OF NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI
CITIZEN AND SECRETARY OF FLORENCE
TO HIS BOOK ABOUT
THE ART OF WAR
LORENZO DI FILIPPO STROZZI
MANY ARE now of the opinion, my dear Lorenzo, that no two things are more discordant and incongruous than a civil and a military life. Hence we daily see that when a man goes into the army, he immediately changes not only his dress, but his behavior, his company, his air, his manner of speaking, and that he affects to throw off all appearances of anything that may look like ordinary life and conversation. For a man wanting to be ready-equipped for any sort of violence despises the formal dress of a civilian and thinks no dress fit for his purpose but a suit of armor. And as to civility and politeness, how can we expect to find them in one who imagines that such things would make him look effeminate and that they would be a hindrance to his work, especially when he thinks it his duty, instead of talking and looking like other men, to frighten everyone he meets with a volley of oaths and a terrible pair of whiskers? This indeed gives some countenance to such an opinion and makes people look upon a soldier as a creature different from all other men.
But if we consider the institutions of the ancients, we shall find that there is a very close, intimate relation between these two conditions, and that they are not only compatible and consistent with each other, but necessarily connected and interrelated. For all the arts that have been introduced into society for the common benefit of mankind, and all the ordinances that have been established to make them live in fear of God and in obedience to human laws, would be vain and insignificant if they were not supported and defended by a military force; this force, when properly led and applied, will maintain those ordinances and keep up their authority, although they perhaps may not be perfect or flawless. But the best ordinances in the world will be despised and trampled under foot when they are not supported, as they ought to be, by a military power; they are like a magnificent, roofless palace which, though full of jewels and costly furniture, must soon moulder into ruin since it has nothing but its splendor and riches to defend it from the ravages of the weather.
The ancient lawgivers and governors of kingdoms and republics took great care, therefore, to inspire all their subjects—but particularly their soldiers—with fidelity, love of peace, and fear of God. For who ought to be more faithful than a man entrusted with the safety of his country and sworn to defend it with the last drop of his blood? Who ought to be fonder of peace than those suffering from nothing but war? Who are under greater obligations to worship God than soldiers, daily exposed to innumerable dangers, men who have the most occasion for his protection? This necessity—well considered by those who governed states and modeled armies in former times and strongly enforced upon others under their command—had such an effect upon their conduct and behavior that the life of a soldier was edifying and served as a pattern for others. But since our discipline is now depraved to such a degree that it is totally different from what it was in ancient times, it is no wonder that other men have so bad an opinion of military life and that they endeavor, as much as they can, to avoid the company and conversation of all those following the profession of arms.
Since I am of the opinion, therefore, from what I have both seen and read, that it would not be impossible to revive the discipline of our ancestors and, in some measure, to retrieve our lost virtù,131 I have written the following treatise concerning the art of war, as much for the improvement of others desiring to imitate the ancients in warlike exploits, as for my own private satisfaction, and for avoiding the imputation of spending my leisure in idleness. Although treating an art which I never professed may perhaps seem a presumptuous undertaking, I cannot help thinking myself more excusable than some other people who have taken its actual exercise upon themselves. For an error in my writings may easily be corrected without harming anybody, but an error in their practice may ruin a whole state.
Consider the nature of this work, then, good Lorenzo, and freely bestow either your censure or commendation upon it, as you think it justly deserves. I inscribe it to you not only as a testimony of my gratitude, although conscious how small a return it is for the favors I have received from you, but because it is usual to address things of this nature to persons who are distinguished by their nobility, riches, great talent, and generosity; I know very well that in birth and wealth you have not many equals, still fewer in talent, and in generosity, none at all.