpolitik prescription on how to crush occupied cities, the reverse also holds true: this is confirmation to a free people that its liberties are a powerful force to be reckoned with, emboldening the population’s spirits and threatening the control of anyone who tries to infringe on those liberties.
In modern America, as power becomes more concentrated everyday, it is little wonder those who hold the reigns over society attempt to destroy our liberties, and its people with it, for letting those freedoms stand undermines their bid for control.
The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli
Chapter V: How to Govern Cities and Principalities That, Prior to Being Occupied, Lived Under Their Own Laws
When a state accustomed to live in freedom under its own laws is acquired, there are three ways of keeping it: the first is to destroy it; the second is to go to live there in person; the third is to let it continue to live under its own laws, taking tribute from it, and setting up a government composed of a few men who will keep it friendly to you. Such a government being the creature of the prince, will be aware that it cannot survive without his friendship and support, and it will do everything to maintain his authority. A city which is used to freedom is more easily controlled by means of its own citizens than by any other, provided one chooses not to destroy it.
Take, for example, the Spartans and the Romans. The Spartans held Athens and Thebes by setting up a government of a few men in each; nevertheless they lost both. In order to hold on to Capua, Carthage, and Numantia, the Romans destroyed them; yet they did not lost them. They hoped to hold Greece in almost the same way as the Spartans had done, leaving her free under her own laws, yet they were not successful, and so they were compelled to destroy many cities of that province in order to keep possession of it.
For in truth there is no sure method of holding such cities except by destruction. Anyone who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it may expect to be destroyed by it; for such a city may always justify rebellion in the name of liberty and its ancient institutions. These are not forgotten either through passage of time or through benefits received. Despite any actions or provisions one may take, if the inhabitants and not divided and dispersed, they will not forget that name and those institutions, and they will quickly have recourse to them at every chance, as Pisa did after a hundred years of servitude under the Florentines.
But when cities or provinces have been accustomed to live under a prince and his line becomes extinct, being on the one hand used to obeying and on the other deprived of their leader, they cannot agree among themselves in the selection of a new one and do not know how to live in freedom. Hence they are slower to take up arms, and a prince may more easily win them and hold them. But in republics there is greater vigor, greater hatred, greater desire for revenge, and the memory of earlier freedom cannot and will not let them rest. Thus, the surest procedure is either to destroy them or to live in them.